Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mount Kinabalu Day 3: Laban Rata to Low's Peak.. and back down to Timpohon Gate.

Day 3: The mad scramble to the top, and the long long descent back to Timpohon... How did we EVER complete this trek?

Low's Peak. [Photo: Tay Fann]

The Strava GPS record of my trek on this day
Here was the Strava record of this second day's trek.  I took actually more than 7 hours 17 minutes in total to reach the summit and to trek back to Laban Rata, a horizontal distance of about 4 - 5 km, an elevation gain of a total of 808m.  Based on my Garmin Edge 800.  Again verry accurate.  Unfortunately my Garmin Edge ran out of battery as I descended back to Laban Rata, thus I wasn't able to record my trek from Laban Rata back down to Timpohon.
Click here for the link: Mount Kinabalu Trek Day 2 - Laban Rata to Summit


1:30am.  Gathered at the Dining Hall, Laban Rata.
Yupe.  We were all Singaporeans.  And Singaporeans followed instructions to the dot.  And right at the prescribed time, we all gathered at the Dining Hall.  The first thing Gerard did when he saw me was to relate some out-of-this-world happenings in his bunk the night before, the consequences of which was most apparent when we sat down and had an early breakfast (they called it supper here in Laban Rata).
The question... who threw all the bags and clothes on the floor and opened up David Low's bag? Photo: Colin Tan's camera.
CLICK and ZOOM in to Enlarge this picture and examine the handiwork of the UNKNOWN.

Ahem... more intense chanting of prayers under my breath and a mad rush to get some food and coffee into our stomachs at this unearthly hour, and Saha was already calling outside to gather for the climb.  And in the dark, the cold, the palpable anxiety right before the climb, Saha gave a last minute safety briefing.
Photo: Ng Kai Sing
Under the veil of darkness, we could only see the feet and legs of the front trekkers right ahead of us, and followed that up flights of wooden steps and rocks, through a small radius of visibility provided by the circular light from our head lamps.  When the front person walked, we walked.  When he stopped, we stopped.  The early hour, and a cold, frozen pair of legs and muscles still stiff from the night's sleep, in addition to a very real shortage of oxygen at this altitude, made the initial climb terribly breathless. 

We all making our way up. [Photo: Tay Fann]

On this morning, it wasn't as cold as I expected it to be.  But we were still fully geared up.  True to common wisdom, the head lamp was a most important piece of equipment.  The walkie talkies would come in useful along the way, but right the the beginning of this morning's trek, we weren't on the comm sets much.

We slowly climbed.  And I really must admit, the altitude and early morning really took a toll on us.  And at some parts, a few of our members had to fall back and retreat back to Laban Rata due to real (and to some, perceived) altitude illness.  In retrospect, I now believed I should have done a better job preparing the children mentally, and giving them the important encouragement even the night before.  I myself was also taken aback by the steepness and toughness of the climb.  And what a climb it was, very well summarised by Wai Kit's post earlier.

Here is the excerpt for the second day's climb from Wai Kit's post:

Climbers choosing to head to the summit will wake at about 1.30am to 2am (depending on how fast you can freshen up) to be ready to head off between 2 and 2.30am. The restaurant at Laban Rata serves a light pre-climb breakfast, but most climbers make do with a hot or cold drink and some nuts or chocolate for a makeshift breakfast.
It will generally be cold and dark outside Laban Rata, so you'll need to be wearing most of your cold weather gear: warm jumper, waterproof jacket and long pants. Make sure you've got a beanie, gloves, a torch, a water bottle, your camera and some more snacks for the climb to the summit. On my last trip, it was reading about 4'C.
Once you walk past the huts surrounding Laban Rata, you're back into the stairs. These are actual staircases built above steep rock inclines. They're very basic and can get very slippery when wet, so take it easy. It's also a good idea to start walking slowly and conserve your energy for the first half-hour or so, until you get warmed up. The staircases are surrounded very closely by thick scrub and they can seem quite claustrophobic by torchlight. Just take it easy and keep a steady pace. It can be unrelentingly steep and the staircases can become quite tiresome. 
It will take up to an hour and a half before you emerge from the scrub to the open rockface, where the magic of the climb really begins. This is the part that marks the end of the treeline and the beginning of the open rockface. The white rope that accompanies all climbers to Low's Peak begins here with a very steep climb up some potentially treacherous rockfaces. You will need to literally pull yourself up parts of the rockface here, which can be an exhilarating experience.
The views out over the clouds and the valleys below are simply breathtaking.
There is no defined trail from this point, as climbers are simply walking, clambering and climbing their way up the sheer sides of Mt Kinabalu. It is vital that you stay next to the ever-present white rope as it marks the safe route up the mountain. Oxygen levels will be much lower at this altitude. You'll probably be stopping every ten or twenty steps. It is normal.
About two hours after leaving Laban Rata, climbers will reach the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint, where their permits and registration will be checked. It's quite an eerie sight, looking up the mountain from Sayat-Sayat. The outline of the mountain looms before you and the trail is marked by several little dots of light, marking climbers making their way to the summit.
Altitude tends to take its toll from here on. Your heart will be racing and you'll be continuously breathless. Rests become more and more frequent, until you might only be walking twenty paces before you have to stop again. Don't worry about your slow progress. It's better to make steady progress than wearing yourself out before reaching the summit.
Even before you reach the top of Low's Peak, the views in all directions are incredible - St John's Peak to the west, the Donkey's Ears to the east and the distinctive South Peak to the south make for incredible scenery.
Quite simply, the experience of seeing the sun rise at almost 4100m defies description. It makes all the effort and pain worth it.
Naturally, the peak is crowded with climbers waiting to have their photos taken at the sign marking the summit. Take 20 minutes to regain what breath you can and admire the scenery around you. There are endless picture opportunities for enthusiastic photographers - take as many as you can. Most climbers have something to eat before embarking on the descent to Laban Rata in clear daylight.
At first, the downhill walk from Low's Peak is blessed relief to your weary legs. However, as most seasoned trekkers know, it's often harder to walk downhill for long periods than it is to climb uphill and Mt Kinabalu is no exception.

The first part - wooden steps after wooden steps after rocky steps... after rocky steps.
This part was seemingly never-ending.  I could hear my own heart beat and panting as I slowly lifted one foot after another, trying to over come one step at a time.  We were all looking out for the elusive 'check-point'.  But it didn't come.  And we had no choice but to keep walking up.
Ah Sing decided to break off from the family and she disappeared way ahead with the front trekkers, broken head lamp in hand.  Ah Li, Zheng Ang and Fann continued to trek with me, with Ah Chua supporting us from behind.  Gerard and Colin, initially just ahead of us, had also gone ahead.  Serene was left in mid steps with Questal, after accomplishing a good stretch of the steps.


We didn't know how long we walked. But we just carried on.  Zheng Ang's thighs were in much better shape this morning, after a good night's rest.  The rocky steps weren't all smooth sailing, for some were carved with so huge a gap that we had to use our hands to climb up the steps.
The Rope Section! Photo: Ah Chua.
It must have had been about 2 hours after we started trekking, when we finally came to a point where everyone stopped dead in their tracks in front of us.

"What's happening in front?" I asked.
"It's the rope!" excitedly replied Fann.
So we have come to the ropes.  We were actually expecting the check point before the rope section.  But we were obviously wrong.  This was where the treeline gave way to pure rockfaces, as described in the excerpt, where we will all need to pull ourselves up the cliff side on the rocks.  With our limited illumination, we could see snakes of people slowly gingerly climbing, moving sideways like crabs, hands on rope.  From up there, we could hear the screams and shreaks from some young ladies from either Taiwan or China, as they shuffled along the narrow ledge on the cliff face.
Fann was leading us in front, followed by Zheng Ang, Ah Li and finally me.  This arrangement was really good because Fann was a good guide as she would shout out warnings from the front.  And Zheng Ang's pace was slower this morning, a better pace to follow.

"Wah lau eh! This is it?! We are all to climb along the edge of the cliff face by holding on the rope, and shuffling our feet along the narrow ledge?" I thought to myself.
This was the real deal.  In the cold of the morning and in the excitement of the moment, I couldn't do anything more than to call out to the children to grab hold to the ropes with both hands at all time and not to let go even if they were to fall backwards.
We all shortened our trekking sticks and some of us stuffed them into our daypack, while others just hook them to their wrists.  Our guide Abdul was good, he helped us hold some of the trekking sticks and assisted the children in mounting the ledges and pointing out to them the safe parts to step on.
Exhilarating was really the word to describe it.  The ropes pointed directly upwards, and turned left sharply and up and turned left again.
In the dark we couldn't really see clearly.  Our hearts in our mouths, we made it up.

Photo: Tay Fann.
At some parts, we were literally on all fours, slowly moving along the path indicated by the thick white rope.  In front, Fann was calling out to us, telling us the rope wass veering left.  It was steep, this rockface.  And often, I couldn't decide if I should just walk leaning forward, hands on rope, or if I should get down on all fours and crawl.
It was tiring.  Slightly further later, Ah Li cheekily told me:

"Papa, just now the rope part was really fun," said Ah Li. "I was actually climbing and pulling myself up.  Now I can proudly say that I have really 'climbed' a mountain, instead of just walking up the mountain."
She was quite right there, this Ah Li.  I could proudly say that of myself too.
And along the way, we would actually take a few tens of steps, and then stop, leaning on the trekking sticks, and taking deep breaths.  At times, we sat down on the sloping surface of the rock, looking down at the lights of the city far far below us.  It was a marvellous sight.
What was even more marvellous, was the zig-zag line of tiny dots of lights made up by the head lamps of the climbers way ahead of us.  It pointed to the path to the top of the mountain.  And from where we were, that was really far away still.  For all we cared, we just walked and stopped, and stopped and walked.  The reminder of Jackz the day before about not sitting down for more than 5 minutes each time was thrown out of the window.  We were too tired to follow that instruction.
The altitude really affected me here.  As I was really breathing hard and gasping.  And Ah Chua and Kai Sing would leap frog four of us as we inched our way upwards, punctuating each stretch of effort with a short rest.
During one of our many rests on the rock surface..


At this point in time, the walkie talkie crackled.  It was Gerard.
"Hey where are you all?" he asked.
"We are still at the rope, should be reaching the check point soon," I replied.
"Ok ok you are reaching soon.  We gotta move on first."

I looked at the time, it was just about 4:30am.  And we were no where near the summit.  I didn't care if we couldn't make it to the top before sunrise.  As long as we made it to the top, I would be contented.  A sentiment that was echoed by Ah Li.

Sayat Sayat Check point. 3700m.
Another turn, and we came to a hut.
Our guide Abdul said to us:
"The worst is over now.  From now it will be easier, the last 600m to the top.  Here is the last toilet point.  After this there will be no more toilet."
And some of us decided to take a leak here.  We took a long rest seated at some of the rocks around the hut.  Ah Chua, Kai Sing, Ah Li, Zheng Ang and Fann.. we were really the last few of the whole team.  After the last toilet hut, a short stretch of rocky pathway brought us to the check point.
Finally, the Sayat Sayat Check point.  Our trekking passes were checked and we continued through.
Here the rock surfaces were flat.  But they were flat at an inclination.
I took out my last 1.5litre water bottle.  The first one had finished much earlier between a few of us.  And the second bottle was now down to perhaps one-fifth left.  I passed them to Zheng Ang and Ah Li, both of whom gulped down the precious water.  Poor thing, these children, I thought.  We had no more water for the rest of the trek up.  They had finished their own bottle of water earlier on too. Sh$%@...

My Strava showed the gradient to be on an average of about 45%.  Now that was quite some gradient.  We just trudged forward slowly, following the white rope on the ground.
Photo: Tay Fann.

It was just after 5am.  I could begin to see a hint of blue in the sky as dawn started to break.  Man, we were really going to miss the sunrise.  But heck it, we told ourselves.  We would just continue walking.  On top, the wind was howling, tearing at our layers, and it was really cold.
A shot of the Donkey ears as day breaks. [Photo: Tay Fann]
EDIT [5th June 2015]:
 On 5th June 2015, 7:15am, an Earthquake magnitude 6.0 shook Kota Kinabalu, and caused the death of one climber who was on the rope when the earthquake happened, and injury several others.  One of the iconic Donkey ears (as shown above in Fann's photo) was broken off.  Here is the news from Rappler.com:
 

 Here is a video of the earthquake at the guest house at Laban Rata on the 5th June 2015.


... the story continued...
Click & Zoom in to Enlarge. Photo: Tay Fann.

Little did we know it would take us more than an hour to climb from where we were to where Low's Peak was.  It was so near, but yet the walk would be so painfully slow.  The photo below did no justice to the slope.  It was still up-slope all the way, across rock surfaces lined with crevices, which we needed to be careful with our every step.  Like in the photo on the left, we were negotiating a crack on the ground, trying to look for the best part to step on.
Photo: Tay Fann.
We were looking up at the crest that was supposed to be Low's Gully, after passing the South Peak on our left and the Donkey Ears on our right.  It really looked near.  But we were walking so slowly we weren't making any noticeable advances towards it.
Zheng Ang was kao-beh-ing again. "Papa, I cannot move any more.  I am NOT going to go forward," the young man protested.
"Hey come on, you have made it up here so far already.. It's just another short stretch, and you will come to Low's Peak," I said. "Look in front there.  That's Low's Peak.  But it's ok, we don't need to go up Low's Peak.  As long as we reach the foot of the peak, it's job done for me liao." I tried to do some convincing.
But it wasn't working.  That young man was suffering from headache.  Something which I was, strangely enough, also experiencing.  This was the real altitude sickness now, at almost 4000m, we were both feeling the effect of exertion, exhaustion and the height.
Zheng Ang was seated fixated on a spot, and refusing to move.

"Zheng Ang," finally I had to use my joker. "Ok, I promise you. All we need to do is to make it up to THAT point there, just below Low's Peak.  And I promise you this will be the very last trekking trip I will ever bring you on. I promise."
"Really?" said the young man.  And with a renewed surge of energy he moved rapidly forward.
"Hey hey hey hey... slowly slowly.  Small steps!" I cried out after him.
And the Video of that precise moment above!

Here!  This was the video, at 1:22min, which Ah Chua shot of that moment I was talking to Zheng Ang, after which he sprinted ahead with renewed vigor!  Man, I didn't know I was walking so laboured, so breathlessly, so slowly... I was so glad to see this precious video taken by Ah Chua. Thank you, Ah Chua, for documenting and preserving this most precious moment for me and him!  Even that moment when I was using my left hand to gesture to him 'Hey hey hey, slowly slowly.. small steps small steps!" was captured...




And we pushed on. [Photo: Tay Fann]
5:55am.  Shit, the sun was coming up fast and furious...
Yeah.. looked like we were going to miss the boat at the rate we were ascending.  A few moments ago, I forced myself to take out my rangefinder and slung it so that I could take a few meaningful shots.  Throughout the whole trek up to the summit, I didn't take a single shot, mostly due to my fatigue.  But in my mind, I kicked myself hard here, telling myself that if I didn't take any photos I was going to regret it.

Then on the right, Fann called out.
"Sunrise! Everybody, sunrise!"
I looked to my right, and she was right.  A slither of golden light began to light up the sky.
My only sunrise shot at the top.
I knew there was no way I could capture anything nice, me being so exhausted.  And I looked up at the silhouettes to find Fann and Colin on the ridge.  I could sense a picture coming, and this I couldn't miss.  With quick fingers, I snapped.
Fann and Colin, and sunrise at Low's Gully.
A few moments later, Gerard inched his way up, and his silhouette came into the picture.
Gerard, Colin, Fann and sunrise at Low's Gully.
Here is a video by Ah Chua of the moment Fann and Colin went up the ridge to enjoy the view, and of Gerard coming up to join them...


As dawn broke, we began to see our surrounding clearer.  And it was a sheer mass of sheets of rocks around us, with Low's Peak right ahead.
Ah Sing (in blue, and the tiny figure far away in front) was just in front of us, walking towards Low's Peak, while Ah Li (in her red shell) stood & posed for me.
Colin the tough guy

Fann, Gerard and Colin heading for Low's Peak.
I was walking with Gerard and Colin.  Colin was a tough boy.  It wasn't easy for him.  But he kept his cool and continued striding forward.  His rate of recovery was also remarkable, for once he rested sufficiently, he was up in no time and raring to go again.  At Low's Gully, I looked at Gerard and told him that was all I was going to do.  With a look of disbelief, he replied "Hey, Colin says he wants to go up to the top leh.  How can you all not go up?!"  That was Colin's joker for me.  For had it not been for his sheer determination to ascent, Ah Li and I wouldn't have even gone near the base of Low's Peak.  But we did.  All thanks to Colin.







Fann and Ah Li were determined to go up...
Yes, despite their fatigue, these ladies were quite sure of going up.  I remembered it was with laboured breathing that I took each step, carefully watching where my feet landed.  Every moment, I would stop and used taking photos as an excuse for myself to take that highly-needed seconds of rest.
Ah Li, in her maroon outfit, Colin, Gerard and Fann in her green outfit.. all these were heading for the top... Slowly.




"Uncle, I take a picture of you!" called Fann.
 And finally I had a shot of me and David Low's Grandfather's Peak.
Me and Mr Low's Peak.  [Photo: Tay Fann]s
Here was the video by Ah Chua of the moment Fann took the shot of me above, at 2:20min.  Most unforgettable.



The Front guys were already at the Peak!
While we were still struggling along Low's Gully, our front boys (and girl) were already relaxing and taking their money's worth of pictures at Low's Peak.  Here was a nice shot of Chin Yao taken by Jeffrey.
Chin Yao and was it donkey ear?
And Chin Yao and Francis taking in the scenery right on top of 4095m.
Photo: Jeffrey Wong.
And Kc Tng braving the cold wind up there...
Photo: Jeffrey Wong.
And as what Gerard said - 'The Dalai Lama of Low's Peak' - Francis Chia! Well done!
Photo: Kc Tng

And what d'ya know... Ah Sing was right there with the boys!  Well done, Ah Sing!
Chin Yao, Ah Sing and Jeffrey, right at the top! Photo: Jeffrey Wong's camera.
Photo: Jeffrey's iPhone

We saw Darric coming down just as we were doing the final ascent.  This Darric was fast.  He has had his fill of the peak and is now looking to siam the cold wind.
Darric and the cold wind. [Photo: Darric Tan]

As we walked up, we saw Chee Wai coming down.  This man was fast.  He did the Peak way earlier than us and was ready to come back down.
Chee Wai taking a leisurely morning walk at Low's Peak. [Photo: David Low]
He must have seen my shagged look, for he said:
"Wow, this Peak is steep.  It's really steep up there."
Sheeeeeeet. That was it.
All the blood was drained from my face.  And my heart straight away put a stop sign at Low's Peak. "Hey, come lah! Let's go up!" called Gerard again.
I looked at Ah Li. "How, Ah Li? Shall we try to go up a little bit, but not to the top?"
She nodded her head.
We went on climbing.

And then we saw David there.  He was opening and closing his mouth trying to tell me something.  I cocked my ear, and listened very carefully.  But what came out of his mouth were jumbled up words.
"David, I can't understand what you talking about?" I said.
"I can't talk properly," David struggled. "It's the cold wind."
And then I realised I myself also couldn't talk properly.  The words just didn't form correctly.  I guess that was what altitude and cold did to a person. 

No wonder those who lived too long high up in the mountains all ended up being non-talkative kind of people.
Poor David couldn't talk. [Photo: Darric Tan]


A Video of the top taken by David Low
 This was a most memorable video of the top by David... the noise of the wind, the cold, the everything...



KC Tng was looking around for Patrick Papin, but Patrick was nowhere to be found.  He must have been in some corner capturing his unique shot of the Peak.  Gerard, Colin and Fann have gone ahead up the Peak.  Ah Li and I told Zheng Ang to wait for us at the foot of Low's Peak and we slowly climbed.

It was really freezing up there.  And Ah Li and I were trying our hardest to look for holes or big boulders to hide from the howling wind.  Poor thing, Zheng Ang... he was stuck down there in the freezing wind, trying to conserve his own heat.
Very cold! Photo: Ng Kai Sing.
Ah Li was looking for holes to hide herself in.  But there was none to be found.  We gave up and started moving up again.  The path became narrower and steeper as we ascended.  Many were pulling themselves up on all fours.
"Papa, take a picture of me and Yimao!" said Ah Li.

"Papa, look! Uncle Francis is coming down!" called out Ah Li.
And indeed Francis was coming down on his butts.  It was not easy going up to the top of the Peak.  But coming down was even harder.
Francis on his butts...

Right at that moment, I made a decision.  I was happy enough somewhere up one third of Low's Peak, a few tens of a metres short of 4095m.  I didn't need to go all the way to the top.  It was an extra risk that I wasn't ready to take, this being the month when the 'Gates' opened.  I discussed with Ah Li, and she agreed.  After I took a shot of Francis, I turned around and saw Kai Sing and Ah Chua coming up.  "Kai Sing!" I gestured to him to take a shot of them.
Ah Chua and Kai Sing at the waist of Low's Peak.
WOW!! A most beautiful Video by Ah Chua of he and Kai Sing climbing up.. and of the moment Kai Sing lifted up both hands to pose for my above shot..
The route was just like that.  Breathless.   Hard to walk.  And in the video, I see myself and Ah Li up there.  We were so close to the top but we were not going up.  In the video, I could hear Ah Chua telling Kai Sing: "Unfinished business...".. Hahaha!!



Slowly, Kai Sing moved up.
"Hahaha.." I was laughing up there.
"How? Are you all going up (to the top) ah?" Kai Sing asked.

"Nope," came my reply.
Kai Sing nodded in agreement.
Ah Chua: "Then we all also no need to go up liao lah.. Unfinished business..."
Yeah.  It was good enough for me, and for Kai Sing.  Coming up to this level, perhaps 50m short of the 4095m, was good enough.  Our jobs were done.
Job done, Kai Sing!
The Father and Son team continued moving up...
So while we sat back and enjoyed the moment, the Father and Son team looked up and assessed the terrain.
Appreciation of Terrain by Colin Tan, while Father Tan looked on.
About 10 metres above where Kai Sing, Ah Li and I stood, Kc Tng took a shot of Colin and Gerard making their way up.  This shot was very meaningful, in my opinion - the undivided attention of the son on achieving the summit, while the father looked around cautiously for potential dangers.
Almost there... [Photo: Kc Tng]
And finally, Father and son made it to the top!
Photo: Colin camera
Video of Gerard and Colin before their final ascent, and of Francis coming down- by Ah Chua

Ah Chua (to Francis): "You are going up ah?"
Francis: "Going down. But YOU are going up!"
Francis was really a joker!


Kc Tng was on his way down.
"I almost gave up," he told me when he saw me. "I almost didn't make it up to the top."
And our Gran Fondo specialist took two shots of us.
The South Peak, Ah Li and I. [Photo: Kc Tng]
Me and the mountain.
[Photo: KC Tng]
OK! Time to go down already.
We waited for a long while before Ah Sing descended to join us.   Fann, Chin Yao, Jeffrey, Gerard and Colin were still coming down slowly that treacherous stretch from the top of the Peak.  Ok, never mind... the few of us we will descend slowly first.

A Video of us going down by Ah Chua
Oh.... What a lovely video of Ah Li and myself going down from Low's Peak, even going down we needed to negotiate by going down on our butts.  And towards the last part of the video, we saw Kc Tng making his way down to join us.  A most memorable video from none other than Ah Chua!




And my, oh my!!! What a difference a couple of hours made!!
Now coming down and scanning the whole environment, we couldn't believe our eyes.  Did we make it up this whole terrain this morning?!  In the dark?!  With ample light, the surrounding looked so very different.  And honestly, what I saw got me a little frightened.

"Kai Sing, take a picture of me with The South Peak, can?" I asked.
And here I was with the sign.
The South Peak and I. [Photo: Ng Kai Sing]
Click & Zoom in to Enlarge.
We moved a little further downwards and Ah Chua found a nice spot.
"Ah Chua, can you help us take a photo?" I requested.
And half-a-family-photo was taken... Fann was still up at the Peak, and Serene and Questal were having coffee down at Laban Rata.
Click and Zoom in to Enlarge/ [Photo: Ah Chua]
Video of us descending by Ah Chua..

What all of us found more siong, was the fact that the 45% gradient now made descending so much more difficult.  Some of us found the immense strain on their knees, others found the ankles and thighs painful.  For me, I was trying my best to preserve my knees, thus I descended with my knees constantly bent.  That was a good technique for the knees, but as the quadriceps took most of the punishment, I could feel the pain on the thighs almost instantaneously.  After a while, I turned on my side and descended sideways to relief some of the pressure off the thighs.  At certain spots, I had to go down on my butts to negotiate the descent.
Going down the rockface, human being and lens cap and all...  [Photo: Ah Chua]
Now this shot was most memorable.  Because this was exactly what I remembered when I was suffering that terrible thigh pain.  Here we could see in the distance, the huts of Sayat Sayat check point.  And here I remembered I was thinking about the last 6km of trek from Laban Rata downwards.  Like what Ah Li said a little earlier "Papa.. later still got that 6km of trekking from Laban Rata down to Timpohon leh.."
Yah, this was really tough.  We were already feeling tired from our morning summit, and the extra 6 hours of trek from Laban Rata downwards was something that I dare not even think of at that moment.
Ah Sing, myself, Ah Li, Zheng Ang, our guid Abdul (in the red/black beanie). [Photo: Ah Chua]
After Sayat Sayat... came the Ropes!
We rested at Sayat Sayat for quite a while, until we felt recuperated enough and we continued our journey downwards... to hit the Rope section!  I looked over the cliff face and uttered a 'Welcome To Facebook' inside.  We really came up this part early this morning in the dark.  Now going down was harder in the mental department.
"You go down backwards," instructed our guide Abdul.
Man, this was like rappelling, going down.  Only difference was, there was no safety harness, no safety rope carabiner to the main rope, no nothing.  The only thing between us and free fall was... our own hands.  Kc Tng was the first to go down.  Kai Sing was damn good.  He had the presence of mind to take a shot of the guys and girls going down.  This series was really one helluva memorable shots.
Kc Tng very bravely went down first. The rockface side was really near vertical. Haha... [Photo: Ng Kai Sing] 
... and Ah Sing went.  This girl had no fear issues...
[Photo: Ng Kai Sing]
Then it was my turn.  And here, Kai Sing had to shoot from such an angle to enhance the steepness of the descent. Haha..
[Photo: Ng Kai Sing]
And then Ah Li...
[Photo: Ng Kai Sing]
And Zheng Ang in his Kampong Adidas and thin Bata socks...
[Photo: Ng Kai Sing]
A little after us, Gerard and Colin came down the same way...
Photo: Colin's camera
The ropes turned through loops anchored on the rocks, and at some points the ropes were a little slackened and the one at the bottom had to pull hard to create some tension for those on top, to prevent from swinging from side to side.
Some parts were really steep, so much more apparent in the broad daylight and looking down from above.
Here was one of those steep parts. 
Kai Sing looking down at us going down.. [Photo: Ah Chua]
The Last stretch... Also quite a challenging part..
Kai Sing relax poon pee pee... Could see how the cliff goes down behind if anyone should miss a step and let go of the rope. [Photo: Ah Chua]
Ok.. almost at the end of the rope section already..  And Kc Tng was down there taking shots of us coming down.  This was that section similar to the Black and White photo which Ah Chua took in the dark early that morning, while we were going up.
[Photo: Kc Tng]
Unknown to us, Fann, Chin Yao and Jeffrey were descending much more rapidly and they managed to catch up with us while we were at the ropes.  Here was a shot of them coming down... fast.
[Photo: Jeffrey]
... and they took their time coming down one by one...
[Photo: Jeffrey]
... and they finally caught up with us... See Chin Yao and Fann behind Ah Chua and Kai Sing?
Kai Sing was posing his stylo mylo shot without realising that, Wow... they caught up with us!!! [Photo: KC Tng]
A little later... Gerard and Colin also descended this way...
[Photo: Colin's camera, shot taken by their guide]
Back to Laban Rata...
It seemed an eternity, the trek down back to Laban Rata.  We just walked and bent our knees, and watched our steps... being careful all the time to avoid slipping off the rocks and some of the wet wooden-planked steps.  It took us more than 7 hours to arrive back at the Dining Hall of Laban Rata.  Dog-tired we were when we dragged our feet back into the Dining Hall at 10am, almost 8 hours after we set off at 2am that morning.  I stared at the noodles Serene brought to me, and again had to force myself to eat.  We we all so dehydrated that we just kept drinking bottles after bottles of water.  We were happy to see everyone back here.  Wai Kit and JQ were there.  Ah Sing was here earlier.  The fast boys were all resting around the tables.   Soon after we arrived, Gerard and Colin came in too.

Some rearrangement of the luggage, and I finally willingly pass three of our backpacks to the porters to help us carry down.  At RM10 per kg of stuffs, ours came up to about 23kg for the trip downwards, in addition to that about 7kg of stuff Saha brought up for Serene the day before, that came up to about 30kg.  I was sure the children and myself were so tired that we could do without these weight.  Anyway our jobs were done, after having successfully carried them up.  And the mission was accomplished.

At 11:25am, we started down from Laban Rata.
Imagine... hardly 2 hours after we arrived back at Laban Rata, tired and sleepy, when we were ushered off to descend back down.
Many of us have changed to a lighter attire in anticipation of the drastic change in climatic condition as we descended.
Darric just couldn't wait to fly down the mountain.
This Ironman Darric was really hell of a sportsman.  Wai Kit ever uttered, during one of his moment of total amazement of this power horse, that Darric's haemoglobin must have been very high.  A statement that I would concur.  Darric excelled in everything - from running, to swimming, to cycling and to dragon boating.  And now I add to this list one more - trekking.  He would be always amongst the first to be up the mountain and the first to be down.   I would usually catch sight of him right at the beginning of a trek, thereafter no more until the end of the journey.


And The King of Mountain was all ready to show everyone what a King is made of.





 Some of the fast trekkers had left earlier so we couldn't catch them in time to take a group shot.  But still, we tried.  Here was a pre-group photo shot taken by yours truly.
Among us, Chin Yao must have been the quietest, as he hardly engage in meaningless banters like those I often participate in.  But he was really helluva fast trekker, always amongst the front peloton.

And here, was our first, and one and only attempt at group photo...
[Photo: David Low's one shot one kill gorilla-podded P&S]
 "Wah lau eh... David, you look like you are going for a picnic!" I exclaimed, for David was indeed casual like nobody's business.
"Yeah.. Haha.. I just want to relax lah," replied the King Of Mountain.
The Kind Of Mountain - David Low.
And I purposely walked behind David to observe how the KOM tackled rocky steps.  And certainly he did not disappoint.  For although he proclaim to be not a lover of trekking, the way his feet and ankles negotiate the uneven terrain was totally amazing.  The way the soles of his feet wrapped around and hugged every rock they stepped on, belied the secret to his stability.  There was absolutely no clumsiness about him.  Every move was akin to a Sonata played on the musical scores of the ground.

"Wah lau, it's not easy," said David. "I have to keep focussing on the ground and where I step on, that I don't have a chance to enjoy the scenery."
Very well-said, David.  There lay the difference between a tough trek like Mount Kinabalu, and a relatively moderate trek in the Nepali Himalayan.  In Nepal, we enjoyed the scenery more because we had more opportunities to do so.

Despite seeing everything around him in Fisheye view (for those who didn't know why, you could ask him yourself...), his every landing betrayed no signs of hesitation.  David Low was, in every respect of the name, a true blue Mountain goat.  The last I saw him was in one of the rest hut where he asked for a sip of water from me.  Very soon after that, he skipped over the rocky surfaces and disappeared.


One trekker worthy of a special mention was this young lady JQ.  She was merely at the tender age of 10 years old going on 11.  And she literally leapt from one rock to another with carefree ease.  I observed time and again, the way her foot would twist inward with every step down, a maneuvre that would have caused a person like me a severely sprained ankle.  But alas, to her, it was as though her ankles and feet were part of the rocks.  She was one with the land, this young lady.  Looking at her, I couldn't help but believe she would one day be a highly successful trekker in her very own rights... even perhaps excelling what her Father has accomplished.
JQ and Ah Sing. [Photo: Wai Kit]

The journey down was relatively easier, with gravity working with us, rather than against.  The only thing?  We needed to watch our steps carefully and watch our knees.  For those of us who weigh easily twice or thrice that of David Low, we would be courting trouble if we just let go and let our body tumble down, impacting our knees.  Form was very important.
Important was the proper form of descending, as demonstrated by Gerard and Colin here.
I begun to observe how different people descend.  And my jaw dropped when I finally paid 101% attention to how Serene descended.  Don't see her no up.  Although she may come across as a whiny weakling who couldn't even bear her own daypack on a trek, she was far from one.  The way she negotiated each rock, was as steady as a seasoned trekker.  I began to understand a little more.  She was a veteran trekker, having done three Nepali Himalayan treks previously.  And all these experiences really paid off, as evident from the way her limbs and body responded to the terrain.  Her recent yoga practices also put her in a much better stead as her core muscles became stronger and the proprioception in her feet became more coordinated.
Serene showing the right way to trek down.
Our official Sweeper, Ah Chua.
[Photo: Jeffrey Wong]
Ah Chua was his usual caring self, the selfless character of a sweeper fully manifested in the way he would keep a watchful eye over the weaker trekkers, particularly the younger ones, and the 'slightly' older ones.  He was so much in his elements that he totally charmed the naive and innocent little young ladies in green and red.  Haha.. but honestly, I would say it again, as I have said thousands of times during the course of this trek:
"Ah Chua, you know...  I am so happy that you are here trekking with us."
And I sincerely meant every word of it.


On this trek back down to Timpohon, what motivated us was rest huts after rest huts, for each successive rest hut would signify 1km closer to the end point.

Suffering in Silence...

The distance closed down half a kilometre by half a kilometre.  At times painfully slow.  We would only cover 1km of horizontal distance for every one hour we trekked downwards, despite this being a downward descent.  It was no less tough.
Wai Kit, Gerard and I found ourselves walking right at the rear of this peloton of children, all the kids being right in front enthusiastically pushing through.  Every step down, an expression of pain shot through Wai Kit's face as his knees began to protest.  And the steps were no less kind to Gerard as his knees also began to issue him warning letters.  I seemed to be the luckier ones, with hardly any knee pain, but plenty of thigh strain I had to endure, perhaps once again because of the way I kept my knees bent to absorb the shock of the impact with my quadricep muscles.
It was painful, seeing how three of us men suffered in silence, while the children hoppity-hopped their ways down.  Our conclusion was, there was a finite lifespan for our joints and muscles.  Youth had its advantages, but sadly these would only be appreciated and missed dearly when youth was no longer there.

The famous Pitcher Plant...

With the going getting a little easier, I started keeping a lookout for the famous pitcher plants that were so supposed to define the Kinabalu trail.  But it was only nearly at the end of the journey that I found a few miserably tiny ones.

A case of Knee Failure...

I distinctly remembered, as Gerard, myself and Colin entered the last one kilometre of the trek, we heard and saw one of the older porters piggy-backing a slightly older Singaporean man, who would no longer walk as his knees had failed him somewhere along the descent.  He looked as us with an embarrassed look and muttered: "My knees gave way liao..." as he passed by us.  We smiled politely at him and gave him a nod.  I hope I would not end up like him when I one day grew less young.

Finale...

Yes, the end was in sight. Some 5 odd hours after we started from Laban Rata. 
Gerard about to cross the finishing line...
[Photo: Cheah Wai Kit]
A huge sense of relief flooded my being, as well as an indescribable fatigue, that washed over me like a waterfall tumbling over my head.  13 odd hours of trekking in one day was not exactly something that I had prepared myself for.  I was glad I completed it.  But more so, I was proud of the fact that the children accomplished the course, either in full, or in whatever distance they could each attain.  The younger ones were most admirable in their spirit, while the older ones were marvellous in their determination.


Even at the end, JQ still had enough energy to play afool with her trekking sticks, much to our entertainment.

Last few shots on the trek...
Colin allowed me only ONE shot at this.
And I took aim and fired it will an accuracy that could only be expected from a man who was experienced with both the rangefinder and with trekking.

And a similar kind of standard must certainly be expected of the opposite party, a Father of substance, a photographer who ever so often declared that 'Sharpness is overrated', in his attempt at the same.
Photo by Gerard Tan.
And soon after us, the final peloton arrived.
With aching butts and thighs.. [Photo: Ah Chua]

[Photo: Jeffrey Wong]

Seafood Dinner, anyone?
We were all tired. Totally. Every single one of us. Thirteen to fourteen hours of trek within a day wasn't something most of us were bargaining hard for.  But still, we got our money's worth of trekking, although we had to grit our teeth and complete it.
"Wow, 13 hours! That's like doing an Ironman!" exclaimed Gerard.
True.  Very true.  Even Ironmen need to reward themselves.
It was coming to 6pm when everyone finally gathered at the small little kopi tiam where we started two mornings ago.  It was going to be a long two-hour minibus journey from Kinabalu National Park back to our Honestay in Kota Kinabalu.
"Ok, I have spoken to Jackz.  He has recommended a seafood restaurant for our dinner tonight.  Let's just dump our luggage and packs at our Homestay along the way, and head straight for dinner.  After that we can go back and shower and rest," instructed Wai Kit.
That sounded good.
So at 8:30pm, we found ourselves sitting (and standing) along the corridors of Welcome Seafood somewhere in Kota Kinabalu, looking at hordes of diners jamming up round tables after round tables, wondering to ourselves how come it was still so crowded at 8:30pm on a Sunday evening.

"Must be a very popular restaurant," someone offered the explanation.
Francis and Jeffrey happily ordered a feast for the tired trekkers while the others waited.  From afar, I could see Jeffrey happily holding up a huge lobster and having a shot taken of him.
Jeffrey and his lobster. [Photo: Jeffrey Wong]

Our foodie boys were all excitedly gathering around the live seafood tanks.
Darric so excited about the seafood!
Darric and his lobster. [Photo: Darric Tan]

It was really so crowded and the boys were starting to be a little impatient (of course lah.. tired, famished and all sticky and smelly). The idea of changing to another restaurant was mooted, but after discussion with our really local local guide, the thoroughbred Sabahan Patrick Papin, Wai Kit decided that we would just stay put and wait.  Fortunately for us, we did.  Because the food was aplenty!


Seafood Seafood and more Seafood!
Could anyone imagine?! A bunch of dirty, sweaty and smelly trekkers who hadn't showered for almost 48 hours, immediately after a long and strenuous trek, plonked right in the middle of a popular and crowded seafood restaurant.. we all must have had been quite a sight to behold.
Seafood lover, seafood lover, and a Left-eye-Baluku.
[Photo: Jeffrey Wong]
JQ on her noodles and Ah Sing on her non-seafood. [Photo: Cheah Wai Kit]
A well-deserved night of restful sleep...
By the time we arrived back at the Homestay, it was past 10pm.
Every single one of us just dumped our dirty clothing, shoved everything into our big luggage, and quickly showered and changed.
Before I could even brush my teeth, every body in the house was snoring.

CLICK here to continue to the Next Day's Story:Day 4: Home Sweet Home!