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Home » Kinabalu Solo Travel Pt 3

Mount Kinabalu Solo Travel by Leif Pettersen Part 3

At the lunch shelter, I ate a candy bar and drank a fair amount of water. I felt surprisingly good for about four minutes and then it all went dramatically wrong. I had been too focused and distracted to notice while we were moving but sure enough, my full-body aches had returned and they were extra pissed off that I had been exerting myself so intensely. Then my stomach suddenly turned on me. I ran for the outhouse, a filthy, squat, hole-in-the-ground affair. In a panic, I sprayed the area down with the ubiquitous hose that is present in most Asian toilets, which historically took the place of toilet paper – as well as often serving as an excuse to never clean the bathrooms – and beared down for The Squat That Never Ends. I won’t go into details, but I was in there for a very long time, so it came as no surprise when I emerged that the group, even the half-destroyed French guy, had pressed on without me. Worse still, someone had decided to turn off the water while I was indisposed and so there was nothing to flush down my efforts or wash my hands.

View from Laban RataMount Kinabalu had been suffering from a water shortage and to combat this, in the typical obtuse Malaysian decision-making way, they were combating the problem by turning off the water at random intervals. Additionally, some senior management genius got it into his head that if they locked half the toilets they would save more water, because people would not have to go to the bathroom as much. Instead there was a perpetual line of 2-5 people waiting for the bathroom wherever you went. Worse still, while some sink faucets were dutifully wrenched shut, these conservation-minded people didn’t seem to take any notice of the numerous sinks that dribbled water constantly, that could have been fixed with a simple quarter turn from a screwdriver. No wonder they had a water shortage.

So with body aches, stomach cramps, stiff muscles and soapy hands, I set off alone. With no one to help me set a pace or distract me with conversation, I came unwound in a hurry. My discomfort seemed to be multiplying with each passing minute. By the time I was ¾ of the way to Laban Rata, I was sure I wasn’t going to make it. I still had 500 meters (1,640 feet) to climb and I was reduced to taking the smallest steps, resting every minute or so. At the final rest shelter, I sat down, drank lots of water and took careful measure of my condition.

8km markI was either going to have to finish this thing, ask for a helicopter rescue or throw myself off a cliff. I lingered for so long that the Czech couple eventually dragged themselves up, rested and moved on. Ronnie finally appeared and all but stood there tapping his foot, waiting for me. What, did he have a goddamn date up at Laban Rata? I pulled myself together and got going just as it started to rain.

I know I’m prone to teensy-weensy exaggerations now and again in this journal, but I can say with all honestly and authority that the last hour before Laban Rata was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. My trembling strides were barely the length of my foot. I was gasping for air. I had to stop and rest after every few steps. My vision was tunneling on me and I was having a hard time focusing on the terrain so there was a fair amount of missteps and stumbling. My head was exploding, my neck and shoulders were on fire, my throat was throbbing, my hands were numb and I couldn’t feel my legs below the knees. It was most definitely the most terrible hour of my life.

I saw Laban Rata long before I got to it. I was moving at the slowest possible speed without actually being at a dead stop. The short, but sadistic set of stairs that you’re forced to climb to get to the reception/restaurant area had me cursing and wishing a disfiguring disease on the guy that had designed the building.

View from the summitI staggered in the door more exhausted than I have ever been in my life and collapsed into the nearest chair. I saw the rest of my group across the room digging into some food, but I didn’t have the strength to get back up and join them. I just waved and used what little strength I could summon to drank my water. Ronnie tried to encourage me to walk the 20 feet to the reception desk to check-in, but I wouldn’t have moved for a naked Jennifer Garner at that point. After a very, very long time, I got to my feet, I still had almost no feeling below the knees and every fiber was in pain. I lurched to the desk, slumped on it and got down to business. I’m sure the desk clerks at Laban Rata are accustomed to dealing with half-dead people, but the look in their eyes revealed that I was perhaps the most dangerously impaired person they had seen in a very long time. My diminished concentration and numb hands made it nearly impossible to fill in their forms.

Finally, I was given a key and the guy said he would lead me to my room, where I had every intention of lying down and dying, but of course dying is never as easy as you would hope. Instead of leading me down the hall, he led me back outside, pointed way up the hill to a white cabin that was barely visible through the fog and told me it was a 10 minute climb to my hut. I wanted to cry, but I was too tired. Instead, I turned around and went back into the restaurant where I paid a ridiculous amount of money for a plate of cold noodles, a bottle of water, a 7-Up-like drink called “100 Plus” and a Snickers bar. I ate all of this as fast as my feebleness would allow, sat alone for another 20 minutes or so, enduring the stares of the concerned staff and then finally steeled myself for the climb to my hut. There were many stairs, there were steep rock inclines and finally an infuriating downhill wood plank walkway that lead to my hut - at that point, my logic was that downhill movement of any kind meant that at some point I had been forced to go uphill unnecessarily, an offence punishable by death as far as I was concerned.

Summit plateauI fell into the hut to find the French guy slowly unpacking all his stuff. We traded stories about how unspeakably horrendous our days had been, before I gulped down two Ibuprofen and fell asleep.

Two hours later I woke up and felt a world better. Man, is Ibuprofen the world’s greatest drug or what? I swung out of my bunk and stood up with astoundingly little discomfort. The French guy had also been napping and was waking up now as well. Initially, I had no intention of going back down to the main building. It was only 5:00PM, but I had eaten so much back at 2:00PM and considering that we were going to be getting up and having breakfast at 2:00AM, before our 3:00AM departure for the summit to catch the sunrise, I thought that I would just go back to bed and sleep straight through until our wake-up. The French guy convinced me to go down just to drink something and try to firm up plans for 2:00AM with Ronnie. When several of us had stopped him earlier in the restaurant and quizzed him about the protocol for the summit the language barrier had been impenetrable. After carefully quizzing him for five minute none of us were entirely sure about when or where to meet. I was too tired to take part in this exchange and besides I was making a spectacle of myself with my food and my half-dumb, hand-mouth coordination.

Sayat-sayat HutWalking back down to the main building again was surprisingly painless. I couldn’t believe that I had made such a quick recover when only two hours earlier I felt like there was an even chance of me expiring in my sleep. We eventually found Ronnie and more or less told him when and where to meet us, after which I loitered for a little while trading stories with people before heading back to the hut. As tired as I was, my body simply did not want to go to sleep at 7:00PM after having a two hour late afternoon nap. The French guy came back and promptly went to sleep with an accompanying chorus of snoring, heavy breathing (for some reason sleeping on our sides, both of our preferences, made it more difficult to breath, so it was either pant on our sides or lie uncomfortably awake on our backs). Once every 20 minutes he woke up and blew his nose, making a noise that sounded like tearing metal. I slept sparingly until 1:30AM when my stomach sent me running for the toilet again.

After doping myself up on Ibuprofen, vitamins, and Imodium and eating what little I could get down for breakfast we set off for the summit. Ronnie proved himself to be even more severely inadequate with the “flashlight” he brought along. It was a kids, toy army thing that cast a beam of light only half as bright as my key chain light. Other than the aforementioned key chain, I didn’t have a flashlight of my own. The key chain was actually more than bright enough get by, but it had a push button switch, which meant that I had to keep my thumb on it all the time, which was impossible with all the crawling and rope climbing we were doing. I could have rented a real flashlight at reception, but by that point I had dropped so much money on that effing mountain that I wasn’t going to part with any more than absolutely necessary. Plus, I was starting to become genuinely afraid that I might not have enough cash for a bus ticket to Sandakan.

Laban RataI ended up hanging back with a bunch of scrupulously over-prepared Japanese people that had among their arsenal of gadgets super bright forehead lights. Less than 10 minutes into the 2 and ½ hour climb, I was already struggling and questioning whether I could make it. I was deteriorating quickly and was reduced to the couple-steps-stop-and-rest routine from the end of the previous day. Fortunately, within another five minutes, nearly everyone else was in the same condition and I wasn’t left behind.

I had assumed that the rope climbing would be insufferable, but strangely it helped me to get a second wind. Being able to use my arms took a huge load off my legs. While my arms were aching from sickness, they weren’t numb from exhaustion like my legs and using them to share the work improved my attitude immensely. I realized then that I was going to make it. Not very quickly, but eventually.

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