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The Summit to Mount Kinabalu – Did I really Summit? (Part 1 of 2)

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

The Summit to Mount Kinabalu

I had great plans for taking all those beautiful shots during my climb to Mount Kinabalu. I had screenshots of all the beautiful photos I had seen on other people’s social media and was excited to get similar shots of my own. After all, who knows if I’ll ever climb Mount Kinabalu again, right? The reality? This was one trip where I had the least number of photos, none of the iconic shots and all my photos are what would be called #unglam.

No one could have prepared me for the sheer number of stairs I had to climb. Stairs are my nemesis. Everyone knows that I would rather walk a little longer to cross the road at the lights than take the overhead bridge. Nobody could have prepared me for the stairs in Kinabalu – THERE ARE SO MANY STAIRS. The first 4 km before base camp, are all stairs – and they are not of uniform size. They are largely wooden stairs, some are well structured and of decent height while others can be wobbly and would require some extra large steps to hoist yourself. And when you start the night hike to the summit, it’s MORE STAIRS and more exciting as you’re climbing in the dark!

You must be wondering what’s that got to do with my taking pictures along the way? Well, every stop to take a picture could mean a pause between 2 – 3minutes and once you’ve built a momentum, you don't want to break it. The weather could also change in just seconds – rain, mist or even the clouds could set in, so the aim was to reach base camp (on Day 1) and summit (on Day 2) – photos fell to the lowest priority. On Day 2, once at the summit, with the sheer layers of clothes and ski gloves, it was just too cumbersome to remove my gloves, whip out my phone to take pictures every now and again, so I just settled for a few pictures and videos.

But perhaps my bigger struggle has been coming to terms with the fact that I didn't reach Low’s Peak (which ironically is the highest point). I was exhausted by the end of Day 1 - from climbing the stairs for the first 4 km and then altitude sickness creeping in on the last 2 km before base camp further drained my energy. On the night climb to the summit, I was about 2 hours into my walk and I turned back and realised that I was the last one on the trek – everyone had passed me and there was a trail of headlights far up ahead and I was the only climber and that broke me. I just stood there are cried. I even switched off my headlight just to feel what it was like to be standing alone, so high and in absolute darkness. My guide walked back and coaxed me to carry on.

The final 500 metres to the summit was difficult as I found myself struggling to breathe such that I had to stop after every 3 to 5 steps. I could see Low’s Peak – I was excited but then reality sunk in. I had walked 1.5 km in 3 hours, and there was no way I was going to reach Low’s Peak by 7 a.m. (the latest time you want to reach so that you have sufficient time to make the descend to Leban Rata and then to Kinabalu HQ).

Just then I saw golden streaks in the sky – the crack of dawn. It was just my guide and I on the top of the mountain, and I said to him “let’s just sit and rest for a while. I’m hungry.” We sat there in silence as I bit away on my protein bar and downed another energy gel. We resumed our climb and my speed was slower and then I spotted one of the many distance markers – I had walked 8 km and had reached 3.929 km elevation). You would think I’d take a picture but I just wanted to hit 4 km so I surged on. At 6.35 a.m., I was about 300 m from Low’s peak and I was struggling to move. My legs felt really heavy and breathing was slow and shallow and that’s when my guide and I had to make a critical decision. To walk that 300 m to the base of Low’s peak, would take me approximately 30 minutes, and then about another 30 minutes to climb Low’s Peak (it’s like a mini hill that is steep), so all in it would take me about one and half hours just to complete this segment. It was unwise, in his expert opinion, for me to push myself as I needed to conserve my energy for the descend all the way back to Timpohon Gate.

So with the voice of my good friend, YM, ringing in my ears, “I didn’t climb Low’s Peak. I just sat there and soaked in the atmosphere”, I did just what he had done. I sat down and for the next 45 minutes soaked in the atmosphere – the sunrise, the ridges, the plateau. I finally removed my gloves, took out my neatly folded MYR100 and took a photo of it against the South Peak, joining the image on the note to the peak.

When I showed my grand-niece K my photos, she said “Nanna, you look like you are standing on the moon.” It sure felt like I had gone to the moon and back.


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