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Climbing Trus Madi (2,642m), Sabah, Malaysia

The Mountain

Trus Madi, The second highest mountain in Malaysia is located in the island of Borneo. Standing at 2,642m, it is more like a stone’s throw away from Mount Kinabalu.

The Plan

Trus Madi was not even in my radar this year. In fact, when it was first brought up, i had to google it to find out where it was. Not much is written about it either. There is more focus on its elder brother, Mt. Kinabalu, which is visible from the summit of Trus Madi on a clear day.

I was invited to join a reconnaissance trek to Trus Madi by Joanne Soo from Ace Adventure. The plan was to map and detail the trek so that Joanne could evaluate it and determine if it was good enough to consider it part of her company’s offering.

The plan was to do the trek over a period of 4 days, from 7-May to 10-May 2015. We expected that it should be sufficient. We had to evaluate the local organizer, the place of stay, the amenities, the climb as well as the guide.

Since the last climb was Yushan and Xueshan in December and considering that it was only 4 days, i immediately jumped on the offer.

Along with me were to other accomplished trekkers and Joanne. A total of 4 people. 2 guys and 2 ladies.

 The Climb

7-May 2015

We boarded the SilkAir to Kota Kinabalu and arrived there in the afternoon after a 2 and a half hour flight. The local agent arrived to pick us up from teh airport and drive us to our first stop was the Tandarason Resort Country Club (TRCC) at Tammbunan, an 80km one and a half hour ride from Kota Kinabalu. Inbetween, we stopped for lunch at one of the local restaurants.

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TRCC is a secluded and quite resort with decent facilities. It has a central reception plus cafeteria and a small souvenier shop that sells food, tit bits and souvenier items. Staying can be at one of the lodge like facilities or individual houses that are spread across the entire area. We were assigned two rooms in the lodge that was perched on top of a small hillock of sorts. The rooms were very simple yet sufficiently decent to stay. There was warm water available. Internet was available but was rather slow and reception was patchy. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we spent the whole evening having wonderful conversations about various topics. For once, we had overcome the urge to go online and really enjoyed the pleasant sunset and the company of wonderful people.

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We later went down to the reception for dinner and then chatted for some more time, even after the reception and kitchen was closed.The food was very well done up and we polished it off in no time.

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Finally we decided to retire to bed. The next day, we were to travel to the lodge at Trus Madi. We will be starting at 11ish as the travel is not that far. So, we took it easy and slept late.

8-May 2015

We got up without any hurry and sorted out our gear. We would only be taking the essentials up with us on the mountain and leave the rest in the resort as we will be planning on coming here again after the climb.

there was still time for us to depart, so we lazed around the resort and took some photos in a small garden of sorts. Spotted some unique flowers that were being grown there.

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So, with all the items sorted, we congregated at the reception before departure. In the meantime, the local agent arrived with his 4WD and packed our luggage in the back.

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The drive to the Trus Madi Forest Reserve Registration Centre will be about an hour where we shall be registering with the camp ranger. After that another 30-45 minute drive to the starting point from where the trek would begin. In between, the agent made a brief stop to get the guide and some porters to jump in at the back. The guide and porters looked relatively young in their teens. They also loaded up the 4WD with some goods like food items and essentials that the porters will use to ferry up to the lodge. They use such regular vehicle trips to supplement the items at the lodge.

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The trip to the Registration Centre comprised of a smooth drive on well laid out road for about 30 minutes followed by a bumpy and off road track for the rest of the drive. At some points the vehicle needed to navigate nearly 45 degree slopes.

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While registering, we stepped out to take some photos. The entrance to the Forest Reserve is very well maintained and adding to that was the weather which was cool and misty.

After the registration, the vehicle continued for another 30 minutes to the starting point.

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We soon packed up and started out trek up. It was quiet a surprise to see the path to the lodge, which was originally through a thick jungle was replaced by well constructed wooden pathway. There is practically no climbing or scurrying up the mountain. We had to literally walk along the steps to get to the lodge.

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The trek up to the lodge was about 45 minutes covering about 2km. the lodge is located at around 2,100m and is very well maintained. The rooms are nicely furnished with double beds. We were quiet surprised to see it so well kept. However, we were there during the non-peak period, so it was practically empty with only us as the visitors. There is a nice corner where hot water is kept with some snacks where you can make your own milo, tea or coffee. These are of course sachet.

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Since we were there quite early, we gathered around the pantry table and chatted till dinner. It was again a refreshing conversation and time just flew by. By night time, the whole place was infested with a wide variety of inspects, attracted by the only source of light in the area. The sheer variety of insects of all sizes, shapes and colors is simply amazing. Apart from the amazement, they did contribute to a major mess by us accidentally stepping on them or they falling and dying in the toilets.

The plan was to wake up early the next day and depart to the summit at around 3am. The vertical gain is only 500m over a distance of 2.9km. Should not be that difficult. Or so we thought.

After dinner, we retired to bed and i was soon sleeping, which was quite unlike me. But hey, we weren’t that high and the trek to the lodge was literally a walk in the park.

9-May 2015 – Summit Day

We woke up at around 2am and got dressed. Clothing was just a base layer with a outer shell as i was not that cold. We collected at the kitchen pantry and had a quick breakfast comprising of a soup, some rice and the usual coffee. At started the trek at 3am. The initial 100-200m consisted of the usual wooden steps. This soon ended and we were on the rough trail. The climb was through a dense forest with low overhanging branches and buzzing mosquitoes. At several areas, you had to scramble up to the top or hold onto trees and branches to climb some steep sections. Being early in the morning, there was a slight drizzle and this added to the dampness and sogginess of the climb. Luckily, there are 100m markers with reflectors that you can notice on your climb. This becomes a so called count down to the destination. At one point, you had to climb down about 50-100m before you climb back up again. This is a sheer vertical drop and climb only made easy by steel ladders securely tied to the face of the rocks.

The last 200m near the summit is a near flat terrain and can be easily navigated. We were at the summit by about 5am and rested. As the sun came up, we started taking photos. Initially, the whole area was shrouded by a sea of clouds. But once the sun came up and the clouds dispersed, we could see the majestic Mount Kinabalu in all her glory.

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It was an awesome sight as we stood there in the morning sun light. I recollected my trip to Kinabalu two years back.

After spending about an hour on the summit, we decided to come down to the lodge. On the way down, we managed to take some snaps of the trek that we had ventured into.

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Soon we were back in the lodge in about an hours plus and we rested for sometime. While lunch was being prepared, Joanne had called up the agent to come and pick us up at the starting point at about 1pm. However, the vehicle was late and we started much later.

The trek back down was much faster, thanks to the wooden steps. But the rain had made it slippery and we tread carefully so as to not slip and fall and spoil the party later on.

Soon enough we had reached the starting point and the 4WD was still not in sight. So, we spent another hour before the vehicle arrived. By the time we reached TRCC, it was about 4pm. After a brief stay there and a quick change of clothes, we departed from TRCC and headed back to Kota Kinabalu where we stayed at the Carlton Hotel.

The Carlton Hotel is a rip off of the original Carlton. It was not a super 5-star hotel. Rather a very good 3-star hotel and a good one at that. The rooms were pretty decent and was a welcome respite from the lodges and the TRCC.

I met up with a good friend of mine who was now living permanently in Kota Kinabalu. So, we went out for dinner while the others went out on a seafood binge. Something that i cannot appreciate being a vegetarian.

By 10pm, we got back together and talked for awhile before going off to sleep. The next day, we were to fly back to Singapore.

Conclusion

This was a very quick and dirty trip. A welcome change from a long pause in my climbing schedule. However, it was a wonderful experience to have gone through such beautiful landscape, forest and more importantly, the company of people who have come together for a common purpose.

Trus Madi, although low in height and short in climbing distance, made all the more easier by well maintained steps and lodge, is not a push over. There is a lot of use of the hands to pull yourself up and requires good stamina. Some sections can be really steep and some areas are exposed to the elements with high winds.

All said and done, the good thing is that there is no acclimatization problems and you are well within the zone where the air is sufficiently rich in oxygen. Having said that, do be careful as acclimatization is a very personal thing and can vary from one person to another. Do take care and always have medication or backup plans if you do encounter any form of sickness.

Some important things to take is mosquito repellents as this is quiet a danger.

Reference

There is a wonderful article created by Joanne on the same trip and you can read it on her official company blog here. There are some photos there that show you the steepness of some sections as well as the ladders and ropes.

You can read it here.

Climbing Kinabalu (4,095m), Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Photo above taken from Wikipedia. Click on photo to go to source.

There is no point in living if you do not feel alive.

– Elektra King, The World is not enough

Having experienced Ravana Caves, i wanted to try something a little more real. I wanted to climb a real mountain and experience how it feels like. Being in Singapore and surrounded by so many mountains In the region, i had to pick something that was safe yet challenging.

I wanted to climb something that was well established in terms of tourist attractiveness, decent infrastructure, not too technical or challenging for an amateur and in close proximity to Singapore so that i do not have to take too many days off from work. So, i settled on Mount Kinabalu.

The plan was to complete the entire trip in 3 days – 7th December 2012 to 10th December 2012.

The Mountain

Mount Kinabalu is situated in the island of Borneo, in the state of Sabah. It is the highest mountain in Malaysia and in terms of prominence, it is the 20t highest in the world. Since the second highest mountain is a mere 2,000+ m in highest, the Kinabalu stands out majestically overlooking the surrounding forest.

The mountain is sacred to the locals in the area and they take preserving the sanctity and cleanliness of the mountain seriously. There are a lot of stories and legends regarding this mountain and the name itself has a few interpretations one of which is the “The revered place of the dead”.

The Preparation

I searched online and contacted several local agencies in Kinabalu with the pricing and itinerary. Then i shortlisted a few of them and then finally settled on one. Most of the agencies offer the same service and as a result, the choice of which agency to go depends basically on their review of online travel sites like TripAdvisor, their promptness in response to emails and calls and the general comfort level that i felt with them. I did not pick the cheapest one as cheapest does not guarantee safety and being my first climb, i did not want the agency to cut corners or short change me.

I booked the Gaya Centre Hotel where i would stay before and after the trek. I did this independently, although you can also book through the agency as part of the  package. This is a decent 3-star hotel where i wanted to stay.The hotel is close the sea shore and the shopping and dining areas nearby.

There are much cheaper options such as lodges and home stays that you can choose if you are on a budget.

For fitness preparation, i did my usual jogging and running of about 8 to 10km two to three times a week. I thought that this will be good enough for the climb. Boy was i totally wrong!

The Climb

7th December 2012

The flight from Singapore Changi airport to Kota Kinabalu airport lasts for about 2 hours plus 1 hour adjustment for timezone. The agency had dispatched a vehicle for me to pick me up and drop me at the hotel. Having landed at about 11.30am, i had the whole day to myself to explore the nearby areas. We were to begin our journey the next day in the morning.

I sorted out some of the luggage and kept the city clothes at the hotel itself since i was coming back to the same hotel after the climb. The rest was packed in a 35 LTR bag i was to take with me up the mountain.

8th December 2012

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The 4×4 had picked me up in the morning the next day from the hotel from where we had a 1 hour drive to the Registration Centre of the climb. As we went higher, it became foggy with a slight drizzle. The drive up to the Registration Centre was amazing when you can see the surrounding environment.

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After an hour’s drive, we arrived at Registration Centre – Kinabalu Park HQ.

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The Park HQ is very well maintained by the authorities and has a cafe and a souvenir shop. This where all trekkers are required to register before the climb. This is where i met my guide, Sylvester, who was assisting me all the way to the summit. Sylvester is a veteran in the area. Born in the surrounding region, he has been climbing since his teens. When asked how many times he has been up to the summit, he replied that he has lost count.

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At the Park HQ, you will have to provide some form of identification such as passport to register. Each one is given a tag upon registration. The guide did the necessary paper work and also brought the lunch box which consisted of eggs, banana, sandwich and a juice drink. Enough to last the climb to the cabin at the top. I also had some snacks with me that i bought the previous day.

We had to take another vehicle to the actual starting point of the climb – Timpohon Gate. This is about 15 minutes drive from the Park HQ. There, we alighted and did some final checks before we pass through the gate to the climb. Here again there is a shop where you could buy some last minute stuff like water or snacks. You can even get rain coats. However, they are over-priced and it would be wise for you to buy them in town.

The climb gradually ascends with well marked pathways. There are regular sheltered rest points. There are toilet facilities at the rest points that are also well maintained.

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Kinabalu is a very active tourist spot so you will meet a lot of people going up and down the mountain. Occasionally, we stopped to take pictures of the surrounding environment.

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Sabah is known for its rich flora and fauna. Although i’m not much of a flora and fauna guy, i did manage to appreciate some of the plants and animals around. Sylvester was quite knowledgeable in these aspects and he pointed out various species thriving in the forest.

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The whole trek took about 5 hours and we eventually reached the cabin on top – Laban Rata (3,424m). Laban Rata is a full blown cabin with excellent facilities. There are bunk beds, showering facilities and a cafeteria where the food is cooked in buffet style. The food is fresh, thanks to the porters who regularly carry stuff to the cabin. You will come across them on your trek, carrying close to 40-50 Kgs of goods on their back and racing past you. Makes you wonder whether you were standing still.

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The temperature at the cabin can be in the single digits. So it is best advised to wear your warm clothing. Dinner is served from 6pm and there is quite a variety of dishes to choose from starting from bread to porridge and vegetables and meat. After the trek, you will certainly be famished. We had a snack at 3pm and then retired to our cabins for some rest. Then came for dinner again at 7pm. After some chit-chat with fellow climbers, i decided to head to sleep as we will have to get up early in the morning, around 1am to make the summit bid. The view of the mountain is amazing from the cabin, although you cannot see the summit from there. The photo below shows that the vegetation gives way to solid rock face.

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 9th December – Summit Day

We were woken up at 1am in the morning to start our summit trek. With a solid 4-5 hours climb before we reach the summit in time for the sun rise. We all congregated on the cafeteria to have a quick breakfast of porridge and coffee before venturing out. The initial start of the climb consisted of wooden steps which eventually gave way to the regular trail. The steps are quite slippery due to the rain overnight and also the fog.

After about 2 hours of climbing, we reach the final check post called the Sayat-Sayat Hut (3,668m) where you need to register before kicking off on the climb to the summit. After the check post , the climb is purely on rocks.

After the check post, the climb leads to a section where you need to use pre-fixed ropes to navigate through a section of the rock. You do not need to use a harness or supporting tools like karabiners to go past this section. After that, it is a steep climb to the summit on rock surface. Some scrambling may be required.

At about 3,700m, i started to feel dizzy and nauseous. I wanted to turn back and go, but the guide was very patient and made me sit for awhile after every 10 steps so that i reduce the rate of climb. At one point i really turned back and began my descent. Then i saw a couple of 50 years old from Japan who were slowly making their way to the top. It was then that i felt that if they can do it, i surely could do it. I did an about turn and proceeded towards the summit again. I got rid of the pressure to reach the summit before sun rise which was bothering me initially. I decided to enjoy the climb at my own pace and the guide was quite supportive. Luckily he wasn’t too bored with my pace as he had other guides to chit chat with as we slowly walked up the mountain.

True enough, the sun had risen before i made the summit, but i did manage to get some great shots from where i stood. It was an amazing experience with breath taking view of the clouds below us, covering the earth like a white carpet. Here i was, above the clouds, in a world different from the one i was used to. With people who live their life to experience the wonders of nature and the human spirit.

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The climb became even slower as i frequently stopped to take photos of the surroundings. The entire pathway has ropes that you can use to climb. This becomes necessary when it starts to rain as the rock face becomes very slippery.

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Eventually, by the time i reached summit, it was 8am. The summit, also called the Low’s Peak, is located at the apex of a steep section of rocks. Mostly scrambling is required to reach the summit. The temperature was close to zero degrees in the night. After sun rise it becomes warmer.

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We hung out on the summit for about half an hour taking pictures and videos before we started our way down. Coming down was equally tough due to the slippery path. I needed every bit of concentration to climb down using the ropes to prevent a fall. Eventually, we reached the Laban Rata cabin in about 3 hours.

It was a great experience and i had to thank my guide for being so patient with me. In hindsight, there were a lot of things that could have been done right. For one, i should have exercised more often with the right type of exercise and regime. Just because you can run 8-10km 3 times a week on a straight road does not mean you can climb a mountain. Along the way, i met a few marathoners who were climbing even slower than i did as they had, just like me, totally underestimated the effort required. Also, the clothing and the kind of shoes are very important. Being an amateur, i got both these two wrong from the get go.

After the initial celebrations, we rested for an hour before we packed our bags and headed back down to the starting point. The climb down was fast and we made it in good time. At the Kinabalu Park Registration Centre, you can collect your official certificate of achievement. By noon we were at the gate where i bid farewell to my guide after tipping him and climbed onto the van that took me back to the hotel. Reaching the hotel, i had something to eat and took a nap. At night, i went out and had a nice dinner, did some shopping and then retired back to bed early for my morning flight back to Singapore.

10th December – Back to Singapore

Got up early in the morning and went for an English breakfast that came complimentary with my stay at the hotel. Then packed my bags and left for the airport. The agency’s van took me back to the airport and i left in one piece.

The Certificate

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Apparently, those who reach the summit are awarded with a colored certificate of achievement. Those who do not reach the summit but at least make it to the Sayat-Sayat Hut are provided with a non-colored certificate. For the rest, you are out of luck. Reaching Laban Rata does not count.

Reflections

Being the first climb of a serious mountain for me, i did manage to summit with a lot of effort. But i could have been more prepared for the climb.

  1. The right shoes is very important for the climb. Normal sporting shoes are fine if the weather is good. This is what the guides wear. However, if the weather is moist or rainy, then sporting shoes are extremely slippery. I had worn a normal trekking shoe which was perfect for the job, provided i had worn it enough. It was fairly new on me and did cause a lot of  irritation. Ended up with some blisters on both feet.
  2. Jogging or running 8 to 10km every 3 weeks is good for marathons perhaps, but not for mountain climbing or trekking. You really need a lot of stamina to endure the climb than can take a toll on your knees and thighs. So, preparation for a climb is very different from that of a marathon.
  3. Clothing is something that is very important. You need to have a inner clothing to keep you warm as well as outer shell. You could wear two level of gloves as well. The mistake i made was to not wear an outer shell. I did wear multiple levels of clothing, but they were not water proof. So, i did get wet from the intermittent rain that fell during the climb.
  4. The climb on the day of the summit covers a vertical height of about 800m above 3,600m MASL. So, you will feel the effects of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can be in the form of headache, dizziness, nausea or other manifestations. Those who do feel sick will need to go lower to rest. If they cannot proceed any further, they must go back to Laban Rata.
  5. Diamox can be taken to reduce the effects of altitude sickness. I did not take any as i didn’t know such a thing existed.

Mount Kinabalu is a very good mountain to start your climbing as it is very well organized and a very good support structure. The climb is hard but not very difficult. At some point, it is mind game where you will have to will yourself to reach the summit. If not for the old Japanese couple that i saw, this would have been a failed attempt for me and i would have permanently shelved my plans for any future climbs. Thank those two souls for pointing me in the right direction.

Trail Map from The Information & Booking Centre

Resources

Mount Kinabalu Climb Information & Booking Centre

Facebook Page for Mount Kinabalu

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