An Exceptionally High Tea
So you may have had clotted cream and scones at Claridges, or cucumber sandwiches (crusts neatly trimmed) at the Ritz, but I bet your best china teapot that I’ve had a far higher tea than you. The catch? Mine came with a side of blood, sweat and tears as opposed to a French Fancy or two…
Mount Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo: with a summit of 4,095 meters, it may seem like a small fish in a big pond compared to some of the more well-known rocks on Earth, but don’t underestimate it – this climb is certainly not for the faint-hearted. However, if you do happen to be brave (or crazy) enough to endure the relentless trek to camp followed by a final climb to the top in the pitch black at ‘ridiculous-o’clock-in-the-morning’, then fear not, the end result is oh-so worth it. So, other than aching muscles and a serious craving for a hot shower (or a cold beer), what can you expect from a trip to one of Southeast Asia’s highest peaks?
A Room With A View
It goes without saying that you’ll need to stay somewhere the night before you start your climb. What you may not realise is that here is where your journey begins. There’s plenty of accommodation choices both inside Kinabalu National Park (where your trek starts) and outside. Whichever you choose, you’ll be amazed by the stunning views your boudoir boasts. Borneo is one giant rainforest, and your window is one giant glossy plasma screen from which you can take it all in.
A Strangely Perky Start
Hiking shoes: ch eck. Camera fully charged: check. Extra thick socks and your most attractive fleece: check.
You are ready to start your climb and your high-energy breakfast won’t be the only thing full of beans. Once you collect your guide at base camp (a maximum of 6 people per guide), you will be positively bouncing, and ready to race to the top of that mountain. Oh isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing.
The Inevitable Doubt
I’ll do you a favour and tell you now that the first five minutes are… hell. The unbearable heat will hit you; your legs will already feel like they want to give in, and there will be an eerie silence amongst the whole group as you each concentrate exceptionally hard on putting one foot in front of the other; desperate to ensure you are not the first to need to stop. DO NOT LET THIS FOOL YOU. It’s a temporary shock to the system and you will get over it quickly - find your own pace and plod along nicely. I mean it’s really no different to a jaunt through Hyde Park. Just uphill… and really, really hot.
The Unsung Heroes
So you get to 3km (halfway to your camp for day one) and are positively delighted at your hard work, skill, and determination thus far – bravo! Just as you are tucking into your well-deserved packed lunch, you will witness a worker passing by carrying approximately 50kg on his back: full of supplies to take to the very ‘rest-house’ you are heading to, all so that you can enjoy a good supper when you arrive. Needless to say, your own complaints will be put to shame and your determination will pick up quite remarkably – onwards and upwards it is.
From Jungle Book to Lion King
As the lush misty rainforests turn into pleasantly cooler woodlands before transforming into sandy cracked grounds with unusual twisty trees; the wonderfully diverse landscape will enchant you more the further you climb. Which luckily for you may even take your mind off of your increasingly heavy legs every once in a while.
Are We (nearly) There Yet?
Every person you pass who is on their way back down will tell you ‘Yes’. Each will say ‘you don’t have long to go now!’ And each time you will hate the last person who told you that for lying so blatantly.
Eventually, however, your destination will appear before you, and your heart will flutter more than if you were told that you’d just matched 6 numbers on the lottery. Welcome to Laban Rata: your ‘home-away-from-home’ for the evening. Or at least until 2 am when you have to leave again.
Keep Your Head In The Clouds
The sky is no longer your limit – it’s your Facebook check-in point. You won’t be able to resist taking an unnecessary amount of snaps of the stunning location from which Laban Rata is situated - enjoy having your head in the clouds before a very early bedtime to rest your weary legs.
The Daddy Of Early Starts
The likelihood is, you have only seen 2 am when climbing into bed. This time, however, it’s your wake-up call, and the only climbing to be done is a 2.8km hike to the summit of Mount Kinabalu – in total darkness. The icy cold temperatures when you first wake will ensure you wrap up tightly as you get ready to set off for your final instalment of climbing. Yet before you know it, you’ll be working up a sweat again and peeling off your layers one by one as you put your legs to the test for the second time in less than 24 hours – but you are a pro now anyway right?
The Bit You’ve All Been Waiting For
After what seems like never-ending steps and boulders, you’ll reach the part of the mountain no longer containing trees and shrubbery, but almost vertical bare rock. This is it: the final stretch to the top. With nothing but a rope and your head torch to show you the way, you will feel like a real explorer as you navigate your way to the ironically named Low’s Peak just in time for sunrise. After walking for what feels like the third eternity since you started, you’ll suddenly stumble across the summit without even realising you were close to reaching it.
“Oh? I made it!”
Yes, you did you mountaineer you! But that’s not even the best part - pick a spot to sit and rest those exhausted legs (preferably one where you won’t easily fall down the side of the mountain), wrap up warm, and wait.
Then the first orange hues slowly begin to reveal the dull shapes and silhouettes of the Martian landscape you were blind to during the darkness of your climb. The breath-taking views of the ‘ant-farms’ skimming in and out from beneath the clouds below put everything into perspective: just how small we really are, and it’s absolutely wonderful.
You are a bird. You are the wind. You…are on a really high mountain and it’s starting to get very cold. But you want to lap up every single moment because the sight is so unique and incredible - enjoy it. The land, sky and clouds below are all yours and you deserve it all.
What Goes Up…Must Try Not To Fall Down
So that is it. Time for the easy bit now right? Well steady on because we don’t want a case of ‘she’ll be falling down the mountain when she comes’ – this thing was difficult to climb for a reason, so going down isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. But, the thought of that cup of tea waiting for you back at Laban Rata before you muster the courage to do the final push and get your feet back on steady ground continues to drive you on.
So to recap: what can you expect from a trip to one of Southeast Asia’s highest peaks? A once in a lifetime experience. A breathtaking view. And the most rewarding cup of tea you’ve ever tasted.
By guest blogger Holly Newing