Monday, July 28, 2014

Climbing Mount Kinabalu 13,435,7 feet


I was crazy. Yes I was. I climbed Mount Kinabalu in Sabah again on 16 July 2014.

I had climbed the mountain in 1966 at the age of 22. I was then very fit, dashing and of course Gungho. On coming down I had sworn that I would never climb Mont Kinabalu again. Never ever. Now I am a month’s shy of 70 years old and I was crazy to climb again.

Mooting the idea

It was last year when Pak Peng, my wife’s brother from Melbourne came home and had wished to visit Sabah and Sarawak. We had planned to visit Kuching and the Mulu Caves in Sarawak and then visit Kota Kinabalu and climb Mount Kinabalu. We did the Sarawak part but could not continue with the Sabah leg, pledging to do it this year.

This is the Staircase to heaven said the Kinabalu National Park tour guide. Sabah is the Land below the Wind. Cancer had promised me a quick way to Heaven too, but I would not have it. I prefer to take the Kinabalu route.

Between the summit of the Mount Kinabalu and I are apprehension, excitement, altitude, weather, fear, and cancer. All challenges. But I do know I had to do it to beat cancer. I had to overcome. When I started running marathons, I had said that a single step in the run would kill off 100,000 prostrate cancer cells. Now for every step up Mount Kinabalu, it would kill one million prostrate cancer cells. It was my personal challenge.

Mount Kinabalu

Summit Trail


My wife and I started to do walks in the neighborhood to warm up. We then included walking up and down our staircase at home. We also did some climbing at the Batu Caves. And finally we did some climbs and trekking in Berjaya Hill Resort in Bukit Tinggi. Not much preparations, but enough.  I had to stop my training preparations when I sprained my core muscles around my left waist. I was in pain with each step.

Thanks to our Exercise Support Group in UMMC I was physically fit enough to try the climb despite my injury.

My Suunto Ambit 2 GPS watch is an excellent watch for mountaineering, trekking and all types of out door activities. It is able to monitor my progress and performance with its array of essential sensors during my climb.

We had booked online for the 3 Days 2 Nights tour with Sabah Best Tours, a local tours agent in Kota Kinabalu.

Day One

We flew Airsaia to KKIA arriving at 1015 hours. We were met by our tour agent at the airport and was quickly whisked to the Kinabalu National Park HQ and Resort at 6,122 feet in Kundasan. As it were, my wife started to have stomachache and stomach cramps upon arrival. We had stopped in KK to purchase some Chinese herbs and Brand essence of chicken. After two hours ride in the tour van we arrived in Kundasan after a brief stop at a roadside village cum vista. My wife’s stomach pains did not abate, so we stopped by the local government clinic at Kundasan town. We were pleased that the service was pleasantly efficient and effective. She got a jab, some Buscopan pills (Hyoscine Butylbromide), and mineral salts.

We checked into the Park HQ and registered ourselves by 1700 hours. It was a pleasant evening with dinner served. We had twin rooms and turned in early in preparation for Phase One climb.

Day Two

We woke up early and prepared for an early breakfast and to collect our packed lunch. Unfortunately my wife Peggy was still with stomach cramps and was totally exhausted from dehydration. She declined to join us for the climb in tears. We made arrangements for her to remain in the park HQ and Peng and I proceeded to our start point at the Timpohan gate, several kilometers from the park HQ. There was another trail called Mesilau Trail, which was supposedly more scenic but was longer by 2KM than the Timponhan Trail. Both trails meet at the 4 KM summit trail.

After registration at the Timpohan Gate, we started off at 0900 hours. Our climb started fairly well. The summit track was well defined, wide, and paved with stones and gravels. The trail was named Summit Trail and marked every half KM and was adequately sign posted. Inclination was generally in 1:4 and 1:3 ratio. The more difficult places were prepared with wooden steps, rails and plank-walks. It was 6 KM to Laban Rata at 10,730 feet, to which we had to spend a night for an early final assault to the summit the next morning, to see the spectacular sunrise over Sabah.

Still smiling

Peng and me

Cobble and stones

Planked stairs

I had constant pain in my back and left side of my waist with every step of the way. However my knees took the strain and pressure well with my reliable Chopac knee guards.

We reached Laban Rata which had 76 beds and a cafeteria at 10,737.2 feet about 1530 hours, 6 hours of snail pace. I was literally treading gingerly, enduring jolts of sharp pain with every mis-steps on the uneven gravel/stones. I was happy and relieved when we reached Laban Rata. I had thoughts that I wouldn’t have made it this far. Other groups using the Mesilau trail came in after 1700 hours.
We had our dinner at 1730 hours at Laban Rata Cafeteria before climbing up another 200 feet more to the Gunting Lagadan Hut which had 60 beds at 10,903.87 feet for the night. The two other 12 beds huts around Laban Rata are the Waras Hut and the Panar Laban Hut.

Unfortunately Gunting Lagadan Hut did not have hot water, so all of us mandi kerbau up there and did what we could to freshen up. I also started to have diarrhea and had stomach cramps every 30- 40 minutes or so. I went to the toilet no less than 5 times that night. I took a Buscopan pill, for stomach relief.
I am not sure of the real reasons for not breathing normally. But I was sure it was not due to the acute altitude sickness (lack of oxygen) common in high altitudes. It was more likely due to an allergy to Buscopan or maybe even Hypothermia? My conditions was leading to panic attack, which was scary. I felt choked and grasped for oxygen heavily in breathing. I could not lie down. I felt slightly better by sitting up and leaning against the room wall.

I called Peng and said I should descend immediately due to my conditions. Peng said it was impossible as there was nobody to take us down in the middle of the night. Our guide was not with us. I had to maintain calmness and blow deeply into a plastic bag.

I prayed silently and pleaded for survival for the night. Not now please.  I huffed and puffed rhythmically and deeply into the plastic bag. 1,2,3,4 inhale deep, 1,2,3,4 exhale long. I challenged to remain calm. I knew a panic attack would be disastrous. I was starting to have bad thoughts.

Day Three

I survived the five hours “rest” before we descended to Laban Rata cafeteria for our supper at 0200 hours.

Our final climb to the summit started from Leban Rata at eerie 0230 hours. It was totally dark, cold and miserable. I was already feeling weak and exhausted from the previous day’s climb and stomach cramps. I had not slept a wink as I was having breathing difficulties.

Going up with the rope

Hang on to your dear life now

Pegged rope

Upper Trail

Low's Peak

At 0230 hours we joined the pack climbing in the dark, our torchlight attached to our heads. After a short climb on wooden steps with rails, we came to the cliff on the boulder surface. It was now climbing and hanging for our dear lives onto the ropes provided. This was the toughest and most dangerous part of the climb for me. I was already tired and weak, without proper rest the previous night, and I had to pull my body weight up the steep slopes on the surface of the mountain. I barely had enough strength left at each pegging of the rope.

We reach the final check point Sayat Sayat at 12,034.5 feet, our guide told us that we could not to proceed to the submit as we were cut off for timing. We would not be able to come down in the permitted time, should we proceed to the top as most of the climbers had gone ahead. Actually the last final leg after Sayat Sayat is not difficult as the leg covered the plateau shoulder of the mountain peak. And we had passed the most dangerous part.

 We were short of 400 meters to the summit at Low’s Peak. What a shame. So near yet so far. However I did not feel defeated as I had done my best and had endured pain and discomfort throughout the climb. We conceded to the guide and rested for 20 minutes before we started to descend back to Labah Rata. We were still able to see the sunrise and amazing sights below, albeit at a lower altitude.

Amazing Sunrise

Coming down was more difficult as the Chopac was not as effective on the knees and my toes were hitting the inside the shoes, causing more pain. I literally had to hang onto my guide on the way down. No pain no gain right?

Halfway on the way down, I had the shock of my life, my wife was resting and sitting beside the summit trail at 3.5 KM at 8,865.8 feet, cheerfully waiving to me. I must be in heaven when I saw her or was she in heaven? We had left her sick in the Park HQ the previous day. Apparently she was feeling better on the third day, she decided to climb the summit trail and to meet us halfway. How she managed to convince the Park HQ and the Timpohon gatekeeper to let her through was beyond me. Nobody climbs Mount Kinabalu without a guide. My wife climbed 3.5 KM all on her own. It was a miracle in itself.

The three of us climbed steadily back to Timpohon Gate and thence to the Park HQ, arriving around1600 hours. We were all presented with certificates of achievement by the Kinabalu National Park HQ. We thanked our guide and proceeded back to Kota Kinabalu that same evening. We then spent several days more resting in Kota Kinabalu and visiting several of its surrounding places of interest.


All in all it was a good climb and worth the effort. Yes it is tough going, but it will be a doable mission with a bit of preparation and training. I had enjoyed the experience and had met many new friends on the trail. Everybody called me Uncle as I was the oldest person on the trail. The view was spectacular, scenic and awesome. It is truly the stairway to heaven. Believe me.

I recommend all cancer survivors to try to climb Mount Kinabalu or for that matter any Gunung or Bukit. It is the litmus test for the positivity in us. Maybe I will be crazy enough again to complete the 400 meters short of Low’s Peak.

Clap clap clap

I beat cancer.

Take care.

Allen Lai

Selamat Hari Raya

Hi all,
Selamat Hari Raya to all our muslim Gunners. Best wishes and enjoy the festive holidays.

Take care

Allen Lai

Friday, July 25, 2014