4000 meters high? Pah!
29.10.2008 -17 °C
Ahhh. Malaysia. Understandable(ish) public transport system, paved roads and food that has not been fried to the edge of existence. Malaysia brought all the familiarities of the Philippines but somehow quilter, less hectic and far more understandable. Some would say that it lacks the raw unbridled soul of the Philippine Islands and I would agree, but for the time being I am enjoying the fact that bus journeys do not require back and arse surgery when completed.
More adventure was calling and that took the form of Mt Kinabalu the highest Mountain in all of South East Asia. We were determine to see it's peak and were aware that it was possible without Edmond Hilliary-esque experience. You could even do the climb in a day if you were up to it. It stands at over 4200 meters above sea level. The air is thin and the climb is straight up all the way through jungle and granite slopes. We thought our selves as keen hikers, the Andes and Bolivia were easy. We Laugh in the face of a piddling 4000m altitude.We had been a over 5500 meters with no ill effects and climbing mountains was what the Inca trail was all about so we should be fine.
Or so we thought.
The first part of the climb was as expected. All up hill. Tough on the calf muscles and thighs. It was all going swimmingly until the last Kilometer of the first 6k. It all got a little hard. The steps got steeper and the air thinner. with no time to acclimatize to the altitude our heads began to pound and legs started to give way. Relief was finally found at the camp just 3k from the peak that would be tackled in the early hours of the next morning.
As we are on a budget we went for the unheated room/shack. It was a fine little home for the night with enough room to swing even a mid sized cat and a view that only paintings could recreate at lower altitudes. You could have the buffet at the larger compound at the camp if you paid the premium but we lugged all our own food up with us. We were the only ones to do so and in a strange sort of way we got some more kudos for the other climbers for doing so. Noodles and tinned mushrooms never tasted so good.
The assent to the summit started at 3am in the dark and cold. It was only 3k more but even steeper than the day before. We were aiming to get to the summit as the sun rises. Massive granite slopes arched before us, so steep were some that we needed to pull ourselves up by ropes trying not to notice the drops that loomed black and menacing beside us. Only our torches illuminated the way. Climbing a mountain at 3 in the morning is not as fun as you may think it is. At every step it became harder but the will to get to the top was strong and after 3 hours, sometimes scrabbling on our hands and knees to get a better purchase, a lot of cursing the gods, and whoevers idea it was to do this, we reached the top.
It's funny how soon you forget the hardship of a climb when you set eyes one of the most life affirming views you will ever see. The sun was just starting to make it's way to the heavens and what looked like all of Malaysias beauty had woken up with it. We were as high as you can ever get in this part of the world on foot. From this height we could even see parts of the Philippines. Smiles and hugs were in order and all the other climbers seemed to be enjoying the moment as we were. The euphoria was only slightly broken with the thought that , once up we have to go back down. The way down was to be done in one day. No camp to rest at for the night just down, down, down.
Going down hill soon became tougher than going up. All the same muscles we wore out had to be called up again with a few new ones to pull and work as well. By the end of the descent Sues' legs had decided to not take direction from her brain and were performing some kind of ministry of silly walks tribute. My legs and stopped being legs, but some kind of jelly. When we finally reached the bottom, instead of resting we jumped on a bus for 4 hours to our next destination for some R&R. I the next few days our legs had never been so sore. We really couldn't walk. Even the smallest steps, up curbs seemed to much for us. You could see other travellers wincing and grimacing on ever step and instantly new that they were of a kindred spirit (or fool enough to take on a mountain). We would nod in acceptance of our shared agony. It took over 3 days before our legs started seem normal. Mine still ache a bit now.
The next chapter of this Malay adventure seems altogether less painful. We have seen no so wild Orang-utans at a rehab centre and even seen wild ones out in the jungle. But that can wait until our next entry.