A few years ago I took a solo trip to Borneo – my main mission being to climb Mt Kinabalu, appreciate the orangutans, and get muddy in the jungle. This is the continuation of that journey as I re-share my emails home. Kris
Mountain peaks make me high in every way. High on life. High in altitude. Just high. The feeling of standing over 4,000 metres above sea level, watching the sun rise out of the darkness below, observing the gradual illumination of a landscape with pink and orange hues – well it’s a privilege I’m lucky to have had.
I came to Borneo for Mt Kinabalu, everything else a bonus. The personal journey of pushing yourself up a huge cliff, your body in pain and making it to the peak; the experience can only leave you with a feeling of elation and self empowerment. It’s addictive.
I have just come back from that very feeling, now seaside, in pain all over. My thighs after climbing 2,300 metres up in one day and then down 2300 metres again the next are sore to say the least.
Pained but super happy and proud of myself, mountains are definitely my zone. I’m already thinking of which mountain I can climb next. But Mt Kinabalu has definitely been my favourite of all mountains to date, the best view from the top at sunrise, most dramatic peaks, and most technically challenging and frightening. Scary in an exciting way.
The landscape of Borneo is as you might imagine. Hot steamy jungle, with low misty clouds moving quickly to kiss the mountain and whip up icy winds as you get higher. Complete with pitcher plants, squirrels, hanging moss, rainforest then scrubby low hardy trees, copious waterfalls making the air sing, rocky slippery paths and finally sheer volcanic cliffs devoid of vegetation that summit at dramatic eroded peaks – seemingly impossible to climb. Menacing, dragon like peaks even.
Lucky for us, even though we walked constantly in ponchos through heavy rain, as we sat at sunrise to watch the beauty unfold we had perfectly clear skies with views 2,000 metres below to the village and perfect cold clarity in every direction.
The trek went something like this:
Day 1: Start at 8.30 am after gorging as much high carb food as possible. Up, up, up, up, endles rocky, muddy stairs, never going down for 8 hours of hiking to a height of 3,500 metres. The boulders on the way and the extra height of the stairs was a killer. We had an early massive dinner and then tried to go to sleep . With only two hours sleep from excitement and altitude I listened to the ominous rain all night.
Day 2: Up at 2am to start trekking at 2.30am through the pitch night with a torch. Endless stairs until the rope started all the rest of the way to the top. A walking stick essential to save your knees a little. Hung on to a rope up sheer slippery rock, fell three times but clung on for dear life. Walking slowly in the breathless height until 5.30am to reach the summit – exhausted. Sat in the icy cold of 0 degrees and cried with the stunning revelation of where we just came from as the light illuminated our path below. Then a very long walk back from 4100 metres – sum 2,300 knee breaking stepped metres below through the rain. Hyper but fatigued we all made it down by 4pm that day.
Now I’m seaside back in Kota Kinabalu with perhaps the last internet again for a while before I start the Headhunters Trail and a longhouse stay in Sarawak. It’s my last day with the hiking group so a celebration poolside with cocktails is in order for sunset tonight.
The South China Sea is dotted with islands off the coast and flat as the Brisbane River. It’s the perfect end to what has been a great group of people sharing so much in only a week.
My family home stay was humbling. On my travels I have often envied the people who have little material possessions. It’s common (or so it seems) that they expect less than we do. They are more rich in time, they live happily in extended families and there is no opportunity for loneliness. Community living takes care of every individual on mental, physical and emotional levels.
The open door of these homes is so opposite to our lives but so appealing to me. Watching this family and village I feel they truly know how lucky they are and are grateful. There is respect, lack of material value and a real sense of everyone working together. It’s gorgeous.
I need to create a written memory of this adventure; I’ve learned that mature really is the key to understanding myself and with so much of it here I can’t help smiling.