Tuesday, 13 May
The mission begins
We woke at 6am on Tuesday and knew that we had a big day ahead. The plan was to assemble at the hotel lobby, grab a group photo with Mr Monty, and head off to Kinabalu National Park. And with an early-morning sunrise matching the previous evening’s sunset, things were looking good for the climb.
We were soon on our way and nervous chatter was hushed momentarily by the hotel’s packed breakfast. But it wasn’t long before the coach entered Sabah’s Crocker Range of mountains that are home to Mount Kinabalu. The scenery was enough to draw us away from breakfast and really brought home the scale of the task before us. This morning we watched the sun rise over the South China Sea – tomorrow we’ll see the same thing happen from over four kilometres higher up.
Arriving at the entrance to Kinabalu National Park, we met up with the guides from tour company Amazing Borneo and got our first glimpse of the distinctive mountain top. The clouds drifted off the summit and we could finally see what we’d come to scale. A five kilometre minibus ride would take us to the trailhead but from there the journey was up to our own two feet.
Mount Kinabalu is most typically tackled in two days. Day one covers roughly six kilometres of trail to a rest house where hikers spend the night before pushing onto the summit for sunrise the next morning. We weren’t out to buck any trends (not unless they involved monitor lizard costumes anyway) and so we’d follow the standard route. After a short briefing from lead guide Joe we set off to climb the first day’s 1,423 metres from Timpohon Gate to Pendant Hut where we’d stay for the night.
Spirits were high as we left Timpohon Gate. There was a long way to go but we were ready for the challenge and excited that Mr Monty’s Mission was finally a reality. The trail started with a short descent and then a pleasant rise as it wound past Carson Waterfall, but it didn’t take long for the mountain to reveal its killer gradient. We turned a corner less than one kilometre into the walk and were confronted by a viciously steep set of steps. The climbing was to begin here – and so was the rain.
There’s no getting round the fact that Mount Kinabalu is a long, tough drag of a climb. As we trundled on, connecting shelter after shelter, rain coats and ponchos took care of the persistent mist, but we were certainly ready for the promised cup of hot, sweet tea at the Pendant hut.
As we drew close to the rest house, the rain began to fall with purpose. The damp mist we’d walked through all morning became heavy and unrelenting. Visibility closed in, shoes soaked through and temperatures dropped before we eventually spotted the Laban Rata rest house that serves as the mountain’s halfway hub for climbers. From here it was a five-minute climb to the Pendant Hut and to warmth and recovery.
The afternoon and evening were spent warming up and preparing for the next day’s slog to the summit. With a departure time from Pendant Hut set for 2:30am, we had an early night and braced ourselves for what was reported to be an even tougher trail than the one we’d just conquered.
Mr Monty's Mission - Day 1
Mr Monty's Mission - Day 3