Day 239: Dorm Life

Tue. 9th April 2013

Prisoner 14359, you are sentenced to 2 consecutive nights on bunk beds!Its fair to say that it wasn’t the greatest night’s sleep that we’ve ever had in our lives. The accommodation here is not up with that in Mulu National Park, which still rates as one of the most comfortable places we have stayed in in Borneo (the rest of Mulu, not so much – but that is a different story). With 3 sets of bunk beds to a room, we are quite cramped and with a combination of the rain and people snoring – and a phone ringing in the middle of the night, we are not at our bright and shining best when the alarm goes off.

We're heading up there!After a final check that we have the right kit in the right bag we head off for breakfast (get some carbs inside!) and then to register for the climb. We are issued with an individual credit card sized pass which we have to use to check in and check out at the start today and also for the summit climb tomorrow. On the one hand, it is heartening that they have a system in place to check that everybody who starts up comes back down – but looking at it a different way, it is worrying that they need such a system!

We won't be doing this in 2hrs 11minThe first bit of the climb is dead easy – into the minibus for a lift to Timpohon Gate (at 1,866m altitude) where the trail starts. After that, it is all downhill – or rather, uphill! After checking in and a brief pause at the board displaying a map of the trail (and reminding ourselves that if we really pulled our fingers out, we could be up and down in 2hrs 11mins) we head off. It is about 8:45 and our target today is 6km away at the Laban Rata Resthouse which is at an altitude of 3,273m. Realistically, we are hoping to be there between 3pm and 4pm.

Keep going up those stepsThe path is much better defined than that for the Pinnacles climb back in Mulu. This is just as well as we have further to go and higher to climb today. The steps are (mostly) properly defined sometimes wooden steps and sometimes stones and the trail is not as steep as with the Pinnacles. Still, it is a steady climb and we are really glad that we have our walking poles with us as we use them to lever ourselves up the steps and to help with balance on some of the rougher terrain. It is cooler than the Pinnacles too (there is one advantage of the higher altitude), we just hope that the rain holds off.

A welcome rest alreadyAround 10:30 we start to see the first people coming in the other direction. These folk have done the ascent climb (starting at 2:30am – like we will be doing tomorrow) and are now on their way back. Kudos to them as I suspect that we won’t be so early back to this point tomorrow. Amongst the early returners is Tina, one of our group from last week who is now travelling independently. We knew she was going to be climbing Kinabau, but it is still a surprise to meet her on the mountain – though not a surprise to find her at the front of the pack. We stop and have a quick chat and are not entirely heartened by her views on the challenges ahead.

It doesn't always go wellThere are distance markers every 500m which we gladly tick off and note the steadily increasing altitude. Its hard to distinguish the effect of the increasing altitude from just general tiredness but as we climb higher, I start to get a slight headache which is one of the signs of altitude. Every now and again there are ‘rest huts’ which provide an opportunity to sit down for a few minutes and have a snack. Around the 4km marker (2,702m) there is a bigger shelter where we stop and wolf down our packed lunch. As we are resting and chatting, someone is brought down, injured, on a stretcher. We learn through the guides that he didn’t follow his guide’s instructions and use the ropes on one of the steep boulder sections of the summit climb and had a nasty fall. We all resolve to follow every word uttered by our guides.

Pitcher PlantAfter lunch, there may be only 2km to go but the trail gets a bit steeper, there are more stairs, more rocks and the path is generally more irregular. It is harder to get a regular walking rhythm and this all makes it a bit more tiring. The scenery changes as we climb higher. The rainforest trees are replaced with shorter trees and shrubs and for the first time we start to get views out looking down over the jungle and the countryside below. Other than the ground squirrels that scrounge food at each rest stop we don’t spot much fauna. The flora, though is quite distinctive and we do spot this superb Pitcher Plant.

Little squirrel after some scrapsWe’ve still got about a kilometre to go when the rain starts up. We were lucky that it held off this long, I suppose. So, it is on with our ponchos – as much to keep our daypacks dry as anything. Once again, we are grateful that it is relatively cool here and therefore not so much of a ‘portable sauna’ as before. At least it isn’t one of those full on downpours that would turn the path into a stream and make everything very slippery. As we reach Laban Rata, we have climbed into the clouds and the rain is more like a Scottish ‘clag’. The cloud also hides our view of the summit and our challenge for tomorrow.

A sight for sore legs!Its busy at Laban Rata. This place only exists to provide lodging to people who will be climbing to the summit of Kinabalu the next day and it seems to be full to bursting today. Our first impression is that it is like a large  Alpine lodge but without the snow or rustic charm (so, not like an Alpine lodge at all??). We’re in dormitories again and have been allocated a 10-bed and half a 6-bed dorm between the 13 of us (Fay isn’t doing the climb and is waiting for us back in HQ, if anyone is doing the maths and consistency checking). Janet & I end up in the 6 bed room along with Michael (from our group) and 3 Chinese Malays. We’re only going to get 1/2 a night’s sleep anyway so I don’t suppose it matters too much. It would be nice to sleep for that short time though!

Looking down from Laban RataStunning views down and across the mountainsOutside, the clouds occasionally lift and give up fantastic views up the mountain (gulp!) and down into the valley (wow!). Across the rocky mountainside we can see cascades of water making white streaks over the grey rocks. Stacey says that she’s only seen it like this once before and she again warns us that the summit climb will be called off on safety grounds if it is too wet or raining in the morning. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope – though, I’m not entirely certain for which result Janet is crossing her fingers!

Tomorrow we climb!With an early start tomorrow (breakfast at 2am, climbing at 2:30) everyone heads off for an early night. We have spent more nights in dormitories in this Borneo tour than in any other part of our trip. They aren’t what we would choose ourselves but they are fine (at least for the odd night) and we can see the attraction for the younger backpackers. There are good dorms and bad (the freezing cold showers here are a bit of an issue) but the key is whether or not you get a good nights sleep. We got lucky in Mulu (comfy beds and no snorers – thank you Bonnie and Simon) but less so last night in the park HQ (bunk beds and snoring). All we can do is cross our fingers for tonight.

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2 Responses to Day 239: Dorm Life

  1. Simon Smith says:

    Hey guys,

    We’re really enjoying your blog, I’m (Simon) currently reading it backwards to catch up but its great to hear what you’ve been up to. I thought it was supposed to be a bit easier on this half of your Borneo trip, it doesn’t sound it?? Still it sounds fantastic, some of your photos are absolutely stunning, very jealous!!

    Small update on our many injuries, Bon is getting better and is currently having physio on her neck and back, It turned out after a couple of xrays that I had a vertical fracture on my toe and have been told to take it easy for at least a month.

    Keep enjoying your trip guys, we’re looking forward to reading all about your adventures.

    PS could you say hi to Stacey and the rest of our group for us.

    Take care, Simon and Bon

    • Janet says:


      The second half was just as tough with yet more early starts and the legs hurt for days after the Mt Kinabalu climb. We do not want to see any more steps! The days at the beach were good but we still kept busy snorkelling and wildlife spotting.

      Good news that Bonnie is recovering. Take it easy with your toe, but I would keep away from chairs!

      Having a few family days now in Taiwan, but will be back at travelling next week off to Africa.
      Love Janet and Dave

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