Tag Archives: Mersilau Trek

Climbing Mount Kinabalu-5

Today is summit day. There was quite a commotion downstairs in the dining room. I had little sleep. It was a little cold as I stepped out of my room. The large group members had already gathered and attired to start the morning hike. They were waiting for the food caterers to prepare the morning snack. I noticed a sign with a quote – something like ” breakfast will only be served from 0230″. The time now was 0130!. I could not believe it. Were they just eager or just plain silly? I went back to bed. There goes the plan to leave before and ahead of the group! Navindd was fast asleep.

After a quick hot snack, we were eager to get going. When we stepped outside, the cold wrapped us up. Fortunately, this time, we had thermals, gloves and proper jackets on. We even had our own headlamps to shine the path forward. Azman informed us that we need to be at Sayat-Sayat check point before 5.30 am. Otherwise, hikers may be stopped from continuing to the summit. I am not sure about this. With that in mind, we forged forward….which translated to uphill all the way. Up on a steep wooden belian steps, we climbed in pitch darkness shone only by our head lights. A long thin line of lights streamed up hill. It looked like a formidable task ahead. I stopped frequently as my poor fitness level surfaced. Navindd was still good, perhaps a little cold. We were above the cloud line. Visibility of the valley below was sporadic. We reached a fixed roped section of the trail. Against a solid granite rock face, a narrow crack rose uphill. Gripping the rope, we heaved up with our legs finding traction on a rather slipper surface apart from the narrow crack. I was nervous climbing up as the steep fall did not look attractive. One after another, we all climbed up very slowly. This is a treacherous stretch! I was concerned and wondered how I managed this stretch the last time. I don’t even remember it. Then was about 20 years ago. Perhaps youth had a part to play.

After that wrecking rock climb, we finally reached Sayat- Sayat Huts (3668m), the final checkpoint. It was 5am. We made it. There seem to be some pressure to walk quickly to get here, otherwise….. Our permits were checked and we were off again. The vegetation here is now a few standing shrubs and trees skeleton left. The landscape is now a rocky one. There were a few more tricky stretches using rope to propel forward. We have now passed the 7km mark and it was slow slog up the barren rocky plateau. I could see lights stretching from Sayat- Sayat Hut right up towards the summit. Surreal mountain formations surrounded us.

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Climbing Mount Kinabalu-4

The immediate impact was the crowded trail. A large group of hikers, some with identical attire, climbed the mountain today. Later I found that they belonged to a non-profit group making up to a 100 people. I belief that only about 150 people are allowed to climb per day. It looked like peak traffic on the narrow trails. However, the atmosphere was pleasant. The quiet contemplation that comes with climbing in high places was lost. Trees thinned out and whatever was present, were stunted and twisted. Some were permanently swayed onto one side. Rhododendron plants seem more prolific and some in flower. Undergrowth is thick. Fortunately, it was cloudy which eased climbing. I relived the vivid memories of this subalpine meadow zone. Old man’s beard  (air plants) hung on branches of the skeletonised trees. This added dramatic sceneries. Higher up, I could see the rocky plateau. The walk from here, at over 3000m, was exposed. With chattering from other hikers and the dramatic sceneries, I slowly made my way up. Words of encouragement and support was occasionally heard. Navindd was keen to carry on and he took off. From here, there are no diversions and not likely to get lost. The trail is not dangerous here.

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We reached Laban Rata, 3273m, our stop for the night, at around 5pm. It was crowded and noisy. Dinner was already in full swing. Weary and tired, we checked in and almost immediately at the dining table with a hot meal. It was satisfying for me to have climbed this far without any injuries or pain. Tiredness is normal. The mantra to climb any mountain for me is try to walk continuously with regular but shot stops. Being fit is a requirement, which I had not heeded this time….again. Our accommodation was warm, although no heating was available. Several other huts were scattered around. It was already misty and cold. The views of the unique landscape were obscured. Fortunately, throughout the trail, it only rained intermittently. The paths and black rocky surfaces were already wet.

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One conversation that evening was about attempts by hikers to reach the summit in the previous days had failed due to poor weather. We hoped for the better. The other conversation, by hikers not part of the big group was, what time do we start walking the next morning to beat this crowd? From here on, the trail became narrow and in many stretches, probably single file. It rained. I looked around the room, everyone seemed happy just to have arrived here. Like us, just happy to have a hot meal in hand.

Navindd and I had a shower and readied to get some rest and sleep. Our dorm room had four beds. It was certainly cosy and surprisingly warm. However, it was noisy with the large group. It was already dark after 6pm. Hikers were still arriving, drenched and shivering, around 7pm. Some of them just 10 years old. I wondered if the had enjoyed the hike? At these heights, altitude sickness can hit anyone. There were some signs amongst this group. However, help was on hand.We had a plan for next morning. Wake up at 2am and after a light snack, attempt for the summit. Being a light sleeper, I had difficulty sleeping with the constant walking and knocking by people arriving late at the huts. Navindd had no such issues.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu-3

After a quick but hearty breakfast, Albert brought us to our stating point. Unlike most people who start at the Timpohan Gate, we started at Mersilau Gate. This Mersilau trail is longer by about 2km adding about an extra 2 hours trekking time. However, this trail is gradual and the exposure to the mountain environment is greater.

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Through paved winding roads surrounded by pristine native forest, we arrived at Mersilau Gate around 7.30am. There is accommodation here. Being here feels amazing. Breathing the freshness, listening to the sound of a waking forest, seeing the mist lifting above the tree canopy and feeling the coolness of the jungle on my skin, I felt invigorated and spirits lifted. Although, I had been in many forests’ before, this feeling doesn’t seem to ware off. We handed over our documents to the rangers and met our guide, Azman, a native to this area.

We set off on the trail around 8.30am. This time around, I decided on the Mersilau Trail starting from Tambang Gate (2000m). Most people seem to hike from the Timpohan Gate. Mersilau trail is longer by about 2km or about 2 -3 hours walking. Today, there were about 10 hikers. It was hot and humid once we entered the forest. Perhaps, it was due to sweat pouring out of my body. A result of the steep climb. This is Lowland Dipterocarp Forest. Vertical tree trunks reach for the invisible sky as the tree canopy form a thick cover. Within the first hour, I could feel the strain on my body. Again, I am attempting to climb Kinabalu in a rather unfit state. Perhaps, better to have climbed Kinabalu and carry on to China. Wishful thoughts in hind sight! Navindd was as pace with our guide, Azman.

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Fortunately, although wet and humid, the trail was good. Not muddy or slippery. The trail is uphill with occasional decent. With regular stops and slow walking, we managed from one shelter hut to another. A slow progress, and thankfully not painfully as I recalled my first climb. Now we entered the Lower Montane Forest. Gradually, the tree canopy opened up as the trees become shorter.  We had crossed a river earlier and now another small wooden bridge over a tributary of West Mersilau River. It is refreshing but no time to linger too long. We have already reached above 2500m.The vegetation here is different. Moss hung off tree branches, dense undergrowth and bamboos and orchids appeared. Azman introduced me to Rhododendron lowii, a bright large yellow flower. Nearby were orchids and other epiphytes.

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As we continued, we came across an impressive cluster of Pitcher Plants or Nepenthes. I remembered seeing larger ones on the Timpohan trek. Now we had entered the Cloud Forest. These part of the mountain are constantly drenched with moisture. This encouraged epiphytes and moss to flourish. Liverwort and ferns covered shaded parts of the forest floor. Gradually the height of trees reduced and the canopy opened. Grass like plants became more frequent. An assortment of flowering plants also sprouted in pockets. We stopped for lunch at Magnolia shelter, around 2.30pm. We thought the guide would provide lunch as arranged by Sutera Santuary. To Azman’s surprise, there was none. Neither did we talk to him about it earlier. We survived with a few chocolates and biscuits. Shortly after that, we walked into an open area on the ridge of a mountain. Steep slopes on either side. The views were great but partial due to low mist and clouds. The trail seem to be descending. Walking became relaxed. Eventually we arrived at Layang-Layang Hut (2702m) intersection where both trails met, from Timpohan Gate and Mersilau. We had hiked about 5.5 km. The circumstances at this point were in contrast.

 

Climbing Mount Kinabalu-2

In January 2015, my son Navindd, and I climbed Mt Kinabalu. I thought this would be great for bonding as well as planting a seed for the love of travel and the outdoors. It is certainly a trying effort for an old fella like me to carry on with this type of activity. Well, perhaps one more time!

My bookings for the climb were all organised by Lay Yong, my sister-in-law, including accommodation in Mersilau (Alan’s (nieces’ husband) parents place), whom I had not met before. Sabah Parks had privatised the bookings for the climb. Apart from issuing permits ( cost RM30) and organising guides, all bookings are handled by Sutera Sanctuary. Naturally the cost had increased, now about RM480.

Mt Kinabalu, part of the Crocker Range, is the highest peak at 4095m in South East Asia on the island of Borneo in Sabah, Malaysia. We arrived at Kota Kinabalu, in short called KK, just past midday in stormy and rainy weather. Tropical rain bucketed down and views of the surrounding hill and mountains were obscured. A taxi was pre-arranged to take us to Kundasang. Some roads turned to streams with fast flowing water. Carefully our driver negotiated these treacherous metal roads. The drive became more challenging as we hit the mountain roads towards Kundasang, the closest town to Kinabalu Park.

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We arrived at Kundasang after three hours, around 3pm. The driver stopped at a row of stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables. The air was thick with cool mist. Visibility was poor. The ladies, however, were colourful and cheerful. The weather improved dramatically as we approached Kundasang town. I remembered it as a small village market on my first foray here. Now, it is a decent town surrounded by agriculture cultivation. Lay Yong, my sister-in-law, had organised a friend to pick Navindd and I and stay for the night. At 2000m above sea level, the quaint town is cool and has a temperate climate. The local population are mainly of Kadazan – Dusun origin and a small Chinese population. It is a lovely place just to enjoy the surrounding and climate. Its proximity to Kinabalu National Park makes it a tempting place to visit.

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Thomas and his, rather cheery, son Albert waited for us. I immediately got a liking to them although we have just met. Through winding narrow roads, roadside shops and farms, we arrived at their home in Mersilau. Home, is under the gaze of a hazy silhouette of the unique formation of Mt Kinabalu. On the opposite side, a forested valley. I could live here, I thought. After settling in with a hot drink, Albert took us to the Park HQ, the gateway into the mountain, to sign in for the following day’s planned climb. It rained. Local buses and transportations arrived and departed from here. Accommodations and restaurants are all found here as well.  All the bookings were checked by Sutera staff, required fees paid and a guide organised by the Park’s staff. It was around 5.30pm. Darkness came early in the mountains. After a hot meal, we went to sleep quite early in anticipation of the ardours climb the following day. I wanted to be well prepared this time around. However, having a month holidaying in China before arriving here is not quite what I had in mind. I was apprehensive.