Cynthia’s Journal

Climbing Mount Kinabalu is definitely an experience of a lifetime, something I won’t forget for the rest of my life. Yes I did hiking before, did jungle trekking, a bit of mountain hiking (up to around 2,000 m elevation) but there was nothing like climbing Mt. K. Nothing even close – at least not for me.

Here’s my journal. My thoughts and views, not so much about facts as Wilfrid has covered most of them.

The Preparation

I didn’t do much preparation, both in terms of physical preparation and gear preparation.

I tried to up my exercise, but due to work commitment and rainy season, I could only manage to do outdoor running and stair climbing (from ground floor to 12th floor of my apartment) around twice a week. This was worse than my exercise routine a few months ago when I would do heavy weight training and (boring) treadmill run in the gym. But I thought it was better than not exercising at all.

In terms of gear preparation, I was not very enthusiastic in doing gear-shopping. I was reluctant to spend a lot of money for a potentially one-time event. Looking at the price tag of some of the items in outdoor equipment shop really turned me off. Come on, I didn’t want to spend $500 for a windbreaker or $180 for a pair of strap sandals. In the end, I bought reasonably-priced windbreaker, a pair of outdoor shoes, a hat (which I didn’t use at all in the end), and most importantly, an after-sun-lotion.

Those who know me will know that I’m not big of a shopper. But like the journey itself, Wilfrid & Tong Kiat made the experience fun.

The Pain

It was 19 hours of sheer pain. Both for my body and my mind.

Climbing up, I was out of breath although my legs were fine. In my first KM, I felt nauseous and felt like giving up (i.e. hey, it’s still early to make a U-turn and go back to the hotel). But I went on, and at some stretch it got easier, at other stretch it got tougher. The walking stick helped a lot, I used it often to carry my body weight up a stair.

In my mind, I played all kinds of words to keep me going. Motivational words, mantra, prayers – you name it, I played it. Examples below.

  • “Take small steps and focus on your breathing” – from our guide
  • “Baby step, baby step” – from Wilfrid
  • “One more step, just one more step. After that, you can rest if you want to.”
  • “You can do it, you can do it ! If you can do this, you can do ANYTHING !!”
  • “Oh God.. Send Your Spirit of Strength and Spirit of Perseverance upon me..”
  • “From this point on, it’s no longer about the body, it’s about our fighting spirit.” – Wilfrid & Tong Kiat, during the last 2 km before reaching the resthouse.

For me, the toughest part was the climb to the peak at early morning. The ropes were scary, the air is thin, and I was so afraid I would lose my footing and fall down. Struggling to reach the peak, my mind was totally silent. No more voices, no more cheerleaders. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve experienced this kind of silence very often, if ever. At that point, since my body and mind were in auto-pilot, I could go on walking forever. I was no longer within my control.

Once the guide said “There, Cynthia, you see the light there? That’s the peak.” I sensed a glint of hope but yet the light was so damn far away…

After reaching the peak, going down was easier for me. I no longer had problems with my breath, although my legs at some point were shaking due to exhaustion. I was frustrated by never-ending nightmares in a form of steps and muddy stones. I kept asking myself if this will ever end.

I was also worried for Wilfrid & Tong Kiat as they were having knee pain. But I can say that they are warriors. They relied purely on determination to get to the end, they didn’t let the pain got in their way. I remember at one point, Tong Kiat said “I can really see myself at the finish line.” – and he got really motivated and walked a bit faster. Wilfrid kept on saying “No pain, no pain. Mind over matter” and he managed to take big steps.

By the time we reached the Gate, the end, the finish line, exhaustion was an understatement. At that moment, we swore that we would never do this again.

The Pleasure

It was wonderful to have perfect weather in those 2 days. The shade, the fresh air, no strong sun, and NO RAIN. It was actually a pleasant walk. If it was hotter than this, I might not have been able to complete the climb. I love the smell of fresh air, it reminded me of the fresh air at the Grampians in Melbourne, but better. Trees and greenery everywhere, and there was even a refreshing waterfall somewhere between KM 0 – 1.

It was wonderful to be able to eat anything I want, however much I want. Upon reaching the rest house, I had a MARRS bar and it was the best MARRS bar I’ve ever had in my life. During those 2 days, and a few days after the climb, I consumed so much food – some of which I didn’t even like to eat during normal days. But boy, could I eat. I could finish one big plate of fried rice in probably 5 seconds.

The view from the peak was breathtaking. In the crack of dawn, when the light was still dim, we could see the cloud below us, and Kinabalu peaks surrounding us. White clouds, and dark peaks, with the ray of sun started coming out. The feeling was overwhelming. It was amazement mixed fear, realizing that we are in such high altitude. I was so happy to be able to see such a majestic view. Nature is beautiful. All the pain we endured was worth it. Later on when I gave my Mom the full report of my climb, she said “Oh, you probably feel like you were in heaven up there, seeing the clouds below you.. That’s how hard it is to go to heaven.” How true.

What added to the fulfillment is having such a great team sharing the journey. Wilfrid and Tong Kiat were great. I have great respect for them, as although at times they were in bad condition, they could still give me encouragement not to give up. We fed off each other’s progress, and looked after each other. I can only hope that I was not too much of a burden to them, and have given them as much as they have given me. Without them I could never reach the top. I will ever be thankful to Wilfrid for carrying my bag pack all the way to the rest house on day 1.

Old adage said that pleasure multiplies if shared, and pain lessens if shared. This is especially true this time. I’m glad that we were in this together. Even until now, we still haven’t stopped discussing about our climb. And we have agreed to do other “expeditions” together.

Last but not least, this experience was very powerful for me to respect and appreciate myself, and to take myself seriously. I was not the fittest person on earth, the most outdoorsy person, or one with the strongest will power. But I managed to finish the journey. I have never put my mind nor body into so much stress before, but yet I survived, in one piece. Yes it takes time to recover, but there has been no serious damage. Yes, I had difficulties walking for 2 days after the climb, but now (4th day after) I’m almost 100% recovered. Never underestimate your body’s ability to heal itself.

This accomplishment is a major confidence-booster for me. I will no longer take myself, my body for granted. For instance, I look at my legs in different light now, definitely with more respect. And I trust my “voices” more as they have guided me through the journey. I am not as weak, as scatterbrained as I thought. In fact, I’m pretty strong, heh heh..

If you asked me 3 days ago if I would do this again, my answer was a resounding NO. But now, if you ask me, will I go trekking again? The answer is a definite YES. Will I climb another mountain? If it is safe, then definitely YES. Will I climb Mount Kinabalu again? Then the answer is DEFINITELY MAYBE…

Ask me again next week, when all the pain have disappeared.

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