Climbing Mt.Kinabalu: Conquering a Beast

Climb Mt.Kinabalu. On my bucket list since I started planning this trip and booked in to volunteer at Sepilok 24 months ago.

Climb Mt.Kinabalu. Easier said than done.

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We booked our climb through Jungle Jack; basic backpacker accommodation in the form of containers, with the friendliest owner who sorts out your permit and a packed lunch for the climb! (And he took us out for dinner after we got back as well! :))

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At the start of our climb we were racing up the stairs our guide telling us “slowly, more slowly”. Well…. we sure did! Another 1k at this speed and we were starting to feel it so we slowed our pace to continue our near vertical struggle. Our accommodation for the night at Laban Rata was 6 kilometres up the mountain. Twenty minutes before arriving there the rain came. Torrential rain. My “waterproof” shoes were tested for the first time and it turns out this was not a true story. With soggy shoes and freezing feet and hands I practically crawled into the rest house through the near waterfall pouring down the trail to find that the showers were not hot. The cold was in my bones so I donned two pairs of socks and jumped into bed.

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This didn’t last long as the sun soon peeked out from the clouds and buffet dinner was served at 4.30pm. We warmed up under the late afternoon rays whilst we ate food and congratulated each other on making it this far.

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At 6pm we walked a little further up the mountain to a clearing to watch a beautiful sunset with only a few other people who had also discovered our secret spot.

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After heading to bed at 7.30pm as we had an early start in the morning, I found I could not sleep. Apparently altitude can do that to you. I probably drifted off at about 11pm and then we were woken up at 1am (an hour earlier than we had to be up) by inconsiderate mountain climbers making noise.

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Starting our gruelling climb at 2am equipped with head torches and multiple layers to combat the cold temperatures, we climbed for four solid hours. Pulling ourselves up by ropes that were freezing cold and wet, over sprawling rock faces and ridiculously steep edges to the summit. It was boiling hot whilst climbing and yet freezing cold whilst pausing (which happened a lot; pausing to catch our breath, pausing to rest our thighs, pausing to peel another layer off and then instantly regretting it as we were paused!)

Then the sunrise. Watching the world appear beneath me under the rose and ochre painted sky.

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That sky.

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Everything was suddenly worth it.

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Climbing Mt.Kinabalu was without a doubt the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever had. I’ve climbed mountains before and there has always been a steep ascent followed by some downhill slopes and some flat plains; a balance, a break, a moment to rest and an easier period before the climb continues. Kinabalu has none of that. It is all uphill. Vertical in its entirety.

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This made coming down equally as challenging, if not more. The pressure on your knees from each jarring step, the relentless stairs, the burning ache in your thighs and calves… by the end my legs were like jelly and literally started to give way. When I was told we still had 2.5hours of the descent left I could have screamed, or cried, or slapped my guide. Or all of the above. I honestly didn’t think I could make it down. My guide presented me with a walking pole and I decreased my speed by about 50%. I eventually made it to the bottom of the never ending torture that is the mountain.

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We spent the next day at the Poring Hot Springs soaking our weary muscles and relaxing before our journey back to Sepilok.

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We battled torrential rain, blazing sun and -°c, busted knees, bruised shins and blistered feet. I loved it, I hated it and I wanted to give up on more than a few occasions. But, I did it. I made it to the summit of Mt.Kinabalu; Malaysia’s highest mountain and South East Asia’s third highest, and back down again. I couldn’t have done it without my fellow climbers Alice and Emily cheering me on and motivating me to continue when I had all but nearly quit. It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it.

I’m feeling very proud of myself (and also very sore).

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“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
Jack Kerouac

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