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Mount Kinabalu and Poring Hot Springs 21-25 December

We got up early the next morning to catch the 7.30 bus to Mt. Kinabalu National Park.  I'd reserved the front seats the day before, so we were able to get a good view of the mountain whose summit was in the clear.  Park HQ was at 1,600 metres so the temperature was comfortably cool after the torrid heat of  KK.  We spent the rest of the day strolling on trails near HQ and visiting the botanical gardens which contained protected species of orchid.  We also got plenty of rest in preparation for the next day's hard slog up the mountain.  We would have to climb up another 1,600 metres to 3,200 metres.  At about 2 pm the heavens opened and the rain bucketed down - a reminder that we needed to buy some rainproof gear before heading off the next morning.

Flemming and Ray decided they would attempt to climb all the way to the top of the mountain at 4,100 m.  A guide was compulsory in that case, and since they walk at a different pace, Ray decided to hire a separate guide for himself.   Early next morning, we were transported by bus to the power station for the start of the walk.  Flemming realized he'd left his precious sunhat (bought in California with a rear flap providing extra protection for the neck) behind at HQ.  While he went back to look for it, Ray got a head start with his guide and I bought an "emergency" rain coat in light plastic before starting off, leaving our guide to wait for Flemming.  Knowing Flemming's fast pace, I was certain he would catch up with me before long and sure enough he did about an hour later.  But he had forgotten to purchase a raincoat.  His Goretex jacket would be useless in a heavy downpour and he knew it.

As we climbed higher the vegetation graduated from lush and thick to thinner and more stunted.  From about 2,000 metres we started to see more orchids and pitcher plants.  There were shelters about every hour of the climb.  We stopped at one of them for a snack and chatted to our fellow climbers.  Ray was significantly absent.  He was obviously making good time with his guide.  About a minute after Flemming left the shelter it started bucketing down again, so I decided to stay put in the dry until it abated about 20 minutes later.  It was an irate Flemming who met me at the next shelter.  He was soaked through and getting cold, and true to form, blamed me for not having thought of buying him a raincoat!

There was another downpour which accompanied me for the whole of the final breathtaking climb up to the hut at Laban Rata.  Although  my trouser legs were soaked, I was able to cover my backpack with the emergency raincoat so all my belongings were in the dry.  (Also our guide was carrying my change of clothes in a larger backpack which was also in the dry - The men had stalwartly decided to carry their own backpacks).

As we entered the lodge, we saw Ray already sitting in front of a beer, chatting to a young English/Dutch couple whom we'd met on the way up.  The climb had been relatively easy for them.  They had just paid US$ 50 per day each for the privilege of going on a survival course in the jungle, having to hack their way through and learn how to rid themselves of leeches by cutting them off with a pocket knife.  They also had to hunt for their own food, which consisted mainly of frogs.   Bon appetit!

We checked into our room, which consisted of bunk beds to sleep four.  One of the bunks was already occupied by a young  girl from Mauritius who had sprained her knee coming down from the top of the mountain that morning.  She was going to have to spend another night at the lodge, waiting for help to arrive to get her down the mountain the next morning.  Her friends had already gone down the mountain so there was no one looking after her.  I made sure she had enough blankets and brought her some food.  The room was well heated so our clothes dried nicely overnight.  Flemming was able to buy another raincoat at the lodge, so we were all set for the following day.

Due to the usual deterioration of the weather by about 11 a.m., it's routine for those wishing to climb to the top to be called at 2 a.m. for a 2.30 a.m. breakfast and then head out for the 2 to 3 hour climb and arrive at the summit at dawn.   It's pretty cold up there before the sun rises.  Flemming and Ray didn't see the point in getting there for sunrise, so they left an hour later than the norm.   Meanwhile, I slept snugly until 6.30 a.m.  There was no point in getting up before that, since the cafeteria was open for the early risers from 2.30-3.30 and closed again until 7.30 a.m. in time for their return.  Actually it was a pity, because I had wanted to start a slow descent, stopping as often as I liked to look for orchids and pitcher plants before the men and guides returned.  As it was, Flemming and Ray showed up just after I'd finished breakfast.  Flemming had made it to the top in a couple of hours.  Ray decided to call it a day half an hour from Low's Peak - yes, the highest peak is called Low, named after Hugh Low, the first recorded man to climb it in 1851.  Ray knew he would have a struggle descending all the way from nearly 4,000   to 1,800 metres in one day.

I set off down the hill only a short while before Flemming started with the guide and they soon caught me up.  After that the guide remained glued to my back, which I found most irritating.  I had to ask him several times to give  me space before he finally got the message.  Shortly after they joined me, we made a short detour to see a whole lot of pitcher plants.  We went crazy taking photos of them to catch a different angle or position.  Soon we caught up with the Mauritian girl with the sprained knee.  There was no stretcher as we'd all thought.  She was having to walk all the way down with just the help of a stick.  We sympathized with her and she smiled valiantly, clearly in pain.

Our slow descent took us about 4 hours.  Ray was behind us this time   About an hour after us, he staggered in to the restaurant near park HQ.  He looked and felt pretty worn out.

After a well deserved meal, we took a taxi for the hour's drive east to Poring Hot Springs.  When I'd booked our accommodation, I'd been told there were no private rooms available.  According to our guide book, the rooms were either private or dormitories sleeping 40 or 80 people!  This was Christmas Eve - it was a bit like finding no room at the inn!  But to my pleasant surprise, it was another bunk-bed room for four and there were only the three of us.

The public hot baths were pretty crowded with Malaysian families whose kids scream just as loudly as they do in Europe.   Flemming and I opted for a private hot bath to ease our weary muscles.

The main attraction for us at the hot springs was a canopy walk high up in the trees - something none of us had ever experienced.  We were warned that the walkway would be crowded so decided to make yet another early rise to get there at opening time.  Thus we enjoyed it practically to ourselves with only a quiet Swedish couple for company.  We were rather disappointed to see not a single bird or monkey, but it was still an experience to walk so high up on the suspended wooden planks and the views were terrific in the early morning sunlight.

After breakfast, Flemming and I visited the butterfly farm.  The man at the gate only charged us half price, apologising that it was not the best season for butterflies.  Then we walked to a nearby waterfall, timing it nicely so that we had the place to ourselves for a refreshing bathe before a group of Swedes arrived.  We were careful to spray ourselves with plenty of insect repellent to deter potential blood suckers, but later at lunch Flemming found a leech between two of his fingers, sucking away merrily until he flicked it off. After Flemming had had fun filming the wriggling beast, the waitress finished it off with a dose of salt!

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Flemming and Mrs. Lee Chong (from Melbourne) on top of Mt. Kinabalu at sunrise

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On the descent near the South Peak

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Pitcher plants (~3000 m altitude) on Mt. Kinabalu

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Happily on the way down

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Orchid on Mt. Kinabalu

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Angela enjoying the canopy walk at Poring Hot Springs

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Flemming enjoying the waterfall at Poring

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Tropical paradise!

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Hibiscus and butterfly at Poring

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The leech that had its Christmas lunch between Flemming's fingers

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