clouds were trying to smother the lofty peaks of Mount Kinabalu as I viewed
the summit from the park grounds. Were we crazy to want to scale the South-east
Asia’s highest peak? Each of us in the group of about 14 had compelling
and sane reasons. None were intimidated by the awesome and formidable
At the vantage
point of Low’s peak (a misnomer at 4,101m), we stood braving
the cold (3° C), the moon still visible as the sun’s amber rays
burst over the horizon. Before we started the ascent, we learnt that the
mountains belonged to nobody, but the spirits. It certainly commanded
the greatest respect.
terrain during the trek upwards to the Morris Poris river on
the first day was unexpected. As none of us had any experience in rock
climbing, we clumsily grappled with the searing granite and plodded through
the swift waters, often in danger of being swept away. As we sought moments
of peace in the chilly waters, I wondered if this part of the trip was
more difficult than the climb itself. Perhaps it was a prelude to the
was evident as each offered another a helping hand. The day also tested
our agility to the limit as we had to balance gingerly on fallen trees
over ravines. Exploring the rainforest at tree-top level during the canopy
walk at Poring was in interesting change. The lowland primary forest is
also a site for the Rafflesia, the world’s biggest flower in the
world. We soaked ourselves in the invigorating hot sulphur baths. The
nature trails in the park grounds were lined with oak and chestnut trees.
Trilobite larvae were very common.
landscaped Mountain Gardens had examples of the plants found in the wild.
After a grueling assault to the summit, our spirits were a little deflated
as the supposedly splendid view was marred by clouds. John was the fittest
in our group, had the stamina and courage to conquer the less attempted
peaks as well – the South Peak and Ugly Sisters.
on both the days we were on the mountain. The camera crew was hopelessly
drenched but nevertheless had some exciting shots. At the summit, water
cascaded down the bare granite in the treacherous torrents as we waited
for the storm to abate.
and photographers on the climb found a paradise carpeted with pitcher
plants like the Nepenthes villosa and Nepenthes rajah, rhododendrons,
wild orchids, ferns, mosses and liverworts. A large brick-red flattened
worm that looks like a giant leech was seen swallowing another worm. Birds
like the Mountain Blackeyes, wild raspberries, hanging lichen, and the
gnarled bonsai-like trees of the cloud forest were an amazing contrast
to the lowland forests we knew.
down from the mountain, we rode on a diesel train to the Padas
river for a white-water rafting adventure. The turbulent waters seemed
to overwhelm our rafts. I remembered Alice screaming her head off, only
to have a gulp of the Padas mineral water. We never had enough of the
and its vast parks will remain a revered place. I looked up at the mountain,
its peaks hidden within amorphous clouds. How did I ever manage to conquer
her- was it myself or was it with the help of the spirits? As
I turned my back on her, I knew I had to return – some day to pay
tribute to the spirits.
trip was the beginning of the love affair with Sabah).