There was this fear despite several reassurance – what if I fail?
Will the mountain; the majestic of awe, be gentle and welcome me?
Will I be charmed, be inspired, along the trail?
I should hope for nothing. Only then, will I be free.
Mount Kinabalu, stood at the height of 4095m, with the aim of Low’s Peak – the highest peak on Mount Kinabalu as the destination of many hikers who want to conquer. There were several routes to face the challenge. The common ones were from Timpohon Gate and the other Mesilau Gate. There are many blogs on these trails. I shall just let the other blogs guide any reader here. Just that I took the Mesilau trail, hoping to see some scenic views (that were never meant to be on a rainy, misty day). Mesilau trail was longer by 2km, but promised less staircases.
Sunset greeted me on my way to Kota Kinabalu. It was like an omen of good things to come, as I have always enjoyed the mood set by the colours around the ray of the sun, hiding away for the night.
On April 23, Amazing Borneo took us Kinabalu Park, the base of Mount Kinabalu. Kinabalu Park was situated 1585m above the sea level. We reached late, allowing us only for a stomach-filling buffet dinner and a good, luxurious stay in Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, where it was beautiful but yet, too short of our stay to enjoy it fully. The package was RM969.70 for Mesilau trail, inclusive of GST.
Yes, my group mates had been training. I had been going up and down Penang Hill, Cherok To Kun and other hills weekly before this trip. This began only in February. And so, after morning breakfast, a rush here and there, nervous heartbeats, we knew we had to move out of our comfort zone.
A mountain was waiting for us, no matter what.
At the early sunrise hours, Mount Kinabalu stood tall, before the cloud would hide away the peaks from the public admiration. Still, cloud or no-cloud, we knew the mountain was testing us, inviting us to challenge ourselves – the dare to see if we were better than what we believed we could and would be. The mountain awaited. The time (months, weeks, days and hours before the event) that separated us from our quest had diminished. It was time to put our fear and faith to test. Which would win?
Would the mountain be laughing at us?
The journey from Kinabalu Park was a 30 minutes ride. We laughed at silly jokes, to ease the moment. Mesilau Trail was just 30 minutes away and the beautiful villages and views kept our mind occupied. At some points, we forgot our nervousness.
At 9.20am, the hiking started. It did not take long before the group members began to be separated. The path I took was interrupted by the expected unexpected rain. It rained on me at 11am. Still, many hours to go and yet it was not a time to sulk. The rain was one with the green, cold forest. And so should I.
At 2.09pm, I stood where the Timpohon and Mesilau trails met. I had been hiking for 4 hours and 50 min. 2 more km to go. I had hiked alone, at times, bumping onto friendly strangers; friendly hikers.
One porter walked by me, wearing only sandals for the whole slippery trail. A few porters/guides walked by me, carrying more than 20 kg of bags. Several foreign tourists/hikers greeted me and continued to take photos along the trail. A gentle young lady struggled on her own, while her group mates were nowhere in sight. Still, that did not dampen her determination to move forward. Some elder men and women hiked and laughed, together. Human spirit was pure here. There was no greed for material things. There were only smiles and nodes of approval.
I shared my share of encouragement to those I passed by. In return, I received kind thank-yous in their smiles. The eyes were looks of nothing but sheer joy, despite exhaustion, to know that they were on this for an experience of a lifetime. They were happy. So was I.
I walked alone but I was never lonely. The forest posed no danger. The trail was friendly and guided my feet, taking me where I was supposed to be going. There was never any worry about turning left or right. There was only one trail.
There was only one path.
2km might sound like nothing. It should be, since that I had walked more than 5km. But it was the trick of ego. It was like the mountain knew, as many hikers before me, fell for this same delusion. Laban Rata was never in sight, no matter how many steps my aching left knee carried me forward. For every step, I silently prayed for the sight. It was never meant to be. There was a lesson here. What would come, would come. There should never be any expectation or hurry, especially for what could never be changed.
I was getting closer. I swore I was.
This photo was taken at 3.59pm. I was tired. My left knee was hurting like crazy. And then, I found out that we would be staying at Lagadan Hut, another 300m away – up, up the staircase… Oh boy. After meal, we marched like wounded soldiers up to Lagadan, unsure if we would want to return for late supper.
The unfriendly night was approaching. There was a desperation in me to feel tired so that I could sleep, ignoring the cold 9 degree Celsius in Lagadan Hut. The blanket provided in the 4-bedroom dorm was thin. The chill was nerve-wrecking. It was impossible to rest the body. And we had to get up at 1am, for the 2am late supper, before continuing the hike up to Low’s Peak. Thing was not looking pretty for me. Although I went to bed as early as 8pm, I dozed off only at 12am, to be woken up at 1am. Thank goodness my knee was not hurting as much.
The hike continued at 3am, where a row of hikers queued up along the summit trail. This time, without the hiking stick, as we would need our hands to be free to hold onto the ropes for climbing along the edge of the mountain cliff. In the dark, led by our headgear, our steps were greeted by the beautiful night stars. I did not just want to reach the summit, but I wanted to be at the summit to watch the rising sun. It was not easy. The oxygen level was getting lower. I was getting tired easier.
For almost every 20 steps after the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint, I had to stop. Looking up, I could see familiar peaks in the dark. And yet, the lights from the hikers upfront told me that I was not there yet. I understood now what another blog writer wrote about her Mount Kinabalu hiking – so near and yet so far. After a few attempts. I decided to avoid sitting down when I stopped to catch my breath. I read that somewhere too. I stood. Surprisingly the energy came back faster than when I sat down to rest.
Sunrise was sneaking out. I needed to get to the peak. It was a matter of a few hundred meters away. I quickened my pace. I reached the foot of the peak, to be greeted by overcrowding hikers. The peak was a small spot for standing and yet many wanted their claim. I rested. Somehow, it was enough.
After a few minutes rest admiring the sunrise, South Peak, St John’s Peak and the clouds above Sabah, it was time to go for the peak.
Spent a few minutes near the peak to admire the views. Some said mist could come and cover the mountain top easily. Weather was unpredictable. Somehow, today, the weather was showing mercy on us. No rain. No mist. We were left to the cold breeze and at times, strong wind.
The walk down the mountain was another challenge as the left knee was giving more problem at going down the staircase. Still, it was something that many hikers had encountered and they had faced the pain before. I knew I had to. We started moving down from Laban Rata around 10.45am. It was a tough struggle. Somehow, the group mates were separated by their own speed. I found myself alone again, bypassed by some porters rushing down and at times, a team mate or two. It was nice eventually to accompany two jovial teammates down the trail together. I picked up my speed to match their speed and we made it back to the Kinabalu restaurant around 4.00pm. Almost a 5 hours journey.
Mount Kinabalu could never be conquered. It was our doubt and fear that we had wanted to conquer. And we did, with faith and determination. Although some of us limped to the end, we came to do what we had wanted to – to let a gentle giant make us believe in ourselves.