Blog for 2010-06-22

From BioDivBorneo2010

Jump to: navigation, search

Ascent to Laban Rata

Alexander Kim

After breakfast and a brief foray for nylon hats, gloves, and headlamps, we were driven to Timphohon Gate, which lies at the foot of a 6 km trail winding up Gunung Kinabalu. Accompanied by porters and guides (Kadazan-Dusun locals, according to Nikh), we made our swift or straggling ways to Laban Rata, a guest house located 3272 m above sea level. Cam had told us to keep our eyes open for the vegetative transitions that would accompany rising altitude (not to mention rising UV incidence and decreasing minimum temperatures) and special geological circumstances (like bands of toxic serpentine soils), and indeed these shifts were readily apparent. We had begun in tropical secondary forests not too unlike those around Lambir but, as the day went on, progressed into an increasingly species-poor landscape of gnarled and seemingly stunted trees (usually bearing small, resilient leaves) and low shrubs, all swathed in liberal helpings of moss. Intermittent drizzle and curtains of mist swept down across us as we panted from one rest station to the next; the accumulation of dew on rocks and bark made the profusion of bryophytes somewhat less than surprising.

Animal life was mostly inconspicuous, though, at a number of shelters, we were regaled with the presence of ground squirrels. Seemingly well-acclimated to the presence of hikers, they darted amongst backpacks and weary bodies, pausing only to snatch proffered apple cores or cock their ears at imitated chirrups. The most prominent insect representatives were Diptera, whose cadavers speckled the path up (with living counterparts in the windowsills of the rest house itself). I reached Laban Rata at around 1:30 PM -- the running water and (albeit inconsistent) electricity were something of a logistic marvel. I began wondering, offhandedly, about the effects of the facility, this surreal pocket of modern amenities, on the local biota -- whether the moths in its bathrooms, or the rats some had glimpsed around its foundations, would have been able to persist at such altitudes before Sutera Sanctuary Lodges took it upon themselves to create an alpine heat island with a fully-stocked kitchen. Evidence of anthropogenic impacts seemed to be evident in the surrounding vegetation, at any rate: presumably introduced dandelions and Vallisneria-like aquatic vegetation waving in the outflow of a water pipe.

Exhaustion took its toll ... altitude-troubled sleep was quick behind the heels of a sunset-backlit dinner.

Fig. 1: Lowland vegetation at Timphohon Gate
Fig. 2: Montane treescape en route to Laban Rata
Fig. 3: Moss-swathed tree trunk, testament to the mist and frequent rain
Fig. 4: Representative of local Mammalia: a climber-habituated squirrel
Fig. 5: 6 km from the start ... a view from the rest house
Fig. 6: Dandelion shortly at the foot of Laban Rata, probably introduced