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To a well deserved Lunch at the bottom

To a well deserved Lunch at the bottom
 
 

IT WAS a relief to be inside the hut with the others from my group. Most had already arrived and were sitting at the table we had sat at yesterday afternoon. There were a couple of others behind me, who were just entering the hut now. Nadia was still coming down with Sapinggi and Lianty. Exhilarated, I joined the group at the table. Richard was there amongst the rest of the group who had already arrived.

It turned out that Richard had turned back once we had reached the start of the stairs within two minutes of the hut. He was very tired, so he had gone back to bed. He admitted he usually does that when he leads a group up the mountain. He has been to the summit a few times in earlier trips, and that was enough for him. So far as he was concerned, from this point on we are in Sapinggi’s hands. What a shame he had not been at the summit to celebrate with us, but we accepted his excuse.

The sun is out at Laban Rata
The sun is out at Laban Rata

Food was being laid out on the serving tables now. This must be second breakfast, and we were definitely hungry now having hiked for a good five hours. The nausea I had felt climbing up between here and Sayat Sayat was a long forgotten memory by now, and now I was very hungry. We all joined the queue to serve ourselves a very nice cooked breakfast.

Once back at our table, we reminisced about our stories of getting to the top as we ate second breakfast. Suzanne had cried most of the way up in the cold conditions in the small hours of the morning. About half an hour later Nadia arrived with Sapinggi. Everyone was now back, so we celebrated the conquest of the summit over breakfast before heading back up to our room to pack up and give our small bags to the porters to pack and take down the mountain.

At Laban Rata before the final descent
At Laban Rata before the final descent

Once everything was packed I returned to the dining hall to wait for the others. Sapinggi arrived about a minute later and said most of the others had already left, and I should start heading down now. Apparently they had left out the side entrance and gone down the spiral staircase.

I started the long walk down the mountain in the clear sunlight. I wasn’t sure who had left and who were still up there. I really don’t like downhill, and I wasn’t looking forward to the rabble of uneven boulders going down the ultramafic zone.

As expected, the pace was rather slow going down the boulders, but I took it one step at a time. Richard quickly passed me at a surprisingly high speed. He seemed keen to catch up to anyone at the front. I continued plodding along until Suzanne, Casper and Tobias all passed me near the end of the ultramafic zone.

Kota Kinabalu - it's a long way down!
Kota Kinabalu - it's a long way down!

Once I reached the proper staircase at the bottom of the ultramafic zone, I managed to pick up some speed, and yet still enjoy the scenery and get down in one piece. The sun was shining brightly over the trees now, so it wasn’t mysteriously eerie like it had been yesterday morning when the mountain had been surrounded in a cocoon of mist.

The forest above my head grew taller and thicker as I lost altitude. The walk became quite a lonely downhill journey for a while but I eventually saw another group ahead of me. I gradually caught up and overtook them at the rest area at 2518 metres. Now I was back into the altitudes that I had climbed before, but 2518 metres suddenly felt very low compared with where I had just been. As I continued the descent, I felt the atmosphere getting thicker and warmer as I lost altitude, and it was great to have the markers at every five hundred metres showing how much further there was to go.

One young local lad wearing cheap running shoes suddenly sprinted past me. He moved at an incredibly fast speed briefly acknowledging me as he went. One small slip could be fatal for him at this speed. I wondered if any of these porters and workers up here ever did fall and get seriously injured or killed.

I was about one and a half kilometres from the end of the track when I poked my walking pole into the ground to help me down one of the countless thousands of steep steps. Suddenly the round mud stop at the bottom of my walking pole popped off. I stopped to search for it, but it had popped off with such speed that I couldn’t find it. It had flown off into the thick jungle undergrowth.

So if you are ever climbing Mount Kinabalu along the main route, remember me when you pass the one and a half kilometre mark, because somewhere up there the little round black mud stop at the end of my walking pole is still sitting in the thick undergrowth to this day.

I continued following the steep natural staircase path which eventually levelled out to a relatively gradual slope. What a relief – I must have come down about six thousand steps today. With just a short descent to go I was nearly there with just one kilometre to go. The track remained fairly level until almost the half kilometre mark before steeply dropping down to the small waterfall. Here the track was quite wet no doubt from all the rain that had fallen here yesterday afternoon while we were further up the mountain above the worst of the weather. Once past the waterfall the track started to go uphill to the hut at Timpohon Gate.

Arriving at the bottom
Arriving at the bottom

Thank goodness I made it to the bottom. I saw Suzanne there. She had missed the last shuttle which everyone else seemed to have caught and had been waiting there for twenty minutes. Another van pulled up and we climbed on board and headed back down the road to the large dining hall below the information centre where we had breakfast yesterday morning.

Suzanne and I staggered down the stone stairs and entered the dining hall where we had breakfast just yesterday morning. I couldn’t believe that only thirty hours had passed since then. So much had happened in such a short time. It was quite hot down here and we were all hungry. Richard phoned Sapinggi (amazingly mobile phones worked up the mountain!) and he advised that Nadia was still about three quarters of an hour from the bottom, so the rest of us started lunch.

It was a nice buffet meal which we shared with several other groups we had hiked with, including the fit group that I had actually overtaken on the way down. It was such a relief to be finished the climb. The rest of the trip was going to be very relaxing. We shared our experiences of what it had been like up at the summit as we ate lunch.

It was there I again raised the question whether anyone ever dies up the mountain. Having had a lot of experience with this in New Zealand, where it hit home once whilst travelling with a police officer who had personally picked up sixteen bodies off the slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe. It seemed to be quite a taboo subject here, but now we were off the mountain, Richard finally told the story of a tour leader in the same company who had taken a group up, including two teenage children. Coming down the dome of the mountain had become very misty, and the two children had lost the rope. They continued walking for a few more minutes before they realised they were lost. They decided to sit down and get their bearings. The boy was cold, so the girl gave him her jacket to wear whilst she would walk back towards the rope and call for help. She left him there on his own.

Tropical forest at the bottom of the mountain
Tropical forest at the bottom of the mountain

Ten minutes later the cloud suddenly cleared around the boy and some passers by found him. He was taken safely back to Laban Rata with nothing more than mild hypothermia. The girl was discovered a couple of days later, her lifeless body lying on the granite face a long way from the trail. When she had left the boy to get help, she had gone completely the wrong way, and with inadequate clothing she died from hypothermia – not the expected cause of a death when travelling the equatorial tropics.

Obviously the tour leader was distraught about losing one of his tourists on his watch. The hardest part for him would have been breaking the news to the family. He would have to live with that for the rest of his life. He resigned as a tour leader soon afterwards.

There had been a number of other deaths on the mountain over the years. No matter what safety precautions and briefings you go through, there is no way of guaranteeing your safety up such high mountains. They are very dangerous. I had climbed Kinabalu perfectly aware of these dangers, and had been prepared to accept the risks. I’m not sure though if some of the others in the group who had little mountain experience had realised just how dangerous it can get up there.

It was nearly an hour later when Nadia finally arrived with Sapinggi. We let them have their lunch as we continued relaxing at the table.

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19 May 2010

 

Mount Kinabalu

Malaysia

 

6°02'42"N
116°33'46"E
3273 - 1700m ASL

 

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