Climbing Mount Kinabalu

By Dave Young

In early January 2017, my son, Graham in Brunei who we had planned to visit in July texted me: ‘Would you like to climb Mount Kinabalu?’ I checked it out on Google. 4 092 metres. Kilimanjaro 5,800 metres. Kinabalu should be a walk in the park. I texted back ‘Yes’.

Little did I know what I was in for. My golfing friends said I was out of my mind. “You’ll never make it, Dave. It’s not like walking on the flat. It’s uphill all the way” said Rob. I had my first twinges of concern. Six months later Cherie and I flew to Brunei. Graham said I would have to do some training in preparation. We walked the Shabandar Hills near Bandar Seri Begawan, the Brunei capital city. It was hell the first time, not so bad the fifth time. Then we were off to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and when we flew in, the mountain was invisible, shrouded in cloud.

© Dave Young

At 5am the next morning, our tour guides picked us up from our hotel and we were on our way to a collection point to join the group of a hundred mountaineers who included teachers, airline pilots and their girlfriends. I was, at 72 years old, surely the oldest. We had to sign an indemnity. I showed my passport to an official and he handed me the form: ‘What you are about to do is dangerous. You are risking injury and even death. You are doing this voluntarily. We are not responsible: Name, Passport number, Signature, Date’. I signed.

Graham and I were assigned a guide named Wilson Latius, a young Malay. He looked pleasant enough and turned out to be tough as nails and my saviour. On Day 1 we climbed to the halfway house. Hot and steamy when we started, six hours later it was freezing cold. I met and had pleasantries with another aging climber who was from Melbourne and also climbing with his son. There were flags of all nations in the mess hall and Graham found the Zimbabwe flag and took my photograph underneath it.

Rest for the night was in the form of a bunk bed in a dormitory. During the night the wind came up and I had learned from a previous climber that we would only climb to the summit if the weather permitted. I half hoped the weather would prevent us climbing further, half hoped that it wouldn’t. Outside our room I had seen a bunch of framed motivational statements and one stood out in my memory: ‘Never, ever, ever give up’

At 1:30 am in the morning we breakfasted and at 2 am we started to climb with the expectation of reaching the summit by sunrise. Although we all had head torches, all I could see above and below me were the torches shining alone in the darkness. After an hour it started to rain and the wind strengthened. I was struggling while Graham and Wilson seemed at ease. The more we climbed the stronger the wind, the heavier the rain. We broke out from the forest onto the granite slab where the rain slashed at us and the wind howled, gusting strongly. I was blown over several times, but on we climbed.

© Dave Young

We passed others sheltering from the wind and the rain under granite boulders, but on we went. I heard Rob’s voice saying I would never make it but I mouthed silently to myself – never, ever, ever give up. And we didn’t.

At 6:15am we reached the summit and it was below freezing. I was so elated that I couldn’t feel the cold. My heart was pumping, my adrenaline was flowing. It was a moment of exhilaration and total satisfaction. We found our phones and took pictures.

Now that it was light, I could see where we had been. I marvelled at what we had done in the darkness, some of it with the aid of ropes. We now needed the ropes on the slippery downhill journey, until once again we reached the rainforest. At the halfway house we had another

breakfast and then we recommenced our downward journey. After a kilometre or so I was exhausted, totally spent. I struggled all the way down, much worse than climbing up. We stopped at a rest point where we met the next group of climbers coming up. I sat slumped against a wall, eating a Mars bar that I had thankfully acquired before the climb.

Approached by a young man and his girlfriend, he asked me if I had made it. “Yes”, I replied, “I did”. “Where are you from” he asked and with great pride I told him. “Did you suffer from altitude sickness?” he asked, concerned about his girlfriend. “No”, I replied. “If you are from Africa you have climbed Kili then?” I thought, he thinks I’ve done this kind of thing before!

No”, I replied quietly, “Not yet!”  – © Ndeipi Magazine, June/Issue 111

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