View from the top.
We did not sleep a wink. I mean one. We tried very hard but the rest house was quite noisy and, for Ms. Cupcake anyway, the altitude hurt her head. We set out at 3am for the grind to the top. It was another 2.5km to the base of the peak and a grueling additional 250 meters of scramble to the summit.
It was truly exhausting. I made the summit about 5:30am. Ms. Cupcake both didn’t feel well and also didn’t feel comfortable at a point just before the 7km mark. At that point on the trail, it stopped being a straight ascent up via rocks and started being a steady climb with ropes. At that particular point, the ropes were being used to secure your move horizontally to another area; so, essentially, you were using the ropes to keep yourself from falling down the mountain – not a great feeling. She simply had had enough at that point and turned back. That is where her morning took another turn for the worse.
It was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and though she was dressed in warm clothes with hat, gloves and a neck warmer, she was still very cold. Unfortunately, the rest house was vacant and when we split on the trail both of us forgot that I had the key. Not a good move. So, for the next couple of hours, Ms. Cupcake basically just sat there and froze.
Meanwhile, I was racked with guilt that I left her. I wanted to stay and take her back to the lodge, but she insisted that I press on. We were so close and she didn’t want me to miss it. It was about 400 meters on that I remembered that I had the key, but it was the most difficult 400 meters of the entire ascent so I just couldn’t make it back to get it to her without certainly causing myself some physical harm from misusing the rope descending. I had sent the guide with her and I just didn’t trust my abilities to go back down just yet. So, instead, I decided to get to the top and then descend everything as quickly as I could.
The very, very cold lodge. After people leave to summit at 3am, the staff disappears and turns off the power until 6:30am.
I ran for the sections of the ascent that I could, though it was pretty grueling. It was simply granite rock face where largely you were able to make a slow trudge to the top, but sometimes you needed to use a rope to get through the really steep bits. From below, you would see a ridge up ahead and think that that was the top. Then, you would see headlights further on and realize that you still had a long, long way to go. There were several times that I was also ready to give up.
I reached the summit just before sunrise. It was beautiful. It was a clear day and as the sun came up you could more or less see all of Sabah. The green rolling hills (they were really mountains, but from up there they looked like hills) began to shine in the early morning rays to the south of the mountain while the coast and KK woke up to the north. Sunrise bore its typical hues and after I had a kind German girl take a photo of me with the peak sign (for those of you that doubt that I made it), I began a speedy descent down the mountain. I made it down in about 1 hr and 15 minutes to the rest house. I ran the last 1 km (the part after the ropes), to try to get to Ms. Cupcake as soon as possible. I was practically physically destroyed by the time I got there.
As quick as I was, she was positively freezing. She had even tried to lay down on the floor outside of our room but was too cold. What a mess. I knew that all she wanted to do now, though, was get off of the mountain. So, despite the fact that my legs were literally shaking, I took down what I could eat of a quick breakfast, grabbed our bags and we headed down the mountain. We descended so quickly that at the bottom of the mountain my legs almost ceased to function. We were down in 3 hrs and 10 minutes. We reached the bottom by 11:45am – so early, that our ride back to KK was not even there yet. They had never had a client reach the bottom before 1pm (that is certainly not to say that people don’t – they had simply never had someone that did it – as we were actually the 4th and 5th people down the mountain, respectively, from the night before), but Ms. Cupcake’s need to end her mountain experience gave extra special motivation on the descent. Meanwhile, after 20km of hiking in 28 hrs (12km in less than 9 hrs that morning) and about 2500 meters of each ascent and descent, my body was becoming an absolute mess. My sprained ankle did not hurt, but was black and blue and had swelled to about 4x its former size.
Once our transport back to KK arrived, we headed back to the city as quickly as possible. At that point, all we could think of was the ocean view suite we’d get at the Le Meredién (courtesy, again, of all the work travel and the Starwood membership) and some fruity drinks at the hotel pool. A couple of hours later, sitting at the pool, looking out over the ocean after a nice hot shower and some time absorbing civilization in our room, all was right with the world again. We were sore, but I was thrilled with my accomplishment and Ms. Cupcake was damn happy to be off of the mountain.
The evening finished with a real treat. KK is famous for its barbecued fish. The fish is caught within 500 meters of shore and then grilled in front of you and served up as fresh as could be. The night market with the best barbecued fish stands was directly in front of our hotel on the ocean promenade so we simply walked across the street to what would be our best meal, hands down, in Malaysia.
Walking through all of the stalls at the market, you are simply spoiled for choice. We passed several rows of hawkers with all types of Malay food, but it is at the back, nearest the sea, that you find all of the fish stands. Our choice was made pretty simple. We missed the front of a particular stall but walked right through their kitchen. Staring up at us with eyes as clear as tropical waters was a huge plate of red snapper and parrot fish.
The after photo of the fish. I thought this photo was absolutely disgusting, but Aaron insisted on including it. It tasted good.
We ordered the largest parrot fish (probably about 3 – 4 lbs as a whole fish), some veg fried noodles, and then sat at the stalls benches and tables while we waited for it to be grilled up. About 15 minutes later, a perfectly grilled whole fish arrived in front us. Basted in Malay barbecue sauce and rub, it was sweet and spicy and super moist – definitely the best fish I had ever had. The noodles, along with some satay we picked up from another stall, made the perfect accompaniments. We finished the meal with some “half moons” (which, incidentally, we also had as an appetizer – we were starving after the mountain) and some fired bananas. There is nothing like pancakes with butter and peanuts and fried fruit to end a delectable meal! All of that food was only US$ 12, of which the fish was US$ 8!
As we finished, it started to pour. Nothing stopped. The market and all of those cooking and eating continued on as if Noah’s Ark type rains were nothing extraordinary. Of course that is because they are indeed nothing extraordinary in KK, but to us it was great to see the fun simply continue through the torrential downpour.
Looking down over the market now from the room the frenetic pace continues. With a bursting but delighted stomach and aching legs, we are off to sleep. It is only 8pm, but we are exhausting and we are off to see Orang-utans bright and early tomorrow!