Tropical Alpine Playground

MEETING THE GREAT MOUNT K

Mount Kinabalu, which derives its name from a mythical Kadazandusun abode of the dead called ‘Aki Nabalu’, stands majestically at 4,095m above sea level. This famed granite massif is the highest point of the Crocker Range in Sabah as well in the Malay Archipelago.

First discovered and conquered by British Colonial Secretary, Sir Hugh Low in 1851, Mount Kinabalu has since become the glowing symbol of Sabah’s pride and joy – being one of the major tourist attractions together with the Sipadan Island and the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Sanctuary.

One of the things that make Mount Kinabalu special is its immense diversity of flora and fauna; and is said to house over 500 species of orchids, 600 species of ferns and 13 species of carnivorous pitcher plants – many of which are endemic only to the mountain alone

Listed as the 20th most prominent mountain in the world by Peaklist, Mount Kinabalu offers a slew of activities for people of all walks of life and varying interests. Nature photographers, mountain runners, botanists and geologists all have a reason to climb this mountain.

A NEW ROUTE

In recent years, in addition to offering traditional mountain climbing packages to the climbers and tourists from all over the world, a Via Ferrata route has also been introduced as a way to spice up the mountain climbing experience – especially for seasoned mountain climbers and those who wish to conquer Mount Kinabalu in more ways than one. Mount Kinabalu’s Via Ferrata is also known as the world’s highest Via Ferrata as certified by Guinness World Records (Grade: French AD, Italian 3C)

Most recently, Mount Kinabalu has also welcomed several renowned climbers – Yuji Hirayama of Japan, Caroline Ciavaldini of France, James Pearson of United Kingdom and Daniel Wood of the United States – to explore various peaks and chart new rock climbing routes on its granite wall. With the addition of rock climbing, Mount Kinabalu is fast becoming a popular alpine playground for adventure seekers who want to experience all aspects of mountaineering.

CONQUERING THE MOUNTAIN

Day one starts off with a 6-kilometre trek from the Timpohon Gate at Kinabalu Park to Pendant Hut (3,270m) at around 9.30am. For those who have yet to climb Mount Kinabalu, the length of time taken vary – three to four hours if you’ve been going to the gym; seven to eight hours if you’re a couch potato.

Normally, your mountain guide will prepare a small packed lunch for you before you set off on your journey. But in case you’re worried about lacking fuel, it’s always best to keep an energy bar or two candies in your backpack. It’s recommended that you munch on dried fruits or bananas throughout the climb to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. Also, do make sure to keep hydrated at all times (but not too hydrated as the toilets are situated 1km away from each other).

Throughout the Timpohon Trail, it’s important to not be overly focused on reaching the destination that you miss the chance to enjoy the climb, the lungful of fresh mountain air and the breathtaking scenery of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

At approximately mid-afternoon, most hikers will reach the Pendant Hut for check-in. Each person will be given a basic yet cosy shared dorm with a bunk bed and sleeping bag – this would be the temporary resting place for the next two nights.

After dinner, there will usually be a pre-climbing briefing just before the final ascent at the main hall by the mountain guides. The briefing introduces the main safety equipment used, both on the Via Ferrata route and for alpine rock climbing. Safety equipment includes a safety helmet, climbing harness, lanyard and carabiner. Another important aspect of rock climbing is rope management.

Among the crucial rope management skills and how to check for broken or unsafe ropes, how to make a proper loop and the correct way of tying the rope to the harness and knotting it using the figure-of-8 knot.

The briefing ends at around 8pm followed by ‘light out’ time.

STRUTTING UP THE IRON ROAD

The Alpine Sports Climbing course begins at 6.30am right after breakfast, when hikers slip into harnesses before setting off for the final ascent.

The first half of the climb involves traversing the exciting and mind-boggling Via Ferrata route. The first thing you have to wear a comfortable pair of shoes that are light and flexible to establish better footholds. It also helps to have a pair of light, water-resistant gloves handy as the Via Ferrata cables can get numbingly cold and wet.

As the average temperature of the climb is around 11-12C, it’s a good idea to layer up on the thermal clothing.

While you’re on the Via Ferrata route, don’t forget to take the time to look back on the horizon beyond Mount Kinabalu. With tufts of white clouds, steel blue sky and miniature-looking houses from afar, the view is quite a spectacular one.

“Am I on Belay?”

Once you reach the climbing site, mountain trainers will demonstrate how a proper climb is done. Apart from well-fitting climbing shoes, a bagful of course and another bagful of climbing chalk, the most crucial thing during a climb is the communication between the climber and the belayer (the one who leverages the climber). A climber must constantly communicate to his belayer when he is ready to climb, tired and wants to rest, etc.

The most challenging route on the course would probably be The Forgotten, which at 30m long, was the longest route with the least nooks and crannies to sink any grips into. In fact, figuring out your next step (literally) on the rock can be a mentally challenging effort.

However, when you reach the top, any feelings of fear and frustration will be replaced by pride, knowing that you’ve conquered a difficult route.

GETTING THERE

There are plenty of direct flight options from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu, and plenty of operators offer packages for Mt. Kinabalu climbs. For more on Sabah, see www.sabahtourism.com. For more info on how you can take part of this crazy exhilarating expedition, visit www.mountaintorq.com.

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