At 2 AM, climbing a mountain isn’t what I would normally be doing, but on the morning of March 20th, that was exactly what I was going to do. I had been tossing and turning all night, thinking that the wake-up call would come at any second, so when it finally did, the night felt like it had been going on for ages, although I didn’t get much sleep. I was probably too excited to sleep and afraid of oversleeping. Because what I was going to do in the wee hours of the day was something that I had dreamt of for as long as I can remember.
We were given an early breakfast consisting of toast and warm drinks and then at 3 AM, we began the hike to the summit of Mount Kinabalu. As we climbed, we could see nothing but millions of stars above us and headlights flashing in a line in front of us, lighting up the path for us.
In the beginning, the climb was easy, but the last km. was really tough. In some areas, I had to pull myself up by rope, but I eventually gave that up when my arms started aching. The trail seemed endless and I even had thoughts about quitting running through my head. I was thinking about how I would feel if I decided to not go any further, but this just motivated me more. I needed to do it. I had to prove to myself and the world that this was something that I could overcome.
And there it was, Low’s Peak. Finally I could see an end to it all, when I spotted the highest peak of the mountain, where the first climbers were already standing. I was so excited and determined that I can’t even remember how I got there in the end. But when I saw the sign stating “You are standing at the highest peak of Mt. Kinabalu”, I realized that I had done it. I was there! It was so surreal; I was standing at the top of the tallest mountain in Malaysia.
It was the most amazing feeling. I had just completed the toughest physical challenge of my life and I was full of happiness. High fives were given to Josh and June; I was so proud of all of us.
At 5:45, we were perched atop the Low’s Peak high above the clouds, watching the approaching sun turn the sky orange. The temperature at the top was freezing and I lost feeling in my hands, but I still managed to – shakingly – snap some shots of the most spectacular sunrise that I’ve ever experienced. At 4.095 m. above sea level, I was watching the sun approach us slowly, feeling a bit of heat for the first time that night.
When the magical moment was over, it was time to leave Low’s Peak behind and start heading down. It was amazing to see the spectacularly shaped peaks of the mountain in daylight and the stunning views of the clouds and land beneath us. If it wasn’t for the freezing temperatures at the summit, I could’ve stayed there forever, taking in the captivating views, while trying to comprehend where I was and what I was doing in that very moment. It all still seemed like a beautiful dream to me. A dream that I never wanted to wake up from.
But just like all other dreams, this one had an end to it as well.
Josh and I had signed up for an extra activity on the mountain and since we had a set time to be there, we had to rush a bit, although I was certain that I wouldn’t be able to ever climb down what I had just climbed up.
But the rocky plateau that I had a hard time climbing up in the early hours of the morning, proved much easier for me to walk down. I had expected to be crawling or sliding down on my butt most of the way, but it was surprisingly easy to not fall, despite how steep it was, as the photographs below will give you an idea of.
The activity that Josh and I were going to take part in is called via ferrata, and the one on Mount Kinabalu is actually the world’s highest via ferrata. It’s basically rock climbing on an “iron road” – a steel cable that runs along the route fixed to the rock.
We were both really excited to take part in it and had all of the equipment on and were ready to go, when Josh overheard some of the guides talking about an earthquake. Since none of us wanted to risk our lives, Josh asked them to tell us what was going on, and one guy told us that it was just a rock that had fallen. We didn’t believe him and sure enough, when we asked another guide, he told us that there had been a minor earthquake on the mountain.
We hadn’t felt it ourselves and even though it was a minor quake, we both knew that the risk of a big earthquake happening increases after a minor one. Just under a year ago, a major earthquake killed 18 people on the mountain, so I was shocked that they didn’t cancel the activity and the fact that they were so secretive about it made me feel even more insecure. Josh and I decided to take responsibility for our own lives and walked down the mountain without doing the via ferrata.
Nothing actually happened and we had paid for the activity, but I think we made the right decision. I could never risk my life for something so unimportant and I know that I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if I had chosen differently, even though nothing happened.
We walked down to Laban Rata, had our second breakfast, collected our stuff, said our goodbyes to the other climbers and then started the long walk down to the headquarters.
I always think (maybe it’s more hope) that the climb down will be the easy part, but I am always wrong. Mentally, ascending is the hardest for me, but physically, descending is torture. I am pretty sure that I know what being bitten by a shark feels like. Like what having a truck thrown on you feels like. After the night’s hardships, the trail seemed to be going on forever and towards the end, my legs were like jelly and I had to walk down the steps sideways to relieve the pressure.
I could barely find enough energy to walk the lasts steps to the finish line, but my mind was persistent and wouldn’t let my body stop.
I was ecstatic, when we FINALLY reached Timpohon Gate and the “welcome back” sign. The pain in my body was no longer in focus; I was just so happy and grateful to have been part of such an adventure. WE DID IT!
“You are successfull climbers”. I remember looking at that sign at the beginning of our hike, thinking that I’d never be what the sign was telling me. But there I was, back at Timpohon Gate after climbing for two strenuous days.
I was a bit sore after climbing the volcano on Bali, but that was nothing compared to what I experienced after descending Mount Kinabalu. I walked like I had pooped myself for days afterwards, but I didn’t care. I feel like I’ve really accomplished something and it has only made me want to do it again and again! I’m excited to see what amazing adventures await me above the clouds in the future!