Kinabalu Visit, The 1st Full Day

Perry Malouf (
Thu, 15 Dec 1994 23:31:52 -0500 (EST)

Kinabalu Park, The 1st Full Day

On Tuesday morning, Dec. 29, I had a decent breakfast and
then met my guide in front of the old Administration Building at
7:30. The skies were clear, and for the first time I could see the
top of Mt. Kinabalu. Clouds had covered most of the mountain the
day before, and I didn't even know it was there. But this morning
I could see it in all its majesty, from the densely forested portion
all the way to where green gave way to grey rock, and upward to
the summit. Two hours later the clouds would move in again and
take the mountain from view.

For my convenience, the guide brought his "jalopy" along to
drive us the 1 km to the entrance gate of the summit trail. The
jalopy was a four-wheel-drive Toyota, and it looked like a hybrid
between a jeep and a pickup truck. His brother-in-law bought it,
had two accidents in it (one where he rolled it off the road, down
the mountain, and onto another road), and then sold it cheap to my
guide who repaired it as best as he could. The doors didn't fit the
door seals all the way around, the rear window and rear view
mirror were gone, but the thing ran. We used it all week long and
it took us over some very rough logging roads, through streams,
etc. It was very nice of him to employ it, because it saved me from
renting a vehicle.

We drove up the road to the summit trail entrance at 1829
m, which is near a power station that supplies two radio transmitting
towers further up the mountain. I was wearing long safari pants, hiking
boots, a T-shirt, a windbreaker, a small camera bag, and a backpack
containing an extra shirt, pancho, water, lunch, and toilet paper. The
summit trail is just that--an actual trail that leads up to the summit.
Parts of it are a smooth and mild incline, and other parts of it look
like a muddy, steep, zig-zag stairway that continues forever. I'm a
fairly athletic person, and I believe I'm in pretty good shape but I
expected some difficulty in the thin air. Also, I perspire very
heavily, and my upper body was soaking wet after the first hour. I
endured the steep ascent fairly well thanks to my long legs, and I kept
up with my guide who was being nice by walking slower than usual, I
think. (The hike started at around 8:15).

By 9:30 a. m. we had advanced 1.5 km beyond the entrance
gate and had passed two "shelters", or what I would call open
cabanas with primitive bathrooms off to one side. We began to see
N. tentaculata on the side of the path, climbing through the other
vegetation. I took pictures of several different plants, with a
centimeter scale included for a size reference (I used this scale for
all my photographs). There is no direct sunlight in the area where
these plants were growing. The light gets filtered through a thick
forest canopy before it gets to the plants. Prior to my visit, I had
misconceptions about how Nepenthes grow in the wild. This was
due to a photograph I had seen in a back issue of CPN, which
showed a hillside carpeted with N. pervillei. On Mt. Kinabalu the
Nepenthes don't grow that way at all. Rather, you'll find a plant
here, another over there about 40 m away, etc. They don't grow in
a dense colony. If you're not keeping your eyes peeled for
Nepenthes, it's very easy to walk right past them without noticing.

We continued up the trail, and were overtaken by a few
hikers on their way to the summit (they weren't stopping for
pictures). Soon afterwards I saw two women in their 40's coming
up the trail and they had baskets of food on their backs. Guess
how the restaurant at 3353 m is supplied? That's right, by porters.
These women just kept on going like the Energizer Bunny. Soon to
follow was a young man with a 30 kg propane tank on his back,
also making very good progress. These people weren't wearing
hiking boots, and I was amazed at this since I considered mine to
be absolutely essential. I truly admired these porters'
conditioning. They don't get paid much either, but I imagine they'll
live to be 200 years old as long as they don't get hit by a bus or
something similar.

Along the same lines, there is a yearly competition at the
Park, called the Climbathon. The idea is to start at the Park
reception office at 1524 m (kilometer mark 0), run up the summit
trail to the top of the mountain at 4102 m (kilometer mark 9.5),
and then back to the reception office. This year the fastest time
was around 2 hours and 45 minutes!!! It was done by a man from
Nepal (where else?), and the fastest women's time was held by
some local Malaysian women. Wholly mackerel, I couldn't run up
parts of that summit trail without tripping and falling on my
keister! It took me three hours just to hike 4.5 km.

Okay, back to the story. By 10:30 we had advanced 2.5 km
beyond the gate, and my guide took a detour off the trail in search
of a N. lowii he had found before. Lo and behold (pun intended)
we found it about 25 m off the trail. It was a long vine, rising up
from the ground about 2 m, clambering horizontally along a fallen
tree for another 2 m, and then reaching upward toward more light.
It had three large and classic pitchers on it, and a male
inflorescence. Nearby there were also a few small N. tentaculata
plants in the bushes. We made our way back to the trail and kept
going upward. We met other hikers on the way down from the hut
at 3353 m (the one with the restaurant). They were mostly young
college students, and they wanted to reach the summit the day
before but could not because it rained. They never made it beyond
the hut, and today they were coming back down to go home.
Everyone I met on the trail was very friendly, all wishing me good
luck (they thought I was trying for the summit) and giving me
encouragement (I must have appeared to them as a dying man, or

You might not believe this, but it took us another two and a
half hours to hike two more kilometers up that trail. Our goal was to
hike 4.5 km beyond the gate, where the elevation is around 2850 m. This
part of the trail is just below a shelter appropriately named Villosa
Shelter. So, we reached this point at around 1 p.m. and my upper body
was soaked with perspiration despite the mild temperatures. My glassed
kept fogging up because the sweat would evaporate off my hot face and
condense onto my glasses. We were walking through mist by now, since
the clouds had come in upon us. I made the mistake of NOT changing into
a dry shirt, and this contributed to my catching a cold.

Once again my guide ventured off the trail down a very
steep grade, and found a few gorgeous specimens of N. villosa. He
beckoned me to follow, and I had to test every step. My guide was
around 157 cm tall and weighed in at around 66 kg, while I'm 189
cm tall and weigh in at 97 kg. Just because that rotten log supports
his weight, doesn't mean it'll support mine! I was holding onto
saplings, roots, anything I could get my hands onto as I descended
down that steep grade. To be sure I stumbled and fell many times.
My clothes would have been great for a detergent commercial.
Finally, I made it to the plants. There were three of them in
reasonable proximity, each was fairly stocky and bush-like and
would barely fit inside a 1 m diameter sphere. The pitchers were
beautiful and appeared just like ones in photographs I had seen.
The pitchers varied in size--some were as tall as 18 cm not
counting the lid. Again these were growing in fairly low light and
my camera flash was essential.

From this point my guide led me back down the summit trail
to some plants he had saved for the descent. Again, exploring off
the trail he led me to a few plants of N. kinabaluensis. These were
at least as large as the N. villosa I had just seen, but the pitchers
were larger and showed some characteristics of the component N.
rajah. I apologize if my all my descriptions of Nepenthes are not
lucid--it's tough to put into words the beauty of what I saw. Like
they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Back on the descending trail again, I found that my
quadriceps muscles began aching right above my knees. It must
have had something to do with my being tired, and thus allowing
my legs to take a jolt with each step downward. Hiking down
requires more precision than hiking up, in my opinion. I wanted to
make sure that I didn't put my foot in an unstable position, and
such concentration exhausts me after a while. As we neared the
elevation of one of the telecommunciations towers, my guide again
led me off the trail. He told me to rest in a clearing while he
explored around for more Nepenthes. Soon he called me to join
him, and I found him in a group of saplings with three very large
N. lowii vines winding through the branches. These were
conservatory specimens if I ever saw any. Each vine was at least 5
m long, and there were pitchers in all stages of development
hanging down from the leaf tendrils. I photographed single
pitchers, groups of pitchers, unopened pitchers, and my guide
holding part of the vine and a pitcher. There were some male
inflorescence spikes also. Not far away, in another tall bush, was a
N. tentaculata with its tendrils coiled around the twigs and forming
a cluster of pitchers.

By now the time was nearing 3 p.m., and we had another 2
km of descent before we reached the gate. I was very tired, and
the rest of that hike was very gruelling for me. Finally we reached
the gate, and I saw several men standing on the balcony
overlooking the trail. I yelled up to them, "Hey, do you have any
pizza?". This made my guide laugh, but the men didn't understand
me. One was talking on a cellular phone, and I told my guide that
he was ordering some pizza for us (I had to explain Domino's to
him). Anyway, we boarded the jalopy,and headed back to the old
Administration Building where my basement unit beckoned to me.
I arrived there at around 5 p.m., and it was getting dark. I ate a
good dinner, popped an Advil to ease any soreness that might
develop, showered and hit the (damp) sack. I had caught a cold
also, so the decongestants I bought in Kota Kinabalu came in handy.

And, that was the first day. Comments are welcome.