When I came to Sabah
more than a decade ago now, I obviously could not resist the
temptation to climb Mt Kinabalu. I remember very well the
circumstances that lead to the climb: for one reason or other I took
a van from Keningau to Ranau, and from there to Kota Kinabalu rather
than a direct connection Keningau-KK. Driving down the winding roads
from Bundu Tuhan to Tamparuli I had the strong feeling that the
mountain called me, as the cliché has it, and a couple of days later
I was back in Kundasang booking the two-day climbing arrangement.
However, I don’t remember much of the climb except that it was
raining from the very start, and right to the peak, and back again
to the starting point. Oh, yes, one remarkable incident I remember:
we did not even realise when the sun rose, the peak was shrouded in
such a heavy cloud it was impossible to discern anything. Sunrise
was only marked by dark shadows turning into grey shadows, and all
the while it was raining.
The second time I climbed Mt Kinabalu was an entirely different
experience, one that I remember vividly not only for its spectacular
environment but also for the serenity I gained from it. For a start,
the weather was picture perfect even though it was late in November,
supposedly the rainy season. The trek to Laban Rata on the first day
was nothing extraordinary, but the second day was full of wonders
and surprises. As it is customary we all started the final ascent by
around three o’clock in the morning. Some clouds overhead soon
dissipated and we could see brilliant stars littering a velvety
black sky. I was continuing steadily and leaving other climbers
behind and soon I arrived on the last plateau not far below the
summit. I came out of the shadow of South Peak and it was there that
suddenly a nearly full moon illuminated the pinnacles and crags
around me, bathing everything in its eerie cold light. The natural
spectacle on this barren plateau momentarily took my breath away. As
I continued alone, accompanied only by my breathing and the
occasional gust of wind each step, each breath I took became a
deeply reflective moment. I was absorbed into the monochrome
landscape, and there was no effort as I continued the ascent in
The reaching of the peak was a bit of an anticlimax though. I had
entirely forgotten that the summit of Mt Kinabalu was a haphazard
pile of car-sized boulders more than anything else and thus I found
myself rather abruptly at a point where there was no more going up.
A plaque reminded me, somewhat stupidly, that I had reached Low’s
Peak, Mt Kinabalu’s summit. But the abruptness of the moment soon
made way to new surprises: I realised that I was alone – alone with
the mountain, the winds, and the moon still icily illuminating the
granite around me. I turned slowly, allowing my mind to absorb the
grandness of the view. Far, very far away the twinkling lights of
Kota Kinabalu. Could I see Tuaran? A little bit closer was
Kundasang, still sleepy. Close to me dark shadows marked Low’s
Gully, from where now a steady cold wind emerged, violently
rendering apart the clouds and mists that crept unsuspectingly over
its edge. Gradually nature’s spellbinding spectacle had me totally
absorbed. My mind soared with the wind, and for a moment I could
feel the mystifying presence of Mt Kinabalu within me,
breathtakingly grand, a profound feeling of bliss and fulfilment.
I don’t know how long I remained in that position but the arrival of
my fellow climbers somewhat changed the mood at the peak. I suddenly
felt cold, realising that I was not fittingly attired for the climb.
My feet were going numb and I started doing some warm-up exercise
while chatting with the newcomers, all of whom congratulated
themselves, winded, for having reached the summit. But none seemed
to have had any extraordinary experience, which left me, oddly, with
some disappointed feelings.
Finally the sun rose to a truly magnificent morning. The first
glowing rays crept over the peaks to reach the freezing bunch of us
with magical hands. Then the sun burst forward with all its might,
to the ah’s and oh’s of my fellow climbers – after all, that’s what
they came here for: to see the sunrise over Borneo! And it is indeed
an exhilarating experience! I felt like I could see the whole of
Borneo under me, waking up to a new day like it was the very first,
and so far away from all troubles in this world.
Shortly after the sunrise the masses started moving down. I stayed
back a bit, looking for that special moment again, me alone with the
mountain, but something was different. The mountain did not want to
talk to me right then and there again. Nevertheless I thanked it
with a content heart, and headed after the rest of the climbers.
Mt Kinabalu peaking through the clouds
Mystical Mt Kinabalu, early morning seen from Kota Kinabalu
Another early morning impression
Climbing through lower montane forest, an eerie world!
The peaks in sight!
Laban Rata, overnight stop.