Update, July 26th 2012: I’ve produced a document that outlines the logistics & costs involved in attempting an independent assault on Mount Kinabalu. Click here to download it.
Day 110 of my latest travel odyssey saw me standing on the summit of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak on the island of Borneo, itself the third largest island in the world (after Greenland & New Guinea). It’s a pretty big lump of rock or, more precisely, a pretty big granite massif, a block of the earth’s crust bounded by faults and shifted to form peaks of a mountain range. Its peak, ironically called Low’s Peak, tops out at a 4,095m (13,436ft) which, by mountain standards, isn’t all that high (in comparison Everest, the Grand Daddy of them all, tops out at 8,848m (29.029ft)). But try telling the thousands who huff & puff their way to the summit every year that Mount Kinabalu isn’t high. As well as myself I, of course, lugged my camera and a few lenses up there when, in hindsight, only one was needed – my wide-angle. Here’s a selection of pictures taken over the course of the 8 hours, 40 minutes I spent walking the 17.5km well-trodden path up & down the mountain.
The walk up Mt. Kinabalu is, or should be, a 2-day affair (although it could be done in 1 torturous days hiking). The first day sees climbers walk the 6km from the start of the trail up, up, up to an area of huts & rest houses where the majority of climbers halt for the night (& are glad to do so). Having set out at 09:00 on day 1 I reached my accommodation at 12:20 meaning I had the afternoon to take in the scenery &, of course, take a few pictures. At this height (3,273m (10,738ft)) I was well above the cloud line & the sea of clouds spread out over Borneo below was beautiful. Picturing the clouds alone was pointless; with no sense of scale present in the image it’s hard to appreciate the scene. Therefore I made sure to include a subject in the foreground to help this picture look more than simply a picture of clouds.
The sunset on the first day treated me to a nice light-show & as it turned out was a better spectacle than sunrise from the summit the following morning (I got a few ok pictures of the sunrise but none I deemed worthy of inclusion here).
On day 2 I started walking again – as did, seemingly, the whole world – at 03:00. I reached the summit at 05:20. The walk from the rest house to the summit is only 2.75km but altitude, complete darkness, a narrow trail & a seemingly endless line of fellow climbers means it can take anywhere from 2 to 4+ hours – the first kilometre on morning 2, from the 6 to 7 kilometre markers, took me nearly an hour & ten minutes… it was a tedious & frustrating part of the climb as the narrow trail forced Miguel, my fellow Mt. Kinabalu conqueror, & I to wait behind slower climbers struggling with the task in hand. We reached the summit about 40 minutes before the sun showed up. For those 40 minutes I sat there fighting the cold & taking extended exposure pictures of the scene back along the trail we’d just walked. This is a 30-second exposure, taken at 05:29, from the summit showing Borneo stretch out below. The lights seen in the distance are of far-off towns & cities & the lights on the mountain itself are that of climbers heading to join Miguel & I on the summit.
The final few steps. An 8-second exposure of climbers reaching the summit of Mount Kinabalu. Picture taken at 05:35. I’ve been higher on land (both the La Lung Pass in Tibet (5,050m/16,550ft) & Mouna Kea in Hawaii (4,205m/13,796ft) are higher) but I had never before walked to a higher point on the earth’s surface.
Although it’s hard to appreciate standing on the bare granite that marks the mountains upper reaches, Mount Kinabalu is actually a botanical paradise, designated a Centre of Plant Diversity as well as a UNESCO-listed heritage site, Malaysia’s first. The summit overlooks the mysterious abyss of the mile-deep Low’s Gully. Due to its isolation & difficulty to reach it wasn’t explored by man until 1994 & only as recently as 1998 did an expedition return from exploring its depths with several newly discovered species of plants & insects. This is a picture I like of 2 climbers overlooking the gully near the summit nicely silhouetted against the light rays breaking through the clouds.
The peak of Mount Kinabalu is named after Sir Hugh Low, a Brit who was the first man to scale the mountain back in 1851. The 8.75km climb from the starting point at 1,866m (6,122ft) to the summit is uphill the whole way; it’s unrelentingly steep & you find yourself either walking up steep rock steps (until about the 7k mark) or on bare granite (the last 1.75k), with areas nearing the summit where you need the assistance of ropes to scale granite slops (I can think of better things to be doing in darkness & light rain at 4am). But the worst of it is over by the time you reach here, about 500m from the summit, seen in the distance. Thankfully by the time you get here the aforementioned rope, seen laying on the granite to the left of the picture, is purely for guidance purposes & the last obstacle to overcome is the final scramble up to the huge rocky summit (tiny figures can be seen doing just that in distance, probably not possible to make out in this low-resolution version of the picture). This picture was taken at 06:29 on the decent with the sun illuminating the summit peak overlooking Low’s Gully. For the record my total climbing time for the 17.5k trek was 8 hours, 40 minutes: 5 hours & 40 minutes to summit & 3 hours to descend. That’s a good time but is nothing compared to the record of a little over 2 hours, 40 minutes. That’s the current time to beat in what is dubbed the World’s Toughest Mountain Race (1 hour 40 minutes up & 1 hour down). Walking is taxing enough so it’s hard to believe anyone would WANT to run up & down Mt. Kinabalu let alone clock a time of sub 3 hours doing so. Kudos indeed… but not much time to enjoy the stunning vistas.
Mt Kinabalu Gallery
If you’re keen on climbing Mount Kinabalu then you may find this document, outlining the current (as of July 2012) logistics & costs involved in attempting an independent assault on the mountain. Also, you could also do worse than to check out Johnny’s article on OneStep4Ward.com. Finally, Mt. Kinabalu was climbed, & these pitures taken, as part of Mave On The Move. Check out where Mave is now by visiting the dedicated travel page of my blog.