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Home > Treks > Kinabalu > Day 4 > 4.5
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Giants Petrified in a Cocoon of Mist

Giants Petrified in a Cocoon of Mist
 
 

HAVING successfully conquered the summit, we slowly descended the rocks which we had struggled up in total darkness less than half an hour ago. I started falling a little behind the others, thinking that I was going to slow everyone else down. Now that it was light, I could now see the rocks that I was climbing down. It was desolate here, with just a few yellow tufts of grass growing in the fractured fissures in the rocks. I was amazed that anything could survive up here in this alpine desert exposed to the harshest of elements.

Descending from the summit
Descending from the summit

Finally I reached the bottom of the boulders back on top of the dome. The rope started here, so I followed it back towards Sayat Sayat now unseen over the edge of huge grey dome. There was an irregular patchwork of white pegmatite amongst the grey granite, and there were huge long cracks in the rock, probably as a result of the enormous stresses of the mountain continuing to rise five millimetres per year as it had done over the past ten million years since the batholith solidified deep in the Earth’s crust. The stresses showed some folding of the rock, giving away clues as to the directions the magma was flowing when this part of the mountain was solidified.

South Peak
South Peak

Water accumulated into some of the cracks forming dark cold ponds. The cracks that weren’t flooded were abundant with tufts of grass similar to tussock.

The clouds surrounding the mountain were now lifting from the deep valleys in which they had slumbered overnight. The cloud formations now looked like a giant tsunami that had enveloped the valleys. No doubt it would be very hot and humid in amongst them over three vertical kilometres below me.

I spotted a marker which that I had missed on the way up. This was the 8.5KM 4001M marker. This was the one I had missed coming up in the darkness of the night. I mustn’t have been looking in the right direction when I passed it.

St John's Peak at 4001m
St John's Peak at 4001m

Heading further down the dome of the mountain I could see why Sapinggi had advised us to keep to the ropes. Just ten metres to the left was the edge of the eighteen hundred metre high cliff marking a glacial valley that had carved out the deep chasm passing the summit in ice ages past. This was called Low’s Gully, named after the first explorer who had successfully reached the dome. Although I was right at the edge of the chasm, this was one of the least explored and most inhospitable places on Earth. In 1994 two British Army officers led a party of ten adventurers into the gully. The party split in two. Five members were trapped for sixteen days and did not eat for the final five days before being rescued at great expense by the RAFF and the Malaysian army. The breakaway party of five successfully completed the world’s first descent of the gully in three days, but had returned to intense criticism.

Morning cloud rapidly rising over the mountain
Morning cloud rapidly rising over the mountain

The ice that had formed the glacier during the ice ages had also covered the dome of the mountain, eroding all of it down apart from the sharp peaks which were somehow spared due to lack of ice stresses there. Small tufts of grass grew in the exposed rock cracks, barely able to survive in these severe conditions.

Cloud blew over the top of the ridge, with the thick fingers of the crags ahead of us now piercing them like fingers running through water. There was something very mysterious about these crags. They would be extremely difficult to climb requiring special equipment. The steep mitre shaped crags stood tall towering over us like sentinels overseeing the mountain, guiding the ghosts of the deceased who had completed the pilgrimage to whatever afterlife they believed in here in this part of the world.

The summit
The summit

Even the main summit of Low’s Peak stood like a petrified wave that was just about to barrel. The stratification definitely bent outwards almost at the summit. The summit though was very plain in its triangular shape compared to the other crags which stood contorted around the edges of the ravine.

It was a strange feeling walking in the midst of the secretive yellow mists of departing souls. The mist glided past the sentinel peaks with a seriousness questioning why the living would dwell here amongst the dead. Here two worlds clashed. We seemed to be in the wrong place interfering with the spirits of the people who had arrived here as their final earthly destination on their way to the afterlife in some other world not far from here.

Crags rising from the grey dome
Crags rising from the grey dome

Sapinggi walked with me at the back of the group as the dome became steeper and steeper. I could now see the tiny speck of Laban Rata far below us, and the bottom of the mountain even further below us becoming captured in the cloud now rising from the valleys of their night slumber. A minute later Laban Rata had disappeared in the cloud below, and once more we were alone up here on the mysterious dome.

The surreptitious hut of Sayat Sayat now appeared down the steep mountain just where the bare grey dome met the dark green stunted foliage of the alpine forest. It was off to the left, and fortunately the route turned off to take a more moderate approach following the cracks in the surface. It was still a little steep, but nothing compared to the chasm that seemed to be opening up further below. The hut didn’t seem anywhere near as ominous as it did yesterday from Laban Rata. It was quite a different view here from above where I could see the way down to it.

Clouds and crags at the edge of the dome
Clouds and crags at the edge of the dome

The roped route gradually steepened as the dome dropped towards Sayat Sayat. Finally we crossed a small stream and walked along a flat trail across boulders for a minute before reaching the checkpoint at Sayat Sayat, where I was checked out of the haunted dome of the mountain. The others were already on the other side of the hut there resting having all arrived only a minute or two before me. Nadia seemed very happy to have run down the last section of track. Perhaps she was going to be fast getting down to the bottom of the mountain and therefore I would be the last one down. I now saw the ragged wind swept bonsai scrub at the tree line. I had never seen such a high altitude tree line before up here at three thousand six hundred metres.

Sayat Sayat at the bottom of the dome
Sayat Sayat at the bottom of the dome

There were actually three small huts here, all solidly built to withstand the extreme weather encountered in this desolate place. The main hut of Sayat Sayat looked like a large steel drum upended with a steel conical roof at a low pitch. The other huts were probably storage sheds or perhaps even sleeping quarters for those who worked up here in Borneo’s highest office. Looking up from here most of the mysterious outcrop peaks were not so obvious any more now being quite a long way above us, but there was still a clear view up to the top of the dome.

It was a little slow coming down the cliff face single file in amongst several other groups coming down the mountain. Under the bright light of daylight it wasn’t so daunting. In fact the section of rope was just a small seam that we needed to sidle across. There were plenty of people in front of me keeping the pace slow, which I found perfectly manageable apart from the rope once more moving a lot.

Sayat Sayat checkpoint
Sayat Sayat checkpoint

Upon reaching the bottom of the seam, we entered the forest down the steep wooden stairway we had climbed just a couple of hours ago. The steps were quite often high above the ground, and each wooden plank used to make the steps were quite narrow leaving a rather large gap that would have been very easy to fall through and break your legs. As I walked down the steps I wondered how many legs have been broken here. Fortunately I picked up a slow rhythm and managed to make reasonable progress with no problem.

It was a long climb down the steep winding steps. The staircase negotiated its way around the precarious little bluffs we had just been able to make out in the darkness of the small hours of the morning a few hours ago. It was a very nice welcome relief to finally see the Laban Rata hut through a rare clearing in the forest below me just a couple of hundred metres ahead. I continued following the stairs downwards. The gaps between the stairs and the ground below were frightening, and the bush was low, but minutes later I reached the bottom of the stairs where a metal gate was open. I assumed when the mountain is closed the gate is shut. I had not seen this in the darkness of the night, but obviously if the staff decided the weather conditions were too dangerous to climb the mountain, then they would simply lock the gate to the only way up.

From here the track was a fine gravel surface down a very gradual slope passing some of the huts surrounding the main one. Then I reached the entrance to Laban Rata, a big relief. Looking back up the mountain I was amazed to see the sky had mostly cleared. Where had the clouds gone? The surrounding terrain didn’t seem so ominous now that the bright sun was shining on it. It seemed to have lost some of its mysteriousness. For once there would be a pretty clear view of the mountain from those below whether they were setting off from the bottom, or were way over in Kota Kinabalu. There were still some clouds hanging over the summit dome, the eternal mists surrounding the ghostly petrified peaks that had inspired the legends.

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Date:

 

Location: Country:

 

Latitude: Longitude: Altitude:

19 May 2010

 

Mount Kinabalu

Malaysia

 

6°03'57"N
116°34'03"E
4095 - 3273m ASL

 

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