Upon landing at the airport of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state in northeastern Borneo, the pondering of one issue was monopolizing my head: how was I to climb the all-notorious Mount Kinabalu? The complication of conquering the summit of this majestic mountain does not lie in any actual, technical difficulties, rather in the arbitrary and ridiculous attitude of the Malaysian park authorities, who have an inclination to exploit the country’s natural wonders boldly and ruthlessly, as my past experience of dealing with them had me aware of, thus making me intensely worried of what demands they might raise this time in order to let me climb this mountain. Being past midnight by the time of my arrival, I headed downtown sharing a taxi with some other people and got to “Borneo Global Backpackers” hostel. A very nice place with cool staff where I was to be settled for the next week to come, waiting for a friend who would come to join my to the mountain, and also taking some time to rest from the last few months’ hectic traveling.
By the following morning, already, I set to work researching for what would be the best option to get up that mountain. The first step of this exertion was to pay a visit to the park’s office where the trips are regularly arranged. There I heard of what the standard process of climbing the mountain would be, which was nothing but dreadfully discouraging. Firstly, they do compel you to take a guide, even though the trail to the summit is made as obvious and easy, pretty much, as a city park pathway is. Secondly, due to better profits, or “safety reasons” according to what they would want to make y0u believe, they do not anymore issue daily permissions, so compelling you to break in two days the 6-7 hours round-trip, and -thirdly and most nonsensically – to spend the night at the five-star expensive hotel they’ve built halfway to the top. Taking all the fees in consideration, the cost of the trip would amount in no less than 250€! And on top of that it would require a cancellation to be made, otherwise a pre-booking of several weeks, if not months!
The second step was to pay a visit to the central headquarters of Sabah Parks, where I talked with some people, who they sent me to other people, who, after I made some noise, gave me e-mails and phone numbers of yet more people, requesting from all of them to get granted a special permission to climb the mountain alone and in one day. The answer I kept receiving – when receiving any at all – was no other than the one I was expecting: not possible due to “safety reasons”.
Frankly, by the time my friend arrived a week later, I had already given up almost every hope I might have been preserving of climbing Mount Kinabalu – as, for a matter of principle mostly, I was not going to pay that money to just do a short hike, no matter how astounding the mountain. We, though, decided to take our chances and get on spot and see if we could possibly find some other way, or, if nothing, just take a glimpse of the mountain and do some trekking around it. So, that suffocatingly hot noon we were starting our drive from Kota Kinabalu to Kinabalu National Park on a rented Modenas 125cc underbone motorbike. The drive was long and tiresome. And wet, very wet, as after we started ascending the mountains we found ourselves in the midst of thick, black clouds pouring their loads incessantly upon us for all the rest of the trip. At late afternoon we were, after all, outside the park’s gate, where, after a fat dinner and a hot cup of tea gazing at the lightning thrashing around the inauspiciously dismal sky, we found shelter at a nearby guesthouse.
Next morning the sky had cleared up, and in between its blueness, the imposing volume of Kinabalu was standing proud with its granite crown glittering brightly under the robust sunshine, challenging me to climb it and upsetting my nerves as it seemed I would probably not. The beauty of that day was so sublime that would make it a sin to linger around, missing the chance to enjoy it to the utmost. Soon we were passing the gate of the national park where we purchased a ticket for an insignificant to keep in mind price, valid for staying three days inside the range of the park, until the point of Timpohon Gate, where the track to the summit starts. We spent the day exploring the various trails and wondering at the rare plants, birds and other curiosities this unique rainforest has to exhibit. We also approached the Timpohon Gate so to examine and meditate upon the possibility of sneaking up to the peak (which I later, after climbing the mountain after all, and having seen how the whole thing works, found perfectly plausible, thus I’m intending to subsequently write a separate article on this topic).
When the afternoon had fallen upon Sabah, we left the park and drove off to find some cheaper, than the last night’s, accommodation. We first asked at some place we encountered along the way, where the rooms were fairly cheap, though it was full. The receptionist suggested we try at Jungle Jack’s… and that suggestion was providence itself working for our sake… Jungle Jack was the man! As we approached Jungle Jack’s hostel and were ready to drive in, a man who was just about to leave the place on a van called us to come close. It was Jungle Jack himself. he asked us whether we were intending to climb the mountain tomorrow. We answered that we would very much like to, but were not willing to pay a fortune. He told us that he could help us if there is to be any cancellation at an additional dormitory-lodge operating up the mountain, next to the hotel, and normally reserved exclusively for Malaysians, in which, if we manage to stay, we’d reduce the price at least by half. He was just about to drive to the park headquarters ask if there are cancellations, and he assured us that if there were any, he would be the first one to get hold of the permissions.
We drove inside the pretty yard of the hostel, made ourselves comfortable in one of the gaudily-painted containers constituting its rooms, got a cup of coffee the friendly staff were quick to offer, and sat waiting agonizingly for Jungle Jack and his tidings. And he did indeed bring the good ones! There was place and we could get it for 670RM each, including as well the two nights we were to spend in the hostel – the present and one after we come down from the mountain – and all the meals we were to eat there, starting from this very exquisite, generous dinner we were soon to have! And then it was bedtime, Mount Kinabalu was waiting for us the next day…