Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Climbing Mount Kinabalu in a Day and Happy Birthday to Me


I woke up on May 19th 2013 in Malaysia (Borneo) to a card from Andrea for my birthday. To paraphrase she encouraged me to “get closer to the one who created you, to get closer to the one you helped create, and get closer to yourself”. Andrea always encourages me to be a better me, sometimes on purpose and sometimes without trying. I am lucky to have her as my wife. How many other women would encourage their husband to take his son and climb the highest peak in Southeast Asia on his birthday? 

Jakeb and I woke up, ate a breakfast of bread pastries and was downstairs waiting for our ride to Kinabalu Park Headquarters at 5:30 am. 
Mount Kinabalu is the tallest peak in Southeast Asia at 4095.2 meters or 13425 feet. It is normally climbed over the course of two days with a one night stay at the Laban Rata Resthouse at 3272 meters. For my 46th birthday I wanted to hike to the summit and back down with Jakeb in one day.

I had made arrangements with Amazing Borneo Tours to do the one day hard core Low’s Peak Summit hike. The main reason I booked a tour is because when I researched climbing Mount Kinablu in one day I found that only four permits are issued a day and if you try to get one on your own you have to be at the park headquarters the day prior to your climb and there is no guarantee that you will even get a permit. But pay extra and book early through a tour company and of course your chances are almost 100% to get a one day climbing permit.

We arrived at the park at 7:15 am and the guy from Amazing Borneo got our climbing permits and introduced us to our guide Safree. Safree has run the Kinabalu International Climbathon from the trailhead to the summit and back in 2 hours and 44 minutes. He would be more than capable to take us to the summit and back down in a day no problem. Now it was just up to Jakeb and me to make it to the top. The permits we signed made it clear that to continue to the peak we would have to make it to the Laban Rata resthouse by 10:30 am and to Low’s Peak by 1:00 pm. And if the weather deteriorated we would be turned back.

The skies were clear as we started out from Timpohon Gate at 7:55 am. We were supposed to start by 7:30 but the tour bus had to pick up another couple which made us a bit late and me a lot nervous. Being late put me on edge but I also felt like God was saying, “I’m in control of this Tommy. You can’t change the timing. All you can do is hike. Stop worrying about it.”

We set off on a brisk pace with Safree up front, Jakeb in the middle and me behind. The uphill hike is mostly made of steps that are either carved in the hill or made from various sized rocks. There is never a consistent rhythm to the steps one takes because the steps in the mountain vary in size so much. As we continued on it slowly became clear to me that we were moving at a pace that was faster than I could maintain so we backed off a little. 

Jakeb and I were both taking S-caps to maintain our salt and electrolyte levels and we were eating almonds and trail mix. We each had three liters of water in a camelbak and a one liter nalgene bottle. I was sweating like crazy but I always do.
The lower parts of the trail had the same sort of foliage we walked through in New Zealand. As we got close to Laban Rata we met people who were on their way down. One of the locals told us we would not have a problem making it to the top because we had the mountain runner as our guide. Just below Laban Rata I started feeling the beginnings of cramps in my quads from all of the pulling up the taller steps.

We arrived at Laban Rata at 10:18 and Safree told us to rest for 10 minutes and then we would continue the climb. Jakeb and I drank a cup of hot tea and ate some trail mix and then continued on. On the steps above Labal Rata my quads cramped for the first time. I had to sit down and elongate the quad muscles to stretch them. Afterwards they felt better and we continued to climb. Jakeb’s muscles bother him a little too but not nearly as bad as mine. Right as we hiked above tree level the clouds got thick and we would get the occasional sprinkle of rain. I was worried we would get turned back but Safree kept charging ahead.

Then climbing up one section where we had to use ropes my quads cramped again. I stretched and started moving but I only made about 10 steps and they cramped again. I told Jakeb “I’m done. I am going to sit here while you and Safree go to the summit and then meet me back here.” He asked “Are you sure.” And I said “yeah” and I assumed my day was done.

If I would have stopped there I would have been disappointed but I would have been okay with it. I had done my best and that’s all I can ask of myself.
I lay down on the side of the mountain with my heals pulled against my butt to stretch my quads. I was there about 5 minutes and it started raining. I stood up to get my rain gear on and thought to myself “My legs feel okay”. So I started to hike uphill slowly. And I felt good. I decided to walk until I came upon Jakeb and Safree coming down from the summit and see how far my legs would take me. 

As I climbed a little further I came out of the clouds and in the clear there was an amphitheater of peaks around me and I was struck, like I always am when I take time to look, at the wonder of God’s creation. I looked at Low’s Peak and I could see Jakeb and Safree starting the climb up the ridge line. Above them were four other climbers. So much for the fact that the park only issues four one-day permits; this day they issued five.

I continued to walk steadily upwards and before long I found myself at the base of the ridgeline that leads to the summit. Some of it requires you to use your hands and feet to climb up. I heard Jakeb yell, “Come on dad!”

Jakeb made it to the summit of Mount Kinabalu at 12:30 and I arrived at 12:42. As soon as I got there he said “Happy Birthday Dad.” We stayed on the summit for a few minutes. A guy from New Zealand took our picture as it started to rain. We got our rain gear out and headed down.

The walk back down was wet and slippery and we had to use the ropes quite a bit. We stopped at Laban Rata and got a bowl of cream of chicken soup each (sans chicken) two Carlsbergs for me and a coke for Jakeb. I paid more for that meal than any we ate on the whole trip.

We walked hard and got back to the trailhead at a little before 5 pm for a total of 9 hours of hiking.

It was a good day. I got closer to Jakeb, I learned more about myself, and I got closer to God. It was one of the better birthday presents I have ever been given. Thanks babe.



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