Category Archives: Borneo

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu

Photos are of me climbing up the ropes of the granite face of Mt, Kinabalu and the sunrise view from the top, overlooking the granite crowns.

Before I write about my climb up Mt. Kinabalu, I have two stories that remind me of how Malaysian Borneo is still not quite as developed as the western world: First, on the drive from Kota Kinabalu to Mt. Kinabalu, we passed a car accident. Lots of cars had pulled over to watch and some were helping the injured driver, who, as we passed was lying in the shade and visibly quite bloody. About 30-40 minutes of driving later, we pass an ambulance headed towards the scene of the accident. About an hour and a half after that, finally at our destination, we pass the ambulance again – headed away from the accident. Basically, it made me appreciate how much faster our emergency personnel respond to such situations at home. Secondly, they love plastic bags here. You buy a pastry and it gets wrapped in plastic and then put in a plastic bag. Anytime you go to a store, you get a plastic bag. Well, I’m walking down the street today and saw a man holding a chicken in a plastic bag. Nope, not a dead chicken, but a real, live chicken. It made me chuckle!

Mt. Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in South East Asia and roughly half the height of Everest. Joanne, the Irish girl, Sam, the Canadian guy and I set off to climb Mt. Kinabalu on the day of the men’s Climbathon. The shorter route was closed until noon, as the Climbathon was going on, so we opted for a route that was 2km longer as we were allowed to leave in the morning. Given that it rains consistently every afternoon at around 1pm, we wanted to get as much hiking out of the way before the rain started coming down. Our hike was nice and scenic until it started raining, predictably at 1pm. I got completely drenched during the last hour and half to two hours of the hike and was happy for the hot shower at Laban Rata, which was our resting point for the night (~3200m). Our lodge was much nicer than I was expecting, complete with hot showers and really warm, comfortable beds. There were multiple all-you-can eat buffets, which I took full advantage of, as climbing definitely depleted my energy. We went to bed at 7:30pm and after a fitful night of sleep, woke up at 2:30am, ate breakfast and started hiking at 3. I made it to the summit at 5:30am (4095m), just in time for a stunning sunrise.

The last portion of the climb was all granite slabs – and there were ropes guiding the way the entire time. Sometimes you had to pull yourself up with the rope, and other times, it was just plain steep. It was a decent climb, but a slow and steady pace made it completely bearable. It took me a total of 8 hours to get to the top. Ok, so I did take a longer route up. But, compare that to a girl in my hostel who was 10th place in the Climbathon – she went up AND back down all in 4 hours. Crazy! Apparently Skyrunning (as it’s called) is very popular in the UK (where there are no mountains above 1000m to speak of), as many of the competitors are from the UK. Anyway, it makes the normal climb (which I did) look like a piece of cake when you look at some of the times people raced up and back in. Unfortunately, I must be getting old, as my knees and left ankle killed me on the way down. I think I twisted my ankle while surfing, because I’d get really sharp pangs of pain shooting up my leg if I stepped the wrong way. I only hope that everything gets in working order again before Nepal.

After the climb, I spent my last full day in Borneo at the beach. I went to a different, small island offshore and swam, read, ate, swam, read, swam, read, ate. It was incredibly relaxing and very beautiful. I think I’m (sadly) done with the beach now for at least a month – until I get to Thailand in December. But, my legs feel great and I’m ready for my 3 weeks of trekking in Nepal! I head to Singapore for a few days and then on to KL for a crazy day of transit: KL to Bangkok to Kolkata to Delhi. Next update will likely be from India or Nepal in very early November! Enjoy the fall weather at home – I thought about that today as I was lying on the beach, just trying to envision leaves crunching under my feet or the smell of mulling spices on the stove in my old apartment. So, happy fall to y’all back home! Also, thanks for all the emails and facebook comments – it’s really nice and encouraging to get news from home!

Beachin’ in Borneo

Pictures are of the Kota Kinabalu night market where I had delicious bbq tuna steak and of the sunset I saw while camping at a small offshore island. Next blog post will have cooler photos. And I’ll try to upload more to facebook too.

After parting ways with Niki at the KL airport, I hopped on my flight to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the province Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. My flight arrived around midnight and I was the only white person on my flight and the only white person in the airport. After over 5 weeks in Indonesia where I’d be automatically ushered to where I wanted to be by a commission-seeking local, I was completely ignored at the KK airport. Perhaps for most people, this would be a welcomed reprieve, but it just made me miss Indonesia. Of all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve come to realize that I really and truly absolutely adore developing countries. I much prefer the style of travel that they offer than more developed nations. Anyway, I hopped into my $15 cab, where I had to orderly queue in line and was dropped at my hostel. I have to pay for 1 night what I paid for my last 5 nights in Bali.

So, Borneo. I had expected untamed jungle, indigenous people, undiscovered off-shore islands, like Palau Tiga, where the first Survivor was filmed. Well, I was a bit surprised when I landed in Kota Kinabalu and discovered that it is a very developed city, the people are quite refined and the wealth of the local people is fairly apparent. KK isn’t too far from Brunei, where the world’s wealthiest man (until Bill Gates usurped him) lives. The wealth in this region is due to natural resources – offshore oil drilling and palm oil plantations. Borneo in general has a massive deforestation problem – the entire island (and mind you, this is the world’s 4th largest island) is on track to be 98% deforested by 2022. The natural jungle is cut down for rattan furniture and is replaced by rows upon rows of palm trees. As I’m sure you all remember from your science class days, any form of mono-cropping isn’t good for the environment and it’s particularly sad as Borneo is arguably one of the few places on earth with such biodiversity and many, many rare species. And gosh, just where will future episodes of Planet Earth be filmed?

Anyway, I’m digressing. As a result of it’s natural resources, this island is actually much wealthier than I anticipated and as a result, it has all the bells and whistles that a developed nation has. I wanted to climb Mt. Kinabalu straight away – which at 4,095m is Southeast Asia’s highest mountain (the highest mountain between the Himalayas and Papua New Guinea), but there’s a multi-day Climbathon going on, in which racers climb up the mountain in record times. So, I had to push my climb back a few days.

In the meantime, I decided to go camping on an off-shore island with Joanne, an Irish girl I’ve met and Sam, a 19 year old Canadian guy that tagged along. Joanne and I camped for 2 nights and Sam for only 1. The first Survivor was filmed just a few kilometers away from the island that we stayed on, which was pretty exciting. The sand was superfine and very comfortable for sleeping. We lounged, read, swam, snorkeled and ate way too many noodles and bread and peanut butter. It was nice having a bonfire on the beach – looking one direction was the vast South China Sea and a few islands in the distance, yet looking the other way were the bright city lights of Kota Kinabalu.

After 2 days of camping, Joanne and I headed to Mt. Kinabalu. We stayed in a 12-bed dorm that absolutely reeks of BO – and is the most I’ve paid for accommodation this entire trip – $10, including breakfast. As it turns out, everyone in our dorm, except us, is doing the climbathon. And, unbeknownst to us, we could’ve signed up for the climbathon and paid only $35, which let’s just say is a lot less than what we’re paying. But, we didn’t find that out until too late unfortunately. I don’t know how keen I’d be on running up the mountain. Next post I write, I’ll give an update on how the climb went.

Oh, and in other news, Niki just bought a ticket to India and will be joining me on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal! Woohoo! I’ll be doing that trek with Dean (my boss from Cushman and Wakefield), my sister and now Niki. At this point, I just can’t wait to get to India and Nepal!