The trail after the Sayat-sayat check point.
We barely have a couple of hours of sleep. We had to wake up around 2:30am for our summit assault. Or better yet, we were awaken by the constant sound of footsteps from other climbers on the hallway, getting ready as well. Navigatng through a ton of scattered drenched clothes above our room heater and after having something for breakfast at the canteen we set off to climb the last 2.7km toward the summit.
There was a bit of a drizzle. I went ahead of the group as we started our assault 3:30 in the morning. The first 200 meters was easy, as there were lamp post to guide us towards the Summit Gate. After the gate it was all stairs up and total darkness within the forest. It might be the rains but the trail have flowing water. The hike seems much easier or must be the excitement. I just climbed the stairs one step at the time. Whenever I get tired I would count down from each breath from 5 to 1 and say “Go” to force my self in burst mode to continue on my way up. It seems I got hungry often here and had to munch on my raisins and peanuts on the trail. As I go higher I looked back to see the city lights. The amazing view was somehow fullfilling reward to each ascent. I could see some headlights like 10 to 20 meters behind, must be the rest of the guys I thought. I looked up. It was the moon shimmering bright along the clear skies. I was glad, it was a sign of a good weather.
700 meters up I finally reached the rope trail. I decided to wait for my companions, there were two other groups of foreigners who passed me by until they arrived. I went on with the ropes and navigated beside the rocks. It was fun, I thought. Then we reached a stop where I could see the peaks ahead illuminted by the moonlight and at my back the whole city of Kota Kinabalu at night. It was just amazing and thought this trip was really worth it. Shortly we reached the “Sayat-Sayat Checkpoint” where you have to show your IDs. That was already 7.5 km on the trail from the jump off at Timpohon Gate. And shortly from this point it was a vertical assult.
The break of light!
It looks easy but it’s tiring. Walking on these stone surface gradually elevated seems much tiring than going up those stairs. It must be the thin air or the altitude sickness starting to kick in. A friend of mine told me that altitude sickness starts at 10500 feet up, and we’re already like 13000+ feet up. Shortly I could see warm light seeping in. It was the break of light on the horizon. It was just breath taking! I just have to stop and see the sun penetrate the sea of clouds slowly dispersing as the sun shone brighter.
One of the lower peaks, South Peak
Now we have reached the critical point, the elevation seems to have lowered down to 15 degrees elevation, I could see the marker ahead along with the other peaks on the side. But it was so damn tiring. I never breathed this hard! Curse for not having to jog weeks before. I was afraid my left knee injury would act up again. But thank god my left knee didn’t act up during this climb. I decided to chew down on my last Milo Energy Bar and some of my peanuts. The marker is just so near I thought. After eating I decided to run it up! I was laughing at myself after I reached the 8.5km marker, because I had to sit down and was grasping for air with my eyes closed. I could see Low’s Peak as well as the other climbers going down. I’m near, I thought. If only I could reach that puddle. I was so exhausted or out of it that I just remember walking like an intoxicated man going on step by step. I remember what Lance Armstrong said on one of his interview that somehow helped me to get through my this. And it’s setting mini goals to get to that larger goal. Like getting through that marker and through that rock until I finally reached the foot where I took some pictures.
Finally! Low’s peak, the top of Mt. Kinabalu
I wanted to wait for the others but I was excited to reach the peak so I went ahead on. The last of the group seems to be going down I met up with this Malaysian we met earlier during the climb who seems to be managing a diving resort. He’s with this Japanese girl who’s on the peak enjoying the view and taking pictures. Soon she went down with their guide and I have the peak on my own.
More mountain views from the peak
It was a rocky peak with only a small platform to stand on but the 360 view was really amazing. I was proud of myself being on the top. It was a priceless journey. I tried waiting for my other companions. I think I was there for 30 minutes and ate the last of my snacks. I saw below that there were no longer people coming and decided just to just go down. I hurried down towards the marker where I could see our guide Rowdy “the dragon” waiting for me. There I learned that the others already decided to go back. My two other companions reached as far as 8.5 km and was stricken hard with altitude sickness and could no longer go on. The rest of the group only made it to 7.5km marker and decided to go back because one of my companion’s knee already gave and the other had some pain on his ankle.
Going down from the peak
Now it’s time to go back. It was quite an experience of a lifetime climbing the summit of Mt. Kinabalu. It has it’s own rough jagged characteristic that will challenge you in contrast to Philippines’s majestic peak of Mt. Pulag. It was memorable. Now how to get down?
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.