Monday, January 14, 2013

Conquering Mt. Kinabalu

I finally had a chance to upload all my photos from our recent trip to Borneo. Many people ask me why Borneo? Well, why not Borneo? At first we tossed around the idea of going to Thailand, but as I had been there before, it was not my first option. Then we thought about two week in Vietnam, but upon looking at airfares from Hong Kong to Saigon/Hanoi, it was just prohibitively expensive. Then it was down to the Philippines, Borneo, or Bali. We picked Malaysian Borneo (Sabah). In some ways, this trip was about conquering fears: fears of heights and fear of water. Our trip to Borneo was roughly divided into three main activities: climbing Mt. Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia; trekking through the ancient rainforest of Borneo and a river safari on Kinabatangan; and scuba diving in the crystalline waters on Mabul Island. 

Anyone who visits Sabah, Malaysian Borneo will fly into Kota Kinabalu ("KK"), an underwhelming city, but fine for a day to sort out logistics like lodging for example if you are climbing Mt. Kinabalu. There's an interesting night market serving up some delicious seafood and grilled chicken wings. If you have more than a day to kill, then it might be worth heading out to Tanku Adbul Rahman National Park for a day of snorkeling off the coast of KK.

Our first goal of the trip: conquering Mt. Kinabalu on the eve of Keenan's birthday. At 4,095 m, hiking this majestic mountain was no easy feat. We started at 1800 m at the Timpohon Gate, and it was all uphill for 7.5 km over two days. We climbed 5.5 km to Laban Rata on the first day where we stayed overnight in a mountain hut, and then climbed  the remaining 2  km the next morning at 3am. 

The first leg was the climb was strenuous but as long as you are reasonable fit, you should be fine. The hike was actually quite enjoyable --  gorgeous scenery and lovely flora. We also learned a bit about the local tribal people from our guide who makes the climb 3x a week (yes, a week!). The mountain hut at Laban Rata was very basic, hostel-style -- no hot water, no heating, no television. It was a good thing we downloaded  Breaking Bad on the Ipad. 

The most challenging part of the hike was scaling 1.5km along a rope to the summit in the rain and in the dark! It was very difficult. We made it past Sayat Sayat Hut (3,668 m) but we were advised by our guide due to the weather conditions, we shouldn't proceed for our own safety. Water was gushing down the mountain, making the granite extremely slippery. We waited until the sunrise before we made our descend down and let's just say the way down was scary. One misstep and you're gone. Terrifying. Anyways, we made to Laban Rata where we had breakfast and made our long 4 hour descend to the base of the mountain in the pouring rain. With the exception of our rucksacks, we were beyond drenched. Would we climb the mountain again? Probably not.

After the hike, we made our way to the stunning Sabah Tea Garden for a good night's rest at one of their English-inspired bungalows. Little did we know, Sabah Tea Garden is located on the historic World War II POW Route known as the Sandakan-Ranau Death Marches. Keenan was excited being the huge World War II history buff. The weather wasn't great but that was fine as our poor legs were feeling sore. From Sabah, we made our way to our next stop: visiting Borneo's most famous resident, the orangutan and a river safari... then for some diving fun on Mabul Island.

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