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Climbing Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia

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I’m not a sporty person. Really, I’m not. Art, filmmaking, and newspaper work don’t require much exercise other than lugging around lighting equipment. Yet somehow I was able to reach the summit of Mount Kinabalu. Perhaps that’s one thing that’s great about Kinabalu. People of all ages and athletic abilities are able to reach the top and see the amazing view of the world from 4000m up. While 100 might summit Everest every year, 100 summit Mt. Kinabalu every day. There are even races where people climb the mountain in a day! This doesn’t mean it’s easy. It took my group several days to reach the top and then it takes two days to go back down.


If you climb Mount Kinabalu, I strongly advise starting part way up the mountain. That’s what our school group did. Our first rest stop was already high enough for us to feel the difference in the air and our short morning jog was a lot harder than we thought it was going to be. By starting by the tea plantations instead of the park headquarters (the usual route), we had a different path going up and coming down. However, we also took longer to climb the mountain. But, that gave us more time to enjoy the amazing flora and fauna that Borneo is known for.


Pitcher plants, dwarf’s beard, and rafflesias (a giant flower that stinks of rotting meat) are some of the strange and exotic plants that you can expect to see on your journey up. Pitcher plants are really common in the lower rainforest and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Dwarf’s beard is what our guide called the mint colored moss that hung in clumps over everything as you ascend into the clouds. By the way, clouds? Overrated. My image of Jasmine and Aladdin was ruined. Rafflesia is a plant that produces the largest flower on earth and, yes, stinks of rotting meat. These aren’t the type you want to pick for a bouquet. I didn’t get a chance to see one, but another group on my trip supposedly saw one on their way up when they went off the trail a bit.


When you finally make it to Laban Rata, the last stop before the final ascent, you’re above the clouds. Staying at Laban Rata is required by the park because they don’t want people camping on the side of the mountain. Definitely bring some snacks because all the food is more expensive. Those beast porters that sprinted ahead of you on the way up? Yeah, that’s the only way food gets to the top of the mountain. Also make an investment in a headtorch. I got mine for about USD$15 so they’re not very expensive, but you’ll probably (like me) use it once. You’ll need it for the final ascent.

To see the amazing sunrise from the top of Low’s Peak, you’ll have to wake up at 2am. I know, it’s a horrible time to wake up. But, you need to climb to the top by 6am. This is when the headtorches come in handy. It’s pitch black besides the little LED lights that everyone has on their heads. The climb gets harder as you go higher until at one point you’ll have to hold on to a rope while walking along the side of a cliff. But, don’t think about that. I didn’t. I had no idea that there was a drop about a foot away from me until we had to go down.


When I reached the top, there was a thunderstorm beneath us as well as an airplane flying below us. It was a really bizarre experience. And the sunrise was amazing. I hope that, should you one day venture to Kinabalu, you are blessed with the freakishly good weather that our group was. It often rains (as it is the rainforest and a mountain) so bring a rainjacket and something to cover your bag.


It’s important to research before you go. What route are you going to take? What do you bring with you? What lodges are you going to stay at? These are the best sites that I’ve found for answering any questions about climbing Mount Kinabalu.


http://www.climbmtkinabalu.com/index.html

http://www.mount-kinabalu-borneo.com/


And an article from the Guardian to keep things in perspective:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2001/sep/01/climbingholidays.malaysia.guardiansaturdaytravelsection


Keep in mind that my group of 20 freshmen included three kids with asthma and many more with pathetic athletic abilities (like me). We all made it to the top with clear skies the whole way.

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