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Mount Kinabalu Solo Travel by Leif Pettersen Part 4

At Sayat-Sayat, the final check point before the summit we checked in and turned to Ronnie for our whistles. We were supposed to be armed with whistles at this point so that if we got lost or separated we could blow on the whistles to signal that we needed help. Ronnie looked back at us blankly. He didn’t bring the effing whistles. As if to cement his status of being utterly useless, he told us to go on without him and he would meet us at the summit. Well, that was 120RM (15RM X eight people) well spent!

View from the summitWe pressed on, sticking with the forehead light people. The going was actually a bit easier after the check-point but we were already so pooped that it didn’t make any difference. We still had to collapse and rest every few minutes, desperately sucking in what little air was available. The last bit, a sudden jutting peak strewn with boulders, was a killer. It was a very steep rope climb almost the entire way. We heaved to the top just in time for sunrise.

Except there was no sunrise. Clouds had uncharacteristically rolled in - usually they hold off until about 10:00AM - and so there was no sunrise reward for us. Very anticlimactic. The upshot was that I was too annihilated for my fear of heights to kick in and I was able to just sit there and take in the views, which were mind-bendingly spectacular. It was windy and freezing at the top and people started heading down right away. Not only was I too tired to move, but I had put far too much energy into climbing that stupid bump to just turn right around and head back. I lingered for about 30 minutes, taking pictures in every direction and a few digital video clips just for a better perspective of what it was like up there.

Finally, my hands were numb and my face was freezing, so I headed back down. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the trip down. Sure it was going to be vastly easier than going up, but it was so steep, potentially dangerous and I was so tired that I wasn’t certain how taxing it would be. Thankfully, it was only a fraction as tough as I expected. Even in my pathetic condition, I found the going easy and quick. I literally tore down, and even though I stopped frequently for pictures in all directions, I left my group far behind. I wasn’t myself. The precarious cliffs and death-defying rope climbs didn’t faze me. Indeed I skit-skatted all the way down, deftly dancing from rock to rock and negotiating the ropes like a paratrooper. Gravity was my co-pilot.

Going downI was back at the hut in an hour. I had intended to pack up, check out and head for headquarters right away. My bus to Sandakan was going to speed by some time between 3:00 and 3:30PM. Then the French guy burst in and announced that he was taking a nap. Having gotten up at 1:30AM, I had completely lost track of the time. It was only 8:30 in the morning. Even if I crawled, the trip back down to headquarters would take less than four hours. Suddenly a nap sounded like a great idea. We set the alarm for an hour and passed out. You can guess what happened next.

South PeakWe woke up and couldn’t move. All of our muscles had stiffened and cramped up. Suddenly a nap seemed like a huge mistake. It felt like someone had snuck in and embalmed me. It took a long time to get moving. I was all packed so I just grabbed my bag and headed for the main building. By the time I had hobbled down, I was limbering up enough to at least walk normal. I went against better judgment and dropped huge coin for another meal in the restaurant before setting off. The French guy joined me and I decided that with my various aliments and his huge bag that we would keep a mutually even pace. Again, once we got going and I loosened up, I felt unexpectedly energized. The French guy was the same. We zipped down the entire six kilometers, stopping only once to rest. Perhaps it would have been smart to stop more often but I had the fear that if I did, it would give my illness a chance to smack me down like the previous day. Plus, it was going on four hours since my last round of Ibuprofen and I was kind of racing the moment when it would wear off and I would return to a world of body aches.

Guides of KinabaluWe staggered up to Timpohon Gate in a scorching two hours and 45 minutes. We were making such good time that we were only minutes behind rest of our group that had left over an hour before us. We bussed back to headquarters, retrieved our bags and got cleaned up. I wanted to find a phone and call ahead to Sandakan to reserve a room at an implausibly great hotel that Lonely Planet had reviewed, but it was going on 2:45PM now and knowing that Malaysian buses don’t normally utilize something we in the west like to call a “schedule,” I figured that I had better get down to the road in case the bus was also making good time that day.

The Danes and the French guy decided that they were going to go straight to the nearby Poring Hot Springs to soak and rejuvenate for a day. Not being a huge fan of immersing myself in scalding, muddy water and having read that the hot springs weren’t too great, I passed on their invitation to join them, sticking with the plan of a spine-grinding five hour drive to Sandakan, with the allure of a private, clean room with my own bathroom where I could work out my intestinal problems in peace.

Leif Pettersen"In 2003, Leif Pettersen was "Kramered" by an unbalanced friend into leaving his idiot-proof career with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and embarking on an odyssey of homeless travel writing. Despite no leads or training - and a dubious grasp on grammar - his "unhinged contempt for reality" drove him onward and he somehow managed modest success by deluging hapless editors with material so raw and protracted that a tri-continental international support group was formed to cope with the situation. Leif has visited 41 countries, including Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.  He is one of the authors of "Lonely Planet Romania and Moldova 4" guidebook (available May 2007) and is a regular contributor for seveal magazines and web sites.  He has lived in Spain, Romania and currently calls Sardinia (Italy) home. Leif writes a popular blog about travel, travel writing and being a professional ex-pat at"

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