The Sad Story of Mt Kinabalu – Part 3 For and Against

Now I come to the various arguments put forth by people on both side of the fences. Of course with the benefits of hindsight, many arm chair critics and as one very famous blogger called them “simisaimologist” are criticising MOE, the school, the Principal and the teachers for sanctioning and organising this trip. Some also argued that this trip should not have been organised so close to the PSLE blah blah blah.

I think these comments are very unfair and unwarranted. I am very sure that whoever came up with the idea of this trip for the graduating class of Pri 6 did not wake up one day from his/her bed and decided “hey, today we going to send some kids to their death!”. No. On the contrary, the school must have thought long and hard before going ahead with it. Why would the teachers want to sacrifice their precious school holidays to take care of so many kids, worrying about their whereabouts and safety 24/7 when they could have spend it with their families and loved ones? And even if the teachers want to go and climb Mt Kinabalu themselves, I am very sure they would much prefer to go with their own kakis then manage a group of children.  So no, the school and especially the teachers should not be blamed. If anything, they should be lauded for daring to think big and for being brave enough to allow the children of TKPS to try these challenges. But that is not to say that they should not sit down and carefully evaluate this particular destination in the light of the earthquake and the known challenges as highlighted in my previous post.

Next, some of the arguments being peddled on-line why the school should continue with the climb. As I haves stated in Part 1, the 4 main arguments are (1) Character development i.e. leadership, teamwork, friendship and fitness (2) the organiser and website said it is safe (3) our children need to be acquainted with the outdoor and nature and last but not least (4) there are risks everywhere and our children needs to learn to take risks.

1) Character Development. I am all for this. I seen first hand the benefits my daughter derived when she went through all these programs. She took part in not 1 but 3 CCA in her primary school and developed a great independence streak and organising skills. When she went on to secondary school, she became a student leader and took part in many activities and competition including one very tough Hillary Challenge. And she also climbed a mountain in Taiwan with her school! She went on to head another CCA in her poly years and climbed another mountain in Vietnam. Along the way, she blossoms into an independent, confident and very capable and fit young lady with many friends. But guess what? She did not climb any mountain in her primary school.  So what am I saying? We can have all that character development, all the camaraderie, the team building without having primary school kids climb Mt Kinabalu. There are many many options available without having to resort to extreme challenges. For instances, to get similar climbing experiences, there are many lower and more easily accessible mountain in West Malaysia like Gunung Lambak in Johore or Gunung Nuang in KL. For a longer trip, there is Gunung Ledang. All these are much easier to tackle and safe but will still be a tough workout for children.

2) Safe Destination Of course the website for the via Ferrata will stated that it is safe. Of course the organiser will said the climb is safe. After all, which vendor is going to sell a product and say that its product is no good or not safe for use. Even if they are aware of any danger or faults, they will gross over it.  And even those who have completed the climb will said it is safe. Of course it is safe if they come back in one piece. But is a place really safe? How do we determine that it is indeed so? We cannot rely on 3rd party especially interested parties’ assurance. We need to do our own due diligence and do our own risk assessment.  With the proliferation of YouTube, social media, look at the videos available on-line, read interest group forums, talk to people who have went to the place before and find out everything first before entrusting the children to these people!

3) Outdoor. I agree our children are too glued to the computers, TV nowadays and they need to go out especially to see nature up close. Sometimes when I out at MacRitchie, I hear kids whining about the heat, the mosquitoes bites and walking so “long”. And so I wholeheartedly endorse any program that will bring the children from the classrooms out to nature. But to get to nature, do they have to fly all the way to Sabah? Singapore has many beautiful parks and nature reserves that are very accessible and safe. With a bit of ingenuity, schools can have many challenging programs for the children within these places.  Programs such as “Amazing Races”, tele-matches, treasure hunts, all these can help to build teamwork, develop leaders, foster friendships  and without having to pay the price of a plane ticket. Will the kids lose out in any ways without going to a faraway place to see the great outdoor? I really doubt it.

4) Risks. I agree everything in life is about risks but there are risks and there are risks. The trick is to know how to recognise them and avoid or mitigate them. And I will cover this in more detail in Part 4.

At the end of the day, while we should not blame the school and the teachers; after all the tragedy was a naturally caused event that none can forsee and not the fault of anyone; there has to be some take away from this tragic event, some lessons learnt and hopefully better awareness of the risks involved in each outdoor activities.

Journey to Mt Kinabalu – The Descent

What goes up must come down. And so do we. After climbing for 14 hours over 2 days, we were finally ready to descend to Timpohon Gate. We had a shower in the freezing cold water of Laban Rata, a light breakfast and off we went.

Our target was to reach Timpohon Gate by 3 pm. The distance from Laban Rata was only 6 km yet it felt like 60km. It never amazed me that 500 metres seem so long in the jungle. 
The first part of the downward climb was on the uneven rock surfaces and so progress was much slower. And we stopped to allow the climbers coming behind us to overtake. Its is so amazing to see these young people jumping down so easily without any fear. For us old fogeys with our aching knees and joints, every jolt felt like somebody using a hammer to hit us.
Photo by Alicia Koh
But thankfully, the rocky part was only about 2 km long and soon we were on the main Timpohon trail. And as we descended, we were thankful that Tony had chosen for us to summit via Mersilau because there was really no view at all throughout the Timpohon trail. It was just a single trail with lots of steps sandwiched between 2 side of jungle. In fact it looked just like our Bukit Timah trail! 
Photo by Alicia
There was a small little waterfall but that was about it. 

Less than 200 metres from the waterfall was the end of our climb. The Timpohon Gate. And it really is a gate!
Photo by Alicia
From Timpohon Gate we were transported by shuttle service to the Sabah Park HQ where we had our lunch before transport back to our hotel in Kinabalu town. And with that, we ended our 2 days 1 night journey to Mt Kinabalu. Did we bite off more that we could chew? I don’t think so. Other than the altitude, I think this is a fairly easy climb. No technical climbing skill is required and what is needed is just lot of energy, determination, a pair of good shoes and anyone can reach the peak.

Journey to Mt Kinabalu – Low’s Peak

We woke up at about 1 am. Or rather we were ready to go at 1 am. Light out at Laban Rata was  8.30 pm incredibly early but aside from the fact that there was nothing else to do and we had to start early to catch the sunrise at the summit, sleep seems the only sensible thing to do. But I dare said most of us didn’t sleep well. Perhaps it was the excitement that we were going to reach the highest peak in South East Asia in a few hours time or the splitting headache that everybody seems to be having, none of us slept well. So at 1 am, everybody was up and raring to go. After a light breakfast where we were advised not to eat too much, we finally set off at about 2.30 am.

Led by the guides, the various group moved off. I reckoned we were among the first few groups. As usual, we started off a tad way too fast. We kept mostly to our group formation as per yesterday – with Vincent and the 3 kids in front, myself and 4 others in the middle pack and a last group. One of our member was still having problem with his stomach and was taking it easy in the last group.
It was pitched dark and all of us had our headlamps on. Still we couldn’t really see far away. Just the few person immediately in front of us. And with the high altitude, we got tired pretty fast and before long, groups behind us started overtaking us. Interestingly, most of them were Caucasians rather than Asian. Perhaps the Asians were not in too big a rush to get to the summit?  

It was up and up and up all the way. But there were also a lot of stretches where we were walking on wide open area. We knew it was open area. There was a super long rope that we had to hold on to for most part of the climb. At certain stretches, there were vertical climb, horizontal climb but in the darkness we just walked like zombies following the rope.
These was what our eyes were seeing along almost the entire route. The little white specks are not stars or blemish but lights from other climbers behind us. The rope is there but totally not visible unless you are near enough to see it.

This is the same photo but digitally enhanced to bring out whatever little light there is. The rope is now visible in the foreground. Now the lights of the trail of climbers behind us and the city in the background is visible.

At 3800 metres, all of us were feeling the effect of the high altitude and we were stopping every few steps to breathe in hard. The climb itself was in my opinion fairly manageable. It was the breathing that was sapping away our energy. Thank goodness none of us in the middle group puked though we sure felt like it with almost everybody having some form of nausea. The Princess who was in the first group and dropped back. She was getting the altitude sickness real bad and stopping to sit down every 5 to 6 steps. But thankfully none of us threw up. That was not the case though with our last group members. 2 of the ladies threw up after passing the checkpoint at Sayat Sayat and the guy with the stomach problem was going too slowly and the guide forced them to turn them. So for the 3 of them, it was game over as they turned back without reaching the summit.

For the rest of us, we plodded on and managed to reach the summit well before 6 am – the sun rise time. And we were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the sun rise.

After the mad rush to take the almost mandatory photos at Low’s Peak, the highest point of Mt Kinabalu at 4095m, we were ready for our descent to Laban Rata. By now the sun was fully up and we could now see what we could not when we were ascending and what beautiful scape it was too!

And we could also see the way that we took to climb up including the very important rope that led us all the way to the summit.

This was where we came up from. Scary to think that we climbed up from the horizon in the dark and now had to descend the same way.

Did we really went past all these?

This was the notorious Horizontal Climb. Our guide had described to us that we were walking on a ridge which was 6 inches to 1 feet wide in darkness and we had to hold on to the rope at all cost. It sounds scary enough but in the darkness we felt no fear since we couldn’t see where the side was or was not. Now that it was bright, it didn’t look and feel that scary. The angle of the cliff was fairly gentle and the so called narrow trail was actually quite wide in some parts so it wasn’t that bad.

But of course it was always easier going down especially since it was now very much brighter. We made good time and we reached Laban Rata around 9 am well in time for breakfast and a quick wash up before we continue our final journey down to the bottom.

Moths in Kota Kinabalu

We went for lunch at this place at Bundu Tuhan. Apart from our group, there was no other customer. But there were a lot and seriously a lot of moth. None of those gigantic moth that we are seeing now in Singapore but small one, medium size one, plain one and colorful one and one odd shape one. Too bad I only had a compact camera with me and with the poor lighting indoor these was the best that I could manage.

This was on a door frame. It would have blend well if it was on a tree trunk

One of the smaller one but so beautiful

The biggest moth that we seen

Another one on a door frame. What with moth and door frame?

This small one looks like ready to take off soon.

The odd shaped moth. Very difficult to get it fully in focus with the compact camera

Another beauty

And this one is the brightest looking of the lot

I love the pattern on this one

This one looks like the same species as the first one but is more white

Can anybody name all the moths?

Journey to Mt Kinabalu – Laban Rata

Most people who goes to Mt Kinabalu goes up via the Timpohon Gate trail. Our friend, Tony arranged for us to climb via the Mersilau Trail. He said it was more scenic and it was just 2km longer. 2km didn’t sound like much considering that almost all of us are runners. So we happily agreed. We stayed at the Mersilau Nature Center the night before and after another oily breakfast and weight in of our luggage by the guide/porter, we set off to Laban Rata, the midway rest point.
The guide weighing our bags. Anything above 7kg we have to pay RM10 per kg of excess
Each of us was carrying our own pack with just the basic necessity for today climb. We had about 1.5 litres of water each, lunch(sandwhich and an apple) from the restaurant; our own snacks, some had hot drinks; a windbreaker or jacket and headlamp. This weights on average about 3 kg. Some of us had additional gear like camera, first aid kits but the main bulk of the surplus items were put in another bag for the 3 guides/porter to carry up to Laban Rata on our behalf. Each bag we passed them was not to exceed 7 kg and as there were 14 of us and 3 of them, each of them had to carry around 30 kg each. And yet they were so much faster than us!
We started off just after 9 am. Our target was to reach Laban Rata by 6 pm. On paper, it was just 8 km of walking. Sounded like a piece of cake and something we could do easily with 2 hours of brisk walking. But this was on an ascending trail at altitude starting from 2km and climbing to eventually 3272km. Of course being greenhorn, we didn’t know what was in stored for us.
As usual, we started off fast. And within a few metres of climbing those everlasting steps, we were all panting and breathing heavily and  the calves were screaming. And we haven’t even hit 500 metres! But pretty soon all pain was forgotten when we came to the first break in the forest canopy and this was the scene behind us.
And as promised by Tony, the route was really more scenic than the Timpohon trail which we were able to compare when we descended via it the next date.
Back on the Mesilau trail, there was 2 waterfall, a suspension bridge and more breathtaking sky view of the mountain range.
Photo by Jancy
Photo by Jancy
Most of the view were stunning and breathtaking and none more so than this next picture from a ridge which also serves as a helipad,
After 6 km of climbing up and up with just a small section which went downhill, we finally reached the junction of the Mersilau and Timpohon trail. From here it was just another 2 km to Laban Rata, the resthouse where we have to stay overnight to tackle the next stretch of the climb.
This stretch also sees the end of the countless steps similar to those in our Bukit Timah Nature Reservs except of course that there are many many more of them.

 Unfortunately, in its place was large uneven granite and other rocks which really cause us to stretch our legs long long to climb up and down countless time. This was really a rocky time and the 2 km took us a fair bit of time to negotiate.

The constant stopping to take photographs of the giant pitcher plants and other plants helps to take our mind off the difficult terrain and eventually after almost close to 7 hours of walking, trekking and climbing, 12 of us reached our first destination, the Laban Rata Resthouse!

The Mt Kinabalu summit behind Laban Rata resthouse. That is our ultimate target.
We were awed when we realised that there is no road up to this resthouse and  all the food supplies have to be carried up by porters via the Timpohon trail. Even the staff there hike up and down this trail to and from work and to think that back here in Singapore we complain about a 10 minutes walk to the MRT station!
This is the group photo of what remained of us. 14 of us started out from Mersilau but one of us dropped out barely after crossing the suspension bridge due to a  bad case of diarrhoea. Another lady was a bit further behind and reached about 6 pm whilst the rest of us reach just before 4pm. The other 4 had reached way earlier and were already happily changed and resting inside the rest house!
Maybe it was the nice weather, or the many breath taking view but I didn’t think that this portion was that tough. Sure we huff and puff but that was to be expected given that we were moving at attitude of about 2000 metres something that we were not accustomed to back here in Singapore. But of course the next day will be more challenging!

The Journey to Mt Kinabalu

The plan to scale Mt Kinabalu was hatched when I failed to complete the gruelling TMBT last year. If I cannot conquer the grand old dame through a trail race, I know I have to do it another way and so begins the journey to scale the mountain. I was fortunate that in January this year, a mutual friend introduce a group of us to this super friendly nice guy who has conquered Mt Kinabalu many times and he was kind enough to offer to bring us up. And so the journey begins.
The initial plan was to gather about 20 like minded person to go during the June school holidays. But upon the advice of our Malaysian friend, Tony we moved the date to the last week of June to coincide with the end of the school holidays and the start of Ramadan. This was so that it will not be so crowded up in the mountain. And when we finally reached the mountain, I could see the wisdom of that advice.
So we gathered a group of running friends. But because of the new dates, many people who had previously indicated interest would not make it as it clash with month year closing, school re-opening’ and of course the fasting month. I had to scamper to get enough numbers to justify Tony’s time. Eventually we managed to get a total of 13 person. Among us were ultra-marathoner, ironman finisher, average runners and young adults barely out of their teens and finally people with totally no experience in trekking, hiking or running. What a motley crew indeed! With such a mix, having a proper cohesive training program was going to be super difficult.
We started the first session with just 4 of us going for a 6 hours hike in the Central Catchment area. Subsequent training were held mainly at the Bukit Timah Hill doing climbs up and down the stairs and weekly evening run at Mount Faber. But due to everybody busy schedule, getting everybody to turn up for training was difficult and I was worried especially for the newbies and the non runners – how they were going to cope.
Hiking in the Central Catchment Area
As it was, I realised that what to us was strenuous climbs up and down the Jungle Fall path at Bukit Timah were really insufficient to prepare us for Mt Kinabalu. Maybe if we climb up and down Jungle Fall Path 100 times each session – that would be enough but of course we didn’t have the luxury of time. 
Stairs training at Bukit Timah Hill
And so it was with a slight worry when we finally flew to Kota Kinabalu to begin our assault on the mountain.
Photo credit Sarah

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