I was traveling in Borneo alone; that was 2 months before moving back to Tokyo earlier this year. Still anxious about catching the virus, I had to assure myself nothing terrible would happen, I mean, the world is already spiraling down, how worse can it get? I was in one of the best places in the world, home to vast rainforests waiting to be explored - that fact itself was already something big..
There was no plan to summit Mount Kinabalu, not at all. For the first week I stayed and roamed around Kota Kinabalu diving and snorkeling, even went up to Kundasang (where the trailhead is) to hike to waterfalls and saw a good view of the huge granite mountain; don't get me wrong, I wanted to hike it since 2020, but I knew this time I was not prepared. Also, the only way people get to climb there is to book ahead because there's a cap of hikers allowed daily.
But when my friend's father told me there's someone who could arrange immediate permit, and when I read the news that a 60 year old Norwegian ambassador summited it for his birthday, these crazy ideas started playing in my mind. Gosh, people train for stamina months before the climb, and there I was, with just daily yoga and short hikes and eating buttermilk buns everyday, dared to climb the treacherous majestic mountain.
After everything was arranged, and I was standing at the trailhead, it did not feel real. I read blogs about people's experience, and most were not pretty. My guide was a 52-yo local lady, carrying 15kg of packed food to sell to other mountain guides up the hut. I got 3kg of load, and a 36yo pair of knees - somehow these gave me courage. If she could do it, I definitely could too!
I spoke too soon. My leg started hurting and we were not even half-way. It was a painful 6 km to Panalaban Hut at 3272m altitude. The change of altitude made me nauseous and caused intermittent headache, I thought of giving up. My anxiety went up high above clouds, and it was ugly. I stopped a couple of times contemplating if I could push through. Well aware of the dangers of acute mountain sickness , I had to make sure I was okay before deciding to continue.
The rare vegetation I saw made me feel better. Also, feeding the playful squirrels was a short distraction. We stopped for food and toilet at rest areas, and I had a refill of boiled rainwater (there was no other choice).
We finally reached the hut slightly before 6pm, just in time for sunset and dinner.
It was a looooong night; I barely slept, there was no heater, and the tap water was ice cold. My phone was running out of battery and it dawned on me that we still had about 2.7km distance to trek. We started at about 2am, headlamps on, slow but constant pace. The night sky was beautiful, the wind was chilly.
A couple hundred meters before the summit, it felt mechanical to breathe. I looked at it and wondered if that was all I could reach. Whenever I climb a mountain, I recite chants in my mind. And when it gets difficult, I would silently ask the mountain if it would allow me to hike its summit. Mountains are sacred, they were formed over thousands of years before us, someone's got to ask permission to show respect, you know. So I did. You have no idea how much I chanted to deflect from my pain. 🙃
I drank water and regretted it, my stomach felt sick. The water was too cold. Margaret, my guide was so kind to share with me her hot water. She held my hand and we walked together and never let go until I reached the top, just in time for sunrise.
It was very odd; it felt like my energy got refilled. Of course I realized later it was adrenaline, but hey, the feeling of accomplishment up there, after enduring all the pain, after series of self-doubts and anxiety attacks, there I was, on a top of sacred granite mountain at sunrise. How cool is that?
The 9km descent was definitely NOT a walk in the park. But my mind was already in trance (lol), and my knees were already numb anyways (lol).
Will I recommend that hike to anyone? Definitely. Will I do it all over again? Definitely, not. 🙃