Mount Kinabalu from Airplane

Our Slow But Steady Grind with Gunung Kinabalu

Successfully summiting Mt. Kinabalu crosses off one of the mountains in the so-called Asian Trilogy checklist. In this trilogy that includes Mt. Fuji (Japan) and Mount Jade (Taiwan), Kinabalu is the highest with an elevation of 4,096 masl.

In June 2015, an earthquake took a heavy toll on the mountain. The park had been closed for several months until authorities opened Ranau Trail, a two-part hike that stretches over an 8-km distance. The first part, which covers 6 kilometers, is a 4-hour ascent from Timpohon Gate to KM 6 (Pendant Hut/Laban Rata). The second part, the more exciting of the two, starts at the base camp all the way to Low’s Peak.

In August 25-26, 2016, we joined an all-Filipino group of 8 hikers – 3 women and 5 men, aged 26 to 42 – on an organized 2D1N itinerary. It was our first mountain adventure outside the Philippines.

It was a successful climb. Expectations, if there were any, were exceeded.

[NOTE: Images on this post are from our friends.]
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“Slow But Steady” is the Way to Do it

On the day of the climb, the operators promptly picked us up at our hostel in Kota Kinabalu. We were whisked in a van and arrived at the Park’s Headquarters about two hours later. After all the permits and ID tags were secured, we enjoyed a 10-minute ride to Timpohon Gate, the starting point.

At Timpohon Gate, right before we started the climb, our middle-aged guide Aling had a fair warning. “Slow but steady,” he said. That meant no running or walking too fast.

He went on to explain that it’s a tried-and-tested strategy against AMS and pulikat (cramps) – two inconveniences that every hiker would want to avoid at all costs. We should also refrain from taking too-long breaks because “we want our muscles to be warm at all times.”

It was three months prior to the Kinabalu hike when we first learned the importance of keeping a slow-but-steady pace especially during ascents. That was during our Akiki-Tawangan hike (Mt. Pulag) with another group.

We realized that applying this approach has at least three benefits.

First, since there’s minimal strain on both the lower and upper extremities, you don’t feel tired easily. That means you can keep going, taking breaks only minimally. Second, you’ll minimize muscle soreness after the climb. Third, and most importantly, you’ll reduce your chances of incurring an injury.

When Aling’s briefing was over, the other guide, a shy twenty-something lad named Tino, took over the reins and led us to the first leg of the hike.

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Ascent to KM 6

The first ten minutes was literally a walk in the park, but for a team of speedy hikers, the slowness of the pace was unbearable.

Back in the Philippines where the highest point is pegged at less than 3,000 masl, AMS is a strange concept, so although no one spoke among us, we knew that everyone was anxious to walk faster.

Still, we all knew better than to disobey.

Two weeks before the climb, we gathered as much information as we could about the trail. From the blogs, we learned that Ranau is laden with flight after flight of wooden steps, which instantly made a negative impression on us. We prefer our trails to be as rugged as possible, so imagine our disappointment the first time we came face-to-face with these wooden installations.

At least we’ve been warned, we said to ourselves as we stepped on the wooden planks.

As the group pressed along, we surveyed the trail hoping to find something unfamiliar, but there was nothing un-Philippinelike about the surroundings. From the ground up, it was basically tropical.

The only time we got excited was when a group of squirrels and a strange bird kept us company while taking a break at one of the huts, or punduk in the vernacular.

As the altitude changed, so did the flora and the views. They got more exciting. It also got chillier, and as we were about 500 meters to KM 6, it started to rain.

We carried on despite the cold. Then at about 2:30 in the afternoon, we arrived at our destination.

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At KM 6: Pendant Hut

We were given an hour to get some rest before our Via Ferrata briefing. It was too cold to have a walk outside Pendant Hut, but the views from the windows kept us busy. There was also free coffee.

“Is that a waterfall?”

“The fog’s too thick.”

“Are those Donkey Ears?”

The briefing ended shortly before 6 pm, just in time for dinner. Although Laban Rata was just a few steps away from Pendant Hut, going there was torturous because of the biting cold.

At 8 pm or so, we were tucked in our bed, trying our best to catch some sleep. Unfortunately, the cold did not make it easy for us. It probably took us an hour before we finally dozed off.

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It’s so Beautiful Up Here!

Waking up at 1 in the morning in Mount Kinabalu was a real challenge, but the excitement overpowered the cold. We assembled in front of Pendant Hut where Aling, our guide, was waiting. After a quick reminder from him – yup, slow but steady – we turned our head torch on and began walking.

The trail started with wooden stairs, and then about thirty minutes later, it changed into a more rocky, adventurous terrain. At one point, we had to climb up a rock face with the aid of a rope. It felt dangerous, but we liked the thrill of it.

At 4:30 in the morning, we reached KM 8.5. We decided to stop there to wait for the sunrise.

Barely five minutes into waiting, it got irritatingly cold again. It was torture, and we wished we walked a bit slower. There were no stars nor moon to keep us company, so we busied ourselves with whatever “view” our head torch gave us.

At the hint of first light, our friend took out his camera, and we started shooting solo pictures.

After the photoshoot, we continued our journey towards Low’s Peak. As we inched closer to the top, the skies got clearer, and everything we saw took our breath away. From the granite slabs to the clouds, Mount Kinabalu did not disappoint. It was beautiful.

Of course, we took our time to enjoy and appreciate this one-of-a-kind beauty. When it was time to go, we left happy, victorious, proud, and teeming with confidence.

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