Escape To Borneo (Pictures)
One of many world’s great city views is from Kowloon, looking across the Victoria Harbor to the mountainous concrete, glass and steel spires on the island of Hong Kong. From Hong Kong trying back, the views had been never so lofty, as a result of for seventy three years the low-flying planes of close by Kai Tak airport required constructing peak restrictions. Now, though, with the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, some highly effective unleashed vitality is pushing the Kowloon panorama greater, like crashing tectonic plates forever lifting nice mountain ranges further above the clouds.
Just lately, after giving a talk at a conference in Hong Kong, I spent some time resting in my room on the 41st ground of the Renaissance Harbour View Lodge gazing at the mountains-in-the-making across the way in which in Kowloon, and wondered how far away might I discover the actual thing. An unfurl of the map showed that the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea was Mount Kinabalu, thirteen,455 feet, within the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, just three hours flight to the southeast. Climbing a mountain with out an elevator was strictly against physician’s orders, as two weeks earlier I had undergone surgery, an inguinal hernia repair, and was advised to put low. But, researching Mt. Kinabalu I discovered the summit was called Low’s Peak, after the European who first climbed the mountain in the middle 19th century. The weekend was nigh, so the next morning I was on an Malaysia Airlines flight to the state capital of Kota Kinabalu, simply four degrees north of the equator, for a gut-wrenching, 4-day journey in Borneo.
For greater than a century, since explorers and missionaries first ventured into the inside of Borneo, outsiders have been captivated by its half-truths and half-fictions, awed by its headhunting heritage, its tales of large insects and snakes, of wild men who lived in bushes, of prodigious leeches that stood up when sensing a human. Borneo, which dominates hundreds of thousands of acres of tropical rain forests on the world’s third largest island, was the stuff of nightmares. Sabah once belonged to an Englishman, the writer Alfred Dent, who leased it and finally referred to as it British North Borneo. It was a state administered as a enterprise venture till 1942, when the Japanese invaded and took management. After the Second World Battle, the British returned and Borneo grew to become a Crown colony. In 1963, Sabah gained independence and joined the Federation of Malaysia. The title Sabah means, “land beneath the wind,” a spot the place early maritime traders sought refuge beneath the typhoon belt of the Philippines.
From the airport I stepped into the silken air of the Borneo night time, saturated and scorching, with a barely candy odor. Though it was dark, I could sense the mountain to the east, bending me with its silent mind. It appeared to reel within the minibus I rode 60 miles up into the eponymous park headquarters — Mt. Kinabalu is essentially the most accessible big mountain within the tropics — the place I had dinner and checked into one of many spacious break up-level chalet. This was base camp with style.
As I sipped a port on the again balcony, tiny life within the tangle a couple of yards away broadcast information of my presence in a gentle din of clicks, trills, buzzes and noises ranging from deep fats frying to the shriek of automobile alarms. However, there was greater than wildlife on this backcloth of biodiversity beyond my feet. The 300-square-mile nationwide park’s botanically famous flora include greater than 1,000 orchid species, 450 ferns, forty kinds of oak, 27 rhododendrons and a plant that bears platter-measurement flowers, the Rafflesia. In all, Mount Kinabalu is house to four,000 to four,500 vascular plant species, greater than a quarter the variety of all recorded species within the United States.
The subsequent morning I stepped over a moth the scale of a bat and out of doors into a day tidy and bright. For the first time I may see the placing granite massif that appears like a mad ship riding excessive rainforest waves, with improbable masts, tines, spires and aiguilles dotted across its pitched and washed deck of rock at thirteen,000 toes. Waterfalls spilled down its sides as though a tide had just pulled back from a cliff. The youngest non-volcanic mountain on the planet, Kinabalu remains to be rising, pushed upwards at the rate of a quarter of an inch a year. Borneo was formed as a result of plate movements uniting two separate portions of the island some 50 million years in the past. Mount Kinabalu now lies near the location the place the two elements joined on the northeastern tip of Borneo.
About forty million years in the past, the area lay beneath the sea and accumulated thick layers of marine sediments, creating sandstone and shale, later uplifted to kind the Crocker Vary. Mount Kinabalu began out about 10 million years in the past as an enormous ball of molten granite called a “pluton” lying beneath the sedimentary rocks of the Crocker Range. This pluton slowly cooled between 9 and 4 million years in the past, and about a million years ago, it was thrust from the bowels of the earth and grew to a peak probably a number of thousand toes increased than as we speak. When the Pleistocene Ice Age emerged, rivers of ice lined Kinabalu, ultimately carrying down the gentle sandstone and shale and shrinking the summit. Low’s Peak, the highest point on Kinabalu, and the horned towers of the mountain, had been created by the bulldozing of these huge glaciers.
Checking in with Jennifer on the Registration Workplace at Park Headquarters, I saw the sign that said no one might climb to the summit without hiring a certified guide. So, I enlisted Eric Ebid, 30, a mild man of Borneo, small, enthusiastic with bad teeth but a prepared and actual smile; eyes the colour of wet coal that might see every forest twitch; little English but a knack for communicating; and a beautiful singing voice. His footwear have been made from skinny rubber, not a lot greater than sandals, however he walked with a spring that made his limbs seem like product of some resilient, lightweight wooden. When he shook palms, he first touched his hand to his coronary heart, and bowed. Eric was a Dusun, the dominant ethnic group of northern Borneo. The Dusuns have lived on the flanks of Mount Kinabalu for centuries and imagine that the spirits of their ancestors reside on the summit, the realm of the dead. They call the mountain Aki Nabula, “Revered Place of the Lifeless.” They had been as soon as warlike, and used to hold their captives in bamboo cages up the slopes of the mountain, and spear them to loss of life within the shadow of its jagged summit.
The park bus labored to get to the trailhead, two and a half zigzag miles up the hill at a energy station at 6,100 feet that not solely supplies electricity to Kota Kinabalu, but has a cable that stretches up the mountain to a relaxation home two miles above sea degree.
Off the bus, we stepped through a gate into a world steaming and flourishing, rife with birdsong. We had been in one of many world’s oldest dipterocarp rain forests, far older than the arbors of the Amazon Basin, now the final place on earth for most of the world’s rarest plants and wildlife.
The ascent began by shedding one hundred ft of altitude, dropping us right into a rainforest as lush and improbable because the canvases of Henri Rousseau. Then, in earnest, we began the unrelenting 5-mile rise, switching again and forth over razor backed ridges, through groves of broadleaved oak, laurel and chestnut, draped in mosses, epiphytes and liverworts and thickened with a trumpeting of ferns. The path was normal of tree limbs pinioned to serve as risers and often as posts and handrails, a stairway pulled directly from nature. At a lot-used and appreciated common intervals, there were charming gazebos, with toilets and tanked water. I stopped at the first, refilling my water bottle.
For 1,000,000 years Kinabalu was a spot the place solely imaginations and spirits traveled; no one disturbed the lifeless there — until the British arrived. In 1851 Sir Hugh Low, a British Colonial Secretary, bushwhacked to the primary recorded ascent, accompanied by local tribal guides and their chief, who purified the trespass by sacrificing a rooster and seven eggs. They also left a cairn of charms, together with human teeth. To not be outdone, Sir Hugh left a bottle with a note recording his feat, which he later characterized as “the most tiresome stroll I’ve ever skilled.”
By late morning, we entered the cloud forest, where the upper altitude and thinner soil begin to twist and warp the vegetation. There were fixed pockets and scarves of fog. At 7,300 ft we handed through a slim-leafed forest the place Miss Gibbs’ Bamboo climbed into the tree trunks, clinging to limbs like a delicate moss. Lillian Gibbs, an English botanist and the junior stone island soft shell jacket primary woman identified to scale Mount Kinabalu, collected over a thousand botanical specimens for the British Museum in 1910, at a time when there were no relaxation homes, shelters or corduroyed trails.
By mid-day the weather turned grim; skies opened, the views down mountain have been blotted, and the climb was more like an upward wade via a thick orange soup of alkaline mud. I used to be soaked to the pores and skin, however the rain was heat, as if it was all meant to be humane, even medicinal. For a moment, I forgot my hernia.
Nonetheless, when the rain grew to become a deluge, we stopped on the Layang Layang Workers Headquarters (which was locked shut) for a rest and a hope that the downpour might subside. We have been at eight,600 feet, higher than halfway to our sleeping hut. While there, we munched on cheese sandwiches and exhausting-boiled eggs, sipped bottled water. And whereas there, I watched as a small parade of tiny women, bent beneath burongs (elongated cane baskets) heaped excessive above their heads with loads of food, fuel and beer for the in a single day hut, marched by on certain ft, trekking to serve the vacationers who now flock to this mountain.
The first tourist made the climb in 1910, and, in the identical yr, so did the primary dog, a bull terrier named Wigson. Since the paving of the freeway from Kota Kinabalu in 1982, tourist development has been rapid, by Borneo’s standards. Over 20,000 folks a yr now reach Low’s Peak — the very best level — by way of the Paka Spur route, and a whole bunch of Dusuns are employed in getting outsiders up and down and around the mountain trails.
After 30 minutes the rain hurtled even more durable, so we shrugged and continued upwards, into the guts of the cloud forest, among groves of knotted and gnarled tea-timber, whose lichen-encrusted trunks and limbs have been stunted and twisted like walking sticks. On the bottom we stepped over foot-lengthy purple worms, black and brown frogs and a black beetle the scale of an ice ax.
As we climbed Eric pointed out varied rhododendrons with blooms that ranged from peach to pink and the insectivorous pitcher plants, the size of avocadoes. As an alternative of nutrients in the soil, they feed on trapped insects. Popping out of an extended leaf, quite like an iris, was the trapping mechanism, a tendril and cup with a mouth that appeared like a tiny steam shovel, or the lead in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Local lore has it that Spenser St. John, a botanist who climbed Kinabalu with Hugh Low on his second expedition in 1862, found a pitcher plant containing a drowned rat floating in six pints of water.
At 9,000 toes the terrain began to change drastically. Right here an outcropping of ultramafic rock made for an orange, toxic soil, out of which struggled a forest of dwarf pine and myrtle. Right here, too, I met an Australian on his manner down. Though younger and hulkish, he appeared, in a word, awful — dour and green and was of the historical mariner kind, shaken and stuffed with foreboding recommendation. “It is best to solely do this, mate, in case you are in nice, great shape,” and that i felt a ping where my hernia scar pinched.
Accustomed to the Spartan A-frames and Quonsets that function huts on other mountains I’ve climbed, I used to be unprepared for the majesty of the spruce-wooden Laban Rata Guesthouse. Anchored on stilts at the edge of a cliff just above 11,000 toes, two tales tall with a contented yellow roof, the place was like a boutique resort. Its cozy lounge featured a decorative Christmas tree, a set of X-mas cards, although this was months before or after the holiday, and a tv with a satellite tv for pc feed displaying The Travel Channel. On one wall were certificates prematurely for sale stating summit success. Plate glass home windows wrapped the down facet of the mountain, where we watched clouds stream by crags and cauldrons like rivers of high-quality chalk. When the rain stopped, I stepped outdoors and watched the clouds blow off the mountain above, and out of the blue there was an empire of silvery grey granite, castled with barren crags, as superior as the slopes of Rundle Mountain in Banff, or Half Dome in Yosemite, thick rivulets of water shaving off the graceful face in falls.
The canteen menu ranged from recent fish to fried rice to French fries and Guinness. In my room, which slept four, there was an electric mild and a small electric heater that allowed me to dry my clothes. Down the hall have been scorching showers.
Exhausted from the day’s trek, I fell into the arms of Morpheus round seven, trusting that Eric would come by with a wake-up knock around three a.m. The motivation for beginning within the wee hours was that tropical mountains typically cloud over after sunrise, and sometimes it begins to rain soon after, making an ascent at a reasonable hour not only tougher, but harmful, and the coveted views non-existent.
Positive sufficient, at the crack of three there was a knock on the door. One in all my roommates, a British woman who was suffering a headache, announced she would not be going further. Another half-dozen on the hut would also turn around here, suffering from exhaustion or altitude sickness. I felt sorry for them, but additionally felt proud of myself that, despite my wound, I had the moxie and strength to continue. I fumbled for my hiking boots and tripped downstairs for a cup of tea. At 3:20, I donned my headlamp and set out underneath a blue-black sky hung with a glittering Milky Approach. The stars appeared as close to and thick as when I used to be a baby. I listened for ghosts, however every thing was bone quiet and cool. This was really a mountain of the useless.
I followed the little white pool of mild my headlamp forged on the granite just ahead of my toes. Above, the summit loomed, felt greater than seen. The dark mass of the mountain vied with the vacuous space throughout, we caught between the 2. Trying again, I saw a constellation of 20 or so headlamp beams bobbing and flashing as their homeowners negotiated in my footsteps. I used to be amazed that in my condition I could possibly be ahead of so many.
The emergence at treeline onto the chilly granite face was abrupt, simply as the first gold and pink bands of dawn cracked open and singed the sky. It was like stepping from a closet into a ballroom, and everybody appeared to move a little quicker, enamored by the tap of unwrapped stone, rhyming with the rock. “Pelan, pelan,” (slowly, slowly) advised Eric, as though he knew of my damage.
At locations where the rock angled up 40 degrees or extra, solicitous path builders had anchored enlargement bolts and fastened stout white ropes. At one point, on the rock face of Panar Laban (Place of Sacrifice), where early guides stopped to appease the souls of their ancestors, we obtained down on our knees and scrambled upwards on all fours.
In the robed gentle of 6 a.m.clambering up an aplite dyke, I could make out the pinnacles surrounding us, legacies of the Ice Age: the Ugly Sisters and malformed Donkey’s Ears on our right, immense St. John’s and South Peak on our left. Low’s Peak was tucked in between, like an attic staircase. The smooth plates we had been scaling grew to become a pile of frost-shattered blocks and boulders, forming a jumble of big tesserae in the hunt for a mosaic.
To the roof of the world we scrabbled simply because the sun confirmed its face. I sucked some skinny air, and seemed around. It was stunning to watch the mountaintop transfigured by sunrise. The undulant granite towers warmed with gentle, as guides lit up their cigarettes. It appeared like the Tower of Babel as each new climber made the final step and cheered in German, Japanese, Australian or Bahasa.
I basked now within the bliss of standing naked in opposition to the heavens, with the fathomless interior of Borneo far below me. On one aspect fell the mile-deep ravine that’s Low’s Gully, generally referred to as Loss of life Valley or Place of the Dead, believed to be guarded by a slaying dragon, the place in 1994 a British Military expedition bought famously stuck within the jungle-crammed slash. Padi fields, kampungs (villages) and an limitless expanse of jungle unfolded on one other side; the dancing lights of Kota Kinabalu and the shimmering South China Sea on another.
I circled the broken bottleneck of Low’s Peak, taking in every side. After i completed the circle and looked west once more, sunrise exhausting on my back, the immense shadow of Kinabalu, an enormous, darkish-blue cone, appeared to fly over the land and sea, stretching to the horizon. It was sublime; there was nothing to append.
And, I reached down and felt the scar from my recent operation, I felt gentle-headed, crammed to the brim with the helium of gratefulness and felt fairly trick that I had finished what my physician had mentioned I couldn’t. I felt glued together with sweat and brio, king of the jungle and strutted and posed. Till I appeared across the plateau and noticed a tall, darkish-haired lady limping in direction of me, balanced by a pair of ski poles. She sat down close to me, and pulled up her pants leg to reveal a full brace that went from her decrease leg to her thigh.
“What occurred ” I could not help however ask, and in a Dutch accent she replied, “Skiing accident in the Alps a couple weeks ago. Destroyed my ACL. That is my anterior cruciate ligament. Physician mentioned I could not climb mountains for six months. But, I could not resist, so here I am.”
Humbled, I started again down the mountain.
Nonetheless sore from the climb, I spent two extra days in Borneo, the place all who handed instantly recognized something about me, smiled knowingly and mentioned “Kinabalu,” as I hobbled about like an old man.
A 40-minute flight took me to Sandakan on Sabah’s east coast, where I first visited the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center, a life raft for one of many world’s largest orangutan populations. Since gazetted in 1964 to reintegrate child orangutans orphaned by poachers or separated from their mothers as a result of intensive deforestation to life within the wild, over 300 pink apes have gone by means of the eight to 12 yr rehabilitation process and been released back into the wild. It was a thrill to face among the many apes, exchanging curious appears to be like and questioning how our futures would fare.
Next I visited the Sukau Rainforest Lodge on the banks of the crocodiled Kinabatangan River. From there I took a ride in a hand-carved boat alongside a gallery of sonneratia bushes, where proboscis monkeys, with huge droopy noses and bulging beer guts, made crashing tree-to-tree leaps, while bands of pig-tailed macaques chattered away. At one point a low drone of cicadas accelerated to a fierce roar that was almost deafening, and that i may barely hear the information as she pointed out a yellow-ring cat snake twisted around an overhanging branch just above my head.
And i trundled down a laterite highway, via plantations from a Somerset Maugham tableau, to visit the limestone Gomantong Caves, about as low as I could go in Borneo after Low’s Peak, the place the nests of tiny swiflets’ convey excessive prices in China as the main ingredient for the prized chook’s nest soup. It was a nightmarish place, a place crawling with poisonous centipedes, full of the acrid stench of bat guano and the crunching sounds underfoot of a particular breed of big red cockroaches that may strip a fowl carcass in a matter of hours. I was happy to leave. Then I used to be back in Hong Kong.
This time I stayed at the Intercontinental, closest lodge to the waterfront, with the best view of the Hong Kong Island skyline. As I sat again in the resort Jacuzzi nursing my wounds with a gin and tonic, gazing at the simulacra mountains, the night mild dashed off the windowed pinnacles and spires, piercing a sea of clouds.
Right here, if I squinted, the illusion was complete, and i may overlay the crowns of Kinabalu with these of the previous Crown colony. Mountains, I realized, be them made by man or nature, reconciled the bourgeois love of order with the bohemian love of emancipation.