February 18th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0

The 2 alarms, Joan’s electronic + our mechanical, went off simultaneously at 2.45, + with some groans we struggled out of bed + into our clothes.  I at least wondered why on earth I was up there.  Our guide obviously shared my sentiments – he was not nearly as prompt out of bed as we were, + seemed reluctant to carry on at all.  To be fair, the weather was pretty unpleasant, but after about an hour of hanging around stamping our feet, + no sign of any improvement, we finally convinced him we should at least make some effort.  There was another hut further up, so we reckoned to make for that, + then re-assess the situation.  So off we went, still in near-darkness.

The trail was only a little more difficult than it had been yesterday – there were ladder-like steps to take one up the steeper parts.  And higher up, where there were climbs up clean granite faces, there were ropes laid down that one could help to pull oneself up along.  They were good fun – it almost made one feel it was a real climb, rather than just a stiff walk.  It was lucky we had been fore-warned, + had coverings on our hands tho’ – I could feel the ice cracking beneath my fingers as I pulled myself up.

We arrived after about an hour at the final hut, a small + rather dilapidated tin building with just half a dozen bunks in it, +, with the weather threatening around us, we made a halt there to see how things developed.  We waited about 30 mins in the cold, damp place, having the cold creep into our bones, + then, looking out again, we came to the conclusion that we’d have to give it up.  The mist was very thick + swirling, + on top of that the rain was slanting in once again – fine rain, but unpleasant nonetheless.  If we had been able to get some intelligent advice from our guide, we might have been able to come to a more intelligent decision, but he could give us no more than shrugs, so we didn’t even know about how difficult the path was.  But the main reason we wanted to climb Kinabalu was for the view, + it was obvious that was going to be denied us.  If we erred, it was on the side of caution.  The walk back to Panarlaban was not nearly so pleasant, mainly because we were burdened by failure, altho’ the climb down is nearly always an anti-climax in any case.

With our Swiss companions by the fire (while Val gets on with her beadwork)

Back at the hut, we warmed + cheered ourselves with a hot drink + some breakfast, + then, after a couple of hours, headed back down.  Ironically, the weather had cleared a little now, tho’ we were relieved to see the mountain-top was still heavily shrouded.  The journey down was certainly much faster than the one up had been, but the strain on the leg muscles was even more intense, if anything.  By the bottom, mine had gone very wobbly, + I was having trouble keeping them going.  Even Joan caught us up at this stage, until under that provocation I steeled myself once more.  We met quite a few people heading up as we were coming down, but the strangest group of all was a party of over 100, tortuously lugging up the trail an enormous length of rubber pipe, like a great black snake worming its way forward, borne on the shoulders of those beneath.  We waited for them to pass, + it took 10 minutes.  Mostly they were young, tho’ there was a sprinkling of old people too.  We speculated that they were the non-working section of a local village, making some money from the electricity company, for their burden looked like heavy-duty electrical conduit.

Back at the hostel, first of all we got on with some chores, while we still had some energy, + then strolled over to the luscious new Park HQ, where we relaxed in the lounge, + Val tried to teach me the intricacies, or as many intricacies as she knew, of Chinese Chess.  The game didn’t go all that smoothly, + we felt that some vital aspect had been forgotten.  I won, however.

I lit a fire back in the hostel, + was hugely more successful, partly because I was more ambitious, partly because I was introduced to the idea of dousing it first in kerosene, an excellent firelighter.  Val cooked a splendid vegetable curry for tea, + that was finished off with sheer luxury – tinned peaches + evaporated milk.  There was a Swiss couple staying at the hostel – they’d tried to climb Kinabalu last week, but had had the same luck with the weather that we had had, so after spending a week at Poring hot springs, had come back for another try.  Full marks for persistence.  They were OK to chat with, but became irritated (+ hence irritating) by the large no of Malaysian soldiers staying there.  It was annoying that they seemed incapable of shutting the doors after them, but that was just our way of looking at things.  They were probably amazed that we chose to closet ourselves in a stuffy room.  And shouting at them did nothing to ease Euro-Asian tensions.  I was, at first, on the side of the Swiss, but became alienated by their + my intransigence, + then deliberately tried to make friendly contacts with the local division – not all that local actually, as most of them came from W. Malaysia.  They were certainly not hostile to friendly overtures, + I benefitted from my efforts to the tune of several glasses of Guinness, + later, some hefty tots of brandy.  As a result, I got pretty drunk.  Chatted amiably too, first with one of the soldiers, then with the Park Naturalist.  I was able to have a reasonably involved discussion with this feller, beyond the where’ve you been, where are you going level, touching on those 2 sensitive areas, politics + religion.

All a bit of an anti-climax, but in the end we probably did the most sensible thing in abandoning our climb. And since the final result was beer and whiskey, I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much.

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