Mount Kinabalu is not a technical climb, means that you don’t have to bring any special equipments or apparatus to help on your climbing. It’s a straight forward climbing, and some climbers considered it as a hiking activity.
There’s always risk on any climbing activities. As long as you are moving up or down (against or towards the gravity), you will definitely exposed to danger of falling, which may leads to injuries. Depending on your condition, falling down can be really trivial but sometimes can be dead serious.
I will write about fall at the end of this article, but let’s get through 8 most common injuries on climbers, in which I have divided it into 2 main groups:
- 4 Injuries from the climbing activities itself,
- 4 Injuries from the exposure of our body to the environment.
4 Injuries from the climbing activities
The most common minor injuries to your foot during the climb is blisters. It can be caused by unsuitable shoes, as wearing a pair of shoe that is not your size will increase friction of your feet with the padding of the shoes. This friction can leads to annoying blisters which could really spoil your trip.
Wearing unsuitable socks can also be one of the causes, as nylon & polyester material will not absorb your sweat properly and they usually are not thick enough to do it. Thick socks from wool material is the most suitable, as it could absorb sweat, isolate heat (which will help you warm your feet at the peak) and protect your feet from friction with the inside padding of the shoes (which could leads to blister formation). Cotton socks is unsuitable as you are at risk of hypothermia as it retains water.
Hand injuries usually happened at your second stage of your climb, where you use it almost all the time to hold the guide rope on the Summit Trail. As the trail is more than 13,000 feet above sea level, low temperature and strong wind will almost definitely make your hands cramp and numb, unless you use one, or even 2 pairs of gloves to protect it.
It depends on your preferences, some climbers like to wear water-proof gloves, but I opted with some normal cotton wool gloves that is usually use by local construction workers. And I wear 2 pair of those.
3. Upper body (trunk)
Most climbers will climb Mount Kinabalu with less than 10kg of backpack. Unless you need to spend more than 1 night, it is really not necessary for you to bring more loads, as excessive loads could injure your upper back muscle, especially if you don’t have enough training.
Shoulders, upper back and spine, and even your lower back muscle is the most affected, as moving your body uphill with the loads actually increases your potential energy, which means you need more energy to do the work. By this, it is more prone to get injury.
4. Legs and lower limbs
The body part that is primarily used for Mount Kinabalu climbing. Can easily get injured at almost every part – the bone, muscle, tendon and ligament – unless you have a good workout and training for this kind of activities.
Your muscle will be used to the limit when you climb uphill, but it is your joints that is working during your downhill climb. As climbing down releases potential energy, you joints works to absorb more shock with every footstep to stop motion instantaneously.
4 Injuries from the exposure of body to environment (or some medical professional describe it as illness).
Hypothermia is a condition in which your body temperature drops below that required for normal metabolism and bodily functions. This condition could happen while you are on the bare rocks of Kinabalu, 13,500 feet above sea level. The temperature can drop to below 5 degree Celsius, and prolong exposure to this environment can leads to hypothermia.
Most climbers will wake up at 2am in the morning to start the second phase of the climb through the cold darkness. You will be exposed to cold temperature for about 4 hours – which can be really cold if it is raining and windy. Wearing thick clothes and maybe a simple raincoat will reduce the risk of hypothermia.
Dehydration is a condition in which our body contains an insufficient volume of water for normal functioning. During the first phase of the climb, your body is exposed to fluid loss from sweating. You may exposed to dehydration if you climb uphill without consuming adequate water, especially in a hot and/or humid environment of lower zone of Kinabalu.
That is why the authority have set up huts on the Summit Trail with untreated water tanks for you to refill your water bottle on your way up and down the mountain. Drink a lot of water on the way – better still put a sachet of oral rehydration salt into your water to replenish the electrolytes that you have loss from sweating. You can easily get fatigue if you are dehydrated.
3. Altitude sickness
Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS) or altitude illness is a pathological condition that is caused by acute exposure to low air pressure (usually outdoors at high altitudes).
It commonly occurs above 2,400 meters (approximately 8,000 feet). Bare in mind that Laban Rata is at about 11,000 feet above sea level. This condition is caused by reduced partial pressure of oxygen, while the percentage of oxygen in air remains essentially constant with altitude at 21 percent.
*I have explained about altitude sickness here.
4. Internal organ illness
Is what happened to your internal organ when exposed to all external hazard – the weather, the altitude, the heat, the food, the water, the environment… You name it… As the list go on, this is what you have to bear in mind.
You could experience just about any illness that is related to the hazard. You may have to prepare yourself with a good first aid kit to relieve the symptoms, hoping that it would not hinder yourself from conquering the highest peak of Borneo.
I could not categorize fall in either of the group above. While all the above known injuries could be prevented with a good preparation before and during the climb, falling is not. A lot of external factors that could leads to fall – as you are climbing against and towards gravity.
Wet boulders and rocks can be very slippery sometimes. Wrong judgment and misaligned foot while walking through slippery surfaces can leads to fall. It is not about the mountain all the time, but climbers can sometimes be careless and ignorant.
What could happen if you get injured from a fall?
Porters of Kinabalu have a very systematic way of lifting injured climbers down the mountain. As what Leong have wrote on his Multiply page, the only way available (at this moment of time) is to strap the injured climbers on a stretcher and bring them down carefully.
There are some issues on air lifting injured climbers down from Mount Kinabalu by helicopter, and up until now, it has not been totally resolved.
However, we have good news for climbers who are concern about their safety. Insuring your trip to Mount Kinabalu may alleviate your anxiety if anything happen. Multinational Underwriters’s travel medical insurance policies have an optional “Sports Rider” that will cover you when you do hazardous sports. They could provide airlifting for any emergency medical evacuation, and could cover the cost up to $30,000 depending on the location and rescue. Check it out.