Everytime I embark on a journey, there are a few things that I really want to achieve. This time, climbing a mountain taller than 3000 m. was one of them. The mountain that I chose to conquer was Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. Mount Kinabalu rises 4.095 m. above sea level and is one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia and the tallest in Malaysia. It’s supposed to be one of the most accessible mountains in the world, so I figured that it would be a good one for me as a beginner.
Before coming to Asia, the tallest mountain that I had ever climbed was Sarkofagen Mountain at 500 m. on Svalbard, but just three days prior to the big climb, I climbed Mount Batur at 1.717 m. on Bali as preparation. But instead of being physically prepared after the climb, I was more paralysed than ever. Unfortunately, I had a little trip on Mount Batur and got wounded, but not enough to keep me from fulfilling my dream of climbing Mount Kinabalu.
In fact, climbing Mount Kinabalu was such a big dream for me that I even changed my flight from Bali to an earlier departure, as the only climbing date that I could get was the day that I should have arrived in Malaysia. That resulted in a great loss of money, but how could money ever be more important than a great adventure? I chose to forget about sensibility for a moment, bought the new flight ticket and booked the mountain climb.
Full of anticipation, I arrived in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the state of Sabah, two nights prior to the climb. I spent the days resting my legs and getting mentally prepared for what would be the biggest physical challenge of my life so far.
On the early morning of March 19th, I showed up at Sabah Tourism Board and found my hiking buddy Josh there, waiting for someone to show up. We were both happy to see that we wouldn’t be alone with our guide during the climb, as it’s always nice to have someone in the same boat as yourself to share the experience – and the pain – with. Josh and I hit it off immediately and I was excited to see what adventures awaited our little hiking group on the mountain.
2 hours, a lot of talking and a small sleep later, we arrived at the registration office, where we met our guide June, who turned out to be the perfect guide for us. We were given our climbing permits, a lunch box and a short briefing, and then it was time to hit the road once again and go to Timpohon Gate, where the hike would begin.
The beginning of the hike was easy with either steps or relatively flat terrain leading upwards at all times. One thing that I did find tough though, was that, because of my lack of height, I had to pull myself up the steps, as they were all way too tall for my short legs. But compared to the challenges that we would face the day after, this was a piece of cake.
We were blessed with beautiful views all the way to the finish line of the day. We only had a little fog in some areas, otherwise the sky was clear and the sun was shining on us. The temperature gradually got colder the further up we got, making it an even more enjoyable experience for me, as I love cold weather, especially when hiking.
Even though the upwards climb was physically challenging, I enjoyed every moment of it. Every rest hut on the way became a goal and it felt great to join the other climbers for a short rest before going off again. Something that I’ve really come to love about hiking in general is that whenever you meet someone, regardless of whether or not you know them, you always greet each other. Climbing a mountain is like being part of a big community, where everyone is in the same boat and can relate to what you’re going through at that very moment. We were all doing something amazing together and especially the efforts of a 9-year-old Canadian girl climbing at the same pace as everyone else had me in awe.
All throughout, I felt physical pain and mental happiness and it was an awesome feeling. I don’t think there’s anything that can make me happier than being out there surrounded by nature and wildlife, straining my body in order to achieve something bigger than ever before.
The first day, we hiked for 5 hours with many small breaks in between and arrived at the Laban Rata resthouse at about 1 PM. The trail to the resthouse never really got hard, but after 6 km. of steep climbing, I was really relieved when I finally caught the first sight of the resthouse. I was exhausted, but at the same time, I was so full of energy that I just couldn’t sit still; the adrenaline was rushing through my body at full speed.
I had expected to have a hard time adjusting to the high altitude, since I had already suffered a bit on the drive up to Timpohon Gate at an altitude of 1,866 m. But I think that it was due to our rather slow speed that I didn’t feel anything while climbing up the mountain. Taking it slowly and having multiple short breaks like we did is highly recommended in order to get used to the high altitude.
Even at the Laban Rata, which is located at an altitude of 3.272 m., I didn’t feel the slightest bit of altitude sickness. I was able to enjoy every part of the afternoon; happy to be done with the longest part of the upwards climb, yet still slightly worried about what the next morning had in store for us.
The afternoon was spent at the Laban Rata resthouse, which had a cozy ski lodge feeling to it, hanging out with the other climbers, playing games, talking about the adventure that we were all sharing and watching the most stunning sunset from above the clouds, before it was time to hit the beds to get ready for the next day of adventure, starting with a 2 AM wake-up call.