Climbing Mount Kinabalu was an amazing experience but was very physically challenging. Our first recovery step was the natural hot springs at Poring. Our long decent time meant the pools were closed when we arrived that night.
Luckily the restaurant was still open with good food and beer. And we were delighted to still have the company of Julien, our “partner in climb”. It was a good opportunity to reminisce about the climb and descent experience.
After a good night’s rest our sore bodies were ready for the hot pools. Our timing was perfect and we had the place to ourselves- just after the morning rain and before the crowds arrived.
The smell of sulfur was heavy in the air. Each tiled pool has a hot and cold spigot to blend to your own preference because the water directly from the spring is scalding hot and still uncomfortably hot to the touch after it has been cooled in open pools at the back of the pool area.
With just the right mix the temperature of our pool was perfect to ease our tired and aching muscles.
A quick dip in the rock pool to cool off then…
Time for a good breakfast
and well, we have enough time before our transport leaves- lets do the canopy walk. Oh wait we didn’t think about the fact that getting up to canopy level meant more climbing! And where is Roger? We miss our guide from the mountain! It’s not the same as a threesome. But the swinging bridges were fun- although a bit scary- the views were great and the company was the best. We laughed as we winced our way down the stairs at the end and then had to race to be on time for our pick up.
One quick stop on our way to see the Rafflesia that is in bloom. We pay our 30 Ringgits at the roadside shack and Paul asks the young girl why she is not in school today. The reason soon becomes apparent -she is our guide and is working today. A short drive up the dirt driveway and our guide leads us through the jungle over a bamboo bridge to a small fenced in area where with wondering eyes we viewed one of the world’s largest flowers.
Nearby were spent blossoms as well as buds of various sizes that will open in their own time. An open flower only lasts 5 days. Now that I’ve had a chance to read more I realize how important it is that this family is protecting these flowers. They are endangered partly due to their narrow neiche- only feed on one particular vine and must cross pollinate with another flower of the opposite sex all in less than a week of open time. Add to that the loss of forest habitat.
So I’m struck by the thought that especially where economies are challenged, we need an economic value for the environment. Though many want to do the right thing in terms of caring for the environment, they also may face tough choices in supporting their family. When a family like this one can make money from tourists who want to see this rare flower, it gives another incentive to protect it. We need to support these small scale efforts as best we can, because little efforts add up and might make the difference in a species survival.
Now off we went, stopping in Ranau at the bus stop where Paul and I would wait for the bus to Sandakan. Julien was continuing on to the park headquarters where he would catch a transport back to Kota Kinabalu. It was difficult to say goodbye. We’d been through a lot together in three short days. Julien is a much stronger climber, but he had chosen to stick with us as a team throughout the experience, only going ahead to get a shot of the sunrise (where he then waited for us for pictures on Low’s Peak) and to have breakfast set aside for us when we were too slow coming back from the peak. It said much to me of his character. Julien, I do hope our paths cross again – you make a great travel partner and even better friend. Maybe a cross-country ski marathon at the American Birkebeiner or a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota?
Our climb of the mountain was so much more than the physical challenge – the altitude had quite a negative effect on me as well as being hard on the knees. The mountain permitted us to climb her. We had good weather. My will held out even when I was clinging in terror to the rope to pull myself up the steepest rocks and I really didn’t want to do this anymore. Roger was so kind and gentle giving a hand and careful guidance when needed as well as patiently waiting as I stopped to catch my breath every five steps. The emotions of the experience were many and complex. In addition to terror (very limited) and tired, I was honored to walk in a place where so many had walked before me. It was so beautiful to be there with Paul as he returned to the mountain to revisit this portion of his Sabah experience. Reaching the highest point at Low’s Peak was an important experience, but my favorite part was walking on the top of the mountain below the peak. It is a vast open bare landscape that looks like what I imagine the moon to look like. Here and there are bits of vegetation that has managed to survive these harsh conditions, but mostly it’s swirled and patterned grey rock. It’s awe inspiring in it’s simplicity and majesty. It seemed like another world and then in the same day we were back at the park headquarters at the bottom of the mountain and being whisked away in a van.
With all this swirling in my mind, we took one last picture and gave one final wave to Julien and we settled in to wait at the bus stop.
Paul began making friends with all the others who came to wait – the four Australian young ladies who had just finished their mountain climb and the locals with whom he shared the books in his pack of Mt Kinabalu and Borneo. It was fun to see everyone looking at the books with great interest – so many beautiful pictures.
When the bus arrived there were no seats available but with some pleading on our part and the advocacy of a new Malaysian friend we were able to get two plastic stools wedged in by the bathroom and the Australian women got to sit on the floor. Eventually we all got seats as other passengers got off the bus. Thus began our next adventure to Sepilok and Sandakan.