Gollum Climbs Mount Kinabalu

Well above the clouds.

Well above the clouds.

During my first bit of time off this month, I decided to climb Mt. Kinabalu – a two day hike to one of the highest points in South East Asia.

Aside from all the lovely heartwarming stuff people will tell you, including myself, about their amazing climb to the top of Mt Kinabalu, I want to tell you what really happened to me up there, at 4095.2 meters above the clouds. Something that can only be described as closer to a mental breakdown than anything.

I got paired for the climb with two girls who had flown all the way from Hong Kong just to do the climb. We would share the same local guide for the next 2 days. All of us are around the same age, and in relatively the same shape. Well, if hard pressed, I hadn’t worked out for a month and a half as I’d just come off of doing two tours back to back. One of the girls was training for a marathon, and the other climbed on a regular basis. Bless them, I think they waited for me most of the time.

After hiking a good 6 hours, we arrived at base camp in the early afternoon, giving us the perfect amount of time to enjoy 3 servings of the buffet dinner. Wait, what? I mean, just in time to have a nice dinner, enjoy an absolutely lovely sunset, have a few beers and play some cards. We packed it in early, because we had to get up at 2am to climb in the morning, in order to reach the summit in time for sunrise.

Base camp.

Base camp.

I had done very well to pack extra warm stuff before I left Vancouver, but I had failed to bring some proper climbing/warm gloves. The only gloves I had were a pair of fancy, and I will call them “lady gloves”, that I had picked up in Korea. You know, black, sleek, made of the cheapest material on the Korean black market, flowers going down the side, with little fake pearls in the middle – the perfect gloves for climbing. I didn’t really think there was a need for proper climbing gloves – old farts do this climb don’t they? Inexperienced climbers do it? Like I needed proper climbing gloves, I just needed to stay warm!

Fast forward to 3am. My headlamp brings into view that blocking my path is a sheer rock face with a rope dangling down. I look up, someone is scaling the rock face above me. And it sinks in that this is what I must also do. To be honest, I looked back and the girls looked petrified as well. What is more powerful than any muscle mass you can build up in training for such a climb you ask? Fear. Visions of my lady gloves failing me, slipping off the rope and falling to my impending death on the rocks below was really my true inspiration for climbing Mt. Kinabalu. I would say the last kilometre involved me grabbing onto the rope at each new segment, and literally sprinting up the rock face like Gollum as fast as possible to the next knot, where I would rest 2 seconds before breaking away again into more sporadic quick movements to the next knot.

Me taking a break between rope segments.

Me taking a break between rope segments.

Finally we reached the summit. We posed quickly for the obligatory photo in front of the sign that reads “Low’s Peak, 4095.2 meters”. Then we looked for a good spot to sit and catch our breath while we waited for the sun to come up. But I couldn’t really make out a safe place to sit in the blackness. So I asked our guide, “Where should we sit?” * insert blank stare in response to my question here. There is nowhere to sit, and there is clearly a mistake on the summit sign. If it were accurate, it would read “Hell, 4095.2 meters”. The summit is actually a congregation of extremely dangerous sharp rocks, surrounded by more extremely dangerous sharp rocks, in fact, I would say a sea of extremely dangerous sharp rocks, all varying at different heights. Hell is where the pain of coldness finally sets in. I find a cozy little extremely dangerous sharp rock to perch myself on while I try to put on my 2nd pair of pants that I have in my pack. I can’t feel my hands, I can’t feel my feet, and I am essentially teetering on a cliff trying to put on a pair of pants over another pair of pants. Yes, this is definitely stupid and dangerous, but I’m so cold, I make a conscious decision that I would rather chance dying than keep on living without a 2nd layer of pants on.

Yeah, I was actually totally miserable here.

Yeah, I was actually totally miserable here.

Once I have finished struggling alone on my rock for a good 10 minutes, the sun is at last rising. The girls ask if I would like to come up to their dangerous rock to watch the sunrise, but I politely decline and sit on my rock alone, staring blankly at the success of my pants. I can’t feel anything anymore. The sun rises, it’s beautiful, and we descend the mountain. The sun brings a feeling of warmth, of happiness, and an overall feeling of being a very lucky girl once again in a very unique place. I can feel that sense of Zen that I sometimes get after doing something physically and mentally exhausting. The view is absolutely beautiful, in fact it is magnificent.  And it’s all worth every single second of shameful whinging.

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