After a good dinner at Laban Rata the previous evening (click here to read Part 1 of our hike!), it was straight to bed for us. Bedtime was 7pm or, as they advised, as early as you can put yourself to sleep, because you have to be up at 2am the next day. Breakfast is at 2.30am and then you go right back out into the frigid morning air and continue your hike to the top.
Look at these sleepy faces hahaha. We were all still groggy with sleep but forced our mouths to chew and our throats to swallow so we’ll have the energy to make it to Low’s Peak.
Just to assess how cold it was out there, I stuck my hand out the window and immediately regretted the decision. Now I have the fear of the cold to add to my fear of the hike!
2am might sound insane, but everyone else was already awake and crawling. The smell of French toast and scrambled eggs fuelled spirits as much as fried noodles and hot Sabah coffee filled stomachs. But there was something else in the air — an electrifying excitement from everyone’s anticipation of what awaited outside in the dark and in the cold.
I had been warned about how cold it was going to get but for some reason, my mind just couldn’t wrap itself around just how cold. Let’s just say I was a little groggy heading outside but the moment the cold air hit my face, I was awakened almost immediately.
We breathed out clouds of fog and even in our many layers of fleece jackets and waterproof windbreakers, we shivered. Dragon was already waiting for us, all wrapped up in multiple layers as well. He warned us that it was going to get much, much colder up at the peak and to not stop to rest for too long otherwise the cold was going to seep in and make us drowsy. If that happened, then our chances of reaching the peak is almost down to half. Told you the guy really knew his way around the mountain!
After a few more reminders on what to do and what not to do, we were off!
I have never ventured out into the great outdoors at such a Godforsaken hour before. I have awakened for my morning runs at 5am, but that’s the earliest I’ve been. At 2am, not even the moonlight penetrated the forest trees and were it not for our headlamps, we would see nothing but pitch black darkness.
We continued from where we left off the day before, back to the rocks and stones, trees and steps. Only this time, it had rained the night before so everything was slick and slippery and one wrong move could result in a sprained ankle or something much worse. We had to very careful and study very intently what was in front of us before making a single step.
In single file, we began our journey. Noses were sniffling and people were sneezing every few minutes from the cold. I was shocked to discover that hardly 10 minutes into the journey and only after a single flight of stairs, I was having difficulty breathing. This was a whole new ball game from yesterday. Between the cold and the much thinner air, the lack of sleep and the difficulty in seeing what’s ahead of you, it was going to be a lot tougher than I anticipated.
The route got a lot steeper too. Now it was solid rocks all the way, looking incredibly treacherous with smooth surfaces that reflected light almost maliciously in the beam of our headlamps. Yet, step by step, rock by rock we steadily made our way up.
After what felt like forever, we finally reached the toughest part of the climb — the ropes. In the dark, you couldn’t tell just how near the edge you were or how far up, so I just scaled the rocks with the help of the single white rope with no problem. I could even stop and hang precariously off it to take pictures. Little did I know I would almost slip and fall to my demise on these same rocks on my way down. It was the single most terrifying experience I’ve ever gone through in all my 24 years of life, but we’ll get to that later. At this particular moment, I just remember feeling excited about witnessing the sunrise, which has been said to be magnificent, from the top.
Here, we were nearly 3000metres above sea level. Falling off the mountain here would mean instant death. Many just froze at this spot apparently, and Yuh Ting witnessed for herself a girl who couldn’t bring herself to climb the ropes. She was paralysed with fear and the guides had to slowly coax her down and bring her back to safety.
Now I am terribly afraid of heights but because it was so dark — like it was pitch black and if I had stuck my hand in front of me, I wouldn’t have been able to see it — I felt not a single trace of fear. I guess it was a good thing otherwise I would have definitely turned around and not gotten my coloured certificate.
I pulled and hoisted myself up boulder after boulder and soon we were on kinder grounds.
Just as we reached the last kilometre to the peak, day began to break. It was such a humbling moment, being all the way up there in the mountain and watching as day slowly unclothed itself of its night blanket and roused the Earth.
A new day has started.
So often have I associated a new day with the beeping of my alarm clock — to watch how the day really stirs awake in its first few minutes, left me at a complete loss of words. The world is such a huge, vast place and we are merely its small inhabitants, leeching off its resources. It made me feel elated but tinged with a small sense of sadness at the same time.
The sun may be coming up alrady but our journey was far from over. I was most tempted to just sit where I was and watch the sun rise to its full glory from there, but the Ninja Rabbit persuaded me to keep going. Whatever is at the top is going to be 10 times more beautiful. Just persevere a little more and the rewards would be a hundred folds sweeter.
He was right. Every 100m we ascended, the view just got better. Rainbow colours began to paint the early dawn sky as small mountain critters awoke from their slumber. Small mice scuttled in between rocks, the occasional few even poking their heads out of their burrows in the rocks to peer at us intruders.
More and more people were arriving on the plains too so that helped charged us up to plow ahead towards the peak.
There was a special kind of brotherhood going up there too. Strangers were helping strangers, encouraging, motivating and pep-talking each other to keep pushing on. The air was really thin up there so we could only shuffle a few feet before feeling the need to lie down and just go to sleep. The Ninja Rabbit and I actually came across a man almost completely knocked out on a flat rock and refused to wake up when we shook him. He just groaned, told us to leave him alone and went right back to sleep lol.
Slowly, sluggish step by sluggish step, we eventually reached the top.
I was freezing by then — my hands, face, feet and even my eyes feeling completely numb from the cold — but we made it.
The sun was just beginning to peek through the horizon and it was without the doubt the most beautiful sunrise we’ve ever seen yet.
Here was the famous point that is printed in all our textbooks, thousands of postcards, posters, maps, even our national 1 Ringgit bill.
We made it. It was a lot of hard work, a lot of pain, a lot of sweat, blood and tears, but like everyone who had been told us, it was worth it. It was worth every single moment of anguish we put ourselves through.
It was such a humbling moment, standing there it the mountain’s indescribable majesty. It could have claimed our lives any moment it desired but it didn’t. It was kind and gentle and oh so beautiful, just as it can be cold, cruel and unforgiving.
Here was the pride of our nation, the sleeping giant who struck awe and revere anytime her name was mentioned. I didn’t even feel proud that I made it to her peak. I just felt incredibly humbled, like I didn’t deserve it because what pride is there to saying I conquered her. I merely rose up to her level and even then, I can never truly compare.
Getting to witness her true beauty was the true prize. And indeed only those who are prepared to pay deeply for it are allowed a small peek.
Thank you Mount Kinabalu for sharing that with us even if only for a little while.
Do you get what the Ninja Rabbit is trying to do here? Hahahahaha. If you have to ask, then you’ll never know.
After spending about an hour up there, it was time to head back down. It didn’t occur to me that we would have to go back down the same we came up. In broad daylight, when I could see clearly for myself just how far up in the mountain we truly were, that’s when shit went down.
It was crazy! We were literally hanging off the edge of the cliff at one point. Fear began to dig its paralysing claws into my flesh as the realisation set in. My fear of heights kicked in in full gear at the most inconvenient moment.
This was taken right before I lost my footing, slipped and fell. Were it not for that rope, I don’t think this blogpost would have been written at all.
My shoe lost its grip of the groove I have planted it in and slipped right out from under me. The last thing I remember hearing was the loud gasp of the guy behind me and then I was flying. Flying off the cliff and into the whatever awaited me below. A sharp pain pierced me in my chest as panic set in. I was going to fall to my death.
It’s a funny thing, how your body works. Adrenaline kicks in so fast that sometimes, it acts without you even being aware of it. I held on to that rope. I clutched at it, clung to it, I was hanging by it for dear life. I don’t remember screaming — just this pure, genuine fear that broiled within me telling me I was going to die.
Dragon swept in before I even realised what happened and scooped my legs back up into safety. I swear I felt like I witnessed it all from a third person’s perspective. It all happened so fast.
I didn’t die. I owed it all to my guide.
Thank you Dragon for saving my life T_T (I hugged him afterwards but he just looked all uncomfortable hahahahaha but I needed to do it for myself. That guy just saved my life!)
I was shaking the entire way down back to Laban Rata. My knees kept buckling under my weight as I descended. Never have I felt terror so pure, so real. Needless to say, we didn’t take many pictures on the way down. We didn’t even speak much because I felt like I might have just thrown up if I tried to utter a single word.
Mount Kinabalu was everything they said she was. She was grand as she was intimidating, powerful as she was unmovable. She was a serious force of nature, a mountain not to be taken lightly, only to be treated with respect.
Hiking her was a test of endurance and perseverance, a lesson of just how small and insignificant we human beings are to the wrath of nature. We are but a small speck in its wake and as disposable as it sees fit.
I will probably look back on this and name it as one of the important life moments of my life. And you know what? I am proud it is this mountain on that list. The quiet sacred grounds up at the peak, the calm serenity pregnant with hope, dreams and aspirations and the tall and proud way she stands against the tests of time — I will never forget each detail.
We climbed, we crawled and we made it to the peak of Mount Kinabalu :)