Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mount Kinabalu Day 2: Timpohon to Laban Rata

Day 2: En Route to Timpohon Gate

The minivan was very punctual this morning, arriving 5 minutes before 5:30am to ferry us to our breakfast point near Kinabalu Park, a two-hours' drive away.  Along the way, we stopped at one of the vintage point for a view of the peak that we would be summiting in due course.

The Strava GPS record of my trek on this day
Here was the Strava record of this trek.  I took 7 hours 15 minutes in total to trek a horizontal distance of about 6.5km, an elevation gain of a total of 1427m.  Based on my Garmin Edge 800.  Very accurate, I must say.

Click here for the link: Mount Kinabalu Trek Day 1 - to Laban Rata

Here was a shot by Patrick Papin, really showing how the summit of Mount Kinabalu looked from below.

Video of all of us at the Pavillion...
Here was a nice video by Ah Chua, of all of us loitering around that pavillion, looking up at the Peak, not exactly knowing what to expect, and all still fresh and happy...

Breakfast at 'Tiffany's'...
Yupe, we haven't even started to trek. didn't even know what to expect, and we were already eating.  Some would say yeah.. carbo loading.  But really it was more like calming the nerves before the action started.
The fellows were in good spirit.
Kc Tng and Patrick Papin looking REALLY relaxed. [Photo: Ng Kai Sing on his Fujifilm X100]

JQ and Wai Kit were also in cheerful spirit.
A brave young lady, only Primary 4.. attempting her first climb.
Francis and Kai Sing, these two seasoned trekker.. coming to Mount Kinabalu was probably merely a nice stroll to them.
And yes! Finally we got our Trekking permit card.

They sell the Kampong Adidas here?
"Papa, I like the white Kampong Adidas. And the Size 9 fits me just nice!" said Zheng Ang.
We were really lucky.  For RM8 a pair, we managed to procure a pair each of the famed Kampong Adidas for ZA and Ah Sing.

Honestly, at this point in time, I wasn't really sure how the Kampong Adidas would fare.  Because they do look a little.. too thin. And they were literally rubbery to touch. But the son and the daughter said they felt good.  Well,  we had little choice, but to just grit our teeth and go up the mountain with these pairs of local cushions.


Starting the trek!
So at 7:30am, we arrived at Timpohon Gate, at an altitude of 1866m, to start trekking.
"Selamat Mendaki means happy climbing in Malay," said Wai Kit.
Selamat Mendaki. [Photo: Ng Kai Sing]

And here was Jeffrey giving the gate a nice point and smile.
A happy Jeffrey. [Photo: Chew Chin Yao]

Here, Kai Sing and Gerard were looking at the record board for the Climbathon for Mount Kinabalu.  These athletes were crazy.  Imagine doing 2-3 hours from Timpohon right up to Low's Peak and then back again, running all the way.  Totally non-human, in my opinion.
Kai Sing, David & Gerard thinking when they will ever do a Climbathon. [Photo: KC Tng]

Right at the beginning of the trek, the weather was nice and cool and shades were aplenty.  I was in more or a less a relaxed mood. As far as the eyes could see, the track was gentle.  We got herded to Timpohon Gate, and right outside, the guide who was overall in charge, Saha, gave us a briefing.
"Please do not leave any litter," he reminded. "Every 1 km there will be a rest hut.  And there will be toilets and also a tank of untreated mountain water.  You can drink.  But I suggest you leave it to the second day then you drink."

 I just took a glance at the map on the board and never paid much attention.  That was really complacent of me.  In retrospect, I really kinda saw Mount Kinabalu not too up.  But life is such.  We all have to learn our lessons, some the harder way.

Video of us checking-in at Timpohon Gate
This was a very nice video by Ah Chua of a few of us having our Trekking permits checked right at the starting point at Timpohon Gate, and starting the trek right after that.

The Strava GPS record of my trek on this day
Here was the Strava record of this trek.  I took 7 hours 15 minutes in total to trek a horizontal distance of about 6.5km, an elevation gain of a total of 1427m.  Based on my Garmin Edge 800.  Very accurate, I must say.
Click here for the link: Mount Kinabalu Trek Day 1 - to Laban Rata

A Wonderful Video of this day's trek compiled by Ah Chua. 
You can watch it now, or come back and watch it later after you finish reading the story for this day.

JQ was so cute.  Who would have thought a young little girl like her could trek in Mount Kinabalu? She proved many wrong.
Here JQ enjoying a moment with Ah Sing before the start. [Photo: Cheah Wai Kit]

Haha... But anyway every one was in a happy mood,  and we walked and stopped to shoo.  Of course lah, it was no sweat at this point in time.
Here Chin Yao was happily posing at Carson Fall...
Photo: Jeffrey Wong's iPhone.

At Carson Falls, very soon after the start of the trek.
As we started trekking, I saw Darric standing at the side of the trek patiently video-capturing every one. This Darric was one heck of a good videoman. I was really looking forward to seeing his video.
Darric and his GoPro Hero3. [Photo: Chee Wai]

I remembered well at the beginning of the trek I could still see Darric, Francis, David, Chin Yao, Kai Sing, Kc Tng, Patrick and Chee Wai.  But very soon after that these fast boys disappeared right in front.  I didn't see any one of them until Laban Rata.
But it was only 0.5km horizontal distance.  No big deal.. yet.

And soon the straight flats became nice little steps for climbing up.  Nice proper steps.  Every body was soaking in the atmosphere of a 'trek' and a 'climb'.  The fast trekkers mountain-goated ahead already, leaving some of us slower ones, those with children, right behind.  Particularly memorable was these couple of shots of Serene, still carrying her tiny little day pack, still walking pretty cheerfully along, following closely behind Gerard.

Very soon, the front trekkers disappeared, leaving only really the slow ones behind.  Here, was I able to sense a hint of tiredness in Serene?

Anyway not long after this shot was taken, Serene started to feel faintish, and we had to unload her day pack and pass it to Saha to help her carry.  She was visibly better after the psychological barrier of a day pack on her back was removed.  It felt like Nepal all over again.  Some people just cannot trek with backpacks. Hahaha...

While Serene was struggling with her syncopal attack, not far behind, another kind of mumbling was taking place, this time round, a deep seated, irrate kind of protest from within... the brain asking the body and the heart what on earth was she doing here...
Photo: Tay Fann.

Gravel tracks alternated with steps of wooden planks.. and later steps with vertical wooden planks holding packed soil in between, and later on just rocks.
What was remarkable about this trek was, aside from our usual seasoned trekkers, it was also very much a Father and child, and Father/Mother and children trek.

Patrick, Wai Kit and JQ. [Photo: Jeffrey Wong's X100]
Gerard & Colin. [Photo: Jeffrey Wong's iPhone]

Here was a good shot of David sauntering up without any trekking sticks.. The vertical planks were employed to hold the soil tightly together in between.  But, man... this type of ground was difficult to walk in.
Our one and only Mountain Goat, David Low. [Photo: Chew Chin Yao]
It was really quite bo-lasa for KC Tng.  Walkie talkie securely fastened to his side, he was a picture of a happy trekker.  Nothing like what he suffered when he was doing his Tour de Bintan.

KC Tng. [Photo: Jeffrey Wong]
10:02am.  One hour after we started trekking, the rear train of us managed to just arrive at the 1km mark.  Serene had been walking without her day pack and was trodding with much more vigor.  Ah Sing, Zheng Ang and Ah Li were way ahead with the front train.  Now left behind were a few of us: Serene, myself, Questal, Fann, Ah Chua, Wai Kit and JQ.

"Let's take a short rest," I said to Serene. "And have a sip of water, and a few bites."

The ever presence Ah Chua was right there with his supply of food.  This man is one great sweeper, both on the bike and on the track.  Many of us depended on his full support to go on.

We continued walking.  In the shade of the Rainforest, I let Ah Chua move forward until he was framed by the canopy.  And as he looked back to check if I was safe, I took a shot of this good man.
Ah Chua in the Canopy.
Strangely, although it wasn't that hot, I was sweating profusely.  I was wearing just my Uniqlo Airism top, a nice think top that wicked sweat and kept me cool.  I guessed it must had been the exertion.  But so far it wasn't so tough for me.  And for the children it seemed that they were all having fun.
Our walkie talkies were crackling with communications between the front, the middle and the back...
"Hello, where are you all?" crackled Gerard over the walkie talkie.
"Coming coming.. along the way," replied me.
And we came to this rest hut, to find Ah Sing, JQ, Wai Kit.  Gerard and Colin were seated and drinking and eating in one corner of the rest hut.  The toilet was interestingly not too dirty and we could enjoy the use of them.  I saw a rusty water tank just across the rest hut.  But remembering Saha's words, I decided to continue drinking our own supply.  For this trek, I gotten each child to bring one full 1.5litre bottle of water each.  Myself I carried two - one for Serene and the other one for myself.  A few of us, Ah Chua included, actually did carry two full 1.5litre bottles each, just to ensure sufficient supply along the way as we knew the trek on this day would be at least 5-6 hours.

At this hut, we were all sitting and enjoying our packed lunch of sandwich, fried chicken and oranges.  Some of the other trekkers seated outside of the hut saw our chicken and were wondering to themselves out loud how come their packs didn't have the delicious inclusion.  It was a good laugh, one that didn't escape the young Tan.

We were all not in any particular hurry this morning.  I knew in my heart that the front train were already way ahead.  But with children, it would only be good to make sure that they were not strained.  I kept reminding the children 'Not to over-strain, not to over-stretch, Do not cheong and don't go fast.'  But it was not easy to convince a young and fit human being to conserve.  Conservation of energy seemed to be a trait that was learned over years.  And as one grew older, and less powerful, one would fall back upon the age-old adage of taking it 'a step at a time'.

"Ok, let's move on," said Serene.
And we all started out.
We managed to catch up with Jeffrey here.
... and we moved on.  Probably coming to the horizontal distance of 2.0km soon. 
A photo of three of us last three persons.  Photo by: Cheah Wai Kit
Zheng Ang was already getting tired, from what I could see in this shot taken by Kc Tng.  I told him not to cheong.  But obviously he 'did something wrong' in his own words.  Later Ah Li stood by him, saying he really didn't cheong. Well, but one didn't need to cheong in terms of speed.  One just needed to be careless in several steps - either taking too big a step or something like that, to strain a thigh muscle, which this poor young man was suffering from right from just about Layang Layang.
[Photo: KC Tng]

The crackling of walkie talkie communications from those fellows in front gave me a rough idea that they must have had been quite ahead. Zheng Ang and Ah Sing was with the front boys, from their talking on the comms.  Ah Li was the quiet one who would just walk.  She was also pretty fast a trekker.  Well, they were big boys and girls already.  And they have had prior trekking experience.  So I wasn't really that worried about them.  I knew Ah Chua was constantly watching all of us at the back.  I turned back and took several shots of him.
Ah Chua wondering what on earth he was doing here climbing Mount Kinabalu.

"Wah lau.. I don't know what I am doing here," Ah Chua complained. "It's suffering, man."
Haha.. Ah Chua must be joking.  He was one of the fittest guys around.  Possibly at this point in time he still didn't know why he was here.  But like what I was talking to him, David and some of the other boys, it would probably take us a little bit more time, and to arrive at the peak, before we knew what the real reasons for us doing this climb.
I turned my attention back to the front.  And my eye sight fell upon this pair of nice little red shorts that belonged to an equally nice little young lady.  She was trekking alone with her guide.  Along the way, we would leap frog each other.  Sometimes we would come upon her sitting by one side, panting and catching her breath. Other times, she would overtake us when her energy returned.
A pair of nice red shorts.
Here was a video of the above Red-shorts by Ah Chua...

I moved further up, and saw Ah Sing, JQ and Wai Kit taking a breather.  I called out to them, and took a shot.  I never failed to be amazed by the cheerfulness of JQ.  Such a wonderful spirit in her.  Despite the non-stop climbing, she was still chirpy.

Patrick Papin. [Photo: KC Tng]

The 2.0km mark.
Yes, 2 hours into the trek.  And we arrived at the 2.0km mark.
So far every one was ok.  Sweaty, thirsty... but not too hungry nor tired.  Our own experience in endurance cycling taught us that no matter how much we didn't feel like eating, we just had to force ourselves to consume food at regular intervals.  This would be the source of energy to prevent us from going into sudden hypoglycaemia and jeopardise our final ascent to Laban Rata.
The weather within the Rainforest was still warm and clothing was still nice and thin.
2.0km mark.
Rest was equally important.  We just had to take regular rest.  At each rest hut (and there were three huts spread in between these two kilometres) we just rested.

Colin was quite a character.  A man of few words, he just climbed and trekked with nary a single complain.
The young Tan.
Every body was happy to see Ah Chua. Always.  His very presence was a reassuring force.  Whenever he was around, we would have (almost) endless supply of snacks, food and drinks.  I personally couldn't emphasize time and again how important Ah Chua was as a sweeper, to those of us right at the back.  The front boys of course, didn't have that luxury.  They only had themselves to depend on for food and water.
Our constant source of reassurance, Ah Chua.
OK, Let's move out again!
We knew that we have little time.  And it had been getting a little tiring for all of us.  This was the time when most of us would go into a numb state of constant trekking, and constant climbing.  One step would look the same as another, one turn the same as the other.
Saha passed the instruction:
"In front, about 50m away, there is a junction.  Don't turn. Just go straight."

Click and Zoom in to enlarge
The continual pumping of our leg muscles went on.  An almost hypnotic state of walking came over.  My heart rate wasn't particularly fast.  It was mostly zone 2, zone 3. And it was just right for an endurance activity like this.  In front of me, Serene was in auto-pilot mode.  This was the best state to climb.  Everything was auto.  The terrain was still up and up.  So far we had encountered hardly any flat ground. Every step was an upward climb.
None of us (except for those who had done Kinabalu previously, namely Wai Kit and Darric) had ever experienced a climb thus.  Back in Nepal, every up would be followed by a down.  And we had chances to recover.

At this point, I remembered what Wai Kit posted earlier on Facebook about the first day's climb.  Here was the excerpt:

It's better to leave as early as you can in the morning, as the weather in the afternoon at the top of the mountain can turn wet and miserable from about 3pm onwards. On average, most folks takes five hours to reach Laban Rata. I would caution to take it easy, as you may not want to succumb to AMS (especially if going too fast up).
Ironically, the track heads downhill for the first few hundred metres through some magnificent temperate rainforest. Enjoy it, because it's the easiest part of the climb
A waterfall on the left of the track is a highlight of the first kilometre, but the track soon begins winding upwards. The incline isn't taxing in the first kilometre or so, but there's no doubt that you're heading up the mountain.
One of the most appealing aspects of the trail is the regular appearance of rest huts every kilometre or so. Each of these has a supply of fresh mountain water to refill your drink bottle. Although I wouldn't recommend drinking these water. If desired, it's probably safer to use some water purification tablets to avoid any upsets. The last thing you want is to be climbing the last kilometre to the summit with a dodgy tummy.
Essentially, the first four kilometres of the trail is quite moderate, compared to the second half of the climb. There is plenty of climbing but most of it is up regular sets of wooden or stone stairs built into the trail. If you've got short legs, you might find the rather large steps quite tiring, but in all, it's a relatively pleasant walk.
The rainforest canopy is quite dense, giving walkers plenty of protection from the sun. Still, when the trail does emerge into the open, the sun can be quite fierce on a clear day, so a hat and sun protection cream is recommended. Save your energy in the early stages. Take it easy. 
The most important tip any prospective climber can observe at this point is to take it easy in the trek up to the Layang-Layang power station. The track might seem quite moderate and seasoned trekkers will be tempted to make quick time in the first four kilometres. However, you're far better off to take it a bit slower and conserve your energy at this point. The climb up to Laban Rata after Layang-Layang is far more taxing and requires some scrambling up some very uneven sections of track. It's not difficult, but it becomes quite tiring after a while.
The altitude starts to have some effect after Layang-Layang as well, so do yourself a favour and walk a little slower than you think you can.

Click & Zoom in to enlarge.
The walk to Layang-Layang can take anything from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on the speed of the walkers in your group. There are two huts at Layang-Layang and a small building. The ever-present fresh water is in plentiful supply as well.
Most climbers opt to take a break here for lunch, resting for about 20 minutes to half an hour. It's at this stage that you'll probably begin to encounter some of the climbers descending from the previous day's expedition. Most of them seem in good spirits, but obviously weary. So they should be: they've been up since 2am and have already been to the summit and back. You'll know the feeling when you're heading down the mountain the next day after your own summit trek. Lunch at Layang-Layang.
The section immediately after Layang-Layang is quite a contrast to the rainforest trail that walkers have just completed. The track has quite obviously been carved into the mountain and the terrain changes dramatically. Gone are the tree ferns and rainforest giants, replaced by more scrubby forest and hard, rocky ground with a high clay content. When this ground gets wet, it can be quite slippery, so take care if there's been some rain.
Even fit climbers will appreciate the sharp difference in the difficulty of the walk at this point. The climb is unfailingly steep and in parts, requires climbers to almost pull themselves up part of the track. Trekking poles / sticks would come in handy.
It's not actual climbing, as such - rather, the steep incline of the walking track may require some trekkers to use their hands balance on the ground as the track takes some sharp uphill turns.
12:24pm.  The 3.0km mark.
The trek seemed never ending.  And I was simply focussing on conserving my energies.  In my mind, the words of Jackz the guide the day before echoed:
"When you climb, make sure you take small steps.  If there is a rock or another step in between, go for that.  So that you don't need to over-exert just so to overcome a huge gap."
Thanks to Colin for taking such wonderful record shots in documenting the altitude at the 3.0km mark. [Photo: Colin Tan]
I didn't know when the 3.0km rest hut came.  But it did.  And we all took a longer rest than we should.  I knew we were all tired.  All perhaps except for JQ and Fann.  These two were the young mountain goats in training.  I took a look at the altitude and uttered an expletive mentally: "What? Only 2455m? We have another 800m of ascent to go?"

Up in the mountain, a horizontal distance of one kilometre may take as long as one hour or more to cover.  It took us three hours and twenty four minutes to arrive at the 3.0km mark.  Looking ahead, there was another 3.0km more to overcome.  And we knew that the last part was going to be really tough.
While the rear train was still stuck at the 3.0km mark, the front train was waaaaaay ahead.  Possibly somewhere near Layang Layang or even beyond.  Here, at 12:36pm, was a shot on David Low's camera of the front mountain goats.
The forerunners way up there at 12:36pm - David, Darric, Chee Wai and Kc Tng. [Photo: David Low]
The track became more and more rocky, exactly like what the excerpt stated, as if they were carved out of the mountain.  And here was a nice shot by Colin showing the track and the side railings made of some rubber material, which I admitted having to constantly grab hold of to pull myself up, in the hope that that would conserve my leg energies.
Looking up at the mountain. [Photo: Colin Tan]

At the 3.5km mark.
Photo: Ah Chua

1:15pm. 4.0km mark - Layang Layang!
Finally!  The long awaited Layang Layang power station rest stop came.
I knew I was feeling rather exhausted by now, now that we had arrived at 2702m altitude.

Ah Chua making his way to the Layang Layang hut.
Ah Li and Serene enjoying a well-deserved break at Layang Layang. [Photo: Jeffrey Wong]
I had always wanted to do a Yoga pose somewhere up in the mountains.
And here at Layang Layang, the environment presented itself with the opportunity.  I gestured to Serene and Ah Chua.  "Come, take a shot!"
And here was us having some yoga fun up at Layang Layang...

Yoga up in the mountains. [Photo: Ah Chua]
The Front Fast Guys...
While we were resting and playing a fool at Layang Layang, the front guys had already ascended to a greater heights.  And here they were...

Our marathoner Chee Wai..
Chee Wai. [Photo: KC Tng]\
Our King of Mountain David Low and Ironman Darric Tan...
[Photo: KC Tng]
And of course, the Gran Fondo specialist, KC Tng himself, with David...
[Photo: Kc Tng's camera]
And Kai Sing and Patrick were here...
Patrick Papin. [Photo: Ng Kai Sing]

Back to those still struggling at Layang Layang...
The fact that we still had another 573m of vertical ascent was nowhere consolling for me, in addition to the fact that at this altitude the temperature was beginning to turn chilly.  I could feel my sweat-wet Airism becoming that slightly insufficient in giving me the warmth.  In order to conserve energy, we need to conserve heat.  I passed down instructions for the girls to put on their outer layers to break the wind and to keep warm.
Here was the whole group of us, setting off after Layang Layang.  Questal was obviously not enjoying this last part as she knew the last 2km was going to be tougher than the first 4km.
The 'Don't Mess Around With Me cos I'm Not Going to Do This Climb' Look..
We were still pretty cheerful, right after Layang Layang, as evident from the shot of us below taken by Jeffrey.

Photo: Jeffrey Wong's iPhone.
The terrain from Layang Layang upwards changed quite drastically.  It was all rocky and no longer the gravel track nor constructed steps.  Big mud/dirt rocks many of which required us to take huge steps, or push ourselves up with our trekking sticks.  Certainly the light-weight trekkers like David and Fann were at a huge advantage here.
No matter what the terrain, Ah Chua was forever the group photographer.
Click and Zoom in to Enlarge
Ah Chua was already all suited up.  He was still, at this point in time, wondering what happened to his life and why was he here climbing up these rocky tracks, when he could have had enjoyed a nice meal at a beach side resort.  A reminder from Gerard to him was "You will forget what you had for dinner at the resort years down the road.  But you will never forget your trek up Mount Kinabalu".
So true.
Click and Zoom in to Enlarge

It wasn't every day that we would see Ah Chua in this attire ascending a mountain.  And no matter how tired I was, I just had to shoot a few pictures of him... so that he could remember his suffering up Mount Kinabalu years later.

Click and Zoom to Enlarge.
Meanwhile, not far after Layang Layang... Jeffrey was thinking hard through his Hair-For-Hoped head.. wondering if he should remove his outer layer.
"I am ok with cold.  But I cannot stand the heat," said he.
And finally he did remove his outer layer... while I looked amazed at him, wondering how he could tahan the cold.  This Professor was really marvellous.

As I was looking upwards, Questal shouted to me.
Photo: Tay Fann

"Hey, Uncle Wee How! Wait, look behind.  The view is so beautiful!"
Indeed it was lovely.  The mist slowly moving in and concealing parts of the mountains in the distance. The girls whipped out their cameras and shot simultaneously.
Click and Zoom in to Enlarge.
By the time I readied my camera, the scenery had changed, so rapidly, that all I managed to shoot was silhouettes of trees and a white mist in the background.

"Ok, let's push on!"
Click and Zoom in to Enlarge.
And we continued up the rocky terrain.  I would say that it wasn't difficult in the beginning.  But after a while it really gotten a little tiring.  Well, more than a little tiring.  It required a disciplined gait and a watchful eye, constantly looking for easier alternatives, smaller step-ups.. and constantly aware of pitfalls.
I remembered this scene.. Jeffrey, Ah Chua and I came to this part.  And when we looked up, we saw the girls and Wai Kit getting ready to tackle the steep ascent.  "Oh, that's a lovely scene," I thought to myself. "Wait a little more.. wait.. wait for the subjects to separate.."
And Jeffrey and I took the same spot waiting patiently for them to move into place before we pressed our shutters.
I believed Jeffrey had a much better shot than mine.  I lost Wai Kit in the trees.. Only managed to capture the girls.

Click and Zoom in to Enlarge.
The Courageous Young Lady...
Yes, there was no doubt about it.
The way JQ climbed was truly remarkable.  She was so light-footed but yet so sure-footed.  And the huge steps posed little trouble for her, as could be seen from this two shots.
The first shot had the highlights blown.  But I still posted it because I believed it showed her steps well.
Click and Zoom in to Enlarge.
This second shot showed how deft her footwork was.
Click and Zoom in to Enlarge.
A courageous young man
... Seen here stretching his hand out for don't know what... perhaps asking for a hand from the Father.
Photo: Colin Tan's point and shoot camera.
His real courage was to be seen in its full glory on the very next morning on the summit of Low's Peak.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly shooting from the back of all our trekking members.
Yah.. Laban Rata was 2km away, again not a comforting thought to those of us struggling behind.
Photo: Colin Tan.
 The tracks got worse and worse... from messy dirt-covered rocks... to..
... even messier dirt-covered rocks..
Photo: Tay Fann.
I remembered kao-beh kao-boo-ing to myself at one stage:
"Man, this is ridiculous! I don't even remember walking this kind of tracks in Nepal!"
And it was later that evening when I found out that all my fellow trekkers and all the children agreed, for in Nepal we hardly had constant unrelenting upward climbs like this.  The Himalayan tracks were interspersed with straight flats and downward paths.  Though some may hate the ups and downs, but in a way, they were much better and less tiring.

5.0km Mark.
Soon, we arrived at the 5.0km mark.
Click and Zoom in to Enlarge.

Somewhere further up, I received a walkie talkie message from Zheng Ang:
"Papa, my thighs are very painful."
When I came to him, he was sitting on a rock.  Tired like hell.  And his left thigh was in cramp.  Shucks.. this boy really wasn't very careful in trekking this time round.  He was much less active this round, and his physical condition was nowhere as good as he was when he did Nepal.  And now he was in pain.
"Uncle Gerard has given me an Arcoxia to relieve the pain," he said.
That was good.  At least that would have given him some relief.
But it was still torturous for him.
"Don't worry, Zheng Ang. Let's walk slowly together." I reassured him.
And he hobbled forth.  I only managed to help him carry his backpack for a short distance for the young man had his own pride and he was adamant about carrying his pack all the way.  Ok lor.. as long as he could tahan, I would just watch him and follow.

Zheng Ang in pain.
Every few tens of metres, he had to take a rest.  And I kept reminding him to look for the easiest and smallest steps to take.
Resting every short distance.
As he rested, Serene and I rested with him.  It was also a good thing, for at least that gave all of us time to slowly acclimatize as we approached 3000m.
I remembered very very well, at around 3pm, all three of us arrived at this stretch of really huge and haphazard granite rocks.  It was tough for me to find my way up, not to mention for the son who was by now suffering severe cramp over both thighs.
 Some of the local porters and local trekkers were walking with us and I watched, impressed by the confidence with which they took their steps.

"Hello, where are you all?" came in Gerard over the walkie talkie.
"Erm.. we are at around 3100m." I looked at my watch's altitude and gave a ball-park figure.

"Ok good. Keep coming.  We are just ahead of you all," came his reply.

While three of us were making our way up the treacherous rocky part, Ah Sing and Ah Li had just arrived at Laban Rata, both of them did well in making good time.  Questal, Fann, Jeffrey, Wai Kit, JQ and Ah Chua were slowly coming up behind us....
... and of course, shooting as they walked.
Photo: Tay Fann.
The Trees.
All of us would remember this part.  Zheng Ang and I remembered this.  We sat by these trees for quite a while, panting for air, as somehow the effect of being above 3000m set in.  I would never forget the last stretch up.  The rocks were unrelenting.  Serene was ahead of us already.  And I could still hear the communication with Gerard on the walkie talkie.  They were in front, though how far, I didn't know.

The track turned left and right and left and right.  At each turn, I would tell ourselves, the next round we would come to the clearing and we would see the house of Laban Rata. 
Click & Zoom in to Enlarge.
At each cresting, I would reassure ourselves that was the last one. But each time we were disappointed to find another stretch of up-hill climb.  We could sense that the end was near, as we could see the top of the mountain.  But, somehow, the guest house of Laban Rata eluded us.
We kept going.  And going.  The son was still good.  He could still push on slowly.  I felt tired, not only because we had been walking since 9am this morning, but also because I thought I felt a little bit of the altitude sickness setting in.

My eyes were concentrating on each step, for fear of a misstep.  And my mind was numb to the vegetation that was changing as we moved along.
And then suddenly, we heard a voice calling out my name.

Someone calling out for us?
It was Francis!  Yupe, no mistaking his voice.
The Chef was somewhere there, in front.  Quite near.
We could see the houses!
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"Hello, Wee How!" called him. "A little bit more.  And from here another 70m to your room!"
We were both relieved to hear that voice.  And even more when we finally caught sight of the first house of Laban Rata.

"Wah lau, another 70m?" exclaimed both Zheng Ang and myself. 
Yes, of course.  We could not be blamed.  For in our mind, the arrival at Laban Rata would mean instant rest and relief, not so that we could climb another 70m to our guest house?!
But what to do?  This was a significant moment, arriving at Laban Rata at 4:06pm, 7 hours after we started.  I just had to whip out the camera and take a few shots of the moment.

My worry throughout the trek, was that we would arrive late at Laban Rata and get caught in the rain, as it was notoriously rainy here usually after 3pm. But luck was on our side on this day.  The weather was kind.
This was the very moment we arrived at the house.  A shot of both of us by Kc Tng.
Finally arrived at Laban Rata. [Photo: KC Tng]
And here, in reciprocation, I lifted my rangefinder in between heaving breaths to take a shot of Kc Tng and Francis, who was soooooo relaxed sitting on the varanda.  I believed he must have had been here for the past at least 2 hours.
The Gran Fondo specialist, Kc Tng.
The Executive Chef, Francis.
The Guest House at Laban Rata 3273m.. 4:06pm.
Yes, this was it.  That view we were looking forward to.

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Dragging our tired bodies, we searched high and low for the cook house.  Trust me, we were ding-dong-ing on the walkie talkie with Serene trying to figure out where the cook house was, a few metres here another few metres there.. walked up a rocky path only to find that it was a no-through and back-tracked a little..

The hardcores arriving. [Photo: KC Tng]
David and Darric must have been the earliest at Laban Rata. [Photo: KC Tng]
At this point in time, both myself and Zheng Ang were totally shagged out... he from thigh cramp, and me? From a mild bit of altitude effect.  Questal and Fann were much more leisurely in their paces.  And KC Tng did a great one for Fann as she arrived at Laban Rata too.  This KC Tng really good.  Fantastic documentor.

Photo: KC Tng

Patrick the Papin at Laban Rata.. one of the earliest settlers. [Photo: KC Tng]

And here, a record shot of the Jiejie trying to do a Golden Half shot of Laban Rata.
Questal and her Golden Half. [Photo: Tay Fann]
A beautiful shot of Ah Chua by KC Tng...
Ah Chua at Laban Rata, 3273.  [Photo: KC Tng]

Stumbling into the dining hall...
I remembered dragging my tired feet and body into the dining hall, a nice and compact little hall right on the ground floor of the main Laban Rata guest house building.  Every body was there having their dinner.  The time was just after 4pm, and we have been trekking for 7 hours.  Fast trekkers like David Low arrived at Laban Rata way ahead at 1:30pm, and Ah Sing and Ah Li arrived at 3pm.
I walked into the hall and saw all our guys sitting there on the table, some already having their dinner.  Others like David, have already showered and changed.
I walked and plonked myself onto the tablet and just sat there, panting.  I was so tired that I couldn't even lift up my camera for a shot of this memorable dining area.

Man, this was tough.  I was really feeling drained.  And I was having tingling sensation all over my face.  It was that kind of sensation that I was familiar with, when I was taking Diamox and when I was experiencing a little bit of the altitude effect.  I would not say it was bad, but I believed the exertion really made the effect of altitude much more pronounced.  I have had prior treks going up to 3000m and above, but the ascent had always been gentle, never ever so rapid - 1400m in a day.
But the tingling disappeared after a while, and I began to find my appetite coming back.

We had noodles, beef chunks and some fried rice and winter melon soup for dinner.  It was good food, warm and with unlimited refills.  I just kept eating.  Everyone who arrived was in fantastic spirit, a deep sense of accomplishment permeated the air.  A round of muscle relaxants, pain killers was dispensed to those who needed some relieve from aching thighs.

Saha's parting instruction to all before we left for our bunks:
"Ok, all go and have an early night's sleep.  Tomorrow you all got to wake up at 1am, and gather back here at the Dining Hall at 1:30am.  We need to move out to the summit by 2am.  Good night, all!"

Our bunk for the night...
Our family of seven was assigned to a bunk somewhere to the right of the dining hall, another short climb up.  It was a sparse bunk with double-decker beds enough to sleep about 25 trekkers.  A communal bathroom and toilet, army style, was adjoining.  And a wash basin was just outside the toilet, to be shared amongst all.
Questal and Fann took the bottom beds, and Ah Li and Zheng Ang took the top beds.
We quickly occupied one corner of the bunk and grouped ourselves together.  The girls and boys quickly did a wet wipe on our body, and a thorough powder bath.  The toilet wasn't the cleanest.  But it was good enough to be used for that one single night.

This was Zheng Ang.  He was so shagged that he already crumbled into a heap of blankets and middle, outer layers and socks and all,  in the bed right above Fann's.
It was 7pm.  We all got ready for bed.  Zheng Ang was too shagged.  He was the first to be knocked out even before he changed into new clothes.  I had to pull the big size fellow up and kicked him to powder bath himself in the toilet.

Ah Sing also knocked out very early.  In fact, 7:06pm she was already fast asleep.

As we prepared ourselves, more other trekkers came into the bunk, young men and women from Singapore, Indonesia, and other parts of Asia.  It wasn't easy to decide what to bring for the early morning attempt at summit.  On one hand, I needed to leave nothing of value back here in the bunks because you would never know how secure it was going to be, and on the other hand, I needed to make sure my daypack was not to heavy such that it hindered my ascent.  Finally we decided, Zheng Ang and Ah Li would share one day pack, and Questal and Fann another one.  I would carry the third one with two full water bottles, because up there we really had to depend on ourselves for water.
Everybody's walkie talkie, headlamps, beanie, gloves, and all the layers of cold wear were prepared.  The blanket provided was merely a thin one, so we all ended up sleeping in our socks, and our inner and middle layers.... and of course with the heat packs in our socks and pockets.

Serene preparing the heat pack for the sleep.
My thoughts for the attempt at summit after midnight?
For me it was very simple.  At the strike of midnight on this day, the Chinese seventh month would arrive.  In our local Chinese belief, this signified the opening of the Gates of Hell, when the beings from the underworld would have a one month, unlimited access to the dimensions of human beings.  To many of us from the older generation, the belief was so deeply entrenched that we cease taking part in risky activities and we observe strictly certain taboos.  But heck, on this early morning when the gate opened, we would be making our way to the summit.
I prayed day and night for safety and for protection for all of us in the team.   And let all summit safely and descend safely back home.

I did not know how long this trek from Laban Rata to the Summit would take, but suffice to say, it was bliss not to have known how punishing it was going to be, when we went to bed that night.
The children were all covered up and in bed already.  Serene and I finished the last bit of preparation and we both also turned in.
It had been a tough day.  Hopefully tomorrow would be ok.  And hopefully, tomorrow's weather will allow a successful summit.

Click here to continue to the next day's Story: 
Mount Kinabalu Day 3: Laban Rata to Low's Peak.. and back down to Timpohon Gate.