Lots of people, lots of water and a stunning nature

Farewell at Taoyuan

“You are crazy, but good luck!” said Chase when we told him that we would climb mount Kinabalu just two days after summiting Yushan with him. After a few hugs we said bye-bye to our fantastic guide and went to bed early, getting a few hours sleep before our morning flight from Taiwan to Borneo, to the city of Kota Kinabalu.

Floating selfie-addicts

Kota Kinabalu, Shangri-la Tanjung Atu resort sounds great: picture an enormous infinity edge pool, a huge tropical garden, nice pool bars, luxurious restaurants, relaxing cafes… and a very warm and welcoming staff. Sounds like paradise?  Well, there is a catch, and it is drifting around in the swimming pool. Most of them have red life vests, sun hats, sun glasses and long sleeved shirts. And all of them have mobile phones, and they are taking endless selfie sessions. Try to swim? They bumping into you since they can’t see you when doing their photos. Try to get a place on the infinity edge? There is a selfie-queue…

But still, it was lovely to soften the tortured muscles in the warm water, and when we finally got a space at the edge of the pool, we could see the impressive Mount Kinabalu, raising some 4000m above the coastline. After summiting Hehuan and Yushan we were full of confidence!

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Too short, too early

Maybe Chase was right, we thought, when the minibus picked us up ad 05:00 – pretty crazy with just one day between two such high mountains. And in many ways Kinabalu is a much more challenging task than Yushan.  The altitude difference  from the Timpohon trailhead to the summit is 2300m, and all this happens on 8 kilometers, which means endless stairs and steps and many steep and very few flat parts.  In addition the Laban Rata resthouse is located at 3300m – a very challenging 1500m up in the hot afternoon sun..or not?

Walking the waterfall

Despite a lot of hikers, the trail was an amazing experience with its dense tropical forest to start with. As we gained height the vegetation changed, and many of the plants and bushes looked like the decoration in a science fiction movie. Every now and then we passed a shelter, with water and toilets – all very well organized. We took two rests, being entertained (and bitten) by hungry and rude squirrels.  

July means dry season, at least in theory. In reality, the weather on Kinabalu is very local, and around 12:00 the clouds tend to build up. And eventually it starts to rain. We are talking really hard rain! We almost could see the Laban Rata hut, our target for today, when all hell brake loose. The nice and well maintained path turned to a river within minutes. The dense vegetation made it impossible to divert, so we got pretty wet on our feet. We are talking about really wet!

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Laban Rata chill

Once at the Laban Rata, we learned that there was no room for drying wet stuff, so we took everything with us to the restaurant . Already adapted to the altitude, we enjoyed ourselves with hot tea and sweet & salty snacks, listening to surprisingly cool music.  People say there is an amazing view when it is not raining. But it was raining… so much that the path to the summit was considered to be closed due to the dangerous conditions.

Summit day

But luckily the skies cleared up during the night, and we got green light to go. Since we were a small group, and had a good altitude acclimatization, we started one hour later than the crowd – which still meant 03:00. In the light of our headlamps we made good progress, bypassing most of the groups, and only being overtaken by some super sporty athletes.

Summit day is always challenging: climbing in the dark, not talking, alone with your thoughts – hour after hour… but this changes as soon as the sun comes up, and the surroundings are covered in all shades of blue, pink, orange and red. Warmth and energy floods the body, tiredness is forgotten, and such moments are worth all the effort and expenses.

After three hours we could see the summit, and the last hundred meters were a pleasure, knowing we will reach the target easily.

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Long way home

The narrow summit spot was crowded, and after it was our turn to take the mandatory summit photo we found a more quiet space on the plateau for a short brake. 2300m descent were waiting for us, and we wanted to go fast – our wet shoes were reminding us on yesterday’s heavy rain – so speed was essential. Half way down to Laban Rata we stopped for a moment, looking at the remains of the enormous landslide which killed 18 climbers in 2015. Facing the visible forces of nature we were reminded that we are only guests on the mountain, and that even the best preparation does not protect you from being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Last shower

Well, we made good progress and arrived at the Timpohon gate around 14:00, and had plenty of time to spend in a lovely restaurant before our bus back to Kota Kinabalu was leaving. And we did not get wet! At least, that is what we thought – before a real afternoon shower made the 150 meters to the bus a real wet experience!

Kinabalu will stay in our memory as a pleasant hike, despite the crowds and the over-organized nature of the trip. We had our own, very personal experience, enjoying the stunning nature on one of the most beautiful mountains we have ever seen!