Gunung Kinabalu, as it is known in Malay is more than the highest thing on the worlds third largest island. It is also Malaysia’s first UNESCO world heritage site. The trail to the top is lined with many steps that take you through a changing landscape for 8.7 km. This takes your from the Timpohon gate at 1866m to the summit at 4095.2m and this is no jaunt in the park!
It was a little grey when we started out at 9am but the weather cleared a little and we saw some lovely blue skies later in the day. Its takes around 5 hours to travel the 6km on the first day when you reach 3289m. Here we were barely settled in when we were called for our via ferrata talk. This is Asia’s only via ferrata and the worlds highest and we were very excited about giving it a go the following day after reaching the summit of Mt Kinabalu.
We were woken at 2am to the smell of toast and everyone rushed around getting ready for their summit attempt. At 2:30am, as we all planned to leave, a wild storm passed over and the gate to the summit was closed to all. 2 hours later, with the wind and rain still blowing, we were told to return to bed and wake again at 7am, ready to make our descent at 8am. Both our summit attempt and via ferrata dreams were over.
Unable to sleep we played with the camera and drank tea until we realised the rain had stopped and the sun was rising. Warm clothing on again I sat outside and watched the clouds below our feet and the sun peak up over the top, thinking even if this was all I saw then all was not lost, that feeling of being on top of the world you can only truly get at these altitudes.
Then suddenly we were being told the via ferrata was possible after all and we rushed around to ready ourselves. As we reached the via ferrata start point there was some discussion that some would still like to make a summit attempt. I chatted to the guide about our chances and he said the rain may come again and that we had limited time to make the attempt. I felt sure that I was taking a huge risk and may miss out on both the via ferrata and the summit but I couldn’t resist the idea of giving it a go.
Only 4 of us decided to make the attempt with the rest off to via ferrata. Feeling good and strong I moved ahead with one of the other guys and soon the remaining two were far behind. I was aware of the time and the changeable weather and I pushed on, always expecting my body to give up at some point. Somehow it coped with my demands on it, despite little sleep or food and when the rain started really heavy I was only 20 minutes from the summit. I picked my way carefully up the rock for a quick photo stop before retreating back down. The guys behind were forced to retreat so my instinct to push forward had been spot on.
I returned to the hut for a quick bite and to collect the few things I had left before we both started the 6km route back down the mountain. By this time it had been raining constantly for 24 hours bar a 3 hour window and the path had turned into a river. It was a slow and tricky descent and 2 days later stairs are still an issue for my exhausted legs. Thankfully I have been there so many times before on a Scottish hill, where you ache all over and just want to be down, you just have to get there. Once you are, you forget those bad times and you look at what you have achieved. There is nothing like a physical and metal challenge to help you feel strong and ready to take on the world………….just as soon as you can walk again.