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Hiking Mount Kinabalu: My journey in conquering 97 percent of Akinabalu

Published on 10 August 2018|
2 min read

I conquered Mount Kinabalu. Sort of.

by Stanley P, Carrybeans

Like many rash decisions, mine happened on a whim. My colleagues talked about Akinabalu around December last year, and not too long after that, there was an opening in a Mount Kinabalu hiking trip that I initially refused to join.

It’s possible that hearing my colleagues taking about Mount Kinabalu sparked my curiosity. Or it’s also possible there’s a very small part of me that wants to prove to the world that even the unhealthy little Stanley can conquer the mountain. But what I do realise, even seconds after agreeing to join the trip, is that hiking the mountain might not have been the wisest choice.

Going in underprepared

Now, if there’s one thing that you should know about me is that I am not a poster boy for healthy living. I hardly exercise, healthy foods practically doesn’t exist in my vocabulary and I spent my whole weekend hibernating in my room. Even my boss had to force me to eat vegetables during lunch in an attempt to make me eat healthier.

So, I guess it wasn’t a surprise that I came to Akinabalu severely underprepared. The first time that I’ve ever hiked made me feel so terrible–I was a sweaty hot mess gasping for air as I reached the top of Nuluh Lapai in Tuaran. So it is probably a good indication that I should’ve trained very hard for Mount Kinabalu, but alas, I didn’t.

Up until the week before tackling Akinabalu, I didn’t do much training aside from some weekend hike at Bukit Perahu in Tamparuli. There was a lot of self-doubt and nervousness in the days leading to the big day. I only seriously trained (due to my brother’s insistence) in the week before heading to the mountain.

And what a mistake that was.

Burning flame that slowly died

On the hiking day itself, everything couldn’t be any more smooth-sailing–the weather was clear, we didn’t have to spend a lot of time at the registration area because we registered the day before and we started our hike earlier than most people. At 8.00 AM, we set off from Timpohon Gate with a burning spirit. But as soon as I arrived at the first set of stairs, that very same burning spirit slowly died down.

At first, I was okay–people told me that there will be a lot of stairs and I anticipated as much. But as time went on, I realised that Mount K is not something you can conquer with just a few sessions worth of training.

The farther I hiked, the more difficult it was for me to muster up the strength and will to reach the resthouse. For the entire trip, the only thing on my mind was how tired I was and how I just wanted to stop. My legs hurt so bad that even the songs on my playlist couldn’t distract me from the pain. Because of that, I couldn’t fully enjoy the beauty that Mount Kinabalu has to offer.

A magical place called Akinabalu

Not being able to fully enjoy Mount Kinabalu and its beauty was a big shame. For the first four kilometres, there’s only green everywhere. It’s like hiking your usual hiking spot in Nuluh Lapai or Bukit Perahu. But past that mark, you can see a clear change in topography. The surroundings are rockier the higher I go and the unique vegetations along with the mist give out an air of mysticism. It was as if I had been transported to another world.

However, I couldn’t enjoy the view as much as I wanted to because soon after, it started to rain. The rain, along with my tiredness, was a call for me to hurry up and reach the resthouse before I succumbed to fatigue. At 3.00 PM, I was among the last ones to arrive at the resthouse. At that time, the rain was pouring and I was wet and tired and ready to go to sleep.

Almost giving up

… Or so I thought. I was tired alright, but I couldn’t sleep very well. I only get a few winks of sleep and had to get up pretty early for the summit. After a light breakfast, all of us started making our way to the summit around 2.30 AM. Thankfully, the weather was clear and the rain from the evening before had stopped. So, we were treated with a clear view of the starry sky, which was out of this world.

The hike up was quite slow for everyone–many of us were heaving because the air was thin up there and it was very cold. As for me, I only reached Sayat-Sayat Gate at 4.30 AM and even by then, I was barely able to walk. I won’t lie–there are numerous times that I thought to myself to just stop and turn back. I was hungry, I was cold, I was tired, and my motivation had run out.

97% of Mount Kinabalu

At the eight-kilometre mark, I was ready to just call it a day and head back to the resthouse. Thankfully, my guide pushed me to walk for another 500 metres. He said that I probably would not reach all the way to the summit but I should at least try to get to the 8.5-kilometre mark. So, I mustered up what little strength I had and gave myself one final push.

As soon as I reached, I cried.

Up to this day, I still wasn’t sure why I cried. It was probably because I was just too happy and relieved that I was able to climb Mount Kinabalu in the first place and exceed my own expectations. Or I was disappointed in myself because the summit was so close, yet so far that I couldn’t reach it at that time. Or it was probably because I was being a crybaby from being too tired and hungry.

In any case, I feel like the cry was necessary for me. It gave me the chance to clear my mind and reflect on my journey thus far. And what a journey it was.

A new resolution

The descent was slow, partly because of my fear of slipping all the way down (my guide said that there are such cases). So I took small steps, minding my steps and looking at Mount Kinabalu in all its glory now that the day was much brighter. You cannot really see the mountain when you hike at 3.00 AM, and even if you do, it’s only the silhouette. So, it was a humbling experience to witness Mount Kinabalu and all its majesty up close.

Looking at the mountain and my journey as a whole, I cannot help but feel small and proud of myself all at the same time. There I was, merely a speck on Mount Kinabalu. Despite that, I managed to scale up the mountain all by my own effort and I was proud of myself in achieving what I had achieved.

I’m not going to lie–a part of me was and still is disappointed for not reaching Low’s Peak. But that very same disappointment burns a desire in me to experience Akinabalu all over again. So, yeah, I didn’t go all the way up the mountain. But that doesn’t mean that I’m forever giving up. I will certainly conquer Mount Kinabalu again in the future. And the next time I go there, I will surely conquer Akinabalu in its entirety.

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