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Part one: Mount Kinabalu and a whole lot of pain

We made it!

Our time in Borneo has been so amazing that we’ve been too busy doing and there hasn’t been enough time for blogging!  To bring you up to speed we’re going to post a few installments over the next couple of days while we’re away snorkelling around Mabul and Sipadan islands. Borneo really does have everything; night markets for cheap food and interesting sights, challenging treks, jungle wildlife and exotic sealife. Each stage of our trip has alone been enough to justify our decision to come here and to show why, we need to go back nine days to our Mount Kinabalu climb.

Mount Kinabalu stands at 4095m high and is Southeast Asia’s biggest mountain. To climb it, it’s necessary to book through an agent to secure a permit and also a bed in the Laban Rata lodge at the end of the first day’s climb. It’s best to arrange the trek in advance but we had managed to arrange it just two days before we wanted to trek at the Sutera Sanctuary Lodges office in Kota Kinabalu. After making the arrangements, we caught a shared taxi the next day to the national park, found some accommodation, checked in for our trek and surveyed the cloud-obscured peaks for clues to what lay ahead.

The morning of the trek we fortified ourselves with chicken noodle soup for breakfast, picked up our packed lunch and had our guide assigned. The trek starts with a gentle walk through the peaceful forest, followed by some steps, then some more steps and after a while we began to realise that it was more or less all steps and one steep climb. The Lonely Planet guidebook describes it as ‘Borneo’s ultimate thighmaster’ which perhaps should have been something of a clue. Nevertheless, on we climbed with just short stops for water and photos. The climb to our accommodation for the night, the Laban Rata lodge, took us about 3 hours by which time we were extremely sweaty and very tired. There are currently electricity supply problems at the lodge so instead of hot showers we had to make do with icy cold ones to revive us! After very quick showers, we devoured our packed lunches and spent the rest of the day enjoying the sun on the lodge’s porch before dinner and an early night to prepare us for the early hours trek to the summit.

Admiring the sunrise

Our alarm call was 2am and after a quick pre-breakfast, we put on our headtorches and started our climb to the top. Unsurprisingly, there were yet more steps but we were feeling good and so managed to get ahead of the crowds and trek at our own pace. Further up towards the summit, there is a fixed white rope to guide trekkers to the top and also to provide assistance when climbing or descending steep sections. We made the summit just before 5am (we were the third and fourth trekkers to make it to the top) and after sitting at the peak for five minutes to admire the distant lightning flashes in the sky, we climbed down a few metres to huddle out of the wind and wait for sunrise. The sun rises quickly here and as it did, we appreciated the views across to the ocean and also the views of what we’d climbed past. The summit landscape is made of sheets of granite, forming a pattern a bit like fish scales, and there are really unusual jaggedy points – all of which we’d missed while climbing past in the dark. After watching the sun rise and taking some photos, it was time to head back down to the lodge and second breakfast. We commented that we’d done more exercise before breakfast than we’d usually have done in a full day but we both knew that more was to come.

After breakfast number two, we began our trek down. The path seemed to have become more wet and slippy overnight so we had to be careful where we stepped and we had a few slides but no accidents. I had the advantage over Jon as about ten minutes into our climb up a kind women had offered me her stout wooden walking stick and luckily, I had accepted. Now we were descending the stick came into it’s own, helping me down the decidedly anti-short-legs steps and helping lessen the impact on my knees. Even with the help of my stick, we were both feeling the effects of the steep downhill steps by about 3km in to our 6km walk down. We struggled on, mentally steeling ourselves before each flights of steps, taking more time to rest and rejoicing as we counted down the trail markers. Finally, after what felt like a very long time, we were at the end of the trek with just a short uphill and a series of stairs to climb before we’d officially finished and we could collapse in the shuttle bus back to the park reception and lunch.

Needless to say, we did very little after that, eating lunch and returning to our accommodation to have a hot shower, change our very smelly trekking clothes and sleep. The pain in our legs slowly morphed into muscle stiffness so for the following four days we found any sort of downwards step and even walking painful. We had been warned but neither of us had ever suffered sore legs like this. Our legs recovered while we were enjoying Borneo Experience Number Two – jungle river safaris which leads us to installment number two coming soon…