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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summitting & Admitting - Esther's story

Icy Rain. Numbing Cold. Excruciating Pain. Lack of Strength. Lack of Breath. Nausea. Endless Agony. Premeditated Stupidity.

Those (and everything else along the same vein) were all I was feeling and thinking coming up the last 500 metres of the Mesilau Trail to Laban Rata, the mid-point of Mt Kinabalu. I was teed, wind-breakered and rain-coated. But those were not enough to stop the windy rain from chilling me to the bone. It was a miserable day indeed, and I wondered again at what possessed me to agree to this climb. I cast my mind back to that fateful day…

We did it, ETC! We summitted the highest peak of South-East Asia!

That was the exuberant cry of my utterly delighted twin sisters last September. It was their next words that triggered my downfall into insanity…

You could do it, too!”

There, the seed of stupidity was sown. It was watered and nurtured by phrases of deceit encouragement like “It was really not difficult” and “The next climb is not until next year, plenty of time yet to train,” and later, “The new group’s average age is 46, i.e., most people are older than you…

Never mind the fact that I was the least athletic of all women. Never mind the fact that I abhor all kinds of physical exercises, except that of using [or is it overusing?] the muscles in and around my mouth. I had in my possession the strongest of persuaders in the twins. And solely on that alone, I agreed on this hare-brained scheme to “whip ETC [that’s me] up to shape.”

Anyway, by December, it was already decided that the climb was to happen sometime in July of 2008. A group of about 13 people had already signed up. Flight tickets were duly booked by January, and everyone started to exercise in earnest.

When I say “exercise in earnest” what I really meant, for me, was climbing up a slope at Kepayang Hill in Seremban (a 1.5 km hill) once a week. It being January, I calculated there was enough time yet to get into the swing of walking up the hill several times a session before July comes…

February and March passed by in a blink and it was now April. EuT gave me an ultimatum one Thursday morning, and I duly (although unwillingly) started doing that same, dull Kepayang Hill twice that day. In my defence, I was already climbing that unexciting slope twice a week (though not always faithfully). On April 26th, I went for my first ever long climb – Mt Angsi. It lasted 9 hours for me, ascent and descent. I traumatized a toenail, crocodiled a pair of Nike shoes, fractured a pinkie, weakened an ankle and spent 5 full days recuperating from muscle aches.

I asked KGT (who was with me, and who was also the leader of the Mt K Climb) if some of the tougher parts of the Mt Angsi climb (like the ropes section) would be repeated in Mt Kinabalu. He gave me a firm “no”, and told me that Mt K’s trail was much neater than Mt Angsi’s. I was comforted.

May came and I tried (again, as much as I can) to keep my twice-a-week hill-climbing activities regular. In June, I went for another mountain climb training, this time with RT my sister, in Mt Dato. It was a much shorter but much steeper mountain than Angsi. I felt confident climbing up that short mountain. Descending was hard work, though. I split my pants slipping, falling and bouncing so many times along that steep trail. This time, I took about 4 days to fully recuperate from the aches. But altogether a much better concluding condition than that of Mt Angsi.

Looking back, I believe I wouldn’t have freaked out before the actual Climb if several things hadn’t happened almost about the same time two weeks before July.

Firstly, my fractured right pinkie was brought awfully back to my attention when my daughter one day squeezed my hand in her excitement over some matter. As I am right-handed, there was a niggling concern I may not be able to fully use my hands (should it come to that!) to pull myself up any slope.

And then KGT started messaging me with the tentative proposal of using a tether to help me in my Mt K climb [Wha…..!! It’s going to be that tough???] And then my well-meaning sisters looked through my climbing gears and pronounced that I had too-slippery shoes, and inadequate attire and climbing helps. And then Pete01, who went for the climb last March with a bunch of testosterone-filled males pronounced that we were physically un-ready for the Big Climb. Later, HCheah (one of our team mates) kindly notified everyone in the climbing team that the weather in Sabah for the week of our climb was forecasted to be stormy. To my mind, Stormy + HighAltitude = Slippery + Hypothermia = A Certain Unpleasant Death. Finally, KGT wrote and asked me if I was really ready for the climb. His non-confidence in me was palpable in that very loaded question.

The destruction of my confidence was almost complete. I wondered over and over again if I was being uncommonly daft to follow through. But I had already paid over RM1K for the whole trip. It was nothing like the lack of a paid job for over 6 months to bring home the fact that I cannot afford to not go and not feel a complete wastrel. So, stupid or not, I must go, if only just to realize satisfaction from the sum I paid over…

The day of departure arrived. True to forecast, we stepped out of the plane at Kota Kinabalu to rain and wind. Out of our anxiety for our climb, we began to murmur and “scold” HCheah for “forecasting” bad weather – even though it could hardly be his fault for relating the predictions of the Malaysian Metrology Services!

Fortified with lunch at the city, we travelled 2 hours from Kota Kinabalu to Kinabalu Park HQ, which was at the foothill of the mountain range and also the centre for hostel registration. Park HQ looks up to a scenic view of tall, majestic, imposing mountains beyond the park. Their glory was quite lost on us, however, as visibility was 600m or less on that foggy afternoon. And at 16 C, we were none of us too motivated to venture out far from the warm, roofed lodge either.

We settled at the hostel at Mesilau, had dinner, had a simple praise and worship session, and retired for the night. At least, I tried to retire for the night. I was unsuccessful. There were 8 of us ladies in that dorm (one later went out to try sleeping in the common room cushions). The room was cold, the bed was lumpy and the pillow was flat. I tossed and turned restlessly, listening to the rain and wondering what the morning would bring.

It arrived soon enough, bringing with it a bashful sun and, thankfully, no rain. The team of us (which had grown to a grand total of 19 since last December), in good spirits, weighed out our soon-to-be-portered bags, met up with our climb guides and took a team picture before starting off the climb in 3 groups.

I was placed in the middle group. The steps were steep from the word “go”. Much steeper than Mt Dato’s. Pete01 wasn’t kidding when he said we did not train enough, for within 10 minutes, I was breathless. I was wondering I how could finish 8kms of climb at the rate of 1 km an hour. I persevered – tried as hard as I could to go as fast as I could. But with 7kgs of stuff in my backpack, I was soon left behind, and had to join the 3rd (and last) group when they caught up with me. The group comprised EuT, KGT, Pt and KLGan, with DJ and HCheah as sweepers. I’m mentioning them here because they make up a major part of my arduous journey to Laban Rata.

It is tedious to go into the details of the whole trip to Laban Rata, and it is not my intention to bore my readers to tears; thus I would not waste too many pages elaborating the gruelling passage. However, there are a few things about the journey that must be highlighted so as to explain the nature of the trip for me. (Err….this would probably mean a few pages will be taken for this purpose…[sheepish grin inserted here…!])

Soon after KM1 (i.e., the 1st km), done in just 55 minutes, the trail went downwards. Apparently, the Mesilau Trail to Laban Rata starts off on a wrong mountain! We had to go up that mountain, then go halfway down it, pass a ridge between the two mountains, and then start up the right one. As a person who hates descending, the downward trail from KM1.2 to 2.7 was no walk in the park for me. By the end of it, I was shaken, limping, and weepy. The backbone was aching from too much bumping along the downhill excursion. The good thing was that we covered the 2nd km in 40 minutes, which made us 25 minutes ahead of our 1 km an hour schedule. Not bad, huh?

Then the trail went uphill again. My legs started giving way. We still had about 5kms to do. I lagged behind and had to stop many, many times. DJ and HCheah, the sweepers, urged me on. In my many hours with them, I was to discover the fact that they were not averse to coming up with jokes pertaining to my fitness level. I had these great, witty rejoinders for each of their disparaging remarks, but out of consideration for their consideration for me, had kindly refrained from speaking them aloud....for most of the time, anyway. Apart from joking, the sweepers also sang songs to keep boredom at bay. To be fair, walking with me was like keeping pace with a snail. [I did say earlier that I was the least athletic of all women, didn’t I?] Anyway, I did ask them on several occasions to go ahead of me. Each time, they told me to save my breath for walking up. By this time, DJ was holding my bottle of ORS water [which he re-named Diva Juice in honor of yours truly], HCheah my bottle of plain water, and KGT my whole backpack. All I had in my hand was my walking stick. Every once in a while, the sweepers would hand me a bottle to take a sip. That happened often, because I stopped about every 10 steps. Or less. To pant. And huff. And blow. And wheeze. Before taking another 10 steps. Or less.

It was in this rhythm I continued until I reached the pondok (or hut) at KM4. We met RT there for about 5 minutes. It was cold and it started raining. I put on my raincoat, ate a little of the packed lunch we brought, and moved on. At about KM5 (with 3.3 more kms still to go), I decided to surrender my backpack to the porter. Not that I was carrying it anyway. KGT was doing that honourable job. But since he was already sick with diarrhoea and had to also carry his own heavy backpack, I decided to relieve him of my 6kg burden (It’s now 6kgs because I had two sweepers to hold 1 kg of my drinks, remember?).

We walked on. Or rather, everyone else walked on. I straggled. This time to the rhythm of 6-steps – pant – huff – blow – wheeze – 6-steps. My leg muscles were surrendering. My breath was consistently coming short. My heart was continually beating wildly. I stopped too many times to count. Oh, did I mention that by this time, HCheah was already out of sight? He started walking ahead of us sometime after KM4, and disappeared completely by KM6, where our trail joined up with the KM4 mark of the Timpohon Trail. It was via the Timpohon Trail that we were to arrive at Laban Rata.

The Timpohon Trail had a different look to it. Instead of a trail of tree trunks and roots, dark mud, rivulets and wooden steps (as seen in the Mesilau one), it was mainly yellow/orange rocks and boulders with water running underfoot most of the time. By this time, it was just KGT, EuT, DJ and I. Of Pt and KLGan, we were to meet only intermittently, and for the last time at the KM5 pondok of the Timpohon Trail.

The altitude was much higher now. It got much harder to take in a lungful of air. This fact was compounded by the presence of persistent rain and wind. The numbing coldness in my hands was multiplied by wet gloves. I took them off and shoved my free hand into the pocket of my wind-breaker to warm it up a little. When that failed, I begged a fresh pair of gloves from EuT, put them on, and hid them both in the inside of my wind-breaker sleeves. That kept the wet off, and I found that when I kept my hands clenched, it doesn’t feel as cold. That helped.

KGT and EuT had walked on and had presently, also vanished from sight. Only DJ and I were left. Every step was now an agony. Added to the breathlessness and the heart pounds, there was also dizziness. Every time I stopped for a rest and wheeze, I had to lean heavily on my walking stick to counter the spinning world around me. Poor DJ had to trail behind me. I turned around to ask him to go ahead without me, but he would have none of it. Sweet man. I also noticed him lagging a few times. I asked once if he was OK. I’m thinking now that it was testosterones that made him reply a firm “yes” because he really wasn’t, though we weren’t to know it until after he arrived at Laban Rata. In any case, all my spare thoughts were on my legs and my energies were driven towards getting them to move – possibly in an upward direction. I was cold, dizzy, in pain and miserable. Not much left in me to think about DJ, save for that naggy, resentful reflection that he was adding stress to my life by being behind me, and unconsciously pressing me on. Noble man.

One of the guide-cum-porters appeared in front of us. His name is Hamiri. He had carted all our bags to Laban Rata and had now turned back to aid us stragglers up to that mid-point hostel. Hamiri offered me his hand. Just thinking of pulling my hand out of its comfortable cocoon in my wind-breaker pocket was too much, and so I shook my head in (hopefully!) thanks. He started walking with me, and talking to me. Well, he was really just murmuring nothings. I can’t remember everything he said, but it was generally to the tune of “It’s going to be fine; just go slow; here, hold my hand, it’s warm and nice. Climbing is a lot more fun and easy if you smile when you climb. Can you smile? Do you have a smile for me? Come on, smile for me…

In retrospect, I must have been a nasty person, because I replied him thus: “Would you just shut up? I can barely summon up energy enough to walk, and you want me to work up more to move my mouth into a smile? Get real! And by the way, puh-leeze stop talking. You’re making my eardrums and my ear-to-brain nerves work. I can’t afford to expend a single iota of strength for this. So please. Zip it!

Now, saying all those things has 2 major repercussions: 1) Much-craved energy is lost, making the possibility of ever reaching Laban Rata even more remote, and 2) Hamiri gets angry, stops talking, walks off in a huff and leaves me stranded.

I guess I must still have possessed a glimmer of sanity somewhere at the back of my head, because I did not utter those horrendous words out loud.

But I DID scream them in my head…

On and on we trudged, the guide speaking sweet nothings to nobody in general, and I tuning him out as much as I could. I was freezing by this time. The new glove inside the wind-breaker sleeve, inside the pocket, was not doing its job. Hamiri must have looked at the clenched fist and diagnosed my condition, for he said again, “Here, hold my hand. It is warm,” and stretched out his hand towards me.

I took it. It was warm. Blessed heat seeped in through my frozen fingers. It was a small relief that quickly turned into a great one when he started lending me his strength by pulling me up. It helped. A LOT!

We reached KM5.5. That is, 7.5 kms from the start of the Mesilau Route. The sun (or what we had of it!) was going down. It was after 6pm. The sky was darkening. All I wanted to do was just sit down and sleep. I was ever so tired. The air was so thin. And cold. And wet. Every pain that could be felt in the thigh and calves muscles was being felt. It seems the heart had even grown fatigue with pounding. The heaviness in the head was an almost physical thing. I needed to be careful not to jerk my head accidentally, because it can induce vomiting.

I felt really slow and stupid. “Why, oh why did I ever let myself be manipulated into doing this? Surely there are mental and spiritual struggles enough in my life without having to deal with physical ones as well?

I was still chewing myself over my obtuseness when KGT materialized ahead of us. He had sped up the last km, deposited the backpacks, grabbed a couple of headlights and ran back down the trail to meet us. Another good man.

About the 1st things I got him to do was to release DJ (who was still behind me) of his duty as a sweeper, and allow him to move on ahead. KGT did that, and DJ clambered past us. Then KGT took over from Hamiri, and we crawled on the last 300m. Everything was SNYSF – So Near Yet So Far.

Looking back, I think I knew deep inside me that should I have had to do it all alone, I would still have had been able to arrive at Laban Rata. Eventually, that is. For to turn back at that stage would be like saying “yes” to death in the cold and dark. And I was certainly not suicidal in any part of the journey. However, having DJ and Hamiri and KGT with me made a great difference. They were beside me, encouraging me and pacing with me. I was able to make it with a much more positive frame of mind.

6KM. Laban Rata came into view. At last! It was 7pm, and temperature was about 7 C. I was leaning heavily on KGT by this time. I looked up and saw a big white building against an almost dark sky, warmly beckoning me. It was a most glorious sight.

I stepped into the building and found myself in the warm, cosy cafeteria in the building. I was greeted by the welcoming faces of all my other team mates. All the pain and aches receded to a corner, and the nausea disappeared. The familiar, smiling countenance of team members was a blissful thing indeed. I had arrived. All was well with my world.

I took as much food as my stomach would allow at the table. It was there I noticed DJ with his head in his hand. He was in the throes of an atrocious migraine attack. Apparently, he ate some cheese residue (to which he is allergic) back at the pondok at KM2, and it started acting up sometime about an hour ago. Of course, having to trail behind me was no joke either, and I felt really bad about that. Pete02 attended to him. Our hopes that he would be fine enough to summit the next morning were smashed when we heard he was too sick to go anywhere except to bed.

I went up, bathed and came down again for a short pre-summit briefing. In that meeting, we found that 4 members of our team had decided not to summit – DJ who was sick, Pt & KLGan, and AuntyR (Pete02’s mom). It had been Pt and KLGan and Aunty Rose’s intention to make it to Laban Rata and no more. Thus, there were 15 of us planning to summit the next day…

I should perhaps make mention here that I had serious doubts about summitting. The Mesilau Route had almost totally undone me. I did very much so wanted to pull out from the Summit Push. However, I had to consider my sisters and KGT and all who had encouraged me to come for this trip. My sisters, especially. After having said that I could do it, and having helped me budget for the trip, booked my flight, rectified all the insufficiencies of my climbing gears – well, I was quite mortally afraid of what they would say if I revealed that I did not think I could summit. So I kept my silence. And my fears. To myself.

KGT broke the team up into groups of pairs and threes. I was paired with WLee. He and I were to be helpers and motivators to each other. Should one of us need to turn back due to extenuating circumstances, the other would have to abandon the Summit Push and accompany the partner back. I was terrified about letting WLee down, and asked him if we could follow KGT and EuT’s team, so that he would not need to be “burdened” by me, should it come to that. WLee, I discovered later, was an ex-triathlete – he did 2.1kms of swimming, followed by 90kms of bicycling, followed by 21kms of running – all within 8 hours – as part and parcel of normal practice. Scary, huh?

Anyway, it was 9pm, and we all went back to our bunks to catch a 5-hour sleep. Again, I could not sleep. My hair was still wet from the bath (or from rain, I can’t be sure which), and I was full of concern about the Summit Push. I had taken more than 10½ hrs to complete an 8 hr climb from Mesilau to Laban Rata. It was pure agony. From the testimony of many, I knew that the Summit Push would be much, much harder. How was I to summit? I was also very anxious to actually sleep, because I had not had sleep for the last 40 hours (I didn’t get any at the Mesilau lodge the night before, remember?). That anxiety to get some sleep made Sleep all the more elusive. I finally gave up sleeping, and tried to pray instead. I prayed to God and asked His help that I might summit, along with everyone else in the team who were making the summit trail. I asked for extra strength for my legs to make it up there and back. I asked for enough oxygen in my lungs to keep me from AMS (acute mountain sickness). I prayed for protection for my family back in Seremban. I prayed for everything and everyone else that I could think of.

And, oh yeah.. I also repented from not having trained enough. Though how one can practically repent from that sort of thing at a point in time when it is too late, I don’t know. Anyway, I thought that might invoke God’s pity on me and then His grace…

At about 1am, I observed my sisters stirring – they had not been able to sleep much, either. We started chatting, and soon it was time to get up and wash.

We had breakfast (well, at 2.30am, it was really a pre-breakfast) with the rest of the team, and then we got ready to start off on the Trail. Pete03 went out of the cafĂ©, and came right back in, reporting that he saw stars in the sky. At 8 C, that was a good sign for good weather, and the news cheered us up. I brought a pair of water-proof pants (just in case), a large, thick winter jacket (which KGT insisted I took), a bottle of water, a flask of hot milo, and a few packets of power bars. All these I put into WLee’s backpack (I decided not to carry anything, see?) I put on my ski-mask, my headlight and my raincoat.

We started off at about 3.30am in the morning. The 1st half hour saw the same, bad steep steps. Again, I had to pause many times for breath. WLee gave me a push up every now and then. Hamiri came to my side and took my hand. Thank God for him! I think after the straggling adventure of the night before, he knew to keep an eye on me. We climbed on.

At one junction, we met Pete03 and HLai, two of our team mates. I know. I seem to have dotted my story with various different Petes, haven’t I? Well, there are three in this story – Pete01, the one who went before us in March; Pete02, a doctor; and Pete03, who is summitting for the second time with his wife, HLai. Anyway, HLai was in a faint, and Pete03 was trying his best to revive her. Apparently, she heated up too quickly on her way up, got really dizzy, and had to sit down for a spell. Our headlights marked out a greenish hue on her face. We were worried, and wanted to stop to help her, but Pete03 waved us off, and told us that he would take care of his wife. And so we moved on.

We were almost at the end of the steep wooden steps when we saw a cable hanging in the rocks. We were asked to climb up those rocks using the cable! The first thing that came to my mind was, “KGT!!! You PROMISED that there would be no such thing like this in Mt K during my Mt Angsi climb!!!” I articulated those words in a shriek. KGT snorted and said, “Get real. What are you going to do now? Turn back?” Well, maybe he didn’t really express himself so inconsiderately, but it sure felt like that to me!

Hamiri had gone up to help the team mates ahead of us who were having trouble heaving themselves up those almost vertical rocks. I found that I did not have much trouble getting up, as the soles of the Axel shoes I had were gripping very well. [Did I mention that those Axel shoes were bought by RT when she saw my incompetent Nikes?]. In any case, Hamiri did not leave me all alone to myself. He must have instructed Jeffrey, another guide, to look after me. And so, Jeffrey appeared in my life while I was in the middle of hauling myself up the cable on the rocks. Like Hamiri, he offered me his hand. This time, I took it without hesitation. What surprised me about Jeffrey was that he pulled me away from the cable and we walked up the almost vertical rocks without the aid of the ropes. Cool, huh?

We arrived at the Sayat-Sayat Gate; it was a checkpoint for everyone who was going through to get to the summit. We stopped to rest for about 15 minutes or so. It was very cold, and by the end of the 15 minutes, I was shivering and so ready to move on. Jeffrey held my hand and we walked up. I figured that since I needed to have enough oxygen, I would schedule my stops every 20 steps. That plan worked very well, and I found myself actually making 40-60 steps before every stop. Of course, the wheeze-hiss-huff stuff happened as well, but it was much more controlled than the day before.

I only had about 1.5kms more to go. In front of me were my team mates – FTan, Pete02, HCheah, WLee, and CChan. And behind me were JKok, RT, The Chans (BP, SK & LV), KGT and EuT. Save for CChan, I could see all of them in a row. Remember the cable at the hanging rocks? Well, it was really a continuous line until almost at the summit. So everyone sort of stuck close to it. And as there was just a vast expanse of black&grey rocks, I was able to see everyone.

Guess who passed me during one of my pauses for breath? HLai and Pete03!! HLai overcame her fainting spell, and decided to carry on. Hamiri went back for her, and he was now holding her hand and SK’s (Chan) hands, pulling both of them up. Hooray!!

Now I had three more people in front of me, and the peak was just about 700m away. Mists had started coming up from the valleys below. No thoughts of turning back now. My mind was completely focused on the summit point ahead and above.

The last two hundred meters were full of difficult, jagged, dangerous rocks.

But I made it.

I made it all the way to the top.

It is called Low’s Peak. What a peculiar name for the highest peak in Mt K. It was very cold. Maybe about 2 C. The mist/rain was visible, almost like flakish icicles. I had on KGT’s winter jacket and thick gloves.

About the first things I longed to do was to whip out my handphone and call VFui and Jes and Anne, and AuntyC and just about everyone else I could think of. I was feeling quite on top of the world. Literally. But I didn’t take the phone out. For one thing, it was buried in one of the pockets somewhere, and taking it out would be clumsy. For another, I would have had to take off my thick winter gloves to be able to press the buttons. I decided it was just too cold for that sort of activity. And so I didn’t do it.

I was twenty minutes earlier than RT, and so there I sat, at the top, huddling, and waiting for her to make her way up to join me. When she reached, she put her arms around me, and we sat there for a few minutes, before I started my climb down.

It took me 4hrs 50mins to get up here from Laban Rata. I went from 6000ft above sea level at the start of the Mesilau Trail, to 10,000ft at Laban Rata, to a grand height of 13,435ft above sea level at Low’s Peak. I was at the top of South-East Asia.

Was it worth it? Logically, the answer would be a resounding “yes!” But in reality, the sentiments were too much and too varied to tell at that moment.

Was it easy? Well, much easier than yesterday’s Mesilau Route to Laban Rata.

Have I conquered? NO! I found that I did not conquer anything after all. All I did was just…overcome. I overcame my fears, my fatigue, my faults. Myself.

Did I feel like I was a better person, having overcome? Yes, perhaps I did. And perhaps I am…

It took me another 3hrs to climb down to Laban Rata. At a couple of points in the journey, Jeffrey asked me to turn back and look at where we were at. I did. The first time I turned, I was awestruck at the sight of the massive huge rock looming above us. When I made the journey up, it was still dark, and I had only my headlight to show me the path for just about a couple of steps in front. If I had seen this in broad daylight while I was walking up, would I have given up? Probably. Or probably not. I’ll never know. But it was an intimidating sight, to say the least. The second time I turned around was when I descended (again almost without use of the ropes) the almost vertical rocks where the cable starts. I looked up, and again, felt great amazement that such a rock could actually be climbed…by me!

I reflected – isn’t that just like Life? When you get thrown a bunch of seemingly insurmountable problems (like no job, no direction, no nothing), you just gotta step ahead in faith, using the headlamp of God’s Word to light the next few steps in front of you [Psalm 119:105 comes to mind here]. You walk. One step here, half a step there, and another step forward. And then you reach. And then you walk on. After some time, you turn back. And get so amazed at the amount of miles you’ve covered. And so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. And so surprised that the bulk of the problems were really already behind you. And so grateful you had Someone at your side, holding your hands, leading you on...And so there, you’ve Overcome.

I arrived back at Laban Rata. Had my lunch. Took a bath. Went out to take a few pictures. The weather was really good. Clear skies. God answered all of our prayers. All 15 of us made it to the top without turning back.

That night, the hostel was packed with weekend climbers who had just arrived at Laban Rata. After dinner, we created a spot near the reception, took the guitar, and had a short praise and worship session. I got to sleep a little that night.

The next morning brought rain. Huge, torrential rain. What were mere rivulets on the rocks while we climbed up the day before were now gushing, knee-deep rivers (rather like mini waterfalls). The masses that went up that morning were turned back at the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint. When we came down for breakfast, it was to a group of despondent, disappointed hikers. We ate our breakfast as quietly as we could, and then packed up and readied ourselves to descend.

We started our descent at about 8.50am. Water was running in small streams underfoot all the way. We descended the Timpohon way, which is only 6 kms down. I only fell about 4 times along the way, and further weakened my left ankle. But it was OK. I made it in slightly more than 4 hrs to the Timpohon Gate. Along the way, I met a lot of weekend climbers getting up. I offered only encouragements for their journey. What can I say, I was feeling magnanimous…

So, was it pre-meditated stupidity to pay for the afflictions I’ve been through in the climb? On hindsight, no. It was well worth the money to have overcome. Would I go again? NO! To attempt the same climb again in the same manner would really be pure lunacy.

But I will go again….only if……1) there is another hostel built somewhere between either gates (Timpohon or Mesilau) and Laban Rata, 2) they allow a three-day summit trail instead of two, and 3) there is a bike path built along any of the trail, as an alternative to walking…

A lot of my team mates talked about the awesome flora and fauna, and the changes in vegetation on the way up the Mesilau Route and Timpohon Trail. But I did not perceive much of it. The only time I really stopped to see anything was at the ridge between the two mountains. It was breathtaking. I rather think everywhere was beautiful, but I was too concentrated on my pains to notice. Perhaps if I had taken the time to enjoy the scenery, this whole Mesilau-to-LabanRata climb would not have been that traumatic for me…as it is, the Trail to Laban Rata may continue to remain disturbing for me for some time more to come.

Having said that, I must qualify that the Summit Push was a much more pleasurable experience for me. I got to see all my team-mates most of the time and I was not out of breath and/or in pain all the time. And then there is this point in the trail, when one is at the flattish terrain, about 1 km away from the summit, where one could look up, up, up at Low’s Peak in the horizon, and then turn around and look down, down, down at the minuscular towns of Sabah below. It gives one the simultaneous, contradictory feelings of greatness and of insignificance. Of vastness and of minuteness. Of arrogance and of humility. Of being too much and being too little. I guess no word or picture can aptly illustrate that sensation. It is Indescribable.

So yeah. If I can just get to Laban Rata without having to use my limbs, I would like to summit Kinabalu again, if only just to try to encapsulate that awesome feeling 1 km from the summit.

How many days did I take to recover from the aches and pain? Well, surprisingly this time, it took me only 2 days. I was fine. Maybe it was because of the Yoko-Yoko muscular ache potion thingy. Or maybe, just maybe, I am a little more fit than Pete01 suggested…

In any case, having experienced so much in just over three days, I now claim braggin’ rights for having summitted the highest peak in South-East Asia. Among other things.

And so, that’s my story.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well done, SK. You overcame many obstacles, both internal and external. Truly a case of mind over matter.

Your grit was an inspiration to many. You really broke your personal limits and reached a higher ground.