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Home » Kinabalu Solo Travel Pt 1

Mount Kinabalu Solo Travel by Leif Pettersen Part 1

A Travelogue by Leif Pettersen

Posted on March 12th, 2005

The people of Borneo are the daintiest pukers ever. I fled Brunei on a series of two, amusement park caliber ferry rides. I was sitting up front, where the turbulence levels could have turned an astronaut green and my neighbors were not enjoying the ride. As always, I was fine. Comfortable even. I have never experienced significant movement related sickness. You could feed me a four-course Italian dinner, then strap me upside-down in a Johnny Jump-Up, put me on a Moroccan intercity bus for eight hours and I’d arrive having expelled nothing but bad breath.

Mount KinabaluUnfortunately, the same can’t be said of my valiant anti-nausea fortitude in the face of other violently retching people, like the Englishman sitting next to me on the whale watch boat tour in Kaikoura. That guy was making noises that sounded like that he was ejecting every organ all the way down to his colon. The Borneo islanders on the other hand, never made a noise louder than a conservative throat clearing. I wasn’t even aware that a large number of the people around me were heaving until I killed both batteries on my laptop, packed it away and looked around for the first time in two hours.  Many of them were in a prone position, laying across three seats with wash clothes over their foreheads, each with a plastic bag or trash can within spewing distance. I salute them in their vomiting discreteness!

I was deposited in Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capitol of the Sabah region  Malaysian Borneo. My presence in KK was necessary for two reasons; stage my assault on Mount Kinabalu, 88 kilometers west of the city and sort out how I was going to get to and from Palau Sipadan where I had a date with my impending SCUBA open water certification in one of the best diving regions in the world. None of this ambitious planning was accomplished due to my sole day of panicky organization falling on a Sunday. I was still a bit salty about my repeated encounters with untimely business closures in Bandar, so I did not manage well with the understandable lack of resources available to me on a Sunday morning in Kota Kinabalu.

The closest I was able to get to making any progress was to slide into the Kinabalu Nature Resorts office minutes before its early closing, who informed me that there were no open beds on the mountain for the following day, but I didn’t buy it. I had already been warned that this office, despite being the main booking agent for the mountain accommodations, seemed to only have access to a certain block of reservations. The guy that had passed on this hard-won information to me was told by this same office that there were no openings on the day he wanted to go, three days in the future, unless he was willing to sleep in a cabin with no heater, so he booked in the non-heated cabin.

Then after freezing in his bed, he met a group of girls that had booked beds in the heated cabin just the day before. I made the calculated risk to just show up at the mountain and hope this rumor was true or, at the outset, that there would be a last-minute cancellation.

Kinabalu Park HQMeanwhile my body was working to commandeer my carefully formulated plans to show up at the mountain with nothing reserved and drop to my knees, begging for a bed. I woke up that morning with the calf muscles in both legs sore and throbbing. Considering all I had done the previous day was sit on two freakishly rough ferries for a cumulative four hours, I wasn’t sure what I had done to earn this pain. The mystery didn’t last long as I got the $hits right about lunch time. I was on the toilet 11 times in 10 hours. Imodium, provided minor relief, but in the interim, the aching in legs slowly spread over my entire body. Every move hurt. My first thought was the flu. But when I told Lucy about this - as in Lucy of KK’s legendary hostel “Lucy’s Homestay, Backpacker Lodge” - she immediately whipped out a can of bug spray the size of a didgeridoo and sprayed my room top to bottom.

I was too stunned to ask what she thought that I might have contracted via mosquitoes. Instead I ran to the bathroom and checked my whole body, finding no mosquito bites, but still, when you’re a former Planet Earth Hypochondria All Star developments like this are hard to swallow. I eventually doped myself silly on Ibuprofen and went to bed early, sourly thinking that I would have to delay Mount Kinabalu groveling and spend a few days in KK recovering. With my now stunningly behind schedule itinerary stressing me out, losing a few more days to sit and suffer were not comforting.

Steps to heavenMiraculously, the next morning, I was feeling 60% better. This improvement combined with the non-demanding two hour bus ride that I needed to take to the Mount Kinabalu park headquarters encouraged me to hastily set off from Lucy’s with wavering confidence. I was up and down the whole day. One minute I felt fine, the next I felt like I needed a hospital bed. I resolved to sit and rest in my hostel at park headquarters for the remainder of the day, pooling strength and health for the first leg of the climb; a five hour, six kilometer death march to the Laban Rata hut, the overnight summit staging area ¾ of the way up the mountain.

The bus ride to the mountain was fantastic, but I was stunned in that as soon as we were out of KK, we started going uphill and continued like that the whole way. The scenery was amazing, but equally I was wondering when we were going to start heading downhill. If we kept going up like that would there be any mountain left to climb? Soon after we had entered the cloud line, after 90 minutes of going straight up, I was deposited along with a few other backpackers at the park turn-off. It was almost inconceivable that after all that climbing there was still a good eight hours of walking to get to the fog obscured top of this mountain. Well, I guess that’s 13,000 feet above sea level for you.

Kinabalu South PeakMy legs had promptly cramped up on the bus and loosening them up was not pleasant. It was only about 100 yards up hill from the road to park headquarters, but by the time I got there, I was already gasping for oxygen in the thin air of the mountain. And this was only the beginning. The good news was that I was able to book a bed both at headquarters (not usually and problem) and at Laban Rata. I was relieved that I had gotten a bed (in your face Kinabalu Nature Resorts office!), but it was in one of the dreaded unheated dorm rooms. Then I recalled a message that I read in a BootsNAll discussion group, saying that the heated rooms were far too hot and uncomfortable and you could get all the blankets you needed in the unheated rooms. Hell, put a family of bats in the wall and it would be just like a February night in my old bedroom back in Minneapolis. Assuming that I wasn’t ailing too much from my mysterious ailments, or exploding calf muscles, or altitude sickness. Yes, I knew I was doomed, but when has that ever stopped me?

I took it easy for the rest of the afternoon, eating a huge lunch, doing some writing, packing my tiny day bag with the bare-ass essentials for the climb, attending the pre-climb briefing and then wolfing down yet another huge meal before retiring to bed early with my new book “Middlesex” by Jeffery Eugenides.

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