Mount Kinabalu 1990

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Found this old certificate while searching for something else. My goodness, has it been so long ago?

1990 : pre-digital, pre-Facebook. Even the name and date was printed from a typewriter. There’s nothing else to share of my trip except recollections of how it had been.

Can’t believe how crazy we were to climb Mount Kinabalu, the day after we dived for a week in Sipadan. We were younger, 25 years to be exact. Don’t know about my friends, but it was an extremely tough climb for me. Can still remember as if it was yesterday.

We started where the rain forest was thick, and the air hot and humid. A continuous ascent through winding paths that kept us going because staying still was being a landing pad for all kinds of bugs and other friendly little creatures.

Though the number of climbers were restricted each day, the trail was crowded. We were one of the earliest to start but people kept overtaking us. Some slowed down to chat but off they went in a flash disappearing into the shadows of the jungle.

After many hours, the trees and dense undergrowth gave way to ferns and shrubs. We could see the ranger station below where we registered our climb and met our guide. It was a long way up but still more to go before reaching the half-way point where we rested for the night.

In those days, we had to carry our own cooking equipment and food supplies, canned beans and sardines, some biscuits and water. Were they heavy! I just checked online and there’s a restaurant with buffet dinner. Climbers have it easy today.

By late afternoon, we finally arrived at the lodge to the applause of fellow climbers who had their showers and were preparing dinner in little camping stoves.

We settled as soon as we can, a quick shower in cold water piped from a waterfall, a hasty dinner and off to sleep at about 8pm pitch dark with an owl hooting in the distance.

At 3am, we were awaken by our guide for the climb to the peak. We were not the earliest, some had started an hour before.

This part of the climb was especially challenging. The air was getting thin. Every step was an effort. I must have looked sick and pathetic. The guide asked if I could go on. I was slowing the party. He was worried we would not be able to reach the peak before morning clouds covered the slopes making descent dangerous.

People making their way down were giving us encouragement – just a few metres more; you can make it; goodbye and all the best.

No way would I give up so close to the peak.

So step by step gasping air like fish out of water, up the glistering granite wet with dawn’s dew and colours of the rising sun. It was beautiful.

I believe the thin air forces one to pause and indulge in nature at its finest. I remember that morning so vividly – shimmering lights of the villages in the valleys, veils of mist trapped in rain forests, sky painted with hues of pink, baby blue and pale saffron, silhouettes of climbers, my friends nearby panting and grinning, all of us feeling light in our hearts and heads. Such simple happy moments.

After what seemed like forever, I could see Low’s Peak, the highest point at last.

It was brilliant morning. By the time we reached the top, everyone’s left. We had the entire peak to ourselves. The view was amazing. We found the signature book and proudly wrote our names.

Can’t remember how long we stayed up there but the guide was urging us to leave. The clouds were approaching fast and he didn’t want any of us getting lost or falling off the slippery slope.

Descent was a different sensation. The legs so used to climbing up had problems walking down. We must have taken 8 – 9 hours to get back to the ranger station, thankfully all in one piece.

Will I do it again? Yes, definitely.

Joan Yap

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