Featured Writer: Angela Thao Huynh
A raining day again. I am in my room, facing my laptop and has just finished the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer. The book reminded me of my climbing trip to Mt Kinabalu, Malaysia in the summer of 2010. Honestly, I climbed to the mountain with my silly excitement without any physical and mental preparation which caused my unable-reaching-the-summit.
Mt. Kinabalu is one of the highest mountains in the world. According to all information I read online, it is officially the tallest mountain in South-East Asia basing on a successful commercial ad operated by Malaysian government. Mt. Hkakabo Razi (5.881m a.b.s) in Burma/Myanmar is actually the real highest one.
Mt. Kinabalu, Malaysia – Its summit is at 4.095m a.b.s – No. 5 of Top 10 Highest Mountains in South-East Asia. Source: on-line. I do not own this photo
Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain of Borneo. It is located 70 miles from the northern tip of the island. It is an impressive flat-topped granite block, rising in isolation, thousands of feet above the gently sloping plain… The mountain’s high peak is easily climbed, but all other peaks require rock climbing skills.
Mt. Hkakabo Razi, Burma – It summit is at 5,881m a.b.s – No. on Top 10 Highest Mountains in South-East Asia. Source: on-line. I do not own this photo
Hkakabo Razi is the highest mountain in Myanmar… The first recorded attempt was made in 1995 by Takashai Ozaki, from Japan. He failed due to persistent bad weather. A year later he returned, and this time succeded. Nyama Gyaltsen from Myanmar made it too…
Difficulty: Major Mountain Expedition
I did some hiking in the North of Viet Nam, esp. in Sapa. I have not ever tried to climb to Mt. Fansipan – which is the tallest one in Viet Nam. Where I am living is totally flat. There are some high hills which are just around 500m-something a.b.s, which are called mountains by local people. I did reach the summit of Mt. Sam, Mt. Cam and Mt. Ba Den. Those were very interesting experiences.
Mt. Fansipan, Viet Nam – Its summit is at 3,143m a.b.s – No. 9 of Top 10 Highest Mountains in South-East Asia. Source: on-line. I do not own this photo
Jon was leaded by one of the greatest climber Rob Hall, who reached the summit many times and was one of reliable successful climbing guides. I think reaching the “Roof of the World” means a lot, no matter how you do it; paying to go there or climbing there by oneself. Meanwhile, when I climbed to Mt. Kinabalu, my friend Chris and I shared the ‘package tour’ with two other Swiss men; just to save up a couple of bucks. Our guide was a local, working in the National Park for around three years. I thought there was only one way to go to the summit so why I needed a guide with me. Later, I knew how helpful and necessary to be escorted by an experienced guide.
Jon started the trip on Mar 29, 1996, reached the summit on May 10, 1996 and went home on May 19, 1996. Mine was started on May 20, 2010 and ended on May 21, 2010. Now, you can see that I can hardly compare my trip with his. I just want to express my options and my stories of a 26-year-old-woman-climbing-to-Mt. Kinabalu-first-time-ever.
Trail Map of Mount Kinabalu – The one I took and people at the National Park said that trail was easier for me. Source: on-line. I do not own this photo
We booked a package tour with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, costed 556RM (for group of 4 people), including:
– 1 package accommodation at Laban Rata Resthouse (in a 6-bed dorm)
– 1 packed lunch box (2 boiled eggs, 1 bottle of water, 4 pieces of sandwich with cheese and turkey ham, 1 apple, and 1 piece of fried chicken) from Balsam restaurant at Kinabalu National Park headquarter.
– 1 dinner at Laban Rata Resthouse served as buffet.
– 1 2.00AM supper breakfast at Laban Rata Resthouse served as buffet.
– 1 breakfast at Laban Rata Resthouse served as buffet (you will have it after climbing down from the summit).
– 1 lunch at Balsam restaurant served as buffet.
– 1 climbing permit
– 1 mountain insurance
– 1 local guide
– 1 2-way transfer from the National Park headquarter to Timpohon Gate, which is around 15min driving.
– 1 black and white certification on which they write the height you reach. (1RM for one)
– 1 2-way transfer from Kota Kinabalu city to Kinabalu Nation Park (15RM per way per pax)
Our Couchsurfing host in Kota Kinabalu city was very nice to drive us to the bus station, which is quite on the East of the city. We waited for a bit and caught a bus with route “Ranau – Kota Kinabalu”. Ranau is a town near Kinabalu National Park so they can drop us off on the way. Make sure that you arrive in the bus station before 7.30AM. Duration is around 2 hours (excluding a short stop to drop off other passengers). If you make it later, you can hire a taxi, and of course it is more expensive. This Ranau bus was like that in Viet Nam; they wait until there are enough passengers getting on and then they depart. Luckily, they do not carry too many passengers on the bus.
My group started at Timpohon Gate at 10.45AM, May 12, 2010 (which was 1,866m a.b.s). My teammates went very quickly and left me behind easily. It was easy to understand that because they were taller and stronger than I, a 39-kilo-and-153-centimetre Vietnamese woman. There were many milestones on the way to let people know where they were. I used them as my little breaks, every five-hundred meters. Slowly I went up to the mountain. I kept in mind that the final destination was my hotel, which was 3,273m a.b.s and I had around five or six hours to do that before the darkness could sallow all things. I walked. I climbed on my two hands. I rested. My guide then showed me how important his present was. He talked to me. He encouraged me with his limited English. He showed me some local plants and fruits. He told me some stories and jokes. He gave me many good climbing tips. Without him, my trip to my guesthouse would be really slow and I might have arrived really late, which was not good for myself.
View on the way to my guesthouse. Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
One kind of berries on the way to my guesthouse. Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
Many of them on the way – Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
On the way to my guesthouse, I met some other tourists, who were professional climbers, or businessmen, families. I met one middle-age mother from KL, who wanted to prove to her daughter that she still could be helpful. Some Korean climbers equipped themselves very well with sticks, good hiking shoes, oxygen bottles, etc. Everyone were friendly and nice to each other. All wanted to go to the summit with different purposes.
The way to my guesthouse got harder and harder. Sometime I thought I gave up because it was so far away. Five hundred meters had been nothing for me if I would have walked in a flat area. Five hundred meters in Mt. Kinabalu took me more than thirty minutes. Kinabalu National Park staff made the path easily to hike for tourists. It looked very naturally though. Thanks to them, danger decreased. Now, it was not really to conquer the mountain, I think. Tourists just spend time and energy hiking up in higher locations. If your body is good enough, you can make the trip done quite easily. The matter here is TIME.
One of many trails up to the summit. Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
On every mountain climbing trip, we – tourists – needed porters who were usually the local. They had a great physical body. They were strong enough to carry a thirty-kilo package three or four times a day. That amazed me a lot. They looked tiny and short, like other Asians. They were some of ethnic minorities in Malaysia (there are around thirty-four ethnic minorities in Borneo, Malaysia, as I was told by one of the guide). They had a great spirit as well. It was so hard to carry a twenty-kilo gas bottle for kitchen in the flat area. Here, with a straight-up path, you could imagine how great they were. I still did not understand why many tourists carried many backpacked for just two or three day hiking. Somehow it was good because it can bring jobs to the local. I personally thought it was useless. The weather was super cold. You did not need to take a real shower. The guesthouses offered all necessary things such as towels, blankets, pillows, etc. You could not get cold inside of those well-equipped guesthouses.
Porters on duty. Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
My first rest was near Carson Fall (first five-hundred meters) – which was a tiny waterfall. I guessed because of the dry season, the water was not that strong to make a beautiful waterfall. My second rest was in Kandis Shelter (Km 1). Next, there were Uboh Shelter (Km 1.5), Lowii Shelter (Km 2.5) which was Komborongoh Telecom Station, Mempening Shelter (Km 3). At Km 3, even though I knew it was half way to my guesthouse, I felt so exhausted. My guide – Jason – kept saying “C’mon, girl!” to encourage me. I listened to music on my iPod since I had started hiking to help me forget the long trail ahead. I kept walking and walking. Following rest stops were RTM Station – Layang Layang Hut (Km 4) which was 2,702m a.b.s and one of the resthouses in Kinabalu National Park, Willosa Shelter (Km 4.5), Paka Cave Shelter (Km 5), 3,052m a.b.s which was a helipad as well. I hardly breathed then and was wondering what the heck I was doing in the mountain. Suddenly, clouds were gone and a clear blue sky appeared with a beautiful rainbow and the summit. I knew why I was here, spending so much energy and time to go up and up. No word could express enough the beauty of the mountain and the scenery nearby. I simply conquered.
me and a rainbow. Taken by my local guide – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
I arrived in the resthouse Waras Hut, which was 3,244m a.b.s after six hours walking. I went to the main building, which was aslo a resthouse, Laban Rata (3,273m a.b.s) to check in. A receptionist offered my team to stay in a six-bed dorm of Laban Rata. We were lucky to get upgraded because originally we were supposed to stay at Waras Hut – a small building, 10mins walking to Laban Rata which is also an only one restaurant in the area. We did not need to walk outside for our meals. On my bed, there were two thick blankets, two pillows, and two towels. Getting back on what Jon described on “Into Thin Air”, I was totally fine and safe. He stayed in a dirty place or in cold tiny tents with snow and strong wind outside. There was strong wind when I was in Mt. Kinabalu, but snow. I believed the temperature at that time could be around two or three Celcious degree. It was freaking cold to me, who was from the average temperature of twenty-nine Celcious degree.
resthouse Laban Rata – Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
a blue sky on Mt. Kinabalu – Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
wild flowers were everywhere – Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
During the trip, I was fed well with many delicious food, Western and Malaysian ones. On the first day of the trip, we got a lunch box including sandwiches, chicken, boiled eggs, an apple and a bottle of water. It seems not much but I hardly ate all of them at the same time. At the buffet dinner (super early, around 4 P.M), we got noodles (like pad thai with lots of vegetable), fried rice, beef, lamp, vegetable salad, potatoes and so on. We also had a great dessert with brownie, fried banana, agar, sweet green bean soup, etc. I tried to eat as much as I could to refill my lost energy. I needed more sugar than anyone in that rest-house. I got many hot Lipton tea with sugar and milk. The following meal was a buffet supper at 2 AM. I forced myself to eat more and more for four-hour walking up to the summit. After climbing down, we got a buffet breakfast before check-out. When we made it to the head-quarter of Kinabalu National Park, we got our last buffet lunch. We ate a lot. All food became energy which was burned so quickly. My trip was so easy – I got everything being prepared in advance. Reading Jon’s trip, I felt I needed to try more. I believed in such a height, you could not eat well; too cold and less oxygen.
My friend Chris and I at that super early breakfast buffet. Taken by a random tourist – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
The trail to the summit was a big challenge for myself. I woke up at 1.30AM. I could not sleep well enough because of the same reason – too cold. First part of the trail, my friend Chris walked behind me. Later, I was too slow and took a lot of breaks so she left me and went forward. I kept talking to myself “You can do it. Just a couple of meters left. Keep walking, Angie“. Many other guides, who somehow knew my name, encouraged me a lot. It was nice of them. Our team joined other teams and we made a long line, like colorful ants climbing on slippery mountain edge with a very strong mental spirit. I should have brought waterproof and windproof warm jacket and gloves. I wore all clothes I brought along: three T-shirts, two warm jackets, two pairs of shocks, a hoodie, a beanie, and a sneakers (which later I thought was definitely not suitable for hiking in rocky area). At Km 6.5, one national park employee recorded the time we started to climb up and down. Everyone in the package tour had to give all necessary information like full-name, emergency address, passport number, nationality, etc. and they were given a number depending on which level they registered at the head-quarter. I kept walking and took break more frequently. My guide said I should not have done that because I would have felt asleep and cold and I could not have continued. I hardly walked on my feet. I used hands to climb, to keep ropes tightly to walk up to the top. One-something kilometres left seemed too far for me. The trail seemed straight vertically and there was nothing to feel stable on the ground. Rocks were everywhere. The sky was so dark. My head-torch was so dim that my guide helped to change new batteries for me.
I finally manage to reach the South Peak (3,933m a.b.s) – Km 7.5. There were one thousand six hundred metres left to go to the summit.
view from Km 7 – that’s the reason I climbed up to Mt. Kinabalu – Excellent view – just like in heaven. Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
I was totally exhausted and could not breathe. I talked to my guide that I gave up. On my mind, I fought myself so hard: one thousand and six hundred meters left or just one hour left and I could be on the top of the “tallest mountain of South-East Asia” or going down to protect my little body and I could come back and conquer it again. I chose the second option. I even could not climb down myself. I could feel the coldness as if my whole two hands and feet were frozen. I could not move my body. My body was shaking. I could feel the coldness deep inside my bones.
One of trails near the summit – on the way down. Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Mt. Kinabalu – 2010 – Nikon D40
And yes, I finished my trip to the top at South Peak. I went down and rested at Sayat Sayat Hut (3,668m a.b.s) for one hour. I were not allowed to walk down to Laban Rata by myself because it was dangerous and my guide needed to escort my other team-mates to reach the summit. Wind yelled outside. I sat by the window and observer the sun rising which was one of the greatest moments in my life.
After the trip, I felt content and proud of myself. South Peak was not the summit but I thought a wise person knew what was good for oneself. It was my first time climbing in such a tall mountain without preparing anything, even proper clothes. A challenge got accepted by a little worktrekker in her on-da-road life.
So then, “Bye Mt. Kinabalu. I’ll see you again!”
a certification for fun. Taken by Angela Thao Huynh – Saigon, Viet Nam – 2012 – iPhone 4s
Read more of Angela Thao Huynh at Worldtrekker’s Journal