September 15, 2008

I’ll be back

As I was writing this, I still have not got over the disappointment of not being able to conquer the summit of Mt Kinabalu. After months of training and trekking up numerous hills and mountains, my friends and I were all fired up to take the challenge of conquering the highest mountain in South East Asia. And when the day came, I was beaten hands down by nature. We all say, “There are ups and downs in life” and certainly this is one of the clear down episode of my life.

The 4 of us (Lim Chin Keat, Lim Guan Toong, Lim Meng Leong and I) have all been talking about our challenge for the last 3 months and until the morning when we reached Mt Kinabalu, we were all in high spirits ready to go. According to the trail map for the the first part of the climb, we need to cover about 8.2km to reach Laban Rata base camp. Our guide Mr Japili Yasin (who is also our porter) told us that an average person will be able to cover that distance in about 7 hours. After final preparations and a short briefing we started at 8.30am, ascending from Masilau in good weather. But almost immediately I felt something was not right. Half a kilometre into the climb, my breathing was out of rhythm but I pressed on until I reached the 5km point. This point is about 2700m above sea level. The air was so thin that I have to stop every ten steps or so to take in a few deep breaths to fill my lungs with enough oxygen. The temperature was also dropping fast as I climb higher. I still need to cover another 3.2km and at this point I began to slow down considerably.

As I ascend slowly towards base camp, the weather changed and strong winds brought freezing air that quickly lowers the temperature substantially. I walked for another hour and reached Paka Cave Shelter. From here it is just about 2km to the base camp but with every deep breath I took, I was taking in cold air that was quickly cooling down my body temperature. I could feel my chest getting tighter and tighter that I have to take 2 very deep breaths for every step forward. I continued tenaciously but my body began to slide into “slow motion” mode moving against the cold winds and the steep steps on the last stretch towards base camp.

Finally at 6.00pm, after 9 gruelling hours I reached Laban Rata at altitude 3272m to catch up with the rest of the gang who made it 2 hours earlier. They have waited anxiously for me and were very glad to see me finally reaching base camp. Well, I know I wasn’t the last person as there were at least a dozen of people which I passed on the way up.

My body temperature must have dropped quite a bit because I was shivering uncontrollably. It took me over 3 hours in a heated room and several cups of hot beverages to regain body heat. But by about 10.00pm, I was struck by altitude sickness and fever. I was losing the battle against Mt Kinabalu. We have to get ready in 4 hours time (at 2.00am in the morning) to start climbing the last 2.7km to the peak. I knew by then my physical condition was not capable to challenge the very thin air and almost freezing temperature of the last climb to the top. I made a decision to stay behind at Laban Rata while my 3 friends took up full gear to conquer the 4095m summit. I was of course disappointed but my 9 hours gruelling journey up have taught me to pay full respect to the nature and not to blindly challenge it. It was a bitter sweet moment when I see them off heading towards the summit. Finally at 6.00pm I received an SMS announcing that they have made it to the summit just in time to see the beautiful sun rising and though I was disappointed with myself, I was glad for my friends. They made it and I am proud of them. Later they join me again at Laban Rata and over breakfast I was all ears listening to their incredible experience of the climb to the summit. I must say disappointment hit me hardest at that point looking at the beautiful photographs they took at the summit.

After breakfast and a short rest, we started to descend from Laban Rata. For our descend we took the Timpohon trail. The descend did not really test our stamina but it did takes its toll on our knees. But nevertheless we all descended safely and were completely exhausted. We signed out at Timpohon Gate and after a short rest proceed to the Kinabalu Part Headquarters to collect our certificates. While all successful climbers collect their colour certificates for reaching the summit (4095m), I had mixed feelings receiving my black & white certificate for reaching only Laban Rata (3272m).

Our challenge officially ended after lunch at Kinabalu Park and we drove 2 hours back to Kota Kinabalu. Along the way we decided to stop at a tourist spot to buy some t-shirts to cherish our adventure at Mt Kinabalu. Disappointment strikes again as I have to settle for a t-shirt with just the picture of the majestic Mt Kinabalu while my friends can wear those with the big words saying “I have reached the summit of Mt Kinabalu”.

We had a good dinner and a full night rest in Kota Kinabalu. The next day while on the flight back, I reflected on the tagline I saw at Mt Kinabalu. It says “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footsteps” but I was unable to fulfil it as I did not take any photographs and did not leave any footsteps at the beautiful summit. So, I can only console myself by saying “I’ll be back”. And sincerely, I hope to take the challenge again in the very near future.



Baron said...

I can't make up my mind which is tougher- fighting gravity during the ascent or getting my knees pounded by the earth during the descent.

No sunrise greeted me when I was at the summit so I want to have another go at Mt. Kinabalu again. Maybe I can join your team.

slseng said...

My team and I (10 of us)have made up to Low's peak on 9th June 10, ascending Mesilau trail and descended Timpohon trail.
My husband had difficulty in breathing because of the thin air and my daughter after much encouragement from the guide she succeded to the peak.
I hope to go again , maybe next year.
Thks for your blog.

Shiek Eng Meng said...

Hi SLSeng ... congrats and thanks for your input on this article. I have yet to make another try at Mt KK ... hopefully I am able to challenge it again soon :)