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Home > Treks > Kinabalu > Day 3 > Sunset
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Sunset above the Clouds

Sunset above the Clouds
 
 

WE RELAXED for a late afternoon tea after having put our gear on our bunk beds upstairs. It was surreal to be so comfortable and well looked after following such a strain up the mountain. The air was abuzz with so many adventurers all together in one place all with a common purpose – to conquer Borneo’s highest mountain. The energy reinvigorated me.

The inside of the lodge was very well warmed, but whenever anyone went outside a gust of cold air could come in quickly reminding us that we were over three kilometres above sea level. They say that the temperature drops six degrees for every thousand metres you climb, so here at 3272 metres the temperature was about twenty degrees cooler than at sea level.

Blue sky!
Blue sky!

The puffy cloud suddenly started dissipating with hints of blue sky showing through, and I went out onto the small balcony through the door beside our table. The balcony was about a metre and a half wide, spanning the length of the building. There were a couple of chairs and small tables out here, but they were all wet. It was bad enough experiencing the cold wind without getting wet as well.

The thick swirling cloud danced playfully over the ridges. It was thin enough though for me to see the area was largely bare patches of grey granite rock with trees and shrubs filling in the gaps in the gullies. I heard water running in a nearby gully – obviously the there was a permanent supply of fresh running mountain water for the huts.

Spectacular clouds
Spectacular clouds

Then the cloud suddenly started to clear. Large patches still stuck to the side of the mountain. The land below was still covered in a thick layer of cloud, with the puffy tops towering to an altitude level with the hut. It was as if I was standing on top of one of the clouds. The sun shone through the deep blue sky. The sky at altitude really is a lot darker than seen at sea level.

The top of the mountain ridge was beginning to show through the thin mist. The patches of bare rock glistened from all the water sitting on the surface. That was short lived though. A tower of cloud rapidly approached engulfing the side of the mountain again. With my glorious view across the clouds snatched away from me, I returned inside to the warmth of the hut to join the rest of the group.

Daunting view to the summit
Daunting view to the summit

Once inside the cloud quickly cleared again, so I went out through the main entrance at the back of the hut. For the first time I could see to the top of the mountain ridge, though the summit was probably concealed behind the ridge that I could see from this angle. From here though, I could see a couple of the precipitous crags at the top. Underneath the ridge, at about three hundred metres above me was the small hut of Sayat Sayat at the bush line. I assumed we were going to be climbing up to there early tomorrow morning. Beyond that though, the mountain seemed very precipitous. Huge vertical towering bluffs devoid of vegetation and overhangs stood over Sayat Sayat hut for hundreds of metres creating what appeared to be a totally impenetrable barrier to the top. Sapinggi and Richard had both mentioned there will be some ropes to climb along, so perhaps they were referring to the towering wall of rock above Sayat Sayat. If so there was no way that I’d be able to climb that. I’m sure Robert wouldn’t climb it either.

Swirling cloud hugs the mountain
Swirling cloud hugs the mountain

From there I left the hut and walked around to the front of it. Not so tired now I could see more detail on the hut with the cloud cleared away. Two satellite dishes hung off the lower storey of the building. Tiny narrow uninviting windows covered the walls at each level everywhere apart from the main dining area which had much larger panes of glass. Imagine having been assigned to carry one of those up the mountain!

The scrub surrounding the hut was thick and standing about a metre high. There were no trees around the hut. Several other huts clinging to the side of the mountain rose above the scrub. Perhaps these were private huts or maybe the huts of the workers up here. All the people who worked up here had to walk up the track and stay here for three months before getting a month off and walk back down the mountain and head back to where they were living. They would have to sleep somewhere during their stay.

Alpine foliage
Alpine foliage

I had a close look at the shrubs. These were different from anything I had ever seen before, and imagined some of these species were endemic to this area. Mount Kinabalu was a lost world with no terrain like this anywhere on Borneo or for the foreseeable distance in any direction for that matter. There were a few peaks in Papua New Guinea rising over four kilometres high, plus of course the Himalayas on the Asian mainland, but these mountains were all very distant. This mountain was unique along with much of the flora even at this level. Some of the shrubs had small white flowers. Others had pink berries.

The cloud had cleared enough so I could see the huge bowl the hut was sitting in. The cloud that translucently covered the top ridges and eerie peaks at the top swirled ferociously almost as a warning challenge against going up. It then registered that perhaps this really was going to be too much for me. After all only twenty percent of people who come to the mountain actually reach the summit. Now I could see why.

More cloud suddenly swirled in, and that was the last I would see of the upper mountain before tomorrow morning’s ascent.

The clouds clear
The clouds clear

Numb to the bone from the bitterly cold wind, I returned to the group as the cloud thickly descended to envelope us again. The conditions once more looked bleak as rain started falling again. Richard told us that if it is raining in the morning, we won’t be able to go up to the summit. That being said though, he said most afternoons were like this, and he has only ever had one failed trip in all the times he had taken groups up the mountain.

I returned to the balcony out the front of the hut where the sky was clear once more, and once more the clouds came up to just below our level brilliantly white in the bright sunlight contrasted against the brilliant royal blue sky and the black ridge in front of me.

The sun climbed lower into the sky until it set behind the ridge just as the cloud began to clear again. This time I could see through patches all the way down to the hills over a vertical kilometre below me, and further down into the valleys two vertical kilometres below. Billowing clouds were in between the gaps, but I was above them. It was just like being on an airplane only not confined with the constrictions of looking out of a tiny porthole in the confines of economy class. Here I had the freedom of an unlimited view with my entire field of vision.

Layers of cloud at the end of sunset
Layers of cloud at the end of sunset

The area down the mountain cleared, revealing the route I had taken up through the forest. Of course the track was concealed by the forest. Far below me stood a communication aerial. From way up here it was tiny.

There was a thin layer of cloud above us now, which I recognised as alto stratus. The puffy cumulus clouds were bright rising to just below us, but it was strange seeing the alto stratus mid-level cloud so close, perhaps just a few hundred metres above my head. I was now in the thin clear space between the two layers of cloud with the unnaturally blue sky filling the gaps above the upper layer.

The clouds then began to go yellow with the sun fast approaching the horizon. The hills far below began to go dark as the sun had already set down there. Looking up the top of the mountain unveiled itself from the cloud. Perhaps there was hope of fine weather tonight.

Purple clouds kilometres below
Purple clouds kilometres below

Now the mid level cloud had cleared enough to reveal some magnificent cirrus cloud sweeping across the sky seeming very close. The sunset caught on the mid and high level clouds in an amazing orange cream colour contrasting against the purple grey shaded clouds, the bright blue sky and the almost black hills below.

The sky quickly darkened as the last bright rays of sunlight stopped illuminating the icy cirrus clouds above. The temperature quickly plummeted so I returned inside the hut to join the rest of the group.

The last of the sunset
The last of the sunset

Dinner was finally ready just after the sun had slipped below the horizon. We formed a rather long queue along the serving tables at the far end as the staff dished out some carbohydrate rich food with plenty of meat for us to digest ready for the climb later tonight. The room was abuzz with anticipation.

I ate dinner fairly quickly before excusing myself to take a shower. I had a cunning theory to put to the test. Everyone else in the group had taken a shower shortly after arriving, and they all had cold showers thanks to people before them using up all the hot water. Now I’m no plumber but I knew that hot water systems can only take so much capacity, and they take a while to heat up. While everyone would be eating, no one would be showering. I normally wouldn’t mind a cold shower in the equatorial tropics, but not up here where it was far too cold.

I went upstairs, collected my towel and took a very nice warm shower. The best part was no one else was here in the bathroom. It was just me.

Refreshed, I returned downstairs to join the others. I wasn’t going to mention it, but they asked, and they persisted so I told them the truth. Yes the water was hot and the shower was so nice. Grrr went everyone else, but one or two took the opportunity and raced upstairs to take advantage of the availability of the hot running water while it was still running. Sometimes it does pay to be smart.

I quickly went outside again. The clouds had by now dropped further down the mountain, but the summit area was still covered in a thick layer of cloud. It was going to be touch and go. Will tomorrow morning be clear like the previous two mornings? It really was hard to tell.

They say Mount Kinabalu is one of only a couple of mountains in the world that creates its own weather. I had lived under Mount Taranaki in New Zealand growing up, and this was another one. The weather elsewhere in New Zealand could be perfectly fine, but the mountain could be covered in cloud and experience heavy rain. Mount Kinabalu was the same. You just never know the weather. The other mountain with a reputation of creating its own weather is Mount Kenya in Africa.

I retired to bed with the rest of the group. My camera battery had been charged, so I packed that away in my camera bag ready for some good photography should we get a view at the summit. I had been told that camera batteries tend to flatten very quickly at high altitudes, mainly due to the very cold conditions, so everything had to be fully charged.

With everything ready, I crawled into my bunk bed and quickly fell asleep, a little nervous though that the high altitude could perhaps kill me in my sleep.

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Latitude: Longitude: Altitude:

18 May 2010

 

Mount Kinabalu

Malaysia

 

6°03'31"N
116°33'58"E
3273m ASL

 

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