Climbing Mt. Kinabalu

With Mt. Kinabalu in the news as some 137 climbers pick their way down the mountain after yesterday’s frightening earthquake in Borneo, herre is the story of our ascent several years ago. It’s a chapter in the book Common Sense and Whiskey.

•••••

A fine young man with a Yesus Kristus medallion bouncing around beneath his mirror drove us the seven or so kilometers into Mt. Kinabalu park, through the sleeping village of Kundasang. Farmers congregated at a warren of tin-roofed stalls along the main road. It looked like a good day for green tomatoes, potatoes, and cabbage.

They hauled us all in bas minis from the ranger station to the trailhead. From there, a six-kilometer trail led up to our destination, the Laban Ratah guest house, at 11,000 feet. At 13,432 feet, Mt. Kinabalu’s summit, in Malaysian Borneo, is the highest point in Southeast Asia.

The first kilometer (the trail was marked at each 1/2 kilometer) popped by in 23 minutes. We were flyin’, and all that stuff about how hard this would be was just talk. The first kilometer, we only stopped long enough to shed our wraps.

Just at first the trail led downhill, charming, to a cool, wet place called Carson’s Falls. On the way down the mountain, conversely, having to climb at the end was just one last kick in the butt on the way out the door.

Still before 8:00 a.m. no sunlight had fought its way to the forest floor. The air was downright chilly once our shirts turned sweaty. And they did — at the first K marker they weren’t soaked through, but a breeze blew down the rise and chilled our damp skin.

We were cocky, jaunty, making tracks, and unappreciative of the flora, except the little violet flower of the Kinabalu Balsam, which was shaped more like it had a beard than lower petals.

The massif stood silent and still, the only sounds birds or a rustling squirrel. There are no monkeys on Mt. Kinabalu. They live nearer the sea, to the east.

Mtkinabalu

The Summit of Mt. Kinabalu, 13,435 feet.


Our guide Erik was a volcano of phlegm at first, hacking, spitting, coughing, exercising all facial cavities. He was a little guy, as these highland people were, but with the strong, imposing legs you’d imagine.

He guided once a week, reckoned he’d done the climb fifty times. His personal record to the top — a place called Low’s Peak — was about three hours.

The rest of the week he helped his parents haul their produce to the Kundasang market, where you cain’t make no money. Erik said a kilo of cabbage brought fourteen U.S. cents.

•••••

Grim realization set in during kilometer two. I felt my pack with every step, even though all it held was a camera, a towel, a dry t-shirt, bread, cheese and water.

We appreciated the moss, ferns and banana trees and searched for these particular birds who sang in two notes, but a little more grimly, a little less buoyant, quieter. Still, we made two kilometers in 58 minutes, and there were only six, total. We fed the squirrels some of the tiny peanuts Mirja had bought. Still cool and still, the entire third kilometer. Dark, thick, jungly, even almost cold, and about an hour and a half after we’d set out, at two minutes to nine, we marked halfway.

•••••

In the fourth kilometer, Continue reading

Vignette: Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Cameron Highlands is a temperate hill station about halfway up the otherwise blistering Malaysian peninsula. Bill Cameron was a surveyor, working for the British government in 1885. Just 125 years ago, these highlands were being mapped for the first time. (Photos from Malaysia)

About five or eight of us jumped off the train at Tapah Road, Malaysia, on schedule at 9:51. Ten minutes later a taxi rolled up and we piled in, Mirja and Peter and me. 

Peter's an Aussie who runs transport for a coal mine in Indonesian Borneo. Like us, he was headed up here with just a vague idea why. He had to be in Singapore on the fourth. We had to be in Bangkok next week.

We agreed on the ringgits (Malaysian money) for the load of us and drove into town, where we swapped drivers and climbed into a beige, pre-war Mercedes. Our new driver was ancient, gnarled. He laid his safety belt over his lap, but he wouldn't attach it.

Every four minutes he'd dredge phlegm from deep on the bottom of his lungs with a low, two step wheeze. He had a lump the size of half a cue ball on top of his old bald head.

•••••

On the road up into the hills, the only suggestion of commerce was a series of untended bamboo poles. Durians dangled from some.

Most of the time the old man was generally in the correct lane, and he never overtook a bus, though not for lack of trying. He got to fourth gear fast as he could and slowly accelerated up the switchbacks. But somewhere along the way he got fire in his belly and drove like a bat outta hell the rest of the way.

Continue reading

Common Sense and Whiskey, the Book – Borneo, Chapter Thirteen

Here is Chapter Thirteen of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book. We're publishing each chapter here on the blog (Track down previous chapters here). You can order the entire book for just $9.99 at Amazon.com, at BN.com, or direct from EarthPhotos Publishing. Here's the Kindle version (just $4.99). Click these photos to make them bigger. More photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the Malaysia Gallery (including Borneo) at EarthPhotos.com.

13 BORNEO

A fine young man with a Yesus Kristus medallion bouncing around beneath his mirror drove us the seven or so kilometers into Mt. Kinabalu park, through the sleeping village of Kundasang. Farmers congregated at a warren of tin-roofed stalls along the main road. It looked like a good day for green tomatoes, potatoes, and cabbage.

They hauled us all in bas minis from the ranger station to the trailhead. From there, a six-kilometer trail led up to our destination, the Laban Ratah guest house, at 11,000 feet. At 13,432 feet, Mt. Kinabalu’s summit, in Malaysian Borneo, is the highest point in Southeast Asia.

The first kilometer (the trail was marked at each 1/2 kilometer) popped by in 23 minutes. We were flyin’, and all that stuff about how hard this would be was just talk. The first kilometer, we only stopped long enough to shed our wraps.

Just at first the trail led downhill, charming, to a cool, wet place called Carson’s Falls. On the way down the mountain, conversely, having to climb at the end was just one last kick in the butt on the way out the door.

Still before 8:00 a.m. no sunlight had fought its way to the forest floor. The air was downright chilly once our shirts turned sweaty. And they did — at the first K marker they weren’t soaked through, but a breeze blew down the rise and chilled our damp skin.

We were cocky, jaunty, making tracks, and unappreciative of the flora, except the little violet flower of the Kinabalu Balsam, which was shaped more like it had a beard than lower petals.

The massif stood silent and still, the only sounds birds or a rustling squirrel. There are no monkeys on Mt. Kinabalu. They live nearer the sea, to the east.

 

Mtkinabalu The Summit of Mt. Kinabalu, 13,435 feet.

Continue reading

Anniversary Sale Pricing for Common Sense and Whiskey – the Book

Common Sense and Whiskey, the book (Amazon) (Kindle) (BN), was first published a year ago this month, so we're up this morning with new anniversary pricing. Get the book for $9.99, or download your Kindle version for just $4.99. We'll run a chapter from the book, Climbing Mt. Kinabalu, Borneo, here tomorrow.

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu: A Story

MtK

A story from the eventual book, Common Sense and Whiskey:

CLIMBING MOUNT KINABALU, MALAYSIAN BORNEO

A fine young man with a Yesus Kristus medallion bouncing around beneath his mirror drove us the seven or so kilometers into Mt. Kinabalu park, through the sleeping village of Kundasang. Farmers congregated at the warren of tin-roofed stalls along the main road. It looked like a good day for green tomatoes, potatoes, and cabbage.

They hauled us all in bas minis from the ranger station to the trailhead. From here, a six-kilometer trail led up to our destination, the Laban Ratah guest house at 11,000 feet. At 13,432 feet, Mt. Kinabalu’s summit, in Malaysian Borneo, is the highest point in Southeast Asia.

The first kilometer (the trail was marked at each 1/2 kilometer) popped by in 23 minutes. We were flyin’, and all that stuff about how hard this would be was just talk. The first kilometer, we only stopped long enough to shed our wraps.

Just at first the trail led downhill, charming, to a cool, wet place called Carson’s Falls. On the way down the mountain, conversely, having to climb at the end was just one last kick in the butt on the way out the door.

Still before 8:00 a.m., no sunlight had fought its way to the forest floor. The air was downright chilly once our shirts turned sweaty. And they did — at the first K marker they weren’t soaked through, but a breeze blew down the rise and chilled our wet skin.

We were cocky, jaunty, making tracks, and unappreciative of the flora, except the little violet flower of the Kinabalu Balsam — shaped like it had a beard instead of lower petals.

The massif stood silent and still, the only sounds birds or a rustling squirrel. There are no monkeys on Mt. Kinabalu. They live nearer the sea, east toward Sandakan.

Our guide Erik was a phlegm volcano at first, hacking, spitting, coughing, exercising all facial cavities by the second. He was a little guy, as these highland people were, but with the strong, imposing legs you’d imagine.

He guided once a week, reckoned he’d done the climb fifty times. His personal record to the top — a place called Low’s Peak — was about three hours.

The rest of the week he helped his parents haul their produce to the Kundasang market, where you cain’t make no money. Erik said a kilo of cabbage brought fourteen U.S. cents.

*****

Grim realization set in during kilometer two.

Continue reading

Why, That Deadly Conflict Is MILES From Here.

Thaibeach The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak and his counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva from Thailand did one of those things politicians do, along with presiding over commissions, launching initiatives and kissing babies – they held a ceremony, this time to "name a bridge" that spans their border.

But this wasn't just a bridge. The newly christened Friendship Bridge connects predominantly Muslim Malaysia with a predominantly Muslim area of otherwise Buddhist Thailand that has seen a continuing low-grade separatist violence for years. (Here's some background.)

Nothing like a traveling pack of officials to turn up the heat. Ten have died since Monday, with more than a dozen wounded including three soldiers who inadvertently set off a bomb in Yala province, according to Australia Network News. Elsewhere a patrol protecting teachers was attacked and political banners were booby-trapped with bombs. In all, the Australian story reports five bombs wounded fourteen during the Prime Ministers' visit.

Or, says the Malaysia Star, four bombs exploded in Yala on Wednesday killing a policeman and wounding three officials. Or, if you prefer Malaysia's Bernama, two were killed by nine bombs during the visit.

Oh, and by the way, the two leaders arrived by helicopter. Too dangerous to use the bridge.

*****

The tourist trade seems to purr right along in a universe parallel from the violence. I'm not aware of any related violence reaching the Malaysian resort of Langkawi (the Four Seasons there looks fabulous, but that's more of a topic for When Money Doesn't Matter) or an array of Thai resorts, at Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi and elsewhere. All these vacation spots are within, say, a little over a hundred miles of the conflict.

Eando And, of course, the heavily used rail route between Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok crosses the area of conflict. The Man in Seat 61 has extensive descriptions of passenger train service between those points. The schedule for the luxury Eastern and Oriental Express train shows 35 departures in 2010 between BKK & SIN.

We traveled – without incident – on that E&O train a few years back. We were interested whether there would be any acknowledgment of potential danger from the E&O crew. Not a peep. "Studied avoidance" by the crew. "Complete lack of local knowledge" by most of our fellow passengers.

(Top photo from Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, about 200 kilometers – 124 miles – from the border. Bottom, the Eastern and Oriental Express. Both from EarthPhotos.com. For more photography see the Thailand Gallery and the Malaysia Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.)

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