Think what you will of Borneo, but there are no orangutans at 13,000 ft.
While the tropics of Malaysian Borneo may conjure sweaty images of the Kinabatangan River, or perhaps an exotic proboscis monkey roaming the primate sanctuaries of Sandakan, the air on the slopes of Mt. Kinabalu is too brisk for such jungle fantasies. Riverbanks covered in rafflesia are replaced by frostbitten slabs of granite, and the only real signs of life are the hardy hikers determined to experience the sunrise atop the South Pacific’s highest peak.
For many travelers to Borneo, the chance to greet the day from atop the 13,435 ft. summit of Mt. Kinabalu is the highlight of their Borneo vacation. After climbing 8 hours of trail that resembles a real-life jungle stairmaster, the two-story yellow and brown wilderness lodge known as Laban Rata is an incredibly welcome sight. Situated at nearly 11,000 ft, Laban Rata is the highest lodging in all of Borneo. Offering a full service dinner buffet and a surprisingly well stocked bar, all supplies are hand carried up the mountain by Malaysian porters who embody the speed of a mountain goat crossed with the strength of an ox.Julius used to be a porter, but now he is one of the English-speaking mountain guides who climbers are mandated to hire in order to climb the peak. Stocky and strong, the decades of summiting Kinabalu are evident in his wise and weathered face. We’re supposed to meet Julius outside of Laban Rata at 2am to begin the frigid push for the summit, though between the waves of adrenaline and Laban Rata’s squeaky wooden floors, there really isn’t much sleep to begin with. Coffee is available in the dark dining hall, though the breathtaking blanket of stars is enough to energize even the sleepiest of climbers.
With the glow of a waning moon lighting the narrow path, the steady stream of travelers appear more as a river of ants marching towards a common goal. Needing to cling to ropes on the steeper sections and dodge the occasional icy puddle, Julius deftly navigates around the mountain’s hazards despite the fact we only possess two broken headlamps and what light the moon has left us. Equipment failures aside, with aching lungs and seriously numb toes, a small band of intrepid Borneo travelers eventually stand together atop this desolate, windswept peak.
As the first rays of sun filter over the distant peaks of Indonesia, the profound silence is broken only by a sporadic gust of wind or the well-deserved click of a camera. Content and seemingly warm, Julius cracks a sincere smile as the sun crests from beneath the misty horizon, knowing that for the time being, we are two of a handful of people lucky enough to be standing on top of Borneo.
At 29,029 feet (8848 meters) in height, Everest is the tallest mountain on the planet, and a significant challenge to any high altitude climber. For years, the mountain has held sway over the general public as well, despite the fact that most of us have no idea what it actually takes to reach to the summit. The video below helps to put it all into perspective however, demonstrating the process that climbers go through on their expeditions.
Scaling the highest mountain on Earth requires a significant investment in both time and money. Mountaineers will spend in the neighborhood of $50,000 for the opportunity to possibly stand at the top of the world. But perhaps more surprising than that, they’ll also spend upwards of about two months on the climb as well. Due to the extreme altitude involved, they must take time to acclimatize before making their summit push. That process can take several weeks at least.
This video demonstrates that process very well by showing the path that most climbers take when climbing from Nepal’s South Col Route. The mountaineers begin in Base Camp, which is located at about 17,600 feet, and proceed up the mountain to a series of high camps. They’ll usually shuttle gear to those pre-set locations, then spend a night there, before descending back to lower altitudes to rest and recover. All the while, their bodies are slowly getting use to the much thinner air.
Eight older hikers turned up dead, so the Japanese police executed a raid on Amuse-Travel Co. They suspected the tour organizer of negligence, as the mostly sixtysomething crowd met an untimely end thanks to hypothermia on Mount Tomuraushi on Hokkaido. Another old hiker died alone on the same mountain at around the same time, with a tenth on a different mountain on Hokkaido. The police haven’t made any arrests.
Since the group was found scattered around the mountain, the police believe that the group was not being escorted properly.
But, it appears they weren’t dressed appropriately for the weather on Mount Tomuraushi. They had donned only thin rain jackets for 46-degree temperatures, strong winds and rain. One of the survivors, Michiyuki Kameda, recalled having to push through muddy waters in nasty weather, but he had heavier clothing.
Mountain climbing has become increasingly popular among the older folks as a way to stay healthy, but it appears many aren’t aware of the safety risks. More than 60 percent of the 281 people who died mountain climbing in Japan last year were at least 55 years old.
Once upon a time, El Capitan was thought to be insurmountable, due in large part to a 3,000-foot granite cliff. Warren Harding assembled a small team and invested 47 days over more than a year in setting up climbing hardware and logistics to get to the top. The final drive took 12 days. This led to the glory of being first.
Today, the climb is considerably different.
Six months ago, two climbers made the summit in a hair more than 2 ½ hours. Modern equipment, advanced dietary technology and improved clothing have made this possible. That being said, the view from the top remains the view from the top.
At 14,496 feet, Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the continental United States.
It has always been a dream of mine to climb Whitney and last summer I finally had the opportunity thanks to my friend Patti who collected $15 from me and my friends and applied for a permit. Unfortunately, the date we finally received from the Forest Service was the same weekend I was going to be in Alaska fishing. Damn!
And so last August I jumped on a plane and headed north while my friends drove up Highway 395 and pulled off something far greater than hauling in an 8 pound salmon.
“It was grueling,” Patti told me later, “but a tremendous accomplishment.” And then she added with a laugh, “and one I will never, ever repeat.”
Mt. Whitney is not a technical climb, but it is a truly exhausting one due to the high altitude and thin air which makes your lungs work overtime for less oxygen and your muscles burn with fatigue.
Although Whitney would have kicked my butt, I was nonetheless disappointed I wasn’t able to go. I was even more disappointed after seeing Patti’s photographs. The group had lucked out with perfect weather and the cloudless skies and crisp mountain air made for some stunningly beautiful shots.
So, do yourself a favor. Spare a few moments to check out the gallery and summit Mt. Whitney in the same manner as I did this summer: virtually.