The Point Of Climbing A Mountain ~ Part 1: The Prelude

by jloh

Wrote this post originally on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 2:57am – as a note in my Facebook account here.

This is a story, so it’s very long by the way. So I decided to split it up into 2 parts. This is Part 1: the story & prelude; and Part 2: The 10 Life Lessons I Learned from this climb.

So if you want to just get STRAIGHT to the lessons I learned by climbing this mountain, go to the second continuing post. But the story is a fun way to lead into it, you can always come back too. Also, photos for this climb here.

So here we go….

The Point Of Climbing A Mountain

So the truth is, I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post. I’m not the blogging type & getting started with it was difficult. But I promised my friend, Billy Looper – an awesome dude from Fort Lauderdale USA, a couple of months ago that I would post something to share my journey climbing a mountain in Borneo island earlier this year.

Reason for the delay: Well, re-living the climb is not one of those things that would warm my heart. So here it is & I’ll start where it’s always best to start, at the beginning.

Fact: I’m diva-ish. I like gel extension nails and my ideal way to wash my hair is at the salon, all the time, no exceptions. But this is not saying that I can’t take the rough & tumble parts of life; I can – but why should I? However, I know now if I’m thrown into the wild – I will survive & can probably find a way to thrive too.

So when my company’s country manager Sunny decided that we will climb Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo; to raise funds for our charity foundation, Agel Cares – I did what I was expected to do as one of the senior people in the field teams. Support the program 100% and signed up to climb this mountain.

I was told that it is 4,095m (13,435 ft) in elevation – and it was just as well I have no idea what that actually translates to in reality. I ain’t so hot at metrics. I kinda can convert up to inches, then I need my widget on my iPhone.

That was May 2010 this year. I got the dates, and locked it down in to my schedule. So this was how it was gonna be: April: Fort Lauderdale-Florida; April/ May: Cairo-Egypt, Early May: Climb The Mountain; Mid-May: Bangkok-Thailand; Mid-mid-May: Jakarta-Indonesia; May-June: Indonesia multi-city road trip, and it went on. I can do this. Yeah.

Someone said something about training, but I figured dragging my over-sized luggage around airports in 4-inch heels alone for months should more than compensate for whatever cardio training I needed to do this mountain. No problem.

So the day came, and we flew to Kota Kinabalu, the beautiful capital city of the state of Sabah – a state that is nicknamed The Land Below The Wind. Kota Kinabalu is the only state in Malaysia to have the mountain and the beach in close proximity within each other. A must-visit place. It’s magical.

We did an event in KK and then made our way to the foot of the mountain in a chartered van. We had a fun group of people, from around Malaysia and the USA. There were about 13 of us if my memory serves me. The first part of the journey was absolute chillax. Van took us to this base camp hotel, we stayed the night – the food was yums. Even though the bathrooms are communal dorm-style, it was clean and hot water was gushing out. Nice. I can do this climbing thing. πŸ™‚

Next morning after breakfast, we were driven to the entrance of the gate that will mark the commencement of our ascent up the mountain. We had to climb 6km through tropical rainforest-type foliage, and then we will reach the base camp somewhere halfway up. There we will have dinner, sleep for a couple of hours and get up at 2am to hike 2.8km to the top of the mountain to Low’s Peak (highest point) before sunrise. The idea is to catch the sunrise.

I’m throwing in the spoiler now – I didn’t make the sunrise. LOL.

Anyway, we set out as a troupe. And some of us paid for porter services to help carry our bags while we climbed. I highly recommend hiring their services. Really. These are guys who make a living running up & down this mountain with baggage double their weight, in Japanese slippers. I’ll still be in the mountain if not for my porter. Get yourself 2 bamboo walking sticks also – these are important if you don’t want to thrash your knees coming down the mountain later.

So we set out and as we hiked, I found myself hiking alone almost all the way & I was enjoying myself. It was peaceful. The first couple of kilometers were relatively easy. There were distance markers all the way up every 500m, and I looked forward to reaching each one. The scenery was pure magic. Plus I was thoroughly amused that I had 3G mobile broadband access on my iPhone, so I was posting photos all the way up on Facebook. Amazing!

And then, all of a sudden it got difficult and tiring. And cold. And the air was getting thinner. The inclines got steeper. I’d climb a wall of rocks (almost 90 degrees) – to face…yet another wall of rocks. And this went on, and on, and on. And it was driving me nuts. Because I had no clue what was coming next. Plus I was getting extremely tired. I looked forward more for the next marker board.

Halfway up, I saw people climbing down. They were returning from their climb up to the peak from the day before. And then it strikes me like a bolt of lightning. Omaigawd. I had to climb back DOWN.

Why. Am. I. Doing. This. Again?!

There are only 3 ways down this mountain – 1) hire a helicopter for US$6k per trip, 2) hire 4 of these porters to carry you down (not kidding – they charge by kg), or 3) climb back down yourself. That’s it. No cable car, no secret passage road, no zip line, nada.

3 things kept me going – 1) I’ve started on the path, so turning back made no sense to me, 2) I witnessed 4 of these porters carrying a 120kg fridge up the 90 degree slope – if they can do that, I can carry myself up for sure, and 3) I have to climb down anyway eventually. Grrr. But from that point onwards, I had no clue why I was doing this except for the charity foundation – a reason that gets less plausible the higher I went. I mean, I could have just raised funds without torturing myself yes?

Anyway, I reached the base camp in 5 hours 30 minutes, second after the troupe’s fittest supermen – Alvis & Mica. It had started to drizzle about 30 minutes before I got in to the base camp, and they were getting worried that it would pour while the rest were not yet in to shelter. I was too vaguely, but all I wanted was to get something hot into my stomach. I was surprised so many have yet to arrive, I was drenched and shivering. It was getting dark & a storm was imminent.

One-by-one our party came trouping in to the camp, everyone pale & breathless. Then it really started to pour and we still had 4 more caught outside. The trek up wasn’t friendly – we could only pray that they were safe. Finally everyone arrived, and we had a quick dinner, got prepped for the night climb and went to bed.

1.30am the alarm went off. I couldn’t fathom why I had to drag my bruised body out of the dorm bed…but I was rushed to meet the rest of the party leaving the camp for the rest of the hike. In my mind, if I could handle 6km in 5 & half hours ok, the 2.8km to the peak should take half the time, no problem.

I’m glad I was born an optimist.

I was so wrong. The hike up to the peak was pure torture. It was pitch black, the air was so excruciatingly thin, I was feeling faint (something about high elevation dizziness), and we had to do tons of vertical & horizontal rope-work in the dark, it was drizzling heavily & super cold. I’m a tropical weather kinda chick – my idea of the great outdoors is the beach & the ocean. This is not my scene. Every 2 steps I took, I stopped to take 10 deep breathes. Did I mention, this is the first time I’m climbing a mountain? Anyway, I had an amazing person with me, Ganesan. If not for him, I am seriously not sure I would have made it. He pushed me all the way.

Because of me, this poor dude missed catching the sunrise from the peak. Public apology here my friend. 3/4 way up the 2.8km of Star Wars-like rock-land, the sun came up. That’s about 6am. So that’s the actual time we were supposed to reach the TOP of the peak. Obviously not happening. We finally got up there around 8.30am. Yup, you got it. I took 6 hours 30 minutes to hit the top of Low’s Peak. By then, everyone’s gone back down and there was no one around. Good news – I got there & we didn’t have to fight anyone for a great view. Bad news – I’ve lost all bragging rights, AND now we’ve got to climb back down.

But, I was glad to have made it to the top. I saw people at the base of Low’s Peak turning back & climbing down. I don’t get it. It’s like 800m more – and after all that torture getting so far, to quit. But many did that all the way up the last 2.8km. They just gave up, so close to their goal.

So, what’s the point of climbing a mountain?

Check out the 10 Life Lessons I Learned from climbing this mountain in the continuing post….