Mount Kinabalu: Before the Quake

I climbed Mount Kinabalu in April 2015 with my colleagues .

One month later, an earthquake of 5.9 magnitude shook the mountain. This post traces the journey the team might have taken before the quake on 5 of June 2015.

Senai to Kinabalu

In the wee hours of  10 April 15, the team and I took a free shuttle bus provided by Air-Asia from Kranji MRT to Senai International aiport where we boarded the plane to Kota Kinabalu (KK) airport. The other option we had which was recommended due to the better timing, was to take a Silkair flight from Singapore and fly directly to KK.

We chose to take the more roundabout method by taking a shuttle to Senai International airport for a plane to KK airport as it was more inexpensive. The flight was short one at 2.5 hrs.

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Wingtip
I was travelling with my colleagues to tackle one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia – Mount Kinabalu. For me, this was also training for my climb up Mount Kilimanjaro later in August that same year where we celebrated Singapore’s 50th birthday. I had been training quite a bit but still wasn’t very confident of my trekking fitness.

Borneo and it’s geography

Standing at an impressive 4096 above sea level, Mount Kinabalu is in the Kinabalu National Park in the state of Sabah, Borneo.

The island of Borneo consists of 3 countries. There’s a small bit at the top that belongs to Brunei , another 25% or so in the north that belongs to the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak and the rest of the southern 73% that belongs to Indonesia.

Taking the agency provided transport, we took 2 hours to reach our village. We reached our destination at 2 pm.

Acclimatization in Kundasang

At about 2000 m above sea level and the nearest town to Mount Kinabalu, Kundasang is the town where we were spending the night before the set off for the trek the next day. By and large, it is best to spend 1 or 2 days at an higher altitude to let your body get used to the thinner air.

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Walking around Kundasang
However, we were not there just for acclimatization. Since we arrived one day early, we took the chance to sight-see as well.

Kundasang had a sleepy town vibe that was perfect for spending a day to explore in. The day we arrived, it was an overcast day with a slight drizzle but that did not stop us from exploring and visiting one of the more famous landmarks in the town, the Kundasang War Memorial.

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The Kundasang War Memorial
The Kundasang War Memorial is dedicated to the British and Australian soliders from the Sandakan POW camp who died on their death marches here and at Ranau. In essence, the War Memorial was a themed garden dedicated to their memory.

After walking around for a bit, we took to an activity Singaporeans pride ourselves in -eating

Food

Imagine this: it is a cold day and out of the wok, freshly fried comes banana fritters and  bread dipped in omelette with bits of meat and chopped vegetables or more commonly known as Roti John.

What is more, the dishes were freshly prepared. The only weird thing was they provided some Sambal chili to dip with the banana fritters – a spicy kick to an otherwise sweet dessrt. These snacks were comfort food to the group.

We had an early dinner and headed back to our hotel to have an early night to prepare for the trek the next day. This involved some repacking and making sure that our packs that we were bringing up Mount Kinabalu had the necessities and yet was light enough for us to carry.

Timpohon Gate

We were met with our driver in Kundasang at our hotel the next morning and we headed off to the Kinabalu visitor centre where we registered for the climb.

It is also there where you can opt to leave your non-trekking luggage for a fee of 10 RM. You will get Kinabalu passes with your name and date of arrival once the registration is completed. You will need to present the passes again near the summit and at the end of the trek so keep these passes close at hand.

Finally, after settling our administrative items , we started up the mountain at about 9.30 a.m. There are essentially two routes up Mount Kinabalu – the Timpohon or Mesilau trail. Both trails used to be open but for now, the Mesilau trail is closed till further notice.

Introducing Jahirin

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Jahirin explaining the routes
I am always been mightily impressed with our guides and porters during our climbs. I admired the guides for their skills in navigating the terrain and being able to gauge our team’s morale and physical endurance and react accordingly and our porters for carrying everything we need from tents to our 60L bags wearing slippers.

Jahirin took it one step further and was both our guide and our porter. He was carrying no less than 3 bags from our teammates up the 2000 or so metres up the mountain.

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Carrying up our burdens and guiding at the same time
He took it slow and steady since it was just a straight route up and caught up with the last man of the group.

The plan was to reach Pendant Hut , where we were to spend the night, before 3 pm so that we could be in time for our Via Ferrata briefing. The Via Ferrata activity was an add-on to the Kinabalu climb.

The route

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Steps and more steps
The route was generally just steps up the mountain. Because we just needed to stay the night at Pendant Hut, most of us brought a daypack with water, a change of clothes so we could sleep comfortably at night and the clothing and accessories needed the next day for the summit push at 3am.

One pack more

Plan in place, we began our journey. Barely 1 hour into the climb, our team mate needed help with his backpack. One of my other colleagues and I took turns carrying his backpack, exchanging our burdens whenever we reach a rest station.

It was really tough going and it seemed like every single step I was gasping so that enough air could reach my lungs. Nonetheless, this exercise pushed me to beyond what I knew was my physical limit and then some and enabled a greater understanding of myself. I also had a new found respect for porters in general.

This game of tag where we exchanged the additional backpack continued for the next 6 hours or so with each of us looking forward to the next rest stop so that we could (finally) lighten our load. Some of my colleagues went on again first.

At long last, after what seemed like forever, the route opened to a wide area and I could not resist but take a photo after befriending a fellow trekker. The time was 2.35pm.

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After walking for 10 minutes or so up a flight of stairs, I was finally at Pendant Hut at an elevation of 3289m.

At this point of time, I was all sweaty and tired after the tough hike up and would have liked nothing more than a bath. Our agency had told us a few days ago that there was potentially no water for bathing and as luck would have it, there wasn’t any water for a bath. My colleagues and I satisfied ourselves with a wipe down and a change of clothes.

Before long, all members of our team reached Pendant hut.

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Pendant Hut
As it turns out , it was lucky thing too for they wait for a bit before starting the Via Ferrata briefing at about 4pm.

Essentially, the Via Ferrata has two different routes you can take – Walk the Torq or Low’s Peak circuit with the latter being the longer one. Our team had decided at the agency to take the shorter one just for the experience. We even had a short hand-on session to familiarize ourselves with the ropework.

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Listening attentively
Just down the stairs from Pendant Hut was Laban Rata where we had a buffet dinner. There was an outside alfresco dinning area which we took a peek at but it was too cold and so satisfied ourselves with just sitting indoors. After completing the tough trek up, I remember having a dinner fit for kings.

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High altitude dinning
After the dinner, we chatted and walked around the grounds for a bit. But we knew we had to get back to pendant hut to prepare for our climb to the summit the next day. Since you can leave some of your items in the room, I recommend to pack some water ,a packet of biscuit and wear the rest.

After preparing our gear, we slept.

Summit push

Or rather, we tried to. Sleep eluded me and most of my team mates. Perhaps it was due to the adrenaline or the high altitude or the loud snoring from one my team mates. Whatever the case, most of us went without sleep that night. This is seemed the norm at high altitudes and shouldn’t worry you too much.

With sleep eluding us, we took to taking pictures.One of the great things about being up in the mountains is the lack of light pollution. This typically yields the most amazing and pristine looking night skies.

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The night sky at 3289m
We pushed off close to 3 am after having a hearty breakfast – you’ll need every bit of energy you can get. Because it was pitch black out there, you’ll need a headlamp to see in the dark. That way, you can free up your hands to pull yourself up a slope or even just get a drink.

In terms of clothing, we were more or less decked out. Where on the first day I had on just a dri-fit shirt and a pair of track pants, the summit push was all about preserving upper body heat -this meant a fleece jacket and a beanie at minimum. It’s also good to prepare a windbreaker just in case. For me, I just used my standard army issued Gortex jacket. That jacket has seen me through Mount Rinjani and Mount Kinabalu.

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A line in the dark
By many accounts, the summit push was even more difficult than the first day’s trek up but for me, it was more just putting one leg in front of the other to just keep moving forward.

By doing that, the team and I found ourselves near the summit where we took many, many pictures. In fact, we took so many pictures, Jahirin told us that if we don’t get a move on, we may not be able to make it down in time for our Via Ferrata activity which had a cut-off time of 8am.

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Taking a picture at the iconic peak
But we did make it up and down the summit in time for the Via Ferrata activity. And so donning our helmets and harasses we made our tentative way across the rock faces where it joined to the main path for us to go back to Pendant hut, claim our bags and come the long way down again.

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Via Ferrata

Conclusion

It is a heady feeling, being able to go up and down the mountain within 2 days and have a certificate to your name. But I think what is more than the certificate is the journey that the team took together, helping one another and understanding your own limits.

In order to enjoy the hike, it pays to be well prepared for any hike you undertake whether in terms of physical fitness or equipment. I learnt this the hard way by climbing Mount Rinjani without much preparation. That is why I’ll like to help by preparing a resource that others can refer to in preparation of the trek.

If you’ll like to help , please join with me via this link. Doing so will join you up with my VIP list and we can then join in creating this resource. Together, I hope to be able to help other hikers avoid my mistakes and just enjoy the moment.

The lowdown:

Price: ~approx 600-700 SGD per pax depending on group size

Tips:

  1. Minimum duration of the trip should be 4days – 2 days to climb and 2 days to fly in and out
  2. Book the trekking package before you book your air tickets to ensure that there is accommodation at Pendant hut for the night in consideration.
  3. Consider flying in to KK in the morning or early afternoon as you need to time to travel to your place of accommodation. If you are staying futher away from the national park, you will need to transfer to Kota Kinabalu the night before for registration.
  4. Meals are included only for the night in Pendant Hut
  5. Additional costs include: tips to guide, drivers, food and drinks, air tickets and accommodation.
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