This was 1994. I remember this journey vividly. My company sent me to Sabah for some work. The site was Mamut Copper Mines, one or if not the largest open cast copper mine. My task was to study ways to reintroduce vegetation as well as find new opportunities in agribusiness for the company. This was my first visit to Sabah.
The site was a massive scar on a mountain. Terrain was steep and in places, near vertical. However, the climate was temperate and flower and foliage production may be viable. The discussions ended early on Friday. I decided to climb Mt Kinabalu.
I arrived at the park HQ around noon. I applied to climb the mountain and book accommodation for the night. The rangers looked surprised. Normally, trekkers would start early in the morning. It was mandatory to take a guide. Eventually my guide, Lumborg, turned up. Booking and permits sorted, about RM50, I went off on the trek. The start was from Timpohan Gate. I was naive and my only motivation to climb was to take the opportunity of being here in Sabah. This activity was unplanned. I am always motivated to go and see places.
My guide, Lomborg, a local Kadazan, sized me up – are you fit? I am an active sports person and with a rather free willed spirit. My enthusiasm overflowed. He seemed satisfied with those words. The climb through magnificent tropical rain forest mountain, the oldest in the world, was exhilarating. However, it was taking a toll on my body too. My guide stopped to give me an opportunity for a rest and drink. I had no drink. I drank from the stream as he did. Part way, my legs were arrested with severe cramps. Four points – both calves and thighs. The pain was unbearable. Tears came easily. We had passed the halfway point. I literally dragged my pants putting one foot forward and followed with the other. The climb was uphill of course! My guide must be having second thoughts to continue. Incredibly, he was patient and encouraging. Eventually, I made it to Laban Rata, the stop for the night. It was around 6pm. Everyone were in jumpers. I was only in my T-shirt. I felt strange. The solid granite rock terrain with an alpine vegetation was amazing. Stunted Rhododendron with twisted trunks and branches surrounded the accommodation. Heavy mist descended. After dinner I collapsed into bed with the knowledge that I will be woken up at 2.30am to make an attempt for the summit to catch sunrise.
When my guide came the morning, he must have doubted my ability to continue. In contrast, I was up and fully charged for the climb. He was happy but surprised. He asked me to put on my gloves. I had none. I removed one pair of socks and slipped onto my hands. Any torchlight or headlamp? I just said, let’s follow the people in front with lights! All I had was a day pack with a camera and a light waterproof jacket. On my feet, sturdy shoes with, now, one pair of socks. I was ill-prepared for the climb. The fact is, I was here and therefore just wanted to climb. My guide was stone-faced as if numbed. I reached the summit just as the sun came over the horizon. Dark shadows, majestic rock formations, heavy mist and the filtered sunlight on glistening black granite surface, created a heavenly sight. A place for the gods I thought.
The mist lifted. At Low’s Peak, surrounded with deep ravines and gullies, with the warm sun on my face, I sat and savoured the incidental journey. The views of the lowlands were clear and magnificent. From the summit, Low’s Gully seemed like no one would return! We were lucky indeed today as this mountain seem perpetually draped in mist. We returned to Laban Rata. After a quick breakfast, after a long descend through the tropical rain forest, we headed to Timpohan Gate. I absolutely loved being surrounded by trees and the natural environment. A telecommunication station and a cascading waterfall came into view. By now, I was walking only on excitement and adrenaline. The body held, only just. A memoir – a certificate of accomplishment is given – “…….had climbed to Low’s Peak, the summit of Mt Kinabalu (4101m) highest in South East Asia on 22 October 1994”.
I returned to the copper mine. That evening and for several days later, my legs were completely stiff, heavy and riddled with pain. This was the low point of the climb up Mt Kinabalu. In bed at home, with strong painkillers doing its job, I felt a sense of achievement and satisfaction. To climb the highest mountain in South East Asia and to have witnessed local people and wild scenery, simply amazing.