Sunday, September 7th, 2008
If there was anything I learned since Merdeka Day last year, it is to have a plan. This year, it was trying to get a bunch of people to scream “Merdeka” at the summit of Gunung Kinabalu.
And so it was that I was in Sabah with 15 others—some of whom I love like my own kids, some of whom I find hard to love—enjoyed the sights, smells and sounds as I walked the Masilau trail, reached Laban Rata faster than my previous attempt, and felt a whole lot better at high altitude with no headaches or difficulty breathing.
I reached Laban Rata as I had intended. And I went no higher than Gunting Lagadan on this trip to Sabah.
There are, of course many tales to tell—like the tale of the tortoise at the summit of Gunung Kinabalu, how the giant squids came about, hot mushroom soups, dancing ballerinas in the forest, and the casual walk to the Wetlands Centre—but, I am sure, many would want to hear my tale of why the mountain got the better of me on summit day.
• • • • • • •
I hadn’t planned of going up Gunung Kinabalu until a few days before I hopped on the plane. My early enthusiasm had waned over the months since May. Chief among the series of events that brought about my decision of not wanting to be on the summit (or even starting the journey) was the bad bout of backache. There were other reasons, of course.
But the thought of not finishing what I started was to much to bear. Somehow, I felt that being on the mountain would be an encouragement to the others whom I have led since the time I started planning for the trek. Plus, on a more personal front, I liked the thought of being on another trek with Tet Leon, Suyin and Mei Fong.
On August 31, 2008, fourteen team members stood on the summit of Gunung Kinabalu. I was not one of them. I’d have joined them but a series of unfortunate events rendered me rather helpless and all I could do was go to bed and sleep.
I had gone to bed at about 9:30 p.m. the night before after escorting Mei Fong up to Gunting Lagadan. The two of us were the last two remaining from our group to leave the Laban Rata Resthouse. Everyone else had finished dinner, settled down after a long day’s hike and retired for the night—in Panar Laban and Gunting Lagadan—much earlier. The time we spent chatting, sending messages to various ones from our phones, and using tissue to dry our shoes was rather like a father-daughter bonding session that’s quite hard to come by these days. By the time we decided to walk in the cold night air (about 8°C) to our respective rooms to hit the sack it was about 9 p.m.
But at about 11 p.m., I woke up to a sudden tummy ache caused by a sudden hunger pang. I stuffed myself with a few cookies and slices of dried meat, but the pain didn’t go away. Fearing that it might be the onset of altitude sickness, I quickly put on my boots, strapped on Nee On’s faulty headlamp, and took off from Panar Laban down to Laban Rata. The height difference wasn’t much, but the fresh air did me some good. I slumped into a chair in Laban Rata and tried to sleep. By then, I had a nauseous feeling that didn’t seem to go away. I eventually let everything out; and that made me tired. All I could do was rest my head in my arms on a table, and sleep.
When I woke up, it was 2:30 a.m. and I wanted to get to the summit—a decision I made when I felt really good having walked the Masilau trail some hours earlier. I was still feeling a little weak, but I rushed up to Panar Laban only to find out that I had been locked out of my own room. I have no one to blame but myself for this predicament. Now, I was not only feeling a little sick, weak and tired, I had no access to extra clothing, my camera and Irau, the blue elephant. I could still go up in whatever clothes I had on, but weakness got the better of me. Rather than struggle up the mountain in thin layers of clothing, a faulty headlamp and a tired body, I only made my way up to Gunting Lagadan. Knowing that one other team member was sick and in no shape to go up the mountain, I had a warm room I could get into. And that was where I stayed for the next few hours until Jenn and Suyin returned from the summit trek at about 8:30 a.m.
I didn’t go to the summit that day. But hearing Suyin tell me about the trek and the summit made my day. To know that the the fourteen who attempted to reach the summit had succeeded meant as much to me as being at the top myself.
That was when I realized that I didn’t have to be at the top—not this time anyway. It’s not always about being at the top. Yes, it would have been nice, but not necessary.
• • • • • • •
I don’t know what hit me on the mountain. But throwing up on one of South East Asia’s highest mountain on Merdeka Day isn’t all that fun. Whether it was a bout of food poisoning, which I suspect it was, or altitude sickness that got the better of me this time around, I don’t feel bad about not standing on the summit. Unlike the first time I did not succeed, there are no regrets at all this time around.
Instead, my resolve is to attempt Gunung Kinabalu again (and again and again if I have to). Trekking up the mountain seems to get easier each time I am there. But that’s not the point. The point is that I’d like to be walking up the mountain with my favourite kakis.
And also to meet the friends I have made and to eat bowls after bowls of yummy laksa and ngau chap in Kedai Kopi Yee Fung in Kota Kinabalu.
With Suyin and Mei Fong in Kedai Kopi Yee Fung. © 2008 Soh Chui May
Related Links About Kinabalu 2008:
There are some blog entries that give detailed accounts of the trek. While they are not my thoughts and my writing that contain some happenings that would have been part of my unwritten tale of “The Misfits of Kinabalu”, they do provide glimpses of a successful trip.