Sunday, July 29, 2012

So you climbed Mount Kinabalu?

I have a very faint memory of my first encounter with Mount Kinabalu. When I was first heard about it probably when I was seventeen. A Caucasian looking classmate enthusiastically showed us his photographs of how he conquered the highest mountain in South East Asia. I was a little envy of that boy who had that kind of privilege to undertake that kind of expedition. Financially. Mentally. Physically. All three.

We gathered around him salivating looking at his gorgeous photos. It was taken with an SLR camera. That is correct. An SLR camera WITHOUT the big D. No digital. To shot with an SLR back then, you must have three qualifications. Money. Skill. Passion. All three again. A few of others could exchange views with him, obviously they are enthusiast as well. Me? I could not understand things they were talking - shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc.

He was such a charismatic person. He has a body builder body almost like a mini-Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is intelligent with good family background. He was not only well liked by teachers but by all of us as well.  Planning. He was always talking planning and what to do with his future. Always forward thinking. He was hell of a great guy. Above all, he was humble and not intimidating. Inspiring, definitely deserves to be an elite in our school.

Here am I reflecting and traveling back retrospectively, recounting old times. Times passed very quickly. That was more than a few decades ago. It was that long that we lost contacts but it is seems like just yesterday. I am wondering how he is doing now, probably doing very well.

I was trying to travel back retrospectively to gain some insights. Two assumptions that I have buried in my minds. The kind of assumptions have been taken as facts not truths as Indiana Jones would tell you. What facts? Fact #1. Mountain climbing is for elite. Fact #2. Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in South East Asia.

Fact #2 validation first, probably an easier one. Travel back to the past. I could not recall many details except the part he got to wake up at 2 am continued to climb to the Summit or more commonly known as Low's Peak at 4095.2 meter.

The highest mountain in South East Asia? Was the fact twisted, wrongly claimed or outdated? Bending fact is a serious crime. Is it like lyrics that sang in advertisement of Malaysia, Truly Asia that when you hear it long enough, claims will become fact? Some minority of Indonesians gotten angry because they think Malaysia have stolen their cultural heritage of batik, Pendet, angklung and Reog Ponorogo? The flame could have turned into a wild fire that out of control.

Conspiracy theorists probably right that Malaysia government is good at "bribing". They claimed Malaysia understand the power of media. Instead fighting the biggie like BBC, CNBC or CNC, they turned them into allies. Malaysia budget shows that hat RM 28.35m was allocated to FBC Media (UK) for a "Global Strategic Communications Campaign" in 2009. A similar allocation was made in 2008. FBC Media (UK) is a subsidiary of FBC Group Ltd. There were reports surfaced in 2011 alleged Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen overpaid RM 270 m for advertisements but was within the market price.

The alternate sources of information gotten a lot more freer than 20 to 30 years ago. Was the recent years revealed the tip of the iceberg? Did Malaysia "international branding" and marketing priorities overstepped the line to the extend that made people believe it was true? I could not find that kind old Geography text book that prints Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in South East Asia.

Was this a product of novel and tour agencies? Take a look at this statement from one of the prominent tour agencies at

"Climbing Mount Kinabalu, alongside scuba diving and wildlife trips, is one of the most popular trips for visitors to Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia. Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in South East Asia and a UNESCO World Heritage site designated in 2000 for it's biological significance. This makes climbing Mount Kinabalu a climbers, trekkers adventure trip of a lifetime!"

If you Google more, you can find a few more. There are some evidences of marketing gimmicks. However keep arguing along this track of thoughts will lead us to one certainty. No where!

Not so fast. Some true blood of loyal Malaysians who are very patriotic will still want to fight. They said there must be some misunderstanding. It was like a case of Pluto was demoted from the solar system about 6 years ago. Pluto was defined as planet from 1930 - 2006. For 76 years people believe we have 9 planets but now left 8 planets only? Parents must have jumped off their chairs logging complaints that teachers standards have declined to a point of no return. How could they teach our kids the wrong fact. They teach my kids that Pluto got blown up? No, it was still there but just gotten re-classified as dwarf planet because it did not meet definition of a planet. Parents, please check up at wikipedia before you jump.

Going by the numbers?

# 1 Hkakabo Razi,5881m, Burma

# 2 Puncak Jaya, 5030m, Indonesia

# 3 Trikora, 4751m, Indonesia

# 4 Mandala, 4701m, Indonesia

# 5 Mt. Kinabalu, 4092.5m, Malaysia

What ? Dropping from # 1 to # 5 ? 3 of them are from Indonesia and the highest is from Burma? Some begin to split hairs to come up with more creative definition and assaulting with more technical arguments. Are you looking at Physical Geography or Political/Boundaries?

Students from physical geography school will argue this way. The 3 peaks in Irian Jaya belongs to Oceania and 6 peaks belongs to Himalaya range while Mt. Kinabalu is belong to Crocker range.

The other school, the one will define ranking by boundaries will ask people not to complicate thing. Make thing simple. Just take a look on where those mountains are in the boundaries. Isn't it obvious that those mountains higher than Mt Kinabalu are located in Burma and Indonesia?

To sum up, this is where Mt. Kinabalu stands:

Physical Geography. # 1.

Political/Boundaries. # 10. Ouuuch....even the top 5 list is seems to be shaky.

The arguments can go on and on. We can spin the arguments endlessly like spinning a wheel suspended in the air. Spinning wheel without wing will not generate lift, thus it will not fly. Too much arguments, not enough wisdom.

Different people will have different reactions when they reach the peak. Some may be pounding their chests like 800 lbs gorillas proclaiming victory. They are some will sing aloud, I did it my way..........Some will open their eyes even bigger realizing...How great thou art, how small am I?. There are people feel absolutely is just another peak.Mission accomplished, it is time to look for another one. There are people cheering for others....good job boys and girls. Some are just pure tourists - posing, smiling with V sign and wandering around with busy fingers clicking their cameras.

Their reactions are mirrors reflecting who they are. You can see who are the strong self-believer. They believe in nobody except themselves. They will keep pushing forward. You can tell too there are people like candles. They enjoy seeing others to be successful while sacrificing themselves. You can see who are the religious one -- regardless of faiths. The momentous religious experience they received would drive them to almost reacted the same way -- looked up and began to return all glories and praises to above. To some heaven is on earth now, what the heck - just seize the priceless moment now.

Reasons? Everyone has one. Who the heck are they passing judgements on others? Why provoke others trying to convert others to be more like them? Why thumb down others to glorify themselves? Forget the cynical arguments. Focus on the bright side. The power of summit is truly magical. You get what you wish for.

What about me? It was a fulfilment of a promise. I made an entry on December 9, 2011 that I set my eyes on Mt Kinabalu. I promise to make myself stronger and fitter after a friend passed away due to sudden heart attack.

When I reached Low's peak, I don't care whether Mt. Kinabalu is the highest or top 10 in South East Asia. I was climbing and climbing following the white rope in the dark. The white rope suddenly ended and I saw others began to find place to shield themselves from cold wind. I still could not believe that I was at the summit. To be dead sure, I continued to climb and search for Low's Peak signboard. I was smiling because I finally found the green signboard marker cemented at the summit. While looking at the signboard, I heard a voice came behind me. Not pontianak but it was my mountain guide. I turned back and shook his extended congratulatory hand. We took pictures to record the "historic" moment. Soon many others followed suit and crowded the signboard.    

I was crossing my legs and leaned my back on a rock waiting for the sunrise. There was no dramatic moment or huge sense of big achievement like wanting to quote Edmund Hillary "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves". Edmund Hillary, by the way, is the first man reached the Everest summit. Coming back to the quote thing, I was in fact working backward. I found this famous quote when I google it after I reached home. I could not find any official records of success rate of Mount Kinabalu climb. Scouting around the webs, I found a source that saying the success rate is 95% []. So it is not as horrible as many think. This is nothing compare to Mt. Everest summit which has only 29.44% of success rate []. If a certificate of certifying that I was at Low's Peak was based on serialized and running number, I will be the 300 thousands plus of people successfully got up there. This number is way too large compare to Everest climb success rate of 3,000.

High success rate of Mount Kinabalu climb does not mean we should belittle or diminish the value of the trip. The punch line? It has its own challenge but just don't take too much credits for it.

High success rate shall not be taken for granted as well. 4,000 m above sea level or 8.6 km one way to the summit is quite demanding physically. I suppose the level of difficulties vary from person to person. Overall, I enjoy myself a lot because I can say I have done sufficient preparation.

Fitness preparation. I have taken almost 7.5 months preparation for this challenge. For the first 2 - 3 months, I was doing once a week 5 km run and 5 km hiking. For the final 3.5 months, once/week I was doing between 15 - 20 km combination of hiking and jogging. The dividend received during the climb paid off handsomely. I did not take long break from right from Timpohon gate to Laban Rata on the first day. I did stop a few minutes from Laban Rata to Low's Peak on the second day and walking continuously from the summit back to Laban Rata and finally descending to Timpohon gate. I did not suffer any altitude sickness except I felt pressure was exerting on my ears briefly during the ascent to the summit.

Financial or budget planning. I paid about RM 1,600 for (3 days - 2nights) climbing package, RM 685 for bagpacks, winter clothing, RM 680 for Penang-Kota Kinabalu round trip air ticket, RM 250 for food, RM 160 for transportation and RM 150 for hotel. All in around RM 3,325. This is relatively cheap compared to others mountain climbing expeditions.This should answer the assumption #2 raised at the beginning of this entry. It is not really for the elites, very reachable by working class.

Stuffs in my backpack. My tour agency e-mailed me a laundry list but after went through the trip, here are my comments.

I find that sunblock and lip balm are more useful than mosquito repellent. I did not see even one mosquito throughout the trip.

Poncho is a must. I was hunting high and low around Penang but finally found it at the Guardian. I used it once because of the rain in the afternoon.

Small towels are extremely important because the dormitory that I stayed did not provide any towel.

Sandals - very important. You need it to go to shared bathroom.

Head torch is a mission critical equipment. Rechargeable type can be heavy. Without it, it was not possible to ascend to Summit at 2 to 3 am. Stick with dry cell battery.

Trekking poles are optional. I did not use any trekking poles.

Panadol, vitamin C and muscle pain relief rubbing cream are very handy.  

Clothing. From Laban Rata - just shorts and T shirt will be fine. Temperature was around 15 deg C at Laban Rata. From Laban Rate to Summit need long pant or trek suit. Winter coat but make sure it allow you to be able to move freely. Cap to cover ears and head. Gloves to deal with the cold and to pull the rope at certain part. Temperature was around 0 deg C but strong wind was the killer. A pair of comfortable but with good grip shoes.Some spare socks in case get wet in the rain. One regret - forgot to bring a face mask or face scarf to battle the cold wind.

One more regret, I forgot to bring ear-plug or cotton. I could not sleep well when room mates were snoring!

Standard personal toiletries. Toothbrush and tooth paste, shaver, hair cream and comb.

Camera, pen and notebook.

Cellphone. Maxis signals were available all the way to Laban Rata. I was told Celcom signal is very strong up there. Notebook for Facebook is optional but adding another 2 kg? Give me a break, no need to do live broadcasting lar. So I did not bring mine.

How much to pack? My bagpack weighed roughly 8 kg, lots of them contributed by winter clothing. I decided to use a porter so that I can concentrate on the climb, admiring the scenery and photo shooting. It will cost you between RM 8 ~ RM 10/kg one way.

Pace.  Don't pressure yourself to beat world's best record climbathon of 21 km in 2 hr 37 min which will translate into 7.5 mins per km. Most people do 1 km per 1 hour. Mine? Let's it remains as a secret.

Finding a balanced pace is important. Pacing body to keep the momentum going and leisure in my opinion is extremely important to have maximum enjoyment. Too fast a pace, beside exhausting ourselves, we will also miss the opportunity to enjoy gorgeous views. On the other hand, too slow of pace or taking too many breaks, our body will lose momentum. Losing momentum is not good because it will build up unnecessary pressures: either lagging behind or you think you are not going to make it.

Mental and psychology management. Any sport men or sport women would have developed some level of mental toughness, focusing, goal setting and etc. Climbing 3,000 to 4,000 m mountains have less obstacles compared to climbing mountains over 5,500 to 8,000 meters. I do not think I was experiencing dramatic obstacles such as oxygen depletion, high winds, avalanche, fear, extreme cold, exhaustion, etc described by people who succeeded conquered Mt. Everest. There were some stretches I experiencing tiredness. Different people would have different strategies. What worked for me was recalling how I succeeded to push myself beyond my threshold during training. I keep telling myself I have not even pushing myself into the extreme zone yet. So pushing my steps forward and concentrating on my breathing worked wonderfully. Keep pushing myself with One, Two, One, Two.......Staying focus means managing distraction as well. I carried out brief conversations during breaks only. I avoid joking at all cost because bad things can happen when things went overboard.

Terrains. The first 3 km from Timpohon to Laban Rata was practically staircase and staircase. Steps and steps and steps. Some are very steep.

After the 3rd km, you will be trekking a lot on rocky surface.

From km 6 all the way to the summit, you will be trekking on large surface of granite. Some sections require you to use rope.

Safety. The aim is not to reach the summit. What is the point of getting to the summit and fell off from the cliff? My aim was to get back to Timpohon gate safely. Risk consciousness is a habit that formed after years of investing. Respect risk rather than keep saying sorry to yourself and your love ones when something bad happens. I did a few searches before I set foot in the mountain. There were a  few casualties. Not too many but I just make sure I DON'T add on to the stats!

2001 - Ellie James, 17 years old. Died during descent.Body found 500 m around St. John's peak.
2004 - Sudin Yussin, 51 year old. Died during ascent. KM 8.0
2009 - Tan Tzu Hau, 31 year old. Died during ascent. KM 5.5
2012 - Lau Siang Lip, 59 year old. Died during ascent. KM 4.7

My mountain guide told me that there were accidents happened around the summit area especially teenagers like to run down the mountain. He once rescued a school boy that almost fell off the cliff. He told recently there was a person tripped and rolled like a football. The person was lucky that he stopped rolling and fainted just at the edge of cliff.

I heard an interesting story on the day I descended down the hill. There was a person forced to cancel his climb because suffering of breathing difficulties. That person was having forth artificial heart. He made a right choice to turn back.

On my way down, I saw there were people totally have no idea of what they were signed up to. OMG, I saw ladies with totally inappropriate shoes. They were in party shoes.

I believe this should be my longest entry since the existence of this blog. I did it with a purpose. It's just like climbing high altitude mountain, I would not expect many have stamina to read till the end. I wish you best of luck if you plan to climb Mt. Kinabalu.


cina said...

Imagine I am sitting in my hotel room somewhere in Japan reading this. I can never get over my awe with how amazing technology is..

This is such an interesting post to read Mr MTI. Congratulations on your climb and I am envious. Twice I have missed the opportunity. I hope to make a commitment to perform this feat one day.. may even come to you for advise :}


cina said...

Thanks for your advise Mr MTI. I think this time I am quite certain that I won't be updating my blog anymore. I am determine to stop and limit my time in front of the computer haha.. all the best to you sir. You have been very nice to me..

midnitetrader said...

I did 2 times, after coming down drove back home to Sandakan, then.