Category Archives: Books

Recommended book – Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo

What a little beauty this is!

Nearly 20 years ago, a gangling, footloose American gets boozed with a bunch of Borneo river-dwellers, and finds himself bound in a gentle obsession.

Soon after, he takes off across the island of Borneo on foot armed with a quick schooling in tribal bartering systems and not much else. He has no visa, no valid passport, an unreliable map, and a few sentences of Bahasa Indonesian.

He can survive in the rainforest only as long as he maintains the trust of the people he meets, as guides, tutors, friends. He does far more than survive, and it is clear from the modesty, resilience and humor that comes through in his writing, that he was made for just this journey.

For months on end he immerses himself in a world of exquisite natural richness, among a people who are white-skinned in the permanent shade of the forest canopy, who have no tradition of stories of the moon or stars because they are almost never seen.

For weeks at a time he and his hunter guides are – in a Western sense – utterly “lost”, moving apparently aimlessly through trackless bush. When Hansen asks one of his companions how they will find their way to their destination, the Penan hunter says simply: “We will follow our feelings.” Without ever laboring it, Hansen has written a travel book that is deeply satisfying to the spirit, full of wonder and rich in humor. He also captures the moment at which an ancient, closed culture hears the first troubling thunder of global economics.

When finally he reaches the coast, Hansen is so depressed by “civilisation” that he does the sane thing – slipping back into the jungle to retrace his steps, all the way back to Sarawak.

So truly does he tell his story, I find myself missing him – wondering what he got up to when he finally returned to the US, what travels he might have done since. As I was finishing this book, I saw a travel brochure extolling Kuching, the Sarawak trading town that was Hansen’s first step-off point. The glossy explained how easy it was nowadays to travel inland, with the interior “opened up by good logging roads”.

Eric Hansen, lead the weeping.

A book review By Hugh Riminton (Sydney), courtesy of Amazon.com

Chronology of Malaysian Mountain Exploration (1851 – 1986)

An old friend of mine wrote this chronology in one of the forums on Mountains of Malaysia, based on the book by John Briggs. It seems that the book, Mountains of Malaysia is another rare book to be find nowadays. He even photo copied it from our Malaysian National library, as it is almost impossible to get a new copy nowadays. Last publication of the book was in 1988.

I love to highlight the time and people involved on climbing mountains in Sabah during the period of time.

Mountains of Malaysia by John Briggs

1851 ~ Hugh Low reaches summit region of Kinabalu. he is the first
man to look down the 900-metre depth of Low Gully

1857 ~ Spencer St. John makes first recorded attempt by outsider to
climb Mulu, but only reaches Banarat

1858 ~ Spencer St. John & Hugh Low climb up 1,000 metre on Banarat.
First ascent of South peak, 3,933 metre on Kinabalu
(Spencer St. John)

First outsider expedition to reach area of Gunung Murud and
Batu Lawi in present-day Sarawak(Spencer St. John)

1880 ~ Sultan Ahmad of pahang sends first expedition to GunungTahan
in northern Pahang. Expedition blocked by Teku Velley

1884 ~ Kulop Riau and William Cameron discover flat land in the
middle of the Main Range in Peninsular Malaysia
Survey Expedition discovers ancient ruins, 1,000 years
old, on the summit of Gunung Jerai in Kedah

1888 ~ First ascent of Low’s Peak, 4,101 metre, on Kinabalu by John
Whitehead.
Low’s Peak is highest point between Burma and New Guinea.

1891 ~ The Resident of Baram (Hose) is the first outsider to climb
Bukit Dulit in Sarawak

1905 ~ First ascent of Gunung Tahan by Bulang, Che Nik, Mat Arisand
Mu’min on the Wray-Robinson expedition
Survey expedition makes first ascent of Gunung Gerah in the
north of the Main Range in Peninsular Malaysia

1906 ~ Survey beacon erected on summit of Gunung Tahan

1908 ~ H.C. Robinson and C. Boden-Kloss are first outsider to reach
the present-day Cameron Highland

1911 ~ The Resident of Baram (Douglas) makes first government
expedition to Bareo in kalabit Highlands of Sarawak
Curator of Sarawak Museum (Moulton) leads first expedition
to Batu lawi. The Furthest point is half-way
up the saddle between the two peaks

1920 ~ Tama Nilong from Long Terawan discovers the route throughthe
rock cliff up onto the south-west ridge of Gunung Mulu

1922 ~ Curator of Sarawak Museum (Mjoberg) makes first ascent of
Gunung Murud, 2,423 metre – the highest mountain in Sarawak

1932 ~ Oxford Expedition to Sarawak
Tama Nilong and Edward Shackleton make first ascent of
Gunung Mulu; the Curator of Sarawak Museum
(Banks) and A.W. Moore are first outsider to climb Bukit
Kalulong

1941 ~ Japanese force capture Kuching on 25 December

1945 ~ Z Special parachutes into the Kelabit Highlands at Bareo

1946 ~ First ascent of lower peak of Batu Lawi by Tom Harrisson,
Lejau Unad Doolinih and five other Kelabits From Bareo

1956 ~ Myles Bowen and Morris discover a route from the Western
Plateau of Kinabalu to Eastern Plateau
(now know as “Bowen Route”)
Survey expedition makes first recorded ascent of Gunung
Trusmadi, 2,642 metre, the second highest mountain
in Sabah and in Malaysia

1957 ~ Myles Bowen and W.R.M. Urquhart makes first ascent of King
Edward Peak, 4,086 metre, on the Eastern
Plateau of Kinabalu using Bowen’s Route

1963 ~ Kotal bin Bondial discovers a route to the Eastern Plateauof
Kinabalu, via Ulu Mentaki and the Mekado
Velley (now known as “Kotal Route”)

1964 ~ First scientific expedition to the Eastern Plateau of
Kinabalu
– the Royal Society Expedition, led by Corner

1977-1978 ~ Royal Geographical Society/ Sarawak Government
Expedition to Mulu Park.
The world’s largest caves discovered in limestone Gunung
Api

1978 ~ First ascent of Gunung Api, 1,710 metre, in Mulu Park. The
summit is firstreaches by Tama Kulan and Tama
Bulan (grandson of Tama Nilong who first climbed Mulu with
Shackleton in 1932)

1986 ~ First ascent of upper peak of Batu Lawi by rock climbing
Team from 14th/20th King’s Hussars, led by Johny Beardsall

Further Reading: Mountains of Malaysia: a practical guide and manual

Recommended book – Kinabalu Escape

February 1994, a team of 7 British soldiers and 3 of their Hongkong counterparts embarked on an expedition to climb 4,095m Mt Kinabalu and then abseil into Low’s Gully, a sheer 1.6km drop to a virtually unexplored forest floor. The members in the team were:

LTC Robert Neill
MAJ Ron Foster
SGT Bob Mann
CPL Hugh Brittan
LCP Kelvin Cheung (HK)
LCP Richard Mayfield
LCP Pete Shearer
LCP Steve Page
PTE Victor Lam (HK)
PTE Chow (HK)

From the very beginning, the two officers have greatly underestimated Low’s Gully. They only had one day’s training in abseiling and only one member of the team was skilled enough to do multiple pitch abseils and that is LCP Richard Mayfield, a qualified rock climbing instructor.

When the 7 member British team met up with their HK counterparts in Sabah, Mayfield realized that the men from HK were not even aware of the great challenges they were going to face. With no signal devices and no porters, the team marched up the tourist trail only to find themselves exhausted at Panar Laban.

At Gunting Lagadan Hut, LCP Mayfield tried to persuade the colonel to abort Exercise Gully Heights. They didn’t have enough food and there were too many novices amongst them. LCP Mayfield’s advice was met with strong objection and insistence from LTC Neill.

After the climb to the summit, the team had to get down to Commando Cauldron (start of Low’s Gully), Easy Valley and Alphabet Rock. Mayfield brought Pete, Britt and Steve down to Easy Valley and started clearing the forest. Unfortunately, their task took longer than expected. The officers and the HK soldiers waited for them at the col but they did not return for the night. SGT Bob Mann was with the officers. That night, Bob reported spotting a large, ape-like creature at that altitude.

Then, the colonel ordered his group to take half the kit down to the front group, go back up and take the rest down the next day. By now, SGT Bob was certain that the colonel was no longer capable of commanding the expedition. He went down Easy Valley with the officers who turned back 2 hours before dusk. SGT Bob carried on to meet up with the front group. Bob got lost, then bumped into LCP Mayfield and the rest of the front group who have already set up the first abseils.

Next day, the colonel and his group arrived at Alphabet Rock, but the expedition leader was clearly unwell. LCP Mayfield who had gone down to check out the route of descent reported that he sees at least 6 abseils down, but that would still not bring them anywhere close to the bottom. LCP Mayfield explained that there would be no return possible once they started descending into the abyss. He made a last attempt to convince the colonel to abort the exercise. The colonel said that he would see him at the bottom.

Mayfield proceeded to descend, leading the front group which consisted of everybody except the officers and the HK soldiers. It took them 5 hours to descend 1800ft to the gully floor in 12 pitches. As expected, the rear group never showed up. The group debated on what to do. The leader made a terrible mistake of not bringing radio sets. Britt suspected the rear group might have retreated back to the hut. Bob warned that their supplies were low and they had to get out of the Gully fast. They made the collective decision to leave. They group climbed out of the east face of the gully and encountered thick forests, fast flowing streams and rapids. The group split up again. Pete and others were in one group and the Bob was with Mayfield.

The two of them found a river and decided to follow it downstream. Both men were starving. They finally arrived at Melangkap Tamis village, 3 weeks after they had left Park HQ. Pete and company had also arrived at that village. The kind villages took them in and provided them with much needed food and first aid in the form of folk medicine which included snakes and insects.

Back in Kota Kinabalu, they contacted their units and soon, a massive search was launched. A Malaysian helicopter spotted the rear group and rescued them. All 10 members of the expedition had survived.

Back in the UK, LCP Mayfield faced a Board of Enquiry in which the colonel accused him of disobeying orders and abandoning the rear group. LCP Mayfield was cleared of all charges but his military career was over.

Book review by Chan Joon Yee “Dr Chan” (Singapore), courtesy of Amazon.com

Recommended book – Descent into Chaos: The Doomed Expedition to Low’s Gully

This true story of survival has been the subject of two other books and a movie. In 1994, a ten-man group of soldiers, 7 British and 3 Chinese from Hong Kong, went to Sabah, Malaysia with the intention of being the first ever to successfully navigate Lows Gully. Lows Gully is a deep chasm off the northern flank of Mount Kinabalu. Superstition, mystery and intrigue surrounds this place instilling fear into some of the locals. It was into this situation that these men went to create history.

The other two books that were written about this expedition came from four of the team involved. With regard to this book, R.M. Connaughton is independent. He seems well qualified to undertake such a task having a military background and actually serving in the Far East. At the beginning of the book, he provides historical, yet essential background information to Mount Kinabalu and Lows Gully. He relates the exploits of Hugh Low (whom Lows Gully was named after) and Spenser St John. In the 1990’s the attempt by Robert New and Steve Pinfield is also related.

With the background information, Connaughton then begins to describe the preparations for the expedition describing the building of the team and the travelling to Mount Kinabalu. Their is a photo section in the middle of the book and at the end there is a chapter entitled “Reflections” which describes some of the findings of the subsequent Board of Enquiry.

The book highlights the various tensions that existed between team members and tries to establish what exactly went wrong. Connaughton does an excellent job with this difficult task. The chapter detailling the extensive rescue operation that took place with the British and Malaysians deserves a special mention.

This is an excellent book and you can almost envisage the savage jungle terrain that is described as you read it.

On the whole this is a well-written and well researched book and I thoroughly recommend it.

A review by Mark R. Anderson (Co Armagh United Kingdom), courtesy of Amazon.com

Recommended book – No Shortcuts To The Top

There are 14 mountain peaks in the world that tower to 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), and when Ed Viesturs finally conquered Annapurna, a peak on which one climber dies for every two who try, he joined an elite group of five people who have accomplished that feat without using supplemental oxygen.

He’s the only American to have done so. It took 18 years and 30 expeditions to the 8,000ers; on 10 trips he turned back short of the summit, once when he was only 100 feet away, exercising extraordinary willpower to follow his “deepest article of faith” that “getting to the top is optional; getting down is mandatory.”

Not bad for a man who in 1992 at the age of 33 had quit his practice as a vetinarian, was living in a windowless basement apartment, had $25,000 of school debt, and was banging nails as a construction worker to make ends meet.

No Shortcuts is a fun read because it is about more than mountain climbing, which, of course, almost none of his readers will ever attempt. But everyone has their personal Annapurna, as he says in the final pages of the book, whether battling cancer or conquering a fear. Failure, perseverance, passion, patience, risk management, teamwork, self-sacrifice for others, endurance and death are all life lessons that easily emerge from the book.

His chapter on the 1996 disasters on Mount Everest when a dozen people died, including world class mountaineers Scott Fischer and Rob Hall, ads his personal perspective to Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. In the last few pages Viesturs reflects upon whether his pursuit was selfish, adventure addiction, growing older and realizing he cannot climb like he could twenty years ago, feeling letdown after such a remarkable accomplishment, and how climbing has impacted his marriage.

For movie versions see the IMAX film Everest (the highest grossing IMAX movie ever made) or the documentary NOVA – Everest: The Death Zone.

Book review by Daniel B. Clendenin “Phd”, courtesy of Amazon.com

Recommended book – Into The Heart of Borneo

The book is about two educated englishmen who venture to the Island of Borneo determined to capture the the sights of a rare albino rhino. The author sets the humor rolling straight off, and in his sardonic wit, recounts his adventures into the rainforest of Borneo.

Duly noted are the risks to life and limb (and appendages)he must be aware of during his adventure. These lessons are given to him by his good natured guides who taunt and tease the overweight white (very white) man. All in good fun, the banter flows both ways. Descriptions of their meals may take a tough stomach on the part of the reader.

He spared the reader nothing when it came to describing the delights of dinnertime. The recollection of some repasts, especially the gourmet monster lizard meals were among the more memorable (unfortunately). It was amazing what they scrounged up to eat. I will not spoil all the little surprises they had at mealtime, you will know soon enough when you read the book!

Aside from the culinary experience, I found the travel journey delightfully funny and educational. While I know this is NOT the kind of trip I would care to have, I appreciate that the author had the guts to do it. At times, he doubted his stamina, but that is what made the novel work – he was a regular guy doing something outrageously difficult, not to mention dangerous. I can see that this kind of adventure would appeal to many others, but for me, I took his trip in an armchair where I was safe and knew what I was eating for lunch!

He is a charming writer, hooking the reader with teasing references. I admit I learned alot about their culture and some of their more sensitive political and social issures. A quick read, I went out and bought more of his books and look forward to a similar experience.

A review by Janice M. Hansen, courtesy of Amazon.com

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

Jon Krakauer takes you for a front seat ride up the deadly slopes of Mount Everest, during the notoriously deadly expedition of May 1996. Barely escaping the mountain with his own life, journalist Krakauer remembers the team members and friends left on the mountain. Four out of eleven members died on the fatal mountain.

Inch by weary inch, step by shivering step, Krakauer takes us on his journey up Everest and introduces us to the members of his team. This book is so well written that you can feel the oxygen depravation and the cold, and are left feeling the personal loss of lives you come to know and care about as fully fleshed out people.

He brings to life the real concerns of guided ascents up Everest, the use of oxygen by guides, the inexperience of people who pay mega-bucks to be escorted to the world’s highest peak, the state of mind that thin air brings to the human mind, and the accomplishments and follies of those who attempt such an extra-ordinary feat.

The book includes a map, eight pages of glossy black and white photos, some dark pictures leading into every chapter, blurbs from different publications that lead each chapter, a bibliography, and an extensive postscript answering some outstanding issues that arose in DeWalt’s account of the same ascent called ‘The Climb’.

This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time. The story is compelling and the telling is honest. Krakauer speaks of his survival guilt with open poignancy and candor. He passes over his own hardships and applauds the heroism of those who helped to save many of the stranded members of the climbing parties. He reports on bottlenecks high up on the mountain, particularly on the Hillary Step, that cause costly delays and could mean the difference between life and death at such altitudes. If you’re looking for an exciting, heart pounding non-fiction read then look no further. I highly recommend this book. Enjoy!
A book review by Schtinky “Schtinky”, courtesy of Amazon.com

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

Recommended book – Globetrotter Visitor’s Guide Kinabalu Park

Book Description
A mecca of botanical diversity and home to a wealth of wildlife, Kinabalu is also one of the most spectacular and accessible mountains in the world. With abundant maps and illustrations and practical, informative text, this guide enables the visitor to make the most of Kinabalu’s unique attractions.

From the Back Cover

Kinabalu Park is one of the world’s hot spots for biodiversity and at over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) high, is Southeast Asia’s highest mountain. The rich diversity of natural habitats is home to a wealth of flora and fauna, and has numerous other attractions for the adventurous traveler, including walking, trekking, climbing and relaxing in hot springs. This highly illustrated and practical guide is packed with essential information for the visitor to this unique area. There are 24 walks and trails in detail for all levels, with easy-to-follow route maps. This guide is packed with fact boxes and information panels on wildlife, plant life, visitor activities and other attractions. It contains essential travel tips including access, equipment, facilities, and useful addresses to enable the visitor to make the most of any trip. This book is illustrated with 50 full color photographs and many striking black and white vignettes and there is a complete checklist of all bird species recorded in Kinabalu Park. (6 x 8 1/4, 128 pages, color photos, illustrations, maps)

  • 24 walks and trails in detail, for all levels, with easy-to-follow route maps.
  • Packed with fact boxes and information panels on wildlife, plant life, visitor activities and other attractions.
  • This is a MUST HAVE book for those who like to have a handbook on Mount Kinabalu. I personally have this book and it has become the best source and guides for my website. I personally recommend this book for all of Mount Kinabalu adventure travelers and climbers.