Escape To Borneo (Images)
One of the world’s nice city views is from Kowloon, looking throughout the Victoria Harbor to the mountainous concrete, glass and steel spires on the island of Hong Kong. From Hong Kong trying back, the views were never so lofty, because for seventy three years the low-flying planes of close by Kai Tak airport required constructing peak restrictions. Now, although, with the brand new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, some highly effective unleashed power is pushing the Kowloon panorama higher, like crashing tectonic plates endlessly lifting great mountain ranges further above the clouds.
Just lately, after giving a discuss at a conference in Hong Kong, I spent some time resting in my room on the 41st ground of the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel gazing at the mountains-in-the-making throughout the way in which in Kowloon, and puzzled how far away might I discover the real factor. An unfurl of the map showed that the very best mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea was Mount Kinabalu, 13,455 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 doctor’s orders, as two weeks earlier I had undergone surgical procedure, an inguinal hernia repair, and was advised to lay low. But, researching Mt. Kinabalu I discovered the summit was referred to as Low’s Peak, after the European who first climbed the mountain within the middle 19th century. The weekend was nigh, so the next morning I used to be on an Malaysia Airways flight to the state capital of Kota Kinabalu, simply 4 degrees north of the equator, for a gut-wrenching, four-day adventure in Borneo.
For more 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 males who lived in timber, 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 once belonged to an Englishman, the publisher Alfred Dent, who leased it and ultimately referred to as it British North Borneo. It was a state administered as a business enterprise till 1942, when the Japanese invaded and took control. After the Second World Battle, 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 below the wind,” a place where 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 hot, with a slightly sweet odor. Although it was dark, I could sense the mountain to the east, bending me with its silent mind. It appeared to reel in the minibus I rode 60 miles up into the eponymous park headquarters — Mt. Kinabalu is the most accessible big mountain in the tropics — where I had dinner and checked into one of many spacious split-stage chalet. This was base camp with model.
As I sipped a port on the back balcony, tiny life in the tangle a few yards away broadcast information of my presence in a steady din of clicks, trills, buzzes and noises ranging from deep fat frying to the shriek of automobile alarms. But, there was more than wildlife in this backcloth of biodiversity beyond my feet. The 300-sq.-mile nationwide park’s botanically famous flora embrace more than 1,000 orchid species, 450 ferns, forty kinds of oak, 27 rhododendrons and a plant that bears platter-dimension flowers, the Rafflesia. In all, Mount Kinabalu is residence to 4,000 to four,500 vascular plant species, greater than a quarter the number of all recorded species in the United States.
The next morning I stepped over a moth the scale of a bat and outside right into a day tidy and shiny. For the primary time I could see the hanging granite massif that appears like a mad ship riding high rainforest waves, with implausible masts, tines, spires and aiguilles dotted across its pitched and washed deck of rock at 13,000 toes. Waterfalls spilled down its sides as if a tide had simply pulled again from a cliff. The youngest non-volcanic mountain in the world, Kinabalu is still rising, pushed upwards at the speed of a quarter of an inch a year. 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 positioning the place the two parts joined on the northeastern tip of Borneo.
About forty million years ago, the area lay under the sea and accumulated thick layers of marine sediments, creating sandstone and shale, later uplifted to form the Crocker Range. Mount Kinabalu began out about 10 million years in the past as a huge ball of molten granite referred to as a “pluton” lying beneath the sedimentary rocks of the Crocker Range. This pluton slowly cooled between nine and four million years in the past, and about a million years ago, it was thrust from the bowels of the earth and grew to a height in all probability several thousand toes greater than as we speak. When the Pleistocene Ice Age emerged, rivers of ice lined Kinabalu, eventually carrying down the comfortable sandstone and shale and shrinking the summit. Low’s Peak, the best level on Kinabalu, and the horned towers of the mountain, were created by the bulldozing of these huge glaciers.
Checking in with Jennifer on the Registration Office at Park Headquarters, I noticed the sign that said no person may climb to the summit without hiring a certified guide. So, I enlisted Eric Ebid, 30, a mild man of Borneo, small, enthusiastic with unhealthy teeth but a prepared and actual smile; eyes the color of wet coal that might see every forest twitch; little English but a knack for speaking; and a lovely singing voice. His shoes had been product of skinny rubber, not a lot more than sandals, but he walked with a spring that made his limbs appear to be 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 consider that the spirits of their ancestors reside on the summit, the realm of the lifeless. They name 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 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 power station at 6,100 ft that not solely provides electricity to Kota Kinabalu, however has a cable that stretches up the mountain to a rest home two miles above sea stage.
Off the bus, we stepped by means of a gate right into a world steaming and flourishing, rife with birdsong. We have been in one of the world’s oldest dipterocarp rain forests, far older than the arbors of the Amazon Basin, now the last place on earth for lots of the world’s rarest plants and wildlife.
The ascent began by dropping 100 toes of altitude, dropping us into a rainforest as lush and improbable as the canvases of Henri Rousseau. Then, in earnest, we started the unrelenting 5-mile rise, switching back 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 trail was common of tree limbs pinioned to serve as risers and often as posts and handrails, a stairway pulled straight 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 one million years Kinabalu was a spot where solely imaginations and spirits traveled; nobody 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. Additionally they 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 “probably the most tiresome stroll I have ever skilled.”
By late morning, we entered the cloud forest, where the higher altitude and thinner soil begin to twist and warp the vegetation. There were constant pockets and scarves of fog. At 7,300 toes we passed by way of a slender-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 have been 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 extra like an upward wade by way of a thick orange soup of alkaline mud. I used to be soaked to the skin, but the rain was heat, as if it was all meant to be humane, even medicinal. For a moment, I forgot my hernia.
Still, when the rain grew to become a deluge, we stopped on the Layang Layang Workers Headquarters (which was locked shut) for a relaxation and a hope that the downpour might subside. We had been at 8,600 feet, better than halfway to our sleeping hut. Whereas there, we munched on cheese sandwiches and laborious-boiled eggs, sipped bottled water. And while there, I watched as a small parade of tiny women, bent beneath burongs (elongated cane baskets) heaped high above their heads with loads of food, fuel and beer for the overnight hut, marched by on certain feet, trekking to serve the tourists who now flock to this mountain.
The first tourist made the climb in 1910, and, in the identical 12 months, so did the first dog, a bull terrier named Wigson. For the reason that paving of the freeway from Kota Kinabalu in 1982, vacationer growth has been fast, by Borneo’s standards. Over 20,000 individuals a 12 months now attain Low’s Peak — the highest point — via the Paka Spur route, and lots of 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 center of the cloud forest, among groves of knotted and gnarled tea-trees, whose lichen-encrusted trunks and limbs were stunted and twisted like walking sticks. On the ground we stepped over foot-lengthy purple worms, black and brown frogs and a black beetle the size 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 scale of avocadoes. As a substitute of nutrients within the soil, they feed on trapped insects. Popping out of a protracted leaf, moderately 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.” Native lore has it that Spenser St. John, a botanist who climbed Kinabalu with Hugh Low on his second expedition in 1862, discovered a pitcher plant containing a drowned rat floating in six pints of water.
At 9,000 feet the terrain began to vary 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. Here, too, I met an Australian on his means down. Though young and hulkish, he appeared, in a word, awful — dour and green and was of the historic mariner kind, shaken and stuffed with foreboding recommendation. “You must only do that, mate, if you’re in great, nice form,” 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 was unprepared for the majesty of the spruce-wood Laban Rata Guesthouse. Anchored on stilts at stone island ao16 the edge of a cliff simply above 11,000 ft, two tales tall with a cheerful yellow roof, the place was like a boutique lodge. Its cozy lounge featured a decorative Christmas tree, a set of X-mas playing cards, although this was months before or after the holiday, and a television with a satellite tv for pc feed showing The Travel Channel. On one wall were certificates prematurely on the market stating summit success. Plate glass home windows wrapped the down aspect of the mountain, where we watched clouds stream by way of crags and cauldrons like rivers of advantageous chalk. When the rain stopped, I stepped exterior and watched the clouds blow off the mountain above, and all of the sudden there was an empire of silvery grey granite, castled with barren crags, as superior because the slopes of Rundle Mountain in Banff, or Half Dome in Yosemite, thick rivulets of water shaving off the sleek 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 light and a small electric heater that allowed me to dry my clothes. Down the hall were hot 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 sometimes cloud over after sunrise, and often it begins to rain quickly after, making an ascent at a reasonable hour not solely more difficult, but harmful, and the coveted views non-existent.
Sure enough, on the crack of three there was a knock on the door. One of my roommates, a British woman who was suffering a headache, announced she would not be going further. One other half-dozen on the hut would additionally flip 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 power to proceed. I fumbled for my hiking boots and tripped downstairs for a cup of tea. At three:20, I donned my headlamp and set out below a blue-black sky hung with a glittering Milky Manner. The stars appeared as near and thick as when I used to be a toddler. I listened for ghosts, but every part was bone quiet and cool. This was truly a mountain of the dead.
I followed the little white pool of gentle my headlamp forged on the granite simply ahead of my toes. Above, the summit loomed, felt more than seen. The darkish mass of the mountain vied with the vacuous house throughout, we caught between the two. Looking back, I noticed 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 situation I might be forward of so many.
The emergence at treeline onto the chilly 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 into a ballroom, and everyone seemed to maneuver a little bit quicker, enamored by the faucet of unwrapped stone, rhyming with the rock. “Pelan, pelan,” (slowly, slowly) advised Eric, as though he knew of my injury.
At places where the rock angled up forty degrees or extra, solicitous trail builders had anchored expansion bolts and fixed stout white ropes. At one level, at 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.
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 turned a pile of frost-shattered blocks and boulders, forming a jumble of large tesserae in the hunt for a mosaic.
To the roof of the world we scrabbled just because the solar showed its face. I sucked some thin air, and seemed around. It was gorgeous to watch the mountaintop transfigured by sunrise. The undulant granite towers warmed with light, as guides lit up their cigarettes. It appeared like the Tower of Babel as every new climber made the last step and cheered in German, Japanese, Australian or Bahasa.
I basked now in the bliss of standing naked against the heavens, with the fathomless interior of Borneo far under me. On one facet fell the mile-deep ravine that is Low’s Gully, sometimes referred to as Demise Valley or Place of the Dead, believed to be guarded by a slaying dragon, where in 1994 a British Military expedition got famously stuck within the jungle-stuffed slash. Padi fields, kampungs (villages) and an countless expanse of jungle unfolded on one other side; the dancing lights of Kota Kinabalu and the shimmering South China Sea on one other.
I circled the damaged bottleneck of Low’s Peak, taking in every facet. When i accomplished the circle and seemed west again, sunrise arduous 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 latest operation, I felt light-headed, stuffed to the brim with the helium of gratefulness and felt pretty trick that I had performed what my doctor had stated I couldn’t. I felt glued together with sweat and brio, king of the jungle and strutted and posed. Until I appeared across the plateau and noticed a tall, dark-haired lady 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 decrease leg to her thigh.
“What occurred ” I couldn’t assist but ask, and in a Dutch accent she replied, “Skiing accident within the Alps a couple weeks in the past. Destroyed my ACL. That is my anterior cruciate ligament. Physician mentioned I could not climb mountains for six months. However, I couldn’t resist, so here I’m.”
Humbled, I began back down the mountain.
Nonetheless sore from the climb, I spent two more days in Borneo, the place all who handed immediately acknowledged something about me, smiled knowingly and stated “Kinabalu,” as I hobbled about like an previous man.
A forty-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 because of intensive deforestation to life in the wild, over 300 red apes have gone through the eight to 12 yr rehabilitation course of and been released back into the wild. It was a thrill to face among the apes, exchanging curious seems 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 experience in a hand-carved boat alongside a gallery of sonneratia timber, where proboscis monkeys, with large 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 nearly deafening, and that i might barely hear the guide as she identified a yellow-ring cat snake twisted round an overhanging department just above my head.
And i trundled down a laterite highway, by plantations from a Somerset Maugham tableau, to visit the limestone Gomantong Caves, about as little as I may go in Borneo after Low’s Peak, the place the nests of tiny swiflets’ deliver high prices in China as the principle ingredient for the prized fowl’s nest soup. It was a nightmarish place, a spot crawling with poisonous centipedes, crammed with the acrid stench of bat guano and the crunching sounds underfoot of a special breed of big purple cockroaches that can strip a chicken carcass in a matter of hours. I used to be happy to go away. Then I used to be again 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 within the lodge Jacuzzi nursing my wounds with a gin and tonic, gazing on 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 could overlay the crowns of Kinabalu with those of the former Crown colony. Mountains, I realized, be them made by man or nature, reconciled the bourgeois love of order with the bohemian love of emancipation.