Jan 13, 2008

My Discoveries : Mount Kinabalu Ascent

My Discoveries : Mount Kinabalu Ascent

Beth, an adventurous young American traveller finds out that climbing one of South East Asia’s highest mountains is a challenging but rewarding experience. In the process she discovers muscles she didn’t know existed in her body and obtains a certificate for climbing to the summit of Mount Kinabalu in the East Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. She learns from her local Kadazan guide that the mountain is one of the most important homes for plants and animals with some flora being only found here in the park and nowhere else on the planet. This helps her understand why UNESCO has classified Kinabalu National Park as a World Heritage Site.

At the end of my descent from the 4,101metre high Mount Kinabalu I could barely stand and my legs felt like jelly but that doesn’t mean that every step of the climb up Mount Kinabalu wasn’t worth it. Upon reflection and a soothing and relaxing rest in the heated pools of the nearby Poring Hot Springs, I would suggest that climbing this awesome mountain towering above the rainforests of Borneo should be attempted by those who are fit enough and have done some pre-visit training.

However, many of us who climbed had done no pre-climb training and made it the whole way up and back.

Climbing the mist-covered Mount Kinabalu is one of the great adventures of South East Asia and tens of thousands of climbers are attracted each year from all around the world.Climbing the mist-covered Mount Kinabalu is one of the great adventures of South East Asia and tens of thousands of climbers are attracted each year from all around the world. The walk is very well organised and each group is accompanied by a guide from the local Kadazan people. As I was by myself I joined another group so travelling solo proved to be easy.

We were bussed up to the start of the climb and from here on, it was me, the path and the mountain. There didn’t seem to be any pressure to keep up with the more macho types and the guide stayed at the back offering encouragement along the way. For someone like me who only works out occasionally it was demanding but I soon learned to stop regularly, smell the flowers and walk at my own pace.

In doing this I also reflected a little more upon my surroundings and took in the ever-changing vegetation, the small birds flitting from flower to flower, pitcher plants luring insects to their demise and the sheer magnificence of the peak that lay before me. The other thing that impressed me was the silence and that I really felt connected to nature as I walked my way to Laban Rata Resthouse half way up the mountain.

While crazy speedsters run to the top during the annual climbathon, mere mortals like me had to spend two days making the ascent and descent. Nothing ever looked so appealing than the sight of the resthouse in the early afternoon light. I literally fell into a chair in the restaurant and spent all afternoon re-charging my batteries with cups of hot chocolate and plates of mee goreng (fried noodles). Although tired, there was a great sense of camaraderie amongst my fellow climbers.

While some wanted to chat, no one stayed up too late as we had to get up very early the next morning in order to see the sun rise over the Sabah horizon. Like silent sentinels we trooped up the mountain while the mountain granite sparkled underneath our feet in the light of a full moon. At dawn, we were rewarded with a stunning orange glow of the sun at about 6a.m. It was truly magical and I felt a great sense of personal achievement.

The authorities recommend not lingering too long on the summit as it soon gets enveloped in swirling mists and clouds so I headed off with a feeling that the worst was behind me. It wasn’t long until my knees felt like whale blubber as the numerous trail steps started to take their toll on my ill-prepared knees.

When I arrived at park headquarters I quickly arranged to catch a bus to Poring Hot Springs, within the park but 40 kilometres away. Sinking into the large baths here was possibly the best thing I’d ever done in my life. Within minutes the sulphurous waters did miraculous things to my aching limbs.

While it took a few days to fully recover, the sense of accomplishment in climbing this massive granite mountain was almost indescribable.While it took a few days to fully recover, the sense of accomplishment in climbing this massive granite mountain was almost indescribable.

Both before and after the climb I was lucky to discover that Sabah has many other appealing qualities. Whoever came up with the term ecotourism really had Sabah in mind. The state is crammed with various natural features and encounters ranging from turtles to proboscis monkeys, orang-utans to elephants and most tropical animals in between. Even the capital Kota Kinabalu has a five-island marine national park within minutes from the downtown fish markets.

I made several trips here to Sapi Island and was amazed that such a beautiful tropical island lay within eyesight of the busy port of Kota Kinabalu. One of the islands in the park has chalet accommodation and I made a mental note to stay here next time I returned to Sabah.

While just a little over two hours' flight away from Kuala Lumpur, Sabah could almost be another country - they even require travellers to produce their passport here. The people also move at a refreshingly slower pace to the hustle and bustle of the capital. I’m glad that I visited Sabah and took up the challenge of climbing Mount Kinabalu and passing through some very impressive vegetation on the way.

Tourism Malaysia

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