Blog for 2010-06-24

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The day began at 2:30am with the frantic chattering of what sounded like hundreds of Asian tourists directly outside of my door. Shaking off the residual effects of my Samsa-esque dreams (does this leg look segmented to you?), I jumped down from the top bunk and quickly got dressed—warm clothes, warm clothes because today was the day that we were making the final summit of Mount Kinabalu—a 6km hike up a sheer granite cliff-face to the lofty height of 4092.2m (that's around 13,000ft for you imperialists out there).

After a quick and mostly tasteless breakfast, we began our ascent on the massive staircase that was near our quarters in Laban Rata. Despite the fact that it was 3am and most of us had only gotten about 5 hours of sleep, we were full of energy and confident that summit would be easily obtainable. I was being particularly brazen in my challenge of the mountain by loudly proclaiming that “I've climbed tougher mountains in my sleep—I'm from Colorado, you know.” and “This isn't a trail so much as a highway. Did I mention that I'm from Colorado and have climbed mountains before?” My verbal insinuations of mountainous inadequacy were soon silenced, however, when I realized that the stairs seemed to have no end. After about an hour of dragging myself up these creaky wooden steps, I started to despise them with every ounce of my being. You see, when climbing a mountain it is incredibly important to set a pace that is sustainable for several hours. While it is obvious that the speed of one's gait is a factor in setting a pace, it might be somewhat less obvious that the size of each step is an integral component in setting a pace that makes mountain ascent a comfortable and enjoyable experience. If one's gait is too fast, or if one is forced to take steps that are too large or too small then they will inevitably become winded and fatigued.

The reason, my dear reader, that I have gone to such lengths in order explain the intricacies of mountain climbing pace management is to fully elucidate the depths of my discomfort and dismay at the prospect of climbing up a wooden staircase on the side of a mountain.

My brooding would soon come to an end, however, as the infernal stairs finally ended and we entered the “sheer granite cliff” portion of our hike. Two kilometers after Laban Rata the stairs abrubtly ended as the cliff-face became precipitously steep and the trail was forced to make wide switchbacks. Thicks ropes replaced the stairs as our buffer between the rockface and a quick plunge to our deaths. It was also at this time that we finally left tree line and were able to see the progress that we had already made. Already far below us we could make out the dim outlines of Laban Rata in the moonlight. Perhaps most eye openeing, however, was being able to see the headlamps of our fellow tourist-hikers. It was possible to see the bobbing pinpoints of light emitted by each hiker's headlamp stretching out like a great caravan from Laban Rata all the way to the point where the mountain obscured our view of the summit still high above us.

To be finished soon...