Kinabalu Blog updates – II

For the past few days, I managed to do some clean ups and updates on this blog. I have been neglecting this blog for almost 6 months, in which partly was due to my hectic schedule and some* laziness. I am really sorry for that matter.

During those 6 months hiatus, my spirit of fighting for the climbers right to get a cheaper package to climb was also slowly worn off. It seems that our cry fall on deaf ears. Thanks to one of our loyal reader and supporter, Pau Kar Liau, there is a cause in facebook that is voicing out this issue. At this moment, I can see that there are more than 5000 supporters have been registered. Thank you very much for supporting! If you still have not sign up with us, please do so here. It may be the least that you can do.

At one time when my spirit was really low, I decided to sell off this website and blog. I feel there is nothing more we can do to get SSL to help us lighten the burden of the climbers from paying sky high for a climb. Selling my website may be a simple way out, but I don’t think it’s a wise decision.

That is why I leave the website & blog in hiatus for about 6 months, while I busy compiling and editing my upcoming book. It’s harder than I think it was.

Because I love the mountain, I decided NOT to sell this website & blog. And I decided that “Kinabalu Blog” book MUST be published.

Because I have a dream.

Whatever happens, this blog and website must move on. Although we cannot do anything with the pricing structure from Sutera Sanctuary Lodge, I think I still can tell our visitors how unique Kinabalu is. How beautiful it is during sunrise. And how hard it is to climb. Using this blog and using this website.

That is why the book idea came out. Not all visitors can read all the best blog post from this blog at one visit.

By compiling the blog in a book, you can get my best publication on your hand.

With more than 3k email newsletter subscribers, I don’t think I do justice by not giving them the best out of this blog, inspired by the majestic mountain of Borneo.

For those who wants to know what happened technically at the background, this would be it:

  • Upgraded my WordPress blog engine from 2.7.1 (archaic) to 2.9.2. Some of the plugins broke the theme, but I managed to fix it. I also saw some funny scripts running around while logging in with 2.7.1. Most probably security has been breached. I am now feeling more secured with the latest engine.
  • Migrating my email newsletter subscriber from phplist to aweber. phplist has been really useful to me for the past 4 years, but when my list got bigger, the exabytes server doesn’t seems to be happy with it sending 3k email in one go. I am in a process of migrating the list to aweber, a paid and more professional email marketing manager. Hopefully it can cope with the increasing number of subscribers, and I need their service to help on promoting my book.
  • With the book on the way, I am going to let go the archaic website PDF in ebook. I may give it out as a free gift when you buy the “Kinabalu Blog” book. It felt funny reading my own writings years ago.
  • With the help from Stephanie Teo of Summerlodge Tours, I managed to also help visitors who wants to climb the mountain to contact her direct for a great pricing package. She is the most helpful person when dealing with booking, and for the past 6 months, she managed to help around 10-15 climbers get up the mountain.

You just have to wait for few more weeks. I sent my draft to Lulu publisher yesterday, and hopefully they will finished it before the end of next week.

2010 updates on Kinabalu Blog

It has been quite a long time since I last update this blog. Busy, I guess.

Thank you for those who still send me emails asking what happened. Well, hopefully this post will enlightened us a bit.

THE KINABALU BLOG BOOK
For the past several months I have been busy compiling, editing, creating, cut & pasting, organising and cracking my head, trying to put this blog pieces together to make it a book.

As up to now, I have chosen 27 timeless blog post from this blog to be included, in which, each and every post will be edited professionally by Lulu editors. At last, I have decided to use their services to publish my book. If all are according to plan, the book will be out in June/July this year.

For your information, the book is written for climbers who wants to know more than just how to go about planning to climb the mountain. While my main website, www.mount-kinabalu-borneo.com covers all the area of climbing from start to finish, this book is for those who wants to know the details of getting more fun climbing Kinabalu. As you know, all posts inside the book are taken from this blog, edited professionally by Lulu editors.

Among the post that are included are:

  1. Climbing the mountain with children.
  2. How to choose a climbing backpack.
  3. How to choose sport shoes for the climbathon.
  4. Other trails in Kinabalu Park HQ.
  5. Emergency evacuation for injured climbers.

As I wrote this post, I am in the process of selecting photos to be included. Some of the photos were contributed by our readers, and some from Mountain Torq, via ferrata operator of Kinabalu.

The Kinabalu Blog book cover

The Kinabalu Blog book cover

So please be patient. Its difficult for me to juggle my clinic work, this blog/book/website & my family at the same time. I promise that you will get a high quality book from a high quality publisher soon. Wish me luck. 😉

THE KINABALU CLIMBING BOOKING
For the past several months, I was very lucky to get some help from one of the best tour operator around Kota Kinabalu on handling our numerous numbers of Mount Kinabalu climbing bookings. Initially we really got some challenges when one of the company’s freelance tour guide apparently involved in some fraudulent activities. We managed to solve the problems and now, we are more cautious on getting other people on board.

Stephanie is just a wonderful person. She deals with all our readers and upcoming climbers professionally, and really helping them achieved their dreams of stepping on the highest peak of Borneo. While the pricing structure is an issue that is still going on without any news of getting attention from the relevant authorities, she served all our climbers well. We know that pricing is an area where we cannot do anything as it has been fixed by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges. But for quality services, we don’t compromise.

For those who planned to get to the peak anytime in the future, just send her an email from our booking page. You are actually getting the best climbing price around the net, with a “HIGHLY RECOMMENDED” 5 star service from ME!!!

Part time porters of Kinabalu

Received an email from one of Kinabalu climbers, Mr. Mohd Redza. He sent me a photo of 2 young porters of Kinabalu with a very short story. Enjoy.

Hi Drizad

I have the opportunity to climb Mount Kinabalu on the 27/3/2010 with my friends.

It was an interesting and wonderful walk. But during my hiking up from Mesilau, I met with these two girls and one of them is a 12 year old and a 16 years old who happen to be the younger girl aunt.To my surprise they were there as a part time porter during weekends and schools holidays.It really hurt my heart to find out at so young age they have to carry heavy loads.( The 12 years old girl is carrying 6kg and the 16 yrs 15kg ).

And the saddest part is that the 12 year old is wearing her school shoes and part of her track pants torn.

I also met with the 12 year old girl grandfather who is 70 yrs old and carrying a load of 20kg.

It really hurts me especially when I met them again at Laban Rata after I came down from the summit,it was cold and a bit windy and the 12 yr old girl is in cold and I do not have extra clothing which is suitable for to wear.I went back inside the rest house to take my PDA so that I can take down their names but by the time I came out all three of them have gone.

Attached is a photograph of me and the 2 girls.Appreciate if u met them please take their names and address.

TQ

Young porters of Kinabalu

Yes. One death on Kinabalu after 2001

You heard me right. One death after nearly 9 years since 2001. I am not really sure what had happened. I can’t really get insiders information about the incident as most of my contact had been transferred out to other places.

You can read about it here. I personally think that Kinabalu is one of the safest mountain to climb in the world. However, accident happens. As long as you follow your guide’s advice and Sabah Parks guidelines, you should be enjoying the trip more.

If you read the news properly, the accidents happened at Mesilau Trail, way down from the Rock Face where the barren rock and rope area (which is the commonest place people get injured).

This is the excerpt of the news:
KOTA KINABALU: A climber slipped and fell to his death when trekking up Mount Kinabalu.

Tan Tzu Hau, 31, from Inanam here, was found dead 5.5km from the Mesilau trail at about 2pm on Monday by a Sabah Parks porter.

Ranau district police chief Deputy Supt Suhaimy Hashim said that Tan was part of a mixed group locals and peninsular Malaysians trekking up the mountain through the Mesilau trail when the incident occurred.

”Tan was trailing behind the group when he apparently slipped and fell. No one knows exactly how he fell but a porter who was behind spotted his sprawled body beside the trail,” Suhaimy said.

He said the incident occurred near the Panar Laban rest house at the height of 3,270m of the 4,101m mountain.

”His body has been brought down to Ranau and we are waiting for the post mortem to be conducted, he said, adding that police did not suspect foul play as they believe it was a case of misadventure.

Masilau trail is second but tougher route to the mountain as compared to the more popularly used Summit Trail or South Ride Trail.

Accidental deaths among climbers on Mount Kinabalu is relatively rare though they have been a few incidents with the last reported incident occurring in Aug 2001 when a British teenager Ellie James lost her way and was found dead on the mountain nearly a week after she went missing.

Where have I been?

It has been almost 2 months since my last post. There were a lot of things happening during that period. Mostly involved my main website, mount-kinabalu-borneo.com.

It started with my text-link-ads php script which was not parsed properly on my static html website, which was then penalized by Google. For about a month, mount-kinabalu-borneo.com was invisible from Google search engine. It hurts, but I learn a lot from it. I am not sure why it happened, but I believe that my webhosting server did someting which leads to broken php scripts on the website, which invloved all other php scripts to run the website properly.

Because of that, I forced myself to look into upgrading the website engine. Old mount-kinabalu-borneo.com was created from scratch, using WYSIWYG HTML generator, Kompozer/N|vu. All pages of the website were static. It means that I have to hand code every pages if I want to make any changes. I am not good at using CSS by the way.

After researching for few open source content management system (CMS), I end up with modx, because it is the only cms that could give me friendly URLs for each and every generated page. They have a very good website structure, similar like the old mount-kinabalu-borneo.com, and their templates were also easy to understand. WordPress and Drupal were high on the list, but was not a good candidate, as I cannot get friendly URL for their static pages with a .html at the end. I need that .html suffixes on the URL because it will be the same structure with my old website. I just don’t want the backlinks from other websites broken with a new URL structure.

During this period of time, the website got hacked. Some script kiddies managed to get through my servers and installed a virus, which leads to injection of an iframe script on each and every page of the website. Apparently the script that they injected linked my website to a website in China which spreads malicious software. Again, it hurts my website even more as Google now blocked my website with a warning!!!

Although I recovered my first page appearance on Google search engine result page, visitors cannot acces my website because Google put a warning before they enter it!

Anyway, after running an antivirus software on my server (mind you that I hosted my website on a LINUX server), they found PHP.Shell script that is malicious. It seems that the virus will not run on the server, but will run on any Windows PC which access my website, as they will automatically download themselves silently!

I also updated my modx backend engine, from 0.9.6.3 to 1.0.0.0, as I have a very high suspicion that old modx version have some secuity flaws. Only after the upgrade, the iframe script on the website is gone.

During those period of time, I emailed Exabytes (my hosting) few times, in which they could not help much. I also emailed Google few times to plead and appeal, as to not penalize my website anymore, and get it out from their sandbox.

Glad to share with you that today morning, when I got into my clinic, everything is back to normal.

Morale of the story : ALWAYS update your website and blog. Security is a very BIG issue on outdated website and blog.

Happy fasting for Muslim and never stop blogging!

Ellie’s True Story : Our Holiday 2001, Part 5

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
It did. Wednesday dawned bright and sunny. We were filled with new hope. Brian Wood from Travelbag, who had flown out to support us, asked if we would like to accompany him to Mount Kinabalu that morning. The SMART team (Special Malaysian Army Rescue Team) from Kuala Lumpur had arrived and the helicopters were made ready to fly. Ellie just had to be found today. We packed a bag and climbed into the car provided for us by the Deputy High Commissioner in KK.

We were just pulling out of the car park when Brian received a call on his mobile phone. He said ‘Stop the car’. My heart froze. I knew that my darling, beautiful daughter had been found dead. It was the most horrible moment of my life, but strangely, I felt an enormous sense of relief. We returned to our room and within ten minutes I had written the tribute to Ellie, which appeared in the British national press the following day. It is extraordinary how something written quickly, in a state of extreme grief and desperation, has become a cliché used by many of the people who have sent us cards and messages of condolence. ‘Ellie achieved more in seventeen and a half years than most people do in seventy five’. It is heartening that people agree with me.

Ellie had been spotted from the main trail soon after dawn. The guide who saw the pink lining of Ellie’s ski jacket through his binoculars was the younger brother of our guide, Sugarah. By the time he had confirmed that Ellie was dead and returned to the restaurant at Laban Rata to ensure that the message was relayed to us, it was 10.20. It took the best part of an hour for the guides to get from the main trail to where Ellie’s body lay which is an indication of the difficulty of the terrain. It took a further two hours to bring Ellie’s body down a ridge to the main trail on a stretcher. Ellie was finally brought back to the Park Headquarters as the sun was setting. The guides, aware of the press attention, with heads bowed formed a protective shield around the stretcher carrying her, to deny the photographers their pictures.

Very late that evening we went to the mortuary to identify Ellie. We were aware that two dozen photographers had gathered. The police did not help much by guiding us in with their lights flashing. We were unable to get into the mortuary without fighting our way through. Bruce damaged at least one camera in the process. We saw Ellie, exquisite but cold, still wearing all her clothes that were soaked through. Ellie had been found with her legs inside her rucksack but without her ski jacket.

The few things that she had taken with her were neatly lined up in the lee of the cliff: the camera, water bottle, small hand torch, head torch, money, first aid kit, tissues and contact lens case. She was well prepared. It is a pity that she had not also packed waterproof trousers and a foil blanket. It is possible that in a late stage of hypothermia and feeling warm and cosy rather than cold, she had removed her jacket together with her two pink hats. In death her face was perfect and more beautiful than we had ever known her. With neat eyebrows and heightened colour in her cheeks, she looked like the bust of Queen Nefertiti that Ellie had admired in a Berlin museum years before.

The photographers were still there, annoyed apparently that we had released a statement via the British Press Association, when we had refused to be interviewed locally. We were unaware of the extent of the coverage back in the UK. Although Ellie’s story was front page news in the Sabah press, we saw nothing on television and had not been approached by local newspapers. The management and staff of the Tanjung Aru resort discreetly screened all of our phone calls and ensured our privacy by patrolling the grounds in pairs. Bruce shouted at the photographers who were crowding around us again and chased them off. The police did little to discourage him. The incident was reported the following day as a ‘commotion at the mortuary’, not the sort of publicity we wanted.

On Friday there was a service for Ellie conducted by the local Chinese, Anglican minister. The congregation was large as Outward Bound Sabah closed for the day and all Tom’s friends and colleagues came to offer their support. The hymn chosen from the service book was ‘Amazing Grace,’ one of Ellie’s favourites. Ellie was dressed in the batik skirt and top, similar to that worn by Malaysian Airlines cabin crew, she had bought when we were first in KK.

We rode with her in the hearse to the local Chinese cemetery where Ellie was cremated in the simplest coffin available made from marine ply. Although both ceremonies were much more open and public than is usual in the West, they were very moving and we felt that Ellie would have approved. Certainly Ellie had told us that should she die, she wanted to be cremated as simply as possible and we could not bear the thought of traipsing round the world with a coffin in tow.

We had already asked our tour leader if we could return to the village where our guides lived. We were keen to thank them for their unstinting efforts, day and night, to find Ellie. Although the SMART team had been given much prominence in the press, they had not arrived in time to do any searching. They took eight hours to get up the first part of the mountain – that which Ellie had completed in a little over two and a half hours. Wednesday morning saw them eating breakfast and saying prayers when the news arrived that Ellie had been found. Earlier in the week some locally based soldiers had searched lower down the mountain lest Ellie had somehow reached the forest. Unfortunately, seven of their number became lost for a short time.

Ellie’s true story : Our holiday 2001, Part 4

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
We arrived at Park Headquarters and discovered that we were unable to stay in Kinabalu Park, the accommodation being fully booked. We decided to join the rest of our group at Poring Hot Springs, as we had rooms waiting for us. After talking to the park warden who was co-coordinating the rescue and learning that they intended to send a helicopter up to look for her as soon as the fog cleared. We left by minibus for Poring. It was getting dark as we began the ninety-minute ride. We all sat silently, praying and weeping to ourselves. It was a very sombre journey after two weeks of camaraderie and fun.

Poring is beautiful, although we were in no mood to enjoy it. Henry had been found, but despite assurance that he was fine, we just wanted to see him for ourselves. Ellie, darling reckless Ellie, was still missing, cold alone and frightened on the highest mountain in South East Asia. We had a lovely room but could not sleep for thinking about how she must be feeling. It was the first of many agonizing nights. At four o’clock we walked in the grounds and listened to the rain forest waking. We thought that she would also be waking and prayed that she would feel energized by our prayers. The hibiscus bushes were exquisite and reminded us of the huge one we have in a pot on our balcony in Germany. We suddenly felt very homesick and wanted everything to return to normal. It never did.

Jacquie, our tour guide, met us with a minibus at 07.00 and we travelled back to Mount Kinabalu. It was a shame that we could not appreciate the drive, as there were dogs and cows lying at intervals across the road, something that we would otherwise have found amusing. The park headquarters’ staff was kind and discreet. They moved quietly around us, bringing coffee and sandwiches to a comfortable lounge and giving us regular updates on their progress. The morning seemed endless. We received phone calls from the High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur, the Chief of Police and the Sabah Tourist Board.

We also understood that the local and British press had got wind of a story. We were anxious that nothing should be released until we had been able to contact Tom at work in Kinarut and our families in England. We felt like caged lions in the lounge, so went downstairs at 11.00 to look at the museum. It was beautifully arranged and worthy of a visit. We should have gone there sooner as the time started to pass more quickly and it would soon be time for Henry to arrive.

Henry walked towards us looking surprisingly normal after such an ordeal. We had an emotional reunion outside the building and went back into the lounge. Henry sat close to us and was able to give a remarkably lucid account of what had taken place. I felt so proud of him. It was astounding that a fifteen year old, who had endured what he had, could behave in so mature a manner. Henry drew diagrams to show how they had sheltered together and the terrain that they had crossed. By looking at the topographical maps displayed on the walls of the lounge, he was able to give us a much clearer picture of where Ellie had gone. He had been absolutely right in the information he had given to the guide who found him. Surely, it was just a matter of time before she was found.

Jacquie returned shortly afterwards with the news that we were to transfer to the Tanjung Aru Resort in Kota Kinabalu. This is the most expensive hotel in Sabah and definitely out of our price range. We felt rather embarrassed by this kindness. Travelbag thought that we could wait comfortably for news of Ellie and once found she could spend a few days recuperating in luxury. She would be able to enjoy the swimming pool, go wind surfing and even dive off the nearby islands. We agreed, but were still praying that the cloud would lift from the mountain, so that the army helicopters would be able to join the rescue and bring her to us at Tanjung Aru.

The next few days were the strangest we have ever spent. We were prisoners in a five star detention centre. We had two adjacent rooms with a connecting door, so rarely needed to venture out into the corridor. Torn came to stay with us and gave tremendous support to Henry who had begun to question why Ellie, who had been so brave, had been the one to get lost. He felt guilty and kept re-living the events of the last few hours he spent with her. It was awful.

Once we had broken the news to our families and closest friends, the phone never stopped ringing. It was wonderful that so many people wanted to speak to us, but exhausting to say the same thing over and over again. Jacquie was phoning from the mountain at regular intervals, but each time it was the same. The weather was still bad due to the typhoon centred over the Phillipines. We could see that by the waves on the murky sea and the cloud that obliterated our view of Mount Kinabalu.

Each morning that dawned brought new hope, each evening brought despair. Perhaps the worst time of the day was four o’ clock as we knew that there were only two hours of daylight left in which to find Ellie and certainly insufficient time to begin a helicopter rescue. During the day we would escape the luxury hotel compound for an hour at a time and walk two miles down the public beach where nearly everyone would greet us with delightful smiles and say: ‘Hello. How are you? Where are you from?’

Tom and Henry flew to Sandakan on Monday 20 August to visit the orangutan sanctuary at Sepilok. This was to have been the final visit of our holiday and the one Ellie and Henry had been most looking forward to. There was no need for the boys to wait in our room for news. They stayed overnight and made a second visit to watch the orphans being fed on milk and bananas, telephoning every few hours. There were six flights each day so they could get back quickly if necessary. The weather was bright and clear at Sepilok; perhaps it would clear further west tomorrow.

To be continued to Part 5…

Ellie’s true story : Our holiday 2001, Part 3

Part 1 Part 2
They decided to make their way down again and had travelled for about ten minutes when they met Bruce. Ellie was delighted that he had ‘made it’. ‘Oh Dad, you’ve made it, I’m so proud of you’, she said, hugging him. Bruce said that he would go up to the top and then come straight down. He feels now that he should have just walked down with the children, but knowing Ellie as we did, she would have insisted that he complete the climb. As the fog swirled across the mountain, the wind howled and the rain lashed against his face, Bruce decided not to hang about, but get back to the shelter of the trail as quickly as possible.

This is precisely what Ellie and Henry were also doing at this time. Ellie rushed ahead and Henry lost sight of her. We presume that in her enthusiasm to get down, she just rushed past or followed one of the quartz ‘stripes’ in the granite that in fog could conceivably be mistaken for the white rope. They failed to turn sharp left, but went straight on towards St John’s Peak. She called out to him, however he was unable to hear what she was saying as the wind blew so strongly. Henry thought she had fallen and was crying for help, so stumbling in the direction of her voice, he also left the trail. He thought that he had broken his ankle as he fell against a rock.

Fortunately, it was only his trousers that were damaged. Finding Ellie, Henry discovered that she was not hurt, but lost. Now they were both lost and tried to find their way back to the trail. Being lost was one problem, they were also becoming very cold and wet by now and Ellie decided that it was most important just to get down. The mountain fell away very steeply at this point and after getting down a steep gully they realised that they could proceed no further so they agreed to stop for a while, build a shelter and rest.

A rush of adrenaline enabled Ellie to lift heavy boulders and build a wall. Henry was amazed that he could tear down branches from low-growing shrubs to line and cover the shelter. They tied a large yellow plastic bag to a tree in order to mark their position. This was subsequently found and reported in the press, although some reports placed its position further down the mountain. They crawled inside the shelter and curled up together, Ellie with her feet and legs inside her capacious rucksack. From time to time they ate nuts and banana chips and drank their water. They talked about what would happen if they were not found and tried to picture Bruce, Tom and me. They prayed harder than they have ever done before that they would be found and if they were not, that we would be able to continue our lives without them. Henry reports that he was very frightened, but that Ellie was extraordinarily calm. Several times, when he felt she was slipping into sleep, he woke her, as he was afraid she might die in his arms.

After waiting for what seemed like ten hours, but actually only six, the sky cleared and a layer of cloud rolled back, improving visibility for a short while. Ellie seemed instantly refreshed and decided that as it would soon be dark and nobody had come to find them, she should try to find the trail. They clambered back up the steep gully. With improved visibility, she could see where they needed to go and set off, rucksack on her back, across a steep ridge. Again, she cried out as she disappeared from view. Henry could not tell whether she was calling him to follow or shouting as she fell down a precipice. He tried to follow, but his bigger feet and less agile build prevented him from crossing the ridge. Henry had left the shelter and was unable to climb back to it, so he found himself as much shelter as he could and waited to die or to be rescued. He later said that his feet and legs were completely numb, his teeth chattering and his upper body aching with cold.

Henry was found by a mountain guide, who had joined the search on arrival at Laban Rata with his group. It was 14.30, about two hours after Ellie had left him. Henry had entered the early stages of hypothermia and needed to be helped to the hut at Sayat Sayat. He remained there, wrapped in blankets, until his body temperature had stabilized and he was able to walk with support to Laban Rata. Naturally, he was unaware that Ellie was still missing. He presumed that she had reached the trail and told the guides where to find him. Henry was given food, warm drinks and a change of clothes by other climbers and put to bed, where he slept until morning.

Kit was the first of our party to arrive at 07.40 in the restaurant at Laban Rata. I asked if Ellie and Henry were with him. He replied that they had been just behind him at the summit, but that they had stopped to talk to Bruce and he had carried on, as it was so wet and windy. When they did not appear we assumed that they had stopped at their overnight hut to collect their things. This thought was endorsed by someone from another group, who claimed to have seen them there. Bruce arrived, soaking wet, a few minutes later and went down to our hut to change his trousers. He came back to the restaurant and drank the coffee I had ordered for him.

We began to worry when Ellie and Henry still did not appear. Surely it could not take them that long to get their things together? Bruce went back up to their hut to find Henry’s rucksack on his bed and panic really set in. He told our guides that they had not arrived and another climber reported that they had been seen going into the hut at Sayat Sayat. Bruce and the guides set off for the hut more than a kilometre back up the mountain. Henry and Sugarah being much faster were already on their way down, having found no sign of the children, as Bruce approached the hut. The guides returned to the restaurant at Laban Rata. The alarm was raised and three guides started to retrace their steps to the summit.

By 11.00 eight guides, arriving with new groups of tourists, had joined the search. The park authorities had been notified and a group of rangers sent to add their knowledge and expertise to that of the Dusun guides. Their work was hampered by the weather, which by now was atrocious and the ‘red herrings’ that kept filtering through. Apparently, claimed one climber, ‘they’ had been so cold that they had not bothered to stop at the restaurant, but just kept walking down. This was plausible, but unlikely, as they had been so keen to see me and talk about the climb. A phone call from Park Headquarters reported ‘they’ were sleeping in a chalet in the park. It was very confusing. Our hearts and minds lurched between optimism and desperation during those five hours in the restaurant at Laban Rata. All the while cheerful people burst into the rest house, excited by their individual achievements. It was ghastly; we felt so helpless. We could not join the search for fear of getting lost ourselves and could not eat anything as we felt dreadfully sick.

Bruce and I were advised to start walking down to the Timpahon Gate. He was very tired from the morning’s exertion and my foot was still sore, but our condition seemed unimportant as we rushed down the mountain. It was no longer raining and we gradually removed layers of clothing as we descended through the climatic regions. We did not stop to admire the scenery this time.

Half way down we met a park ranger who stopped us and asked our names. I suppose we fitted the description of the missing children’s parents. He made numerous radio calls, advising us that there was some news. We waited anxiously as his radio lost contact with someone on Low’s Peak and after several minutes the signal was received again. Henry had been found! Our joy at hearing that news was soured by the realization that they had separated. ‘Oh Ellie, what have you done?’ we both cried. We tried to imagine what had taken place up there and prayed to thank God for his help in guiding the rescuers to find Henry and to ask for strength to wait patiently for Ellie’s return.

We raced down the trail in a daze, not knowing what to think. At the Timpahon Gate the other older members of our group were waiting for us. We had persuaded the younger ones to leave as soon as the search was started. We felt dreadful as we had wasted half a day of their valuable holiday time and caused them unnecessary anguish. They were wonderful. Lynn, Adrian, Pat and Alan hugged us and said that the only thing that mattered was that Ellie was found.

To be continued to part 4…

Ellie’s true story : Our Holiday 2001, Part 2

Part 1
We set off at 08.30 after a breakfast of rice and vegetables, carrying water bottles and snacks such as dried bananas to eat on the way. The younger members of our party rushed off determined to arrive at the rest house at Laban Rata in record time. They were less interested in comparing the changes in flora and fauna on the trail, than overtaking other walkers who had set off before us. At the Timpahon Gate, the entrance to Mount Kinabalu, is a board detailing the times taken by the fastest runners up to the summit and down again. Some have realised unbelievably short times, which spurred Ellie and Kit to climb even faster.

Bruce and I took our places at the back of the group. I had hurt my heel at the beginning of the holiday and hiking in heavy boots had not given it the chance to heal. Every step was painful, but like Ellie, I never complain and was determined to reach Laban Rata at least. Bruce stopped to purchase new batteries for the camera from the kiosk at the Timpahon Gate, as he was afraid they might just give out at the summit and we would miss the opportunity to photograph the amazing sunrise we were bound to see.

We were about fifteen minutes behind the rest of our party and Henry, our guide, walked several paces behind us. He was very professional in his manner. He stepped forward to tell us about the plants we could not identify and explained how to make infusions for stomach cramps from long, feathery lichen. Each time we paused for a drink of water or to rest at the shelters positioned welcomingly at the top of a particularly steep stretch of trail, Henry would also stop and wait discreetly until we were ready to proceed.

We took exactly five hours to complete the ascent to Laban Rata. Admittedly, Henry took us off the path several times to look at pitcher plants growing secretly away from the trail where only those walking with a guide would ever see. They were stupendous! Huge jugs filled with a sticky liquid and so well camouflaged amongst the grass and leaves. I had imagined that they would be dangling from high branches and be much easier to spot. Bruce and I felt very privileged to have been shown these treasures.

It was bitterly cold in the rest house. We changed into our warm clothing, ordered a hot drink and waited for Ellie and Henry to appear. Ellie had been the first to arrive at Laban Rata that morning, much to the surprise of the restaurant staff who were still cleaning after the departure of the previous night’s guests. Ellie had taken only two hours and forty minutes to complete the six and a half kilometre climb. It does not sound far, but at times the steps cut into the trail are very steep and widely spaced. We could see why there were few young children attempting the climb.

On arrival, Ellie had put on her warm clothes and sat on her bunk to play cards with the other younger group members. They came down to the restaurant at about 17.30 and all twelve of us enjoyed a delicious meal together. It is incredible how the rest house can provide such a varied menu as every gas bottle, sack of rice, can of cola etc has to be carried up by porters. These are often tiny women, hardly bigger than the wicker baskets strapped to their backs. It made us feel very humble.

Ellie was the first to go to bed. Bruce and I would be called at 02.00 as we were staying in a hut adjacent to the rest house. Ellie, Henry and the rest of our party were sleeping in a hut a little farther up the mountain, so would join us at 03.00. It was extremely busy on the mountain that night as there was a party of about eighty Taiwanese tourists and about forty members of a Malaysian hiking club who had booked early and reserved most of the accommodation. The restaurant staff served everyone in record time. I wondered how they could be so cheerful. Ellie kissed us goodnight and as usual, told us how much she loved us. That was to be the last moment I spent with my darling daughter. Henry, our son, kissed us and followed.

I hardly slept during the night as my foot was painful. I lay in bed listening to the wind blowing through the slatted windows and across the corrugated roof. Henry and Sugarah, our guides, said that we would not be able to climb to the summit if it rained overnight. It had not, so we were called to join the procession with our torches, warm clothes and water bottles. I did not go with them as I felt that my injured foot, in the dark, on a mountain might constitute a liability. I made a cup of tea, waited until the first pink light of dawn appeared and then went outside the hut. I had no idea how much windier it would be 800 metres higher up the mountain. It was not excessively cold where I stood and the sky was still clear. As it happened, I had a better view of the sunrise than those who had reached the summit. I briefly saw the villages below bathed in a pink/orange light, but the wind was becoming disconcertingly loud. The cloud thickened and the wind started to blow more strongly up on top, making Low’s Peak an unpleasant place to be, I was glad that I had made the decision to stay behind.

The Travelbag climbers were more than adequately clothed for a normal morning on Mount Kinabalu. It was about 5°C with a clear sky and the wind had dropped considerably. Setting off at 03.00, Ellie was sad to discover that I was not with Bruce and began to cry, saying, ‘It’s not fair, Mum has come all this way and she loves mountains so much and now she will never see the summit.’ Bruce gave her the camera, just in case he found the going too tough and failed to reach the top. She was keen to get up as quickly as possible and get down to tell me all about it. That is why she was so anxious to overtake the large party from Taiwan, festooned with imaginatively arranged bin bags, as protection against the elements. They were somewhat less prepared for the harsh conditions than our group. She and Henry managed to pass most of them when the trail flattened and widened a little.

The trail beyond Laban Rata begins with more steps cut into the rock and climbs very steeply up through the forest. Above the tree line the way is marked by a white rope. This can be used by climbers to pull themselves up the steeper sections, but generally serves as a marker defining the trail itself. At this stage the path becomes much less steep and starts to level out as the terrain becomes fairly smooth granite. Climbers use torches on the ascent and so tend to follow the light in front. The rope is more useful on the descent. Guides are distributed throughout the procession. Some people employ their own individual guides, but the accepted ratio for a larger group is one guide to eight tourists. With two guides, Sugarah at the front and Henry at the back, our group of eleven was well within safety limits.

Feeling cold, despite four layers of clothing including a ski jacket and two hats, Ellie overtook Sugarah and followed the guide leading several Taiwanese climbers, Henry walked close behind. They reached Low’s Peak without suffering the effects of altitude, but were disappointed to see nothing but cloud. Ellie and Henry took photographs of each other standing by the sign at the summit, but it was too misty and windy for good pictures. Ellie shouted at Henry to remove his gloves as his fingers were covering the lens. He shouted back that he could not or his hands would freeze. These joking exchanges were misconstrued as ‘the argument’ that took place on top of Mount Kinabalu. This was complete fiction and caused considerable distress to Henry, as he most certainly did not run off and hide from Ellie.

To be continued to Part 3…

Ellie’s true story : Our Holiday 2001, Part 1

This is the true story of the tragedy in 2001, told by Ellie’s father from his email. It’s a long story. I have divided the story into 7 posts for easy reading. Take your time to read Mr. Bruce James 8000 words write up. Pray the Lord that her soul  will rest in peace.

Our holiday was booked in January 2001, but planned many months earlier. As soon as we knew that our elder son Tom was to undertake a GAP placement in Sabah we started researching the best way to visit him there and experience some of the landscapes and culture in which he would be immersed. We read every guide book about Borneo we could find and ordered several from our local library. After six months comparing itineraries and prices from British and German travel companies, we chose ‘Travelbag Adventures’ as they offered the most comprehensive tour, were committed to eco-tourism and our three children had thoroughly enjoyed trekking with them in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco with their school, the previous summer. It was going to be the holiday of a lifetime; little did we know how true that would be.

We had never been able to afford extravagant holidays, nor needed them. We lived close to beautiful beaches and countryside in Cornwall when the children were small and are fortunate to have family members living in Wales, the Scilly Isles and the London area, all ideal holiday destinations. Living for ten years in Germany provided numerous opportunities to travel in Europe, including driving to Madrid and back during half term and our annual snowboarding trips to Bavaria.

This was going to be a wonderful family holiday, as we would meet up with Tom several times during the three weeks in Borneo. It was, indeed everything we hoped it would be. We were travelling as part of a group of twelve people. Rather an unusual group for Travelbag as it fell into two halves, those under twenty one and those of forty plus. It was a lovely group, however, and we were all getting on so well. Ellie was very friendly with the other young people on the tour and kept them laughing as we travelled for hours upriver, pushing our longboats at frequent intervals when there was insufficient water to ride inside. She never stopped telling funny stories or doing impressions of people; her energy and enthusiasm for life were infectious.

We had already visited Sarawak and marvelled at the incredible sight of ten million bats spiralling out of the Deer Cave at sunset in Mulu, enjoyed the hospitality of Iban people in their longhouse and struggled up the Pinnacles, sweating profusely with every step. Needless to say, Ellie was the first of our group to the top of the Pinnacles and the first down in the torrential rain to wash in the river below. Ellie was revelling in the sights, sounds and textures of Borneo, taking photographs of rock and cave formations, plants and insects for her Art project on natural forms. She always thought ahead and had planned the artifacts and fabric she needed to purchase for her Textiles A Level. She was hoping to cram the two year course into one year as she had already learned and used so many techniques in her AS Level Art.

We arrived by ‘ekspress’ boat in Kota Kinabalu, the state capital, on Sunday 12 August and met up with Tom. He showed us the Outward Bound centre where he was working and introduced us to several of his friends. We enjoyed a very special evening together in KK. This included karaoke in a bar on the first floor of our hotel. Tom and Ellie sounded fantastic together, singing such old favourites as ‘Your Cheating Heart’ and ‘Yesterday’. Tom entertained the Malaysian patrons with his rendition of ‘Proton Saga Kelabu’; they were amazed that it was an ‘orang putih’ singing a local song, his accent was so authentic. Tom and Ellie were talking about the songs that they would sing together at the karaoke bar close to OBS (Outward Bound) when we met up again on Friday 17 August. This was going to be a celebration of Ellie’s AS Level results; they just had to be excellent because Ellie had worked so hard. Tom was extremely proud of his sister and could not wait to introduce her to the rest of his new friends. They met her at her funeral.

We said goodbye to Tom at 13.00 on Monday 13 August and drove to the village of Kiau Nulu. This was the last time Tom saw his sister alive. He waved and turned away, anxious to get back to OBS as he had work to do. Mount Kinabalu appeared to move from one side of the minibus to the other as the road wound higher and higher through the countryside. We were all excited as this was perhaps the high point of our holiday; the opportunity to climb through five different climatic regions of forest on our way to the summit. There are species of pitcher plant, rhododendron and orchid that grow nowhere else in the world. We are all keen conservationists and very interested in geology and botany and were hoping to see all the plants pictured in our guidebook.

The village is situated in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, but down a steep and winding track that leads to the school in the valley bottom and up again as far the other side. The track is accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles only. The children walk, some barefoot, several kilometres down to school each day and back again at the end of the session. Like Ellie, the children are always smiling, friendly and eager to learn. Learning English is their passport to a job in tourism or as a mountain guide. I arranged to send English language materials such as alphabet friezes, nursery rhyme tapes and books to the teacher of the first class.

We spent a very enjoyable evening of conversation and karaoke with the villagers and slept in bunks in a wooden house adjacent to the church. We rejoined them for breakfast of fried noodles and eggs and then set off again down the track to the school and up the other side. Mount Kinabalu was always in view, looking more majestic than before as wisps of cloud swirled around its peaks after the unusually heavy rain of early morning. It seemed impossible that we would be able to reach the summit; it looked so steep and barren.

On arrival at Mount Kinabalu National Park, we left our bags in our chalets and booked a twenty minute guided tour of the mountain garden. We were all so interested in the plants and their history that the guide showed us tiny orchids the size of a pinhead that most people would miss and very rare species which survive only in the garden. Our tour lasted one hour and twenty minutes.

We rose early the next morning. We had been fully briefed about the climb by Jacquie, our tour guide, the previous evening. We were certainly not undertaking the climb ill informed or unprepared. It was windy, but dry, so we were advised to wear shorts and a fleece, taking thermal underwear, rain Jackets, hats, long trousers and jumpers to wear at the rest house and on our climb to the summit. It was considerably warmer and less windy than many an occasion when we had hiked up the ‘Brocken’, the highest mountain in the Harz National Park in northern Germany. Our idea of a family day out is a walk in the mountains, but until the children’s trek in Morocco and Bruce’s around the Annapurna circuit last year, we had never hiked outside Europe.

To be continued…