With a great vividness infusing my body and a glorious joy animating my mood I got up that morning. My whole existence was permeated by that exalted feeling a man naturally experiences when just about to meet with a great mountain. The great mountain with which I was ready to rendezvous that day was the legendary Kinabalu mountain. Reaching an elevation of 4096m, Kinabalu is the highest mountain on the island of Borneo and the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Considering it from a mountaineering scope, this mountain has nothing special to offer, as it takes no more than a few hours of easy hiking to reach its top. Its unique beauty makes it, though, a must-climb for every mountain lover who respects himself. The only difficulty – for anybody who isn’t rich or stupid enough to waste money away like toilet paper – arising in relation to this hike is the ridiculous demands of the Kinabalu national park authorities. In case one could think of a sneaking operation up to the mountain, this could be very helpful. Me and my friend, after the giving of some effort and the great contribution of chance and Jungle Jack (as described in my previous post), we managed after all to make a bearably fair deal, and we were now ready to begin our trip.
After having a fat breakfast at Jungle Jack’s, we were grouped up with three more hikers and picked up by a van which transferred us to the trailhead at Timpohon Gate at 1829amsl. There we met with our guide, whom we were compelled to have with us, not, as it later got proven, for to be guided by him up the mountain or to get any hints of info whatsoever, but for the mere sake of employing him. He was a weird, but rather good-natured and congenial guy. He could not speak English, apart from a few introductory phrases he uttered stammeringly before we started the trip, which he had probably memorized in parrot-fashion. That was the only time we saw him until reaching the refuge.
The first part of the trail runs through the lower montane vegetation zone. The forest is dominated by chestnut and oak trees mixed with myrtles, laurels, a few conifers and lots of weird tropical plants. Very characteristic are also the numerous and various in kind ferns, particularly the ones of colossal dimensions and the fern-trees. With a bit of luck and some deviation off the main trail, one may also encounter one of the rare and unique giant rafflesia plants or the insectivore nepenthes. At about 2200m of elevation, the trail enters in the upper montane vegetation zone, which is chiefly composed of grotesquely-shaped, covered by thick moss and lichens, rhododendra and dacrydia. After a couple of hours of easy and pleasant hiking, we reached the refuge at about 3300 AMSL. Shorty after, we met again our guide, who was following close behind, and he led us to the dormitory, where we had some rest and the rare for a mountain privilege of a warm shower. The thick fog which had been dressing the slopes of the mountain throughout the entire day started to fade away later in the afternoon, thus allowing us to take some first glimpses of the massive granite crown of the mountain and its dramatic southern peaks. After the sun submerged below the horizon and darkness started to gradually prevail, it was time for dinner. We had paid quite a lot of money to be there, and the well-provided buffet which was offered for dinner gave me a great opportunity to compensate a part of my pocket’s loss by the means of my stomach… I ate for three or four burly adult men I think, till my stomach got bloated to the point of nearly exploding.
We fell in bed quite early and were up by 2 o’clock am. The night was profound and the sky clear as the empty space, which was manifesting itself on the sky’s background by myriads of stars and the chaotic milky way. We were soon to start ascending to the peak, but before that, we got the chance to reload whatever space in our stomachs had been rendered void through the night while waiting a bit so to achieve some better synchrony with the sunrise. We started a bit after 3 am and got to move in a slow and steady pace through the moon-like rocky surface of the mountain. The higher we got the lower the temperature was falling. It was not a good idea to rush. As if we were to reach the top too early, we’d need to wait there freezing, till the point where it’s not fun anymore, until the advent of the sun. We finally made it to the top just about 15-20 minutes before sunrise, which was quite fair a timing. The sun rose and started warming up the air and our bodies within it, and our souls within them. The view which had now appeared all around us was absolutely stunning. The extraterrestrial-like blackish surface of the mountain crown, its impressive peaks towering audaciously against the sky, the ethereal nebula gliding jauntily in between them, the dense mass of cumuli expanding like a heavenly bathtub towards the verge of the horizon. Absolutely beautiful!
While standing on the Low’s peak (the tallest of the peaks we had just climbed) and staring at the dazzling morning view of the rest of the peaks surrounding us, one of them, a tooth-like shaped small peak situated a couple of hundred meters off the way we were to follow back, drew my attention in particular. I could well surmise that to climb any additional peak on the mountain a special permission would be required to be obtained, after, of course, the suitable additional fee. That peak, however, was so close-by, and so charming, that I could not resist taking my chances to go for it. As we started on our way down, our guide followed us, as usually, close behind. I opened my strides moving swiftly ahead, heading directly towards my chosen peak. Before the guide could have any chance of noticing anything, there I was, standing on the top of that tooth. That was probably the very moment when the guide finally took notice of me having strayed. And while still standing up there enjoying the view, I saw him making a dash for me, waving his arms clumsily and shouting some inarticulate cries. I took my time to enjoy a bit more till he was closer, and I started to get down again. We caught up with each other right on the foot of the peak, where I could make out his cries: “Noalau! Noalau!”. “Not allowed?”, I asked him trying to appear surprised, “Oh, I didn’t know. Sorry, I could not have guessed”. After this sufficient explanation, we continued our way down normally, but the poor fellow was a bit anxious about me to not aberrate again, and he kept a close eye on me for the rest of the trip. But after all, I was right about that guy’s good character, as he didn’t snitch my short solitary adventure to anybody, which, if he did, could possibly bring me some trouble of a sort or another. A few hours later – one of them was spent at the buffet – we had made it back down, where we got picked up by the van again and drove back to Jungle Jack’s. That’s pretty much how that Kinabalu trip went by.