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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

An experience not to be forgotten.

Guess where I was on the 19 Sept 2007, 8.09am? Yes! I was on the highest peak in Southeast Asia. Mt Kinabalu, 4095.2m, 13,455 feet above sea level. I made it to the top.

KG and Peter Lim were the team leaders/organisers. We were in a group of 20, age group between 17-65, 12 men and 8 ladies. 14 made it to the top. We all had stories to tell. Here’s mine :

My sister and I were the latecomers. We had our flights booked on 30 July 07. Others had theirs confirmed way back in March. I heard about this Kinabalu climb then (in Curry Leaf, after prayer meeting, when Peter Lim asked KG to eat more, because he needed the strength for Mt Kinabalu), and showed little interest. The interest grew when Min Chee (my good buddy) said she would be climbing Mt Kinabalu in May. To make things (my feelings in particular) worse, another of my good friend, Rachel Wong told me that she would be joining the recce team in July. I was envious. To console myself, I went for one of their training hikes at Gunung Angsi (26 April). It wasn’t pleasant. It rained a long time just before we started hiking. Many times I thought of turning back. The ground was muddy, slippery and FULL of leeches. I experienced 3 blood-thirsty leeches (at different times, thankfully) and screamed 3 times. I had something against leeches. Creepy, crawly and yucky. During this hike, Min Chee fell and fractured her finger. Because her Sabah trip was less than 2 weeks, she decided not risk climbing Mt Kinabalu.

The recce team (6 of them) went for a 3 day trip (20-22 July). All save one, made it to Low’s Peak, the highest point in Mt Kinabalu. They experienced good weather on the mountain top.

On 29 July, I asked Peter Lim about his recce trip. I can’t remember what he said, probably good or something like that, but I remembered him asking me this question – Do you want to join us for the Sept trip? I think my whole face lit up, and I said yes, if there was space. He checked with KG, and confirmed a space for me that very day itself. Knowing that Rachel Tan (my sister) would very much be interested in this trip, I asked her and checked with Peter if it’s not to late for her to join in. Peter said, “Okay, she can join us”.

Then we started our training… Kepayang Hill and Lake Gardens almost every Saturday and Sunday. Had to skip a few badminton sessions too. We did a Gunung Datuk climb on 25 Aug. Peter Lim was concerned for me because I skipped one Gunung Angsi hike in August. He never saw me in any of the trainings. I must say, his concern for me was well-founded. I don’t have good stamina. . :)

We had a briefing on the same day (25 Aug) in Lawrence’s house. Saw a short video clip of some celebrity climbing Mt Kinabalu. I had dreams after that…eg.. forgot to pack , went up to the mountain by van…… whatever.

17 Sept arrived. Some of us were on a different flight. We met together at about 1pm. Booked 2 vans to take us to the foothill. On the way, we stopped at a place called Nabalu where we had a drink and tried some of the local fruits, wild durians being one of them.

We arrived at Sutera Santuary Lodges (registration and check in) about 4pm. About 6000feet above sea level, the temperature was about, I don’t know… probably like Genting Highlands… 22ºC or something like that.

We stayed one night in Grace Hostel, had a worship and briefing session that night. It was then, when we were told of our groupings. I was in “Charlie 2”, my team members were KG Tan and Pearl.

The next morning, it rained. We started our journey late, partly because of the rain and mostly because we wanted to be later than the rest of the other hikers. The rain stopped just before we started our hike. We started at 10.15am. The first group, Alpha, went first, followed by Bravo, then Charlie 1 and Peter’s group. Charlie 2 (my group) was last because Pearl left her phone at Grace Hostel. She and KG went back to look for it. They couldn’t find it.

We were like 1 km slower than the last group but managed to catch up with them later. It started raining close to 3pm. Fortunately, we had raincoats in our backpack. With the rain, the strong wind and the drop in temperature, we were wet and cold. KG was shivering and it was not a good sign. Step by step, and lots of stops, we finally reached the rest house, also known as Laban Rata, at about 5pm. The earliest group came in at about 4pm. A few minutes after we arrived, Peter Lim came in and told us that Saw Ming (and a guide who was with him) was about 200 meters away and not in a good condition. No one wanted to go out in the cold. KG gave orders to prepare a hot flask and rushed out to rescue Saw Ming.

Later, we all had dinner, and those who were early, had buffet, and the rest of us who came down at 7.30pm were forced to order a plate of plain and tasteless fried rice which cost us RM15 each. We should have shared. Most of us only ate half of it. We had cream of mushroom soup too, jokingly referred as sharkfin’s soup.

At 8pm, we assembled in the guys’ room for a short briefing. We were told of our group members for the summit push. 4 to a group. Lawrence was newly recruited into our team.

Again Peter and KG briefed us on the clothing and the importance of sticking to our group. Should a lady decide to turn back, one of the guys would have to accompany her.

We slept by 9pm and set our alarm for 1.30am. Too excited, so short a time, too early to sleep, and for whatever reasons, some of us had a hard time getting a good night’s rest. Nevertheless, all of us woke up at 1.30am. Some decided not to go because of lack of sleep, backache, not feeling good… etc. It was drizzling and rumour had it that the gate might not be opened. We had a quick breakfast, put on our gear (that includes the “mafan” raincoat) and headed out into the unknown.

It was about 3.30am. Feeling light headed and weary, not to mention envious of those who slept in, we plunged into the cold. Upon reaching the first checkpoint (that was like 200meters or so), some of us were perspiring and had to take out at least 1 layer of clothing. I took off the rain coat and unzipped my sweater. (I had 3 layers on, excluding the rain coat). All went well until we came to the rope part where we had to pull ourselves up. The guide came to my rescue several times, and KG took over full time later. After the rope session, we reached the next checkpoint, Sayat-Sayat.

We walked for a while and stopped whenever we needed rest. KG wasn’t feeling very well and we rested more often than others. The air was thin and due to lack of sleep for the past few nights, I was extra cautious and did not want to take the risk of falling.

After reaching the 8km mark, I slowed down a lot. My legs just refused to move. I didn’t have any trouble breathing. To me, it was just like winter in Minnesota or Canada. Thank God, KG’s energy returned just in time. He was singing heartily, feeling on top of the world. This time, it was I who wanted to stop many times. Slow and steady, and with lots of encouragement from my fellow team member, I made it to the top. My sister was not far behind. She was with an experienced guide. I breathed a sigh of relief and happiness. It was about 8.09am. I was on the highest peak in Southeast Asia. I did it!!! And what do you know, my sister (they put us in different groups) was with me. We did our usual thing. Took pictures. We brought 2 flasks of Milo and had a good hot drink.

We left the peak at about 8.35am. The mist was about to come in. We saw Yau Ming coming up not long after we left Low’s Peak. He was alone and we left Rachel’s guide with him. Remember the golden rule? No one must be alone.

The ground was slippery. We reached Sayat Sayat at about 10.20am, met Peter Lim who was waiting for Yau Ming. We saw Yau Ming 25 minutes later and he went down ahead of us. Rachel’s guide led her past the rope section while I struggled with the ropes. Almost reaching Laban Rata, we met Bee Hwa and Joy with 2 guides. They wanted to go up to the summit. We prayed for them before letting them go. A while later, we saw Matthew Chong alone, also wanting to summit.

We reached Laban Rata at 12.25 pm. I had a headache even while I was going up to the summit. I took 1 soluble panadol and slept for a while. Some gathered downstairs at the dining area and shared their experiences.

At about 6.15pm after our shower, we went down for buffet dinner. It was so-so. Cost RM33.00 per person. At 7.30pm we had a worship session in the dining area and later, a short briefing for the next day. The thought of a second summit the next day crossed our minds but it didn’t happen.

By 9pm, the whole building was silent, with the exception of our room. Someone knocked on our door and asked us to be quiet.

We slept at about 10pm. Some of us couldn’t sleep, because the room was getting hot. The centralised heater went off at about 3am. We all woke up at 7.00-7.30am the next day, packed our bags, ate our breakfast and filled the flasks with Milo. We took photos outside the Laban Rata resthouse, did some stretching and headed for the foothill. As usual, KG and I were the last in line, and this time, Cassandra was with us. On the way down we took lots of pictures. I had some trouble going down because of my weak right knee. Cassandra developed a slight fever. KG was kind enough to carry Cassandra’s backpack along with his to lighten her burden. Towards the last few hundred meters, he ran to Pondok Timpohon, the entrance of Mt Kinabalu. Then he came back to us and took my backpack from me. By this time, Cassandra was feeling worse. We took the bus from Pondok Timpohon to Grace Hostel and found that the others waited for an hour (MORE THAN THAT) for us to arrive. They reached the foothill at about 2pm. (some at 10.45am .. the rest between 12pm – 2pm) They were worried and tried to call us many times. I switched off both phones the day before.

We washed up and left the place by 4pm. I sat in-between Cassandra and Bee Hwa. Cassandra was burning with fever and asked me to pray for her.

Our celebration dinner (seafood, what else!) was held in Kota Kinabalu town at 6.30pm. Peter Lai testified that for 38 years, it was his dream to climb Mt Kinabalu. He gave God the glory.

After that, 7 of our team members had a 9.05pm flight to catch and the rest of us stayed in KK Daya hotel. Rachel and I stayed 2 nights in KK Daya hotel. Our cousin in KK took us sight-seeing and we had quite a good time together.

It was a good trip. I had fun, I enjoyed myself and the team, especially the girls, blended in very well.