Escape To Borneo (Pictures)
One of the world’s great city views is from Kowloon, wanting 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 have been by no means so lofty, as a result of for seventy three years the low-flying planes of close by Kai Tak airport required building height restrictions. Now, although, with the brand new Hong Kong Worldwide Airport at Chek Lap Kok, some powerful unleashed power is pushing the Kowloon panorama greater, like crashing tectonic plates forever lifting great mountain ranges further above the clouds.
Lately, after giving a talk at a convention in Hong Kong, I spent some time resting in my room on the 41st flooring of the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel gazing on the mountains-in-the-making across the way in which in Kowloon, and puzzled how far away would possibly I find the actual thing. An unfurl of the map showed that the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea was Mount Kinabalu, thirteen,455 toes, in 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 in opposition to physician’s orders, as two weeks earlier I had undergone surgical procedure, an inguinal hernia restore, and was told to lay low. But, researching Mt. Kinabalu I found the summit was called Low’s Peak, after stockists of stone island the European who first climbed the mountain in the center nineteenth century. The weekend was nigh, so the next morning I used to be on an Malaysia Airlines flight to the state capital of Kota Kinabalu, simply 4 degrees north of the equator, for a intestine-wrenching, 4-day adventure in Borneo.
For more than a century, since explorers and missionaries first ventured into the interior 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 males who lived in trees, of prodigious leeches that stood up when sensing a human. Borneo, which dominates tens of millions of acres of tropical rain forests on the world’s third largest island, was the stuff of nightmares. Sabah as soon as belonged to an Englishman, the writer Alfred Dent, who leased it and eventually referred to as it British North Borneo. It was a state administered as a enterprise venture until 1942, when the Japanese invaded and took management. After the Second World Warfare, the British returned and Borneo became a Crown colony. In 1963, Sabah gained independence and joined the Federation of Malaysia. The identify Sabah means, “land under 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, saturated and sizzling, with a barely sweet odor. Although it was dark, I may sense the mountain to the east, bending me with its silent mind. It seemed to reel within the minibus I rode 60 miles up into the eponymous park headquarters — Mt. Kinabalu is probably the most accessible big mountain within the tropics — the place I had dinner and checked into one of many spacious split-degree chalet. This was base camp with style.
As I sipped a port on the back balcony, tiny life within the tangle a number of yards away broadcast information of my presence in a gradual din of clicks, trills, buzzes and noises ranging from deep fats frying to the shriek of automotive alarms. But, there was more than wildlife in this backcloth of biodiversity past my ft. The 300-sq.-mile nationwide park’s botanically famous flora embody more 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 home to 4,000 to four,500 vascular plant species, greater than a quarter the variety of all recorded species within the United States.
The next morning I stepped over a moth the size of a bat and out of doors into a day tidy and shiny. For the first time I could see the striking granite massif that looks like a mad ship riding excessive rainforest waves, with fantastic masts, tines, spires and aiguilles dotted across its pitched and washed deck of rock at thirteen,000 feet. Waterfalls spilled down its sides as though a tide had just pulled back from a cliff. The youngest non-volcanic mountain on this planet, Kinabalu continues to be rising, pushed upwards at the rate of a quarter of an inch a 12 months. Borneo was formed because of plate movements uniting two separate portions of the island some 50 million years in the past. Mount Kinabalu now lies close to the site the place the 2 parts joined on the northeastern tip of Borneo.
About forty million years in the past, the area lay under 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” mendacity beneath the sedimentary rocks of the Crocker Range. This pluton slowly cooled between nine and 4 million years in the past, and about one million years in the past, it was thrust from the bowels of the earth and grew to a peak in all probability several thousand feet higher than at present. When the Pleistocene Ice Age emerged, rivers of ice lined Kinabalu, ultimately carrying down the mushy sandstone and shale and shrinking the summit. Low’s Peak, the best level on Kinabalu, and the horned towers of the mountain, have been created by the bulldozing of those huge glaciers.
Checking in with Jennifer on the Registration Office at Park Headquarters, I noticed the signal that stated nobody may 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 however a ready and actual smile; eyes the coloration stockists of stone island of wet coal that would see every forest twitch; little English but a knack for speaking; and an exquisite singing voice. His shoes had been manufactured from thin rubber, not a lot greater than sandals, but he walked with a spring that made his limbs seem like product of some resilient, lightweight wooden. When he shook fingers, he first touched his hand to his 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 useless. They name the mountain Aki Nabula, “Revered Place of the Dead.” They have been once warlike, and used to hold their captives in bamboo cages up the slopes of the mountain, and spear them to death in 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,a hundred feet that not solely provides electricity to Kota Kinabalu, however has a cable that stretches up the mountain to a relaxation home two miles above sea level.
Off the bus, we stepped through a gate right 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 many of the world’s rarest plants and wildlife.
The ascent started by shedding 100 toes of altitude, dropping us into a rainforest as lush and improbable as the canvases of Henri Rousseau. Then, in earnest, we began the unrelenting five-mile rise, switching back and forth over razor backed ridges, via groves of broadleaved oak, laurel and chestnut, draped in mosses, epiphytes and liverworts and thickened with a trumpeting of ferns. The path was customary of tree limbs pinioned to function risers and sometimes as posts and handrails, a stairway pulled immediately from nature. At much-used and appreciated common intervals, there were charming gazebos, with toilets and tanked water. I stopped at the primary, 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 native tribal guides and their chief, who purified the trespass by sacrificing a hen 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 notice recording his feat, which he later characterized as “essentially the most tiresome walk I have ever experienced.”
By late morning, we entered the cloud forest, where the upper altitude and thinner soil begin to twist and warp the vegetation. There have been fixed pockets and scarves of fog. At 7,300 toes we passed through a narrow-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 first lady 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 houses, 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 by means of a thick orange soup of alkaline mud. I used to be soaked to the skin, but the rain was warm, as if it was all meant to be humane, even medicinal. For a second, I forgot my hernia.
Still, when the rain became a deluge, we stopped on the Layang Layang Employees Headquarters (which was locked shut) for a rest and a hope that the downpour may subside. We were at 8,600 toes, higher than halfway to our sleeping hut. Whereas there, we munched on cheese sandwiches and hard-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 a great deal of food, gasoline and beer for the in a single day hut, marched by on sure feet, trekking to serve the vacationers who now flock to this mountain.
The primary tourist made the climb in 1910, and, in the identical year, so did the primary dog, a bull terrier named Wigson. Because the paving of the highway from Kota Kinabalu in 1982, tourist improvement has been speedy, by Borneo’s requirements. Over 20,000 people a year now reach Low’s Peak — the best level — by way of the Paka Spur route, and lots of of Dusuns are employed in getting outsiders up and down and across the mountain trails.
After half-hour the rain hurtled even harder, so we shrugged and continued upwards, into the heart of the cloud forest, among groves of knotted and gnarled tea-trees, whose lichen-encrusted trunks and limbs have been stunted and twisted like strolling sticks. On the ground we stepped over foot-long purple worms, black and brown frogs and a black beetle the scale of an ice ax.
As we climbed Eric pointed out various rhododendrons with blooms that ranged from peach to pink and the insectivorous pitcher plants, the dimensions of avocadoes. Instead of nutrients within the soil, they feed on trapped insects. Popping out of a long leaf, slightly like an iris, was the trapping mechanism, a tendril and cup with a mouth that regarded 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 ft the terrain started to alter drastically. 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 way down. Although young and hulkish, he regarded, in a phrase, awful — dour and green and was of the ancient mariner type, shaken and filled with foreboding recommendation. “You must only do this, mate, in case you are in nice, great shape,” and that i felt a ping the place my hernia scar pinched.
Accustomed to the Spartan A-frames and Quonsets that serve as huts on different 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 ft, two tales tall with a contented yellow roof, the place was like a boutique hotel. Its cozy lounge featured a decorative Christmas tree, a set of X-mas cards, even though this was months before or after the vacation, and a tv with a satellite tv for pc feed displaying The Journey Channel. On one wall were certificates prematurely on the market stating summit success. Plate glass home windows wrapped the down side of the mountain, where we watched clouds stream by way of crags and cauldrons like rivers of high quality chalk. When the rain stopped, I stepped outside and watched the clouds blow off the mountain above, and immediately there was an empire of silvery grey granite, castled with barren crags, as awesome as the slopes of Rundle Mountain in Banff, or Half Dome in Yosemite, thick rivulets of water shaving off the smooth face in falls.
The canteen menu ranged from fresh fish to fried rice to French fries and Guinness. In my room, which slept four, there was an electric gentle and a small electric heater that allowed me to dry my clothes. Down the corridor were 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 round three a.m. The motivation for starting in the wee hours was that tropical mountains typically cloud over after sunrise, and often it begins to rain soon after, making an ascent at an inexpensive hour not only harder, however harmful, and the coveted views non-existent.
Certain sufficient, at the crack of three there was a knock on the door. One of my roommates, a British woman who was suffering a headache, introduced she wouldn’t be going further. Another half-dozen on the hut would also turn round here, suffering from exhaustion or altitude sickness. I felt sorry for them, but in addition felt pleased with myself that, regardless of my wound, I had the moxie and energy to proceed. I fumbled for my hiking boots and tripped downstairs for a cup of tea. At 3:20, I donned my headlamp and set out under a blue-black sky hung with a glittering Milky Way. The stars appeared as close to and thick as when I used to be a child. I listened for ghosts, but every part was bone quiet and cool. This was truly a mountain of the useless.
I adopted the little white pool of mild my headlamp cast on the granite simply forward of my feet. Above, the summit loomed, felt more than seen. The dark mass of the mountain vied with the vacuous space all around, we caught between the two. Looking again, I noticed a constellation of 20 or so headlamp beams bobbing and flashing as their owners negotiated in my footsteps. I was amazed that in my condition I might be ahead of so many.
The emergence at treeline onto the cold granite face was abrupt, just as the primary gold and pink bands of dawn cracked open and singed the sky. It was like stepping from a closet right into a ballroom, and everybody appeared to move a little bit faster, enamored by the faucet of unwrapped stone, rhyming with the rock. “Pelan, pelan,” (slowly, slowly) advised Eric, as if he knew of my harm.
At locations the place the rock angled up 40 degrees or extra, solicitous trail builders had anchored growth bolts and fastened stout white ropes. At one level, on the rock face of Panar Laban (Place of Sacrifice), where early guides stopped to appease the souls of their ancestors, we acquired down on our knees and scrambled upwards on all fours.
Within the robed light of 6 a.m., clambering up an aplite dyke, I might 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 sleek plates we had been scaling grew to become a pile of frost-shattered blocks and boulders, forming a jumble of big tesserae looking for a mosaic.
To the roof of the world we scrabbled simply as the solar confirmed its face. I sucked some thin air, and seemed round. It was beautiful to watch the mountaintop transfigured by sunrise. The undulant granite towers warmed with mild, as guides lit up their cigarettes. It appeared just 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 towards the heavens, with the fathomless inside of Borneo far beneath me. On one aspect fell the mile-deep ravine that’s Low’s Gully, generally referred to as Death Valley or Place of the Useless, believed to be guarded by a slaying dragon, where in 1994 a British Army expedition bought famously caught within the jungle-crammed slash. Padi fields, kampungs (villages) and an infinite expanse of jungle unfolded on another aspect; the dancing lights of Kota Kinabalu and the shimmering South China Sea on one other.
I circled the broken bottleneck of Low’s Peak, taking in each facet. Once i completed the circle and seemed west again, sunrise onerous on my back, the immense shadow of Kinabalu, an enormous, dark-blue cone, seemed 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 current operation, I felt light-headed, crammed to the brim with the helium of gratefulness and felt fairly trick that I had performed what my doctor had mentioned I could not. I felt glued along with sweat and brio, king of the jungle and strutted and posed. Until I looked throughout the plateau and saw a tall, darkish-haired woman limping towards 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 lower leg to her thigh.
“What happened?” I could not help but ask, and in a Dutch accent she replied, “Skiing accident in the Alps a pair weeks ago. Destroyed my ACL. That’s my anterior cruciate ligament. Doctor stated I couldn’t climb mountains for six months. However, I couldn’t resist, so right here I am.”
Humbled, I started again down the mountain.
Still sore from the climb, I spent two more days in Borneo, where all who handed instantly recognized one thing about me, smiled knowingly and stated “Kinabalu,” as I hobbled about like an outdated man.
A 40-minute flight took me to Sandakan on Sabah’s east coast, where I first visited the Sepilok Rehabilitation Heart, a life raft for one of many world’s largest orangutan populations. Since gazetted in 1964 to reintegrate baby orangutans orphaned by poachers or separated from their mothers on account of intensive deforestation to life in the wild, over 300 red apes have gone by means of the eight to 12 yr rehabilitation course of and been launched back into the wild. It was a thrill to face among the many apes, exchanging curious appears and questioning how our futures would fare.
Subsequent I visited the Sukau Rainforest Lodge on the banks of the crocodiled Kinabatangan River. From there I took a trip in a hand-carved boat along a gallery of sonneratia timber, the place proboscis monkeys, with enormous droopy noses and bulging beer guts, made crashing tree-to-tree leaps, whereas bands of pig-tailed macaques chattered away. At one point a low drone of cicadas accelerated to a fierce roar that was practically deafening, and that i might barely hear the information as she pointed out a yellow-ring cat snake twisted around an overhanging department just above my head.
And that i trundled down a laterite highway, by means of plantations from a Somerset Maugham tableau, to visit the limestone Gomantong Caves, about as low as I might go in Borneo after Low’s Peak, the place the nests of tiny swiflets’ bring excessive costs in China as the primary ingredient for the prized bird’s nest soup. It was a nightmarish place, a spot crawling with poisonous centipedes, filled with the acrid stench of bat guano and the crunching sounds underfoot of a particular breed of giant pink cockroaches that can strip a fowl carcass in a matter of hours. I was happy to depart. Then I was back in Hong Kong.
This time I stayed on the Intercontinental, closest resort to the waterfront, with the best view of the Hong Kong Island skyline. As I sat back in the lodge Jacuzzi nursing my wounds with a gin and tonic, gazing at the simulacra mountains, the evening gentle dashed off the windowed pinnacles and spires, piercing a sea of clouds.
Here, if I squinted, the illusion was full, and that i could 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.
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