Many travellers will tell you effusive stories about climbing Mount Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo. I am not one of them.
29 February 2004, 11 Years Ago This Week: This cloud shot was taken at Laban Rata, three quarters up Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago. While Kinabalu is 4095 meters high, it’s hugely popular with tourists as it can be climbed without mountaineering gear. The Wikipedia page and various guide books describe the climb as “easy”.
It’s certainly the most difficult easy thing I’ve ever done.
Kinabalu is one of the most important and diverse wildlife cradles in the world, and the jungle for miles around the mountain’s base is a huge national park. The “corpse flower” Rafflesia is its most famous inhabitant, but there are thousands of less famous but equally important plant and animal species within this area too.
During the ascent up the mountain, you don’t get to actually see any of that – an endless uphill dirt track around which all of the interesting flora and fauna had been erased due to the sheer volume of people like me tramping up and down the mountain. It’s the definition of monotony.
Even if there were gazelles bounding around, you would be too knackered to actually spot them. You’re too busy massaging your thighs to go a bit further on or bent over hands on knees wheezing catching your breath while watching incredulous as one of the local porters runs up the mountain track with a metre high, 45 kilo propane cylinder strapped to his back in a bamboo holster held steady by a piece of cloth that looped around his forehead. And he’s barefoot.
The propane is for the huge rest house that’s been built on the plateau at Laban Rata. The usual routine is people ascend in the day, get a very early night in the rest house and then make the assault on the summit starting at 3 the next morning to reach the mountain top for sunrise. My lack of enthusiasm for summiting was expressed in several colourful metaphors – it was perhaps the first time I had given up on doing an activity because I was just too exhausted, and no matter how spectacular the view, I’d be in no fit state to appreciate it.
Any smugness about being able to stay in bed the following day was soon erased by the much longed-for descent back down the mountain which turned out to be even worse than coming up. The constant juddering impact on your knees of going down a steep, never ending rutted track, plus having to watch every footfall to avoid twisting your ankle, led to a near constant employ of the aforementioned colourful metaphors.
As one of our party, an athletic middle aged lady, said during a bruised rest break halfway down “What on earth was I trying to prove to myself doing this?”
The dull ache in the legs continued for another week, long after we’d finally made it back to terra firma firma. It was like Mount Kinabalu’s revenge.
In one of those strange life synchronicities, six months later I ended back up in Malaysian Borneo again on an unexpected press trip that I’d had no inkling would happen when I was backpacking there. My heart sank when I saw Mount Kinabalu was on the itinerary of places the tourist board wanted to show to us. However, rather than climb the mountain, they decided to take us directly to it: in a flat-out spectacular low-flying chopper ride in a military helicopter, strapped into our seats with the side doors wide open. I still can’t work out if I was lucky or unlucky.
What Is 12 Years Of Travel?I'm publishing a photo each week during 2015 that was taken in the same week sometime in the previous 12 years on my travels. Join me in my journey to combat early senility by trying to remember what the hell I was doing over the last decade.
- Week 1: Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Melbourne
- Week 2: Cannibal Rock, Komodo, Indonesia
- Week 3: Ocean Reflection, Ari Atoll, Maldives
- Week 4: Vertigo Bar Sunset, Banyan Tree Hotel, Bangkok
- Week 5: Talc Alf Sculptures, Flinders Ranges, Australia
- Week 6: After The Tsunami, Khao Lak, Thailand
- Week 7: Drugs Warning, Jakarta Airport, Indonesia
- Week 8: Beng Mealea Temple, Angkor, Cambodia
- Week 9: Failing To Climb Mount Kinabalu, Borneo
- Week 10: Night Diving At Maaya Thila, Maldives
- Week 11: Schwezigon Paya Temple, Bagan, Myanmar
- Week 12: Octopus, Hin Daeng, Thailand
- Week 13: A View With A Room, Bangkok Tree House
- Week 14: Koh Haa, Thailand
- Week 15: Angry Whopper, Singapore
- Week 16: Kuda Gili Shipwreck, Maldives
- Week 17: Model Shoot, Bangkok
- Week 18: Banda Islands, Indonesia
- Week 19: Port Eliot, Cornwall
- Week 20: Exmouth, Australia
- Week 21: Newquay Cliffs, Cornwall