I went to climb Mount Kinabalu on the 22nd February 2018. This was my second attempt. My first attempt was almost a decade ago in 2010.
When I had decided to climb Mount Kinabalu again, I had started to be consistent in my training in December 2017.
I went for short (less than 5km) and long hikes (more than 7km) twice a week. I also ran for short distance (less than 5km) 2 to 3 times a week.
In my first attempt, I made the mistake of thinking that climbing Mount Kinabalu was going to be easy. Having that thought in mind, I didn’t bother to train as much as I should have. I pretty much lived an unhealthy lifestyle. This time, I vowed to not make the same mistakes that I did.
On the 21st February, Bobby and I drove to Kota Kinabalu.
A tour bus picked us up at 6 am in the next morning. Drove for 2 hours and arrived at Kinabalu National Park before 9 am.
Clear sky and we could see the Mount Kinabalu from the Kinabalu National Park
After we were done with the paper work, and getting our packed lunch, we drove for another 15 mins in a van to reach Timpohon Gate. This is where we started our climbing journey. We started exactly at 10am.
Seeing porters carrying heavy load climbing up and down Mount Kinabalu is a common sight
I would say that the first 5km was an easy climb for me. In fact I did really well. I reminded myself to sip water whenever I was thirsty and eat the food in the packed lunch.
With my average pace at that time, I hiked 1km for every 45 mins.
This video was taken on our way up, showing we were above the clouds.
Me at 5km point. Before migraine strike
After a few metres that I passed 5km, out of nowhere my migraine kicked in. I was taken by surprised when I felt the sudden thumping in my head. I told Bobby and Bobby asked me to slow down.
Both of us had to monitor my heart rate from there onwards.
What I had noticed was that whenever my heart rate reached 150, the thumping got stronger, it became painful and I couldn’t bear the pain.
My walking pace became slower and I had to stop many many times so that I can slow down my heart rate and the pain in my head was bearable for me. I cried several time because I couldn’t bear the pain.
From 5km to 6km and we had to walk for a bit to reach the base camp. It took almost 2 hours for from the 5km point to reach Laban Rata restaurant/resthouse.
We arrived at the 6km point. The building behind us is Laban Rata restaurant/resthouse
Imagined my relief when we finally arrived at the door step of Laban Rata. It was 4.40pm.
One of the guides who accompanied us had chuckled and asked me why I cried on my way up. Was it because I felt overwhelm?
I replied no, and explained that I had a migraine.
Once inside the guide handed a key to our room and advised us to rest first before we eat our dinner. He reminded us that the restaurant closes at 7pm.
My legs were already sore from climbing and I couldn’t believe that I had to walk up the stairs to the first floor to go to our room.
After we settled in our room, we went downstairs to have dinner. I made sure that I ate just enough. With the thumping in my head, I preferred not to eat but then I needed to feed myself so I have the energy to continue to climb to the summit the next morning.
After Bobby and I were done with dinner, we both went to sleep at 6pm. I took 2 panadol hoping that the migraine subsided. I also put my healing wands next to me when I slept.
I woke up at 8pm with the thumping in my head. Having the migraine made me think twice of whether I can climb to the summit. I was considering of not joining but the reminder that the whole trip cost about BND 700/person really made me think twice of not going. If I didn’t climb to the summit, then I’ve wasted BND 700 and it will be the same with my first attempt long ago.
I took another 2 panadol, hoping the panadol worked their magic and continued my sleep.
At 10pm, I woke up and the migraine hasn’t subsided at all. Bobby was up and I told him that I took panadol and my migraine was still there. Bobby asked me if I drank enough water. I said I didn’t. He gave me a bottle of water and asked me to drink. I took small sips and that was when I realized that I was thirsty and I was probably dehydrated!
I told Bobby if my migraine wasn’t going away at 12am, I didn’t think that I could climb to the summit. I took 2 more panadol then I went back to sleep.
Woke up at 12am and the thumping has lessen. I guess I was dehydrated. I drank more water and just for precaution I took another 2 panadol and went back to sleep again.
At 1am, I woke up and my head felt better. There was a slight thumping but it was manageable.
At 2am, we went downstairs to the restaurant to have a light meal before climbing to the summit.
Ready for briefing
At 2.30am, while other climbers were leaving, our guide brief us on the summit climb. At 3am, we started our climb.
Climbing up in the wee really cold morning was something I wasn’t prepared mentally. It didn’t help at all that I wore the wrong attire, my wool gloves were thin, despite wearing 2 tights, they weren’t able to protect me from the super cold wind.
However, I was fine for a few hundred meters when the trees shielded me from the cold wind.
It was when there were no more trees surrounding us and we started to climb up guided by the white rope that I felt the cold wind.
The cold wind was howling non-stop.
A few hundred metres from Sayat Sayat hut, I felt I couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired, I sat down, cried and I was shivering. I was thinking about quitting already.
Bobby sat down on my side and hugged me so that I could feel his warmth but sadly it wasn’t enough. He persuaded me to continue the climb until we reach the Sayat Sayat hut.
I was mentally exhausted from trying to withstand the cold.
I got up and continued to use the white rope to climb. At some point I had to crawl on all fours as well.
We arrived at Sayat Sayat hut at 5am. We were required to show our name tag when we passed the hut.
Next to the hut there was a small room. Bobby asked if I wanted to rest there. I said yes.
The room was thankfully wasn’t as cold when compared to the outside environment.
I told Bobby I didn’t want to continue to the summit. Tears was flowing. I was shivering and my teeth chattering. I just wanted to hide in there.
Bobby again persuaded me to continue. He even gave me his blue jacket and his neoprene gloves. He gave me time to rest.
After 20 minutes of persuasion, I came out of the little room and continued my climb.
Bobby was holding my hand and he literally had to pull me to walk forward/up. Bobby reminded me to take one step and took a breath and repeat. We monitored my heart rate to make sure it was less then 140 and so to keep the thumping in my head minimal.
I was still on my way, but to reach the 8km point felt like forever to me. The cold wind was still howling. It was so freaking cold.
Bobby pointed out to me that the sun was coming up. I turned my head several times to see the sunrise and handed Bobby my phone to take pictures of the sunrise.
Picture cannot do justice of what we saw that early morning.
Bobby also took a video of me walking up to the 8km point.
To be honest, I didn’t get to enjoy the sunrise because all of my focus went to withstanding the cold wind. I also didn’t enjoy the experience.
We finally arrived at 8km point and the sun was already out. The air was still cold but with less wind. Time was 6.20am.
I wanted to take pictures but my fingers felt numb inside my jacket. Bobby took our selfie.
From here, it was just another 500m to the summit.
I sat down next to the sign. I was tired, I felt pain on my left knee, and I told Bobby I gave up. I was putting my foot down that I wasn’t going to walk further up. I told myself, that was it. No more. My mind was telling me that I was insane for trying this out for the second time. I felt very much disempowered.
I told Bobby to continue his climb because I knew that he wanted to reach the summit but Bobby didn’t want to leave me alone. Thankfully there was another couple who was on their way back and I just went with them and Bobby continued to the summit.
Bobby reached the Low’s Peak for the second time. The above picture was taken by Jinus using Haji Zainal’s camera.
Below is what was shared by our mountain guide, Jinus.
I had never been exposed to a cold weather of 3°C until that day. Since I was struggling to cope with the cold weather and wind, my thought was no wonder I was born and raised in the equator. I’m really not a fan of the cold weather.
I also don’t recall feeling that cold when I was at Laban Rata a decade ago. I was even out in the early morning in my normal clothing and walked around to take pictures of my surrounding. I guess it wasn’t 3°C back then.
I then began my descend with the couple.
The sun was getting higher and yet it was still cold. I tested the coldness of the air by removing Bobby’s glove in one hand and let my hand out. When it was really cold, I shivered and put on the glove back.
On my way, I was still very emotional. My face was wet with my own tears. It was after I had calmed down, I finally began to look around my surrounding and see opportunities to take pictures. I could only do it when my hand could withstand the cold air.
This picture is one of the few that I managed to take
On my way back to Laban Rata, I felt pain slowly creeping up in my left knee. I slowed down and at some point the couple went on their own pace and I was left behind.
Despite me leaving early, Bobby managed to catch up with me when we were closer to Laban Rata.
We arrived at Laban Rata after 9.30am. We had breakfast and we got ready to leave at 10.30am.
I told Bobby that I wanted to leave early because I knew that I was going to be slow because of the pain in my left knee.
For the first 2km, the pain was manageable. We even had a few brief stops to take pictures and videos.
I think this is one of the few areas at the mountain that was affected by the 2015 earthquake
It was after the 2km going down that the knee pain started to become unbearable. It was painful for me walked down the stairs. Since the pain was on my left knee, I compensated with my right knee and it didn’t take long for both of my knees suffered for the rest of the distance. My toes also in pain mainly from hitting rocks accidentally and the rubber shoes that I wore didn’t have the toe protection.
I became upset at myself, at the condition of my knees and toes. I relied on Bobby to support me and I could tell that we were significantly slowed down by me.
Bobby asked me to take panadol again. He thought they might help to reduce inflammation in both of my knees.
Not long after that, there was a group of young adults. One of them saw me having difficulty stepping down stairs and she offered both painkiller and spray. I said no to painkiller and yes to the spray. She sprayed both of my knees. Unfortunately it didn’t give me the desired effect that I had hoped. I was still in pain and deep down I really wished that I stopped moving and just stay put. I had to use my anger to literally forced myself to walk because I wanted to reach Timpohon Gate before it’s dark.
We arrived at Timpohon gate at 4pm. We waited for a van to pick us up and transported us back to Kinabalu National Park. When we got there, our mountain guide handed us our colourful certificates.
We had to wait for the rest of our group to arrive at Kinabalu National Park. We had waited for several hours. We finally left the park at 8pm and arrived at KK at 9.30pm.
Both of my knees were hurting and I couldn’t lift my knees without screaming in pain. My knees and thighs suffered for about a week after coming back from the climb. I hated stairs very much that week.
Day 2 after Mount Kinabalu climb in a Hotel. Happy that we were about to go home
Here are a few lessons and highlights from my climb
Going up from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban Base Camp
- This part of the journey is the easiest. I was fine until I reached 5km. If I didn’t have the migraine, and able to maintain my pace, we could have reached the base camp in less than 5 hours.
- Always listen to my body. I took sips of water when I felt thirsty and ate my lunch pack which consisted of 1 piece fried chicken wing, 1 hard boiled egg, 2 bananas and 3 sandwiches whenever I felt hungry.
- I packed light. I wore a running vest. I put my phones, my healing wands, a box of panadol, a small Oreo, 2 chocolate bars and my lunch pack in it. Bobby brought bottles of water in his bag along with other things that I needed for the resthouse.
- I made sure I was fully covered and put on sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
At Laban Rata restaurant/resthouse
- It was advantageous to arrive in the afternoon. The sooner we were up there, the sooner we acclimatized to the environment and of course we get to rest and have more sleep for recovery.
- Water was cold. It made me reluctant to go to toilet but when I had to go, I had no choice. There was a heater but it wasn’t working. No hot shower at all. I think a couple of people tried to switch it on and every time they did, electricity went out. This happened several times which interrupted my sleep.
When we first got into our room, it was so freaking cold! Someone left the window open. I tell you, you don’t need air conditioner up there! The bedsheets, blankets and pillows were cold. That made my sleep at 6pm more than uncomfortable. I was shivering, I was already wearing my jacket and I was under the blanket.
Thankfully when I woke up at 8pm, I could feel that my body had already adjusted to the environment. It wasn’t that cold anymore. I was comfortable without my jacket and my feet were no longer ice cold.
I never like to take pills to treat my migraine because my body is sensitive to their after effects. However, I do take them sparingly and only if I tried my own natural healing methods and they didn’t work fast enough to get rid of my migraine. Those 2 days were the most ever I’ve taken panadol in so many years!
Going up from Panalaban Base Camp to the 8km point
- Taking one step at a time with a breath is necessary as well as continuous climb without stopping
- Appropriate attire is important and necessary to be able to withstand the cold wind. What I was wearing (2 long sleeves, 2 tights, thin gloves) weren’t a sufficient attire for the cold environment. (One of the other climbers shared he was wearing 7 layers!)
- Might be best to wear heat tech clothings (sold at Uniqlo), loose pants, thicker jacket and wool gloves and balaclava.
- I regretted that I wasted 20 minutes being in the room next to Sayat-Sayat hut when I could have used that time to continue my climb. If I did, I might have arrived a lot earlier and might be able to view sunrise from the 8km point.
- There also wasn’t much drinking when going up. I didn’t drink at all.
Climbing down from 8km point to Panalaban Base Camp
- As I descended, the closer I got to Laban Rata, the thirstier I became. Unfortunately I didn’t bring a bottle of water with me because Bobby was carrying them in his bag. Bobby caught up with me when it was less than 100m to reach Laban Rata.
Climbing down from Panalaban Base Camp to Timpohon Gate
- Wear appropriate shoes. My toes accidentally hit rocks several times on my way down. My toes were bruised and they were in pain while I was still walking.
- Might be better to wear hiking shoes/boots. The reason why I was wearing rubber shoes is because of the grip. It has excellent grip but unfortunately it doesn’t protect my toes.
- It could have been a better experience if I wasn’t in pain. And the muscle spray may be able to numb the pain if I had sprayed a lot earlier when I wasn’t in so much pain. And that was just my speculation. I’ve never use those sprays before and now I do think to bring it along with me when I do my long hike.
- I was fully covered and put on sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
This experience really showed me how when I was under duress, it is so easy for me to want to give up (it reminded me a lot when I did my first open water swim in Labuan). I had wanted to give up several times but Bobby wouldn’t let me. He knew that I would be more upset at myself if I had given up.
All the training that I had done to prepare myself for this climb didn’t prepare me for the altitude and the cold wind, weather and environment.
The longest that I hiked so far is 16km and I could finished it in 4.5 hours or less. But the hike from Laban Rata to the 8km point and back to Timpohon gate was almost 12km but it took me close to 12 hours to complete. I have never done a workout that took me 12 hours ever in my life! No wonder my knees gave away.
After experiencing climbing Mount Kinabalu all the way to 8km point and back, I have to say that I have a new found respect for those who can withstand the cold and still able to reach to the summit within the allocated time. Previously I didn’t know how hard and difficult it was to climb under such cold environment and now I know.
Despite my painful knees and thighs, bruised toes; I noticed that my ass is a lot nicer after the climb and my stretch marks in my inner thighs had disappeared! Magic eh!
As much as I was in pain for most of the time, this experience made me addicted to hike or climb other easier mountains. I know… Crazy isn’t it.
I have more videos and pictures than I posted here. I have uploaded the videos on YouTube. I put the link below. They are in the order that I took them.
Below is the collection of images that we took during our climb.
Images and videos are copyright of the owner of this blog as well as those credited to their respective owners.
Until my next adventure!