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Crowded Restaurant at 2:00 AM

Crowded Restaurant at 2:00 AM

I WOKE up at midnight following a nightmare. I felt quite cold in the bunkroom, even in my warm sleeping bag. I had slept at an altitude far higher than I had ever been before, and was now about to climb to the summit of a seriously high mountain – the highest mountain I had ever seen. Nightmares are apparently a common phenomenon at high altitude. With two hours to go before breakfast, I rolled over and tried to get some more sleep.

I never did go back to sleep. Richard woke up to his portable alarm just before two o’clock. He then woke up those of us who hadn’t already woken up. Bleary eyed, we got up and wrapped up warm in the very night cold air. People from other groups sharing our bunk room were stirring and getting up. It was a rather chaotic start to the day in the darkness at this totally unearthly hour.

We left the bunkroom and staggered downstairs for breakfast. Not that I felt at all hungry. To my surprise the restaurant was packed full of climbers who were all wearing their mountain gear and had woolly hats on their heads. We found ourselves a table, and then stood in the rather long queue to get our plates and cover them with cooked breakfast food.

I really didn’t feel hungry. I struggle to eat breakfast at the best of times in the most normal of mornings at sea level, so eating breakfast today was going to be a big challenge as my stomach had by now tightened into a knot of anticipation of the climb ahead and partly perhaps due to the effect of altitude. I sat down with the rest of the group and rather unenthusiastically ate the nicely cooked breakfast. Our guides Sapinggi and Lianty joined us. They both looked terribly enthusiastic to come and join us on our quest for the summit. The very thought of going so high during the night actually sickened me especially as I had seen how steep the terrain up there was when the cloud had cleared briefly yesterday afternoon.

In fact I had never even done a night climb before.

I went outside to the same balcony where I had viewed the sunset just eight hours ago. It was very cold out here with little to see. In front and below was a small constellation of lights. These were the lights of Kota Kinabalu appearing surprisingly close even though the city was ninety kilometres away.

Then I looked up. The stars were phenomenally bright. I was used to the disappointment of only being able to see a handful of stars from where I lived in Brisbane. I had however seen some amazing views of the stars in New Zealand when I had been travelling in remote areas experiencing the crisp air of subzero temperatures on a clear night. The view from here topped them all. Being over three thousand metres above sea level meant that up here I was clear of all the thick grunge of dust, pollution, humidity and lights that pervade the lower altitudes. Here the sky was perfectly clear and the stars seemed so much brighter and closer than I had ever seen them before.

I recalled reading the stories of astronauts telling about how amazing the stars appear from outer space. It obviously wasn’t that clear down here as there was still a lot of atmosphere to look through, but it was still an absolutely amazing spectacle looking across the Milky Way sweeping over the sky in all its glory.

I returned inside the hut in time for Sapinggi to give us our final briefing. He started by congratulating us for getting this far up the mountain and for getting up so early in the morning. With a huge grin he told us this was where the serious fun begins. He told us just to go up at our own pace and they will help us out. There was absolutely no hurry to get to the top. It was pelan pelan. There will be a stairway up to the checkpoint at Sayat Sayat, where he will check us all in. From there we will need to follow the rope up to the summit. Once we reach the summit, we should find a place to sit just below the top, where we will be sheltered from the wind. At the top we will get extremely cold very quickly, so it is better to watch the sunrise from the shelter of the rocks just below the summit.

That all sounded good and simple, all apart from the rope between Sayat Sayat and the summit. How much climbing was there?

We got a group photo with my little camera before we were ready to leave in convoy with all the other people who had stayed the night and managed to get themselves out of bed for the challenge to reach the summit in time for sunrise.

I had never seen so many insane people in my life.

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19 May 2010


Mount Kinabalu



3273m ASL


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