Category Archives: Malaysia

Spaghetti Legs climbing Mount Kinabalu in Western Borneo

Everyone seems to be under the impression that I’m constantly walking around and exploring and actively being on the go all the time; this may have been true five months ago, but I’m now eight months into backpacking and can assure you this is no longer the case.
No matter how many sprints I make through airports or train stations or bus terminals, my lifestyle is seriously lacking on the exercise front. Where am I going with this? I’m a New Yorker. I’m a walker, but I’m not a hiker. There’s a major difference between the two. (Though my one best friend, Connie, would also argue I’m the world’s most annoying and slowest walker, and seeing as she’s finishing up her last year in law school, she’d probably make a pretty good case filled with numerous examples of our walks to Third Avenue to get pizza or coffee.) Yet for some reason I sign myself up for these hikes or treks that are filled with fresh mountain air and gentle, running streams and beautiful flowers and canopies of trees and wildlife all around as if I actually enjoy them.
Don’t get me wrong – hiking the Himalayas with nothing but 7 USD in my pocket was an unforgettable experience, but it’s a very half-hearted and somewhat fearful “Let’s do it…” tone of voice than a gung-ho ‘Lemme lace up my hiking boots and get ready to go!’ attitude. (I’m sorry if this seems incredibly insulting to any and all nature lovers out there.)
Mix that wanna-be passion for hiking with eight months of not exercising, and add to it an 8.5 kilometer vertical trek up to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, SE Asia’s highest mountain peak, and what do you have? An incredibly foul-mouthed Allie Babez whose father would most likely disown her or march her straight to confession if he could only hear half the words mumbled under her breath. Climbing Mount Kinabalu to see the sunrise over Western Borneo is something that was on my bucket list after researching things to do in Malaysia before going there for the first time last year. It was something I ‘wanted’ to do (again, more for the challenge and reward of it all after than enjoying it in the moment), but we never made it to this part of Borneo.
Well, Marika and I decided to climb it on a whim. We thought, “We’re here, why not?” and found ourselves registering for permits without truly realizing what we’re getting ourselves into.
For one thing, we had absolutely NO proper clothing. I have a pair of trainers that are at least a year old and have zero support. Marika had a pair of trainers she bought for five euro – clearly these were high quality – in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for her treks through the jungles of Taman Negara at the end of April.*
It’s below zero degrees at this summit, and we bought what we thought would suffice as proper clothing: a windbreaker, a hoodie, a pair of tights (I thought that 12 years of Catholic school skirts during the winter time built up my legs’ resistance to cold, strong, winter winds), gloves, head torches (the summit climb starts at 2 a.m.) and a burglar’s face mask. Marika shrugged off the cold and kept laughing at my anxiety over the possibility of freezing to death. She’s from Finland. She was basically born and raised in a snowstorm.
We headed off bright and early on the third of April, naive and excited as hell to put ourselves through what we knew would be somewhat torturous but didn’t fully expect.
The first day we climbed 6 kilometers straight uphill in three hours. We did not stop. We were among the first six people to reach the rest house. The first thing we did was rent jackets for 20 ringgits, a little over 6 USD, that looks I consider to be ‘health text book style’ jacket. We went to bed at 6 p.m. so that we’d get sufficient sleep for the sunrise summit. I almost cried when the 1:45 a.m. knock on the door served as a wake up call to get down to breakfast, but we got ourselves up and out by 3 a.m. The sky was filled with more stars than I could have ever hoped for, but the brilliance of it all did not outshine the climb to the summit. I was basically rock climbing. This was no mountain path. This was a rope you used to pull yourself up to the top in the pitch black. A rope. When I told one of my best friends, Michelle, from home this, I am pretty sure she was near suffocation with laughter at the image of me rock climbing in the pitch black surrounded by Asian tourists. This was a friggen rope. The only thing I could think the entire time (when I wasn’t cursing) was, “There is no way in hell I am going down this.” (For anyone who knows me, going down steps or hills or mountains or anything where it’s possible for me to fall face forward and break my front teeth like Alexis did in eighth grade when she tripped over her slippers and fell down the tile steps leading down to her basement, resulting in her missing our Christmas play and then having only two braces put on across her two front teeth is my biggest fear. That and bees.)
We made it to the top in two hours, which gave us an entire hour to do nothing but sit and shiver and shake violently as the wind ripped through us and took our breath away. I’ve been traveling around countries that have been 28 degrees or warmer for eight months. This was the absolute definition of misery. But once the sun started to rise, and the colors slowly broke through the darkness, and we were above clouds that were as fluffy and playful looking as cotton candy, I knew it was worth it.
The reward far outweighed all the agony and pain we felt with every step we took and all the chatter of our teeth (does that make sense?). It was a fantastically brilliant sunrise, one wich Marika hung around for for about three seconds before deciding that her Finnish blood couldn’t handle the bitter cold and she decided to head back down to the guesthouse. I stuck it out, my lips turning blue and my nose as cold as an ice cube, and I took photos like any dedicated blogger should.
Ironically, though, despite how incredibly fearful I was, climbing down the summit was probably the most amazing part of the entire experience. It was just this huge expanse of granite rock that sparkled and glimmered with such a smooth shine under the Borneo sun that I found myself in awe of where I was and what was doing with my life. That was definitely an enjoyable “in the moment” experience. And then we had to make the hike down 6 kilometers, and that high I felt from my summit descent (does that make sense?) evaporated as Marika and I started calling ourselves “Luca Spaghetti” for our spaghetti legs that got weaker with each step we took.
When we got to the 1.5KM mile marker, I found my New York patience at a severe low and broke out into a sprint, eager to get this hike the hell over with. It took us 2 hours and 30 minutes to climb down the the 6K, and I can promise you it’s something I will absolutely never, ever again in my life do. That is until I make a second trip to Japan to do Mt Fuji or head to do Mt Kilimanjaro or Pakistan’s K2 or one of the volcano hikes in Indonesia.

More photos to come, but right now this computer is so frustratingly slow that I am close to throwing it out the window, which would not be a good idea seeing as I don’t have the funds to replace it.

Category: Asia, Malaysia