Page: Been there, done that

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November 16, 2011

Been there, done that


Though it took him 20 hours to reach the peak of Mount Kinabalu, this writer can proudly say that he has succeeded in his quest to lead a healthy lifestyle.

LONG after sunrise on the peak of Mount Kinabalu, my friend and fellow reporter Zora Chan and I finally arrived. That was last Thursday at about 6.30am. We begun the final ascent more than three hours earlier, not knowing what to expect.

At 4,095m above sea level (or roughly seven times the height of the Petronas Twin Towers) Mount Kinabalu’s summit is the only place in South-East Asia where it can snow — or drench you in near freezing rain.

Zora and I had embarked on this journey for slightly different reasons. For her, it was the second attempt to scale the mountain. Nearly a decade ago, she gave up just 300m from the peak, but not this time.

I have known her for the better part of a decade – we met on the first day I started work – and I could not have asked for a better climbing partner.

Zora was a terrific companion on the way up and down, who was in good spirits, just as she always is at work.


For me, wanting to climb was an attempt to lead a healthier lifestyle.

I told myself that, success or failure, at least I would have benefited from several months of exercise in preparation.

By coincidence, the only dates the national park’s accommodation was available to us happened to fall on my birthday. As a result, I am now able to say that I went up Mt Kinabalu at the age of 26 and came down at 27.

The two of us from The Star’s Kuching office had a third climbing companion.

Like Zora, it was also Choong Mek Zhin’s second time up Mt Kinabalu.

Mek Zhin, who is with The Star in Kuala Lumpur, first reached the summit when she was 16 years old.

At the climb last week, her role was primarily as cheerleader of the group. She was also an excellent hide-behind-the-shrubs photographer (how did she get those shots?!) and all-round funny girl.

But the real star of the journey was Mt Kinabalu itself. It is perhaps the best tourism attraction we have in Malaysia. It predates everything – settlements, culture and all things man made – in this region.

With the advent of every technological breakthrough, people have painted the mountain on paper, photographed it on film and on digital sensors, and in 1997, used state-of-the-art satellite imagery to recalculate its height. (The mountain is six metres shorter than previously thought.)

When you arrive at the Mount Kinabalu national park, you are already at 1,800m above sea level. Where you stay, eat and rest for the first night is shrouded in temperatures just under 20 °C.

For a minimum of around RM600 per climber, you are given food coupons, a mountain guide and bunk beds allocated at the park base camp and at Laban Rata, 3,270m above sea level.

For a little extra, porters can be hired to carry your belongings.

The guides and porters at the Mt Kinabalu national park are among the best I’ve ever met. Our guide, Larry Gumbayong, 27, barely 5’2”, first climbed the mountain at 12 years old. Our porter, who everyone calls Diana, 24, also 5’2”, once carried 44kg of cargo up the 10km trail.

Between them, they have climbed Mt Kinabalu perhaps a couple thousand times. They don’t climb the mountain, they run up it. Their legs are muscular and lean, like marble cravings.

While tourists wear expensive branded clothes and shoes, Larry and Diana ascend in T-shirts, windbreakers and RM10 rubber shoes they call “Adidas Kampung”.

All together, the shortest route up and down the mountain is 21km.

Larry says he has done it in less than five hours. I took 20 hours!

Astonishingly, the current world record holder belongs to Marco De Gasperi, an Italian who ascended and descended in an unbelievable two hours, 33 minutes and 56 seconds!

The only way I could ever break that record was if I fell off one of the many cliffs.

In the days we’ve been back, Zora, Mek Zhin and I have spoken about being restless, unable to have a good night’s sleep and waking up really early, often in a daze and irritable.

We’ve spent at least a couple more hours of our lives looking through photographs, mocking each other and having “celebratory” dinners.

We are also talking about what shoes to buy, raincoats to get and what photograph poses to ready for the next big adventure. Another ascent up Mt Kinabalu is on the cards, while we’ve also spoken about hiking around (not up) Mount Everest.

Crazy plans for sure, but, why not?

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