Twenty-four hours after we landed in Kota Kinabalu, we were already wide awake for our 2 A.M. hike to the summit. I was geared with a headlamp, bonnet, two layers of shirts and a jacket, and another two layers of pants. It was warm inside Laban Rata restaurant where we ate our super early breakfast (or a super late dinner) of stir-fried noodles (like a Malaysian version of pancit canton), eggs, bread, and coffee. I’m estimating 80 people were in the room; all excited to reach the top. I had no expectations of the trail or the summit as, I’ve already mentioned, I am still a beginner in climbing mountains.
We waited five minutes for the food to settle down our bellies and we were literally out in the dark. With only our headlamps illuminating the path, we trudged step by step on what felt to be the longest staircase I’ve ever climbed. Part of it was because many hikers went out all at once and there was human traffic (not human trafficking, ugh).
I guess we were better rested than most of the other groups in front so we had the most energy during that ascent. We overtook more than 30 people on our way! The cold didn’t get into us as we continued to climb up the rocks and stairs. I grasped on to the ropes tightly because I do not know what will happen when I take the wrong footing. (In the back of my head, I’m going to fall and die.) As I glance back to the trail we just passed, the headlamps of the other climbers shone like stars in contrast to the still dark but lightening sky above.
#TeamPhilippines was separated into two groups, the ones in front were myself, Janine, Abe, and Abed guided by Sigul; Irene and her daughter Joanne was out in the back with Rin. Our hike was mostly quiet. I think it was either because we were conserving energy or because of the eerie quietness of the mountain. The locals consider Mt. Kinabalu as a sacred place – a temple for the departed souls before journeying up towards their creator in the sky, Kinohiringan.
On one part of the hike, we joked among ourselves what if cats were on that area. We imitated cat sounds softly and quietly at first until we found ourselves shouting “Meow!” on top of our lungs. Our guide was about 2 meters away from us but he heard the loud noises. He asked us what we are shouting and when we tried to explain, he scolded us to never do that again. I guess the place really is a sacred place for them and we should respect their customs and beliefs.
Sayat-sayat checkpoint and onwards
At around 3:30 A.M., we reached the Sayat-sayat checkpoint. We presented our badges and logged our names to the registration sheet. We have paced our climb in order to reach the checkpoint before 5 A.M. We were warned beforehand that climbers who reach the checkpoint after the cutoff won’t be allowed to proceed to the summit.
It is still long way before the peak when Sigul asked us to hurry and to be careful with our steps in certain parts of the trail. Signs warn climbers of falling rocks and landslides on our way to the plateau. Ropes in the trail serve as guide for the climbers who become separated with their group.
There is still almost two kilometers of tiring assault to Low’s Peak. My hands and cheeks were almost numb from the cold. The temperature can reach as low as 3°C in the summer months but the wind can produce freezing temperature. I got a slight headache but I never complained. In retrospect, I think that was what they call altitude sickness.
We reached the eight-kilometer mark at around 4 A.M. which really got our energy going! Sigul was very impressive with the way he climbs by walking in new trails and shortcuts. We decided to follow him and copy his pace.
The rocks near the peak were larger than they seem when viewed from afar. I cannot believe the size of those rocks when we got closer! The gigantic boulders made us look like ants. This was the part we had to be careful not to cut ourselves with the sharp edges of the boulders.
It was still dark when we reached the peak. We reached the 4,095.2-masl point after nine hours of hike in the nine-kilometer trail. Our group was probably the first ones in the peak and we have never felt prouder.
Though still cold and exhausted, we managed to get out our gloves and snap pictures with the Low’s Peak sign. Since the camera’s flash was not enough, we improvised with our headlamps to illuminate the sign and our faces to get a decent photo.
As other climbers finish the climb and are queuing to take photos at the peak, we moved down a little to a boulder in order to get a glimpse of the rising sun. We couldn’t suppress our happiness and joy so we we’re all smiles while eating trail mix and exchanging stories of our experiences in climbing the mountain.
Alas, at around 5:30 A.M., I witnessed the most stunning sunrise in my life. It’s as if the sun was smiling at me for having conquered this challenge. It illuminated one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen. It’s as if it is out of this world! It also brought heat to our cold hands and feet, which I think is the most relieving part of the experience.
Tired but fulfilled, we climbed down the same trail we ascended and we realized we have just been through a nearly vertical route! The stairs and ropes and the darkness really helped us achieve this great of a feat! We checked out of our hotel and proceeded our descent back to Timpohon Gate.
Still a number of people were starting their ascent to the great mountain and I believed they sensed our happiness through our smiles as we were climbing down the mountain and were inspired to push forward.
Are you inspired to try mountain climbing? Check out my experiences on our way to Mt. Kinabalu’s base camp here.
Again, I used some of Abed’s photos for this post. Follow him on Instagram @negoroam!