A couple months ago, I was sitting on the floor at Barnes and Noble, flipping through guidebooks about Southeast Asia. I came across a random page talking about a mountain in Malaysia that sparked my interest. I went home and googled "Mt Kinabalu," and as soon as I saw the pictures, I automatically knew that's what I was going to do and that's exactly how I would start my trip.
I can't really explain the feeling of going from seeing a paragraph written on a page, to actually seeing the entire thing in front of me. To know that I was capable of finding something I wanted to do on the other side of the world, planning it out, and actually doing it, all by myself. A couple months ago I was looking at pictures of this mountain; yesterday I was on top of it.
This mountain was the reason I came to Malaysia, although I ended up falling in love with other parts of Malaysia in the meantime.
I gave myself a few days in Malaysia before I started the trek to adjust to the time change. I chose the 3 day, 2 night trip up the mountain, even though they offer a 2/1 option, because the 3 days means you sleep the first night at the base of the mountain, which helps adjust to elevation. I had read about people not being able to complete the climb because of altitude sickness and I really didn't want that to happen to me!!
The first day, the company picked me up and drove me the two hours to Kinabalu Park. I shared a room with two Malaysian girls, who really helped me understand so many parts of the country that I had been wondering about. They were super nice. The next day, we had breakfast and then began our climb. I had my guide (you aren't allowed to climb without a guide) all to myself - she didn't speak much English, but it was fine because once we started climbing I didn't feel much like talking anyway.
The climb isn't very long, but the mountain is pretty high, so basically the trail just goes straight up the entire way. There is no down, rarely any flat parts. Just up.
The lodge where we were spending the night (where I had my hot chocolate) was 11,000 feet up and was a lot cuter than I expected. No heat, but actual toilets, so that was a plus. There were maybe around 70 people doing the climb. Somehow I managed to make friends with the only two people I was sharing a room with that night - a man originally from the UK, but now living in Singapore, and a boy from Denmark. We talked for hours and it was hilarious when we realized we were all in the same room. Of course we were.
It was freezing at the lodge, and on the mountain. A huge challenge for me on this trip was figuring out how to pack one backpack for the typical 95 degree Asian heat but also bring clothing for 30 degree windiness.
They woke us up at 1:30 am so that we could eat breakfast and start the climb to the top. I slept maybe two hours - I've never slept at such a high elevation before and I could feel my heart and as soon as I closed my eyes I would feel like I couldn't really breathe very well. We climbed the rest of the way up in the dark, with headlamps. It was absolutely incredible for me - so completely surreal. It was pitch black except for little lights bobbing, marking the trail ahead of me and behind me.
It was really cold, and really steep, and there were parts where it was so bad that you had to hold on to the rope to support your entire weight as you climbed, just trusting that the rope would hold. The mountain is so different at the top than any mountain I've ever seen. It's sort of this smooth rockiness , everywhere. If you fell, you'd fall for a while.
It was hard, but I was also really motivated, because I knew some people wouldn't get to see the sun rise because they couldn't hike fast enough. Since that was all I wanted, I went quickly. I started the climb last but finished maybe fifth, losing my guide somewhere along the way. Lol I just wanted it to be over with!!!
The sunrise was one of the best things I have ever experienced in my life. We were standing on a mountain, on top of the clouds. I could not believe how high up we were and that I had actually walked all that way. It was like being on an airplane, but I was walking instead. It was amazing. I don't even know how to describe it in words. We were also really, really lucky to have great weather - the people the day before us weren't allowed to climb to the top because the weather was too bad.
I spent maybe an hour just sitting at the top, staring as it got lighter and lighter around me and I could actually see what I had just summited. It was unbelievable. I was also shivering and didn't realize how numb my hands were until I started walking down and my hands got all tingly (I had been wearing gloves but took them off at the top to take pictures.)
The climb down was not as great. Turns out that when you walk straight up, you also have to walk straight down. At first it was really cool because the view was amazing, but then a cloud slowly came over to us (you can watch it gradually in the pictures, it's actually really funny) and then we were enveloped in it.
I have never experienced being in an actual huge cloud. It was not as nice as I would have expected. Lol. It was beautiful out, then all of a sudden I couldn't see, it was windy and cold, and it wasn't raining but my hair was all of a sudden soaked. But at that point I still felt fine because I was excited we were in a cloud and we had just gotten to the top!! The last picture is of me back at the lodge, where we got to eat a second breakfast.
Then it was time to hike down. All the way back down....... And it had started pouring. At first it was okay because I didn't actually think it would rain that long. But nope!! It rained the entire way down the mountain. As the hours went on I was trying to talk myself out of being moody - at the bottom, it will be warm, you can put on dry clothes, etc.
At the bottom it was not warm. I had forgotten that we were still at an elevation of about 5,000 and it was rainy and windy and cold. And I was shaking because everything on me was soaked. Then to top that off I realized both phones were in the pocket of my rain jacket which apparently is not totally rain proof. My iPhone was in a case and was still working, but I shut it off for the night and put it in rice just in case. My other phone shorted out and is basically done forever. Then I realized the only warm clothes I brought on this trip were on me, and wet. So it was not a very happy next few hours. It was also starting to hit me that I had climbed an entire mountain but had barely slept. When I got to my new hostel, and it was super tiny and crowded and I realized I would not get a good nights sleep there, and I noticed the bumps on my legs and then bugs crawled out of my clothes, I took a long time to reason with my exhausted self and checked myself into a hotel.
So. I am currently in a super nice hotel (which in Malaysia will run you about $40). I took a very long steaming hot shower last night, watching actual layers of dirt just run off of me. I also washed all of my clothes in the shower and hung them up to dry. They aren't dry yet and I need them to dry before I check out in a couple hours but that can be dealt with when I get to it. The bugs seem to have disappeared and the bumps on my legs have gone down. I slept my first really good, uninterrupted sleep since I've been here, in an actual private bed with real sheets. Today I need to find a new phone that I can put a SIM card in. Tonight I fly to Vietnam.