Mesilau Trail, Mount Kinabalu - Kinabalu Park, Sabah Borneo

The Mesilau Resort area and Mesilau Trail will remain CLOSED indefinitely, as the access bridge and road were washed away by the mud-flood.

DAY 2 - THE CLIMB . Mesilau Trail

I was advised just before the trip, to take the Mesilau trail instead of the Timpohon trail. At first, I thought to myself, 'if I take the timpohon, then I'd be at 'camp' in a shorter time'. Then having been told that the Mesilau trail, although 2km longer, would take climbers through a beautiful trek of montane forest, past streams and on ridges. I took the opportunity to change my route. It is slightly more expensive though - for the guide fees and perhaps the transport to the mesilau nature resort where the gates are)


After breakfast at Balsam Restaurant, (the one restaurant closer to the park office) and a jostle with hordes of tour groups at the buffet counters ~ we met with our guide, Biling. The guides have a rota in which the park officers have arranged for them so that the 80 some guides would have equal chances of taking clients up the mountain. The guides brought out a weighing scale and all baggage that was to be carried by the guide were to be weighed. It costs RM8 per kg and that is only up to the resthouse. If you wish to have the guide carry gear all the way up to low's peak, then it's another RM8 per kg from resthouse to the peak.

Guides are allowed to carry up to 25kgs of gear per guide and no more. I had 4kg to take and was the only one who preferred to utilise the guide's services. The rest of my baggage was tagged and placed in the left luggage at Sutera Sanctuary's office. It costs RM10 per luggage.

Once all was satisfactorily in order, we climbed into a 7 seater van and were whisked off to Kundasang. Kundasang is the about 6km away from the park. There are rows and rows of vegetable/fruit stalls and the area is bustling with activity. Land rovers laden with baskets of freshly collected produce from the farms nearby ; local people, the kadazandusuns trading with the sellers and middlemen, sitting chatting with friends/family at the tea stall.

Let's take a moment to remember the lives lost on Mount Kinabalu in the aftermath of an earthquake that struck the area on 5th June 2015 that took the lives of trekkers and mountain guides. The 4 guides sacrificed their lives to ensure the safety of their guests. Should you one day consider climbing Mount Kinabalu, take a bit of time to observe life around you...the environment, its people and the respect they have for their sacred ancestral land and their magnanimity in sharing their spiritual grounds with you.

From here, a left turn took us on a 11km drive past the Kundasang War Memorial Garden, lots of hill terraces planted with tomatoes, cauliflowers, cabbages and a variety of fruits too, and the 18-hole Mount Kinabalu Golf Course before ending up at the Mesilau Nature Resort. The road gets so steep towards the last 20m, the van could go no more with the weight behind. So we poured out of the van.

For those thinking of taking the mesilau route, staying overnight at this resort makes perfect sense. A stroll at Kundasang, a game of golf, or a walk on the nature trail . Mesilau is also a great place for bird watching for those wanting a bit of peace and quiet.

8.45am - mesilau (tambang gate)

We started off a little late that morning, after registering ourselves at the mesilau counter. Last chance for a more civilised washroom and to pick up a walking stick at RM5 per piece is at the gates. I wasn't going to take a stick along with me but thought otherwise after a little persuasion from Ben. But boy, it was the best advice I had on that trip!

There were only 3 groups going up Mount Kinabalu this way. According to Biling, a native from the area - Mesilau is a far less trodden path than Timpohon. Not many know about this trail which was opened to climbers only in 1998 but was initially used mainly by scientists and researchers until the last 4yrs or so when trekkers started coming this way.

The park and mountain were first gazetted a national park because of its fauna and flora diversity. There's still much more to discover and unlike many areas lost to economic progress in Sabah, at least there's 754 sq km (291 sq miles) left for the world to keep, hopefully indefinitely. This protected area is probably has one of the richest flora in the world and includes vegetation type ranging from the rich lowland dipterocarp zone making way for montane oak. rhododendron, and conifer forests a little higher up and to the alpine meadow plants and stunted bushes in the summit. A botanical survey estimated about 5,000 to 6,000 species (and this excludes mosses and liverworts) are found on the mountain!

The trail started off straight into a climb and soon the pace was set.

The marathon runners in our group quickly skipped up the trail, round the corner and were gone in a blink. The slower ones were left behind with Biling. The guide always stays with the slowest in the group in case help is needed. Soon, it was just me and Biling. I was really not in a rush to get to the camp in record time. It was the perfect opportunity for me to take some pics and video shots of the forest trail and its flora. It can be extremely difficult to spot wildlife here, especially when the only thoughts are to get enough oxygen to the brain without hyperventilating and passing out.

Passing the kipuyut bridge and up a steep climb.. the vegetation slowly started to change from low montane into the mossy forest of gnarled, stunted, trees and vegetation adapted to wind chill and weather. The kipuyut bridge was named after the large trees in its surroundings which used to shelter the local people from heavy downpours.

I was glad I trekked at my own pace. After about 2hours into the trek, the air was beginning to thin and my breath got shorter and shorter. The only other girl in our group, Karen was getting a little queasy. Her pace slowed and she began to take more breaks and rest stops. She was showing symptoms of Mild AMS (altitude sickness).This include headache, nausea & dizziness, loss of appetite, fatigue and shortness of breath. Altitude sickness can happen to anyone. I didn't suffer any of the symptoms but there were a number of climbers of all ages were suffering from AMS. It's not attributed to how fit you are or your age, it's about how fast your body can adapt to the thinning air. This normally becomes more difficult as we reach the 3,000km above sea level mark.

12.30pm - Rest stop at Pondok Tikalod

Two items I did not bring along with me ~ water and food. I guess all I had with me was willpower. Thankfully, there was water along the way. Water tanks filled with mountain stream water and there were toilets too but dont expect too much with the cleanliness. Every km or so there's a rest hut, loo and drinking water. Food was generously distributed out by Ben. What's divine? Fresh oranges and chocolates. And Ben, a repeat climber knew exactly what to bring... what a saviour.

I was beginning to understand why there were that many rest huts or pondok. Our day up the mountain was a blessed day. The sun was shining and the cool May weather helped. Trekking in the highlands is definitely not as energy zapping as down in the humid stillness of the lowland jungles. Those in our group who attempted the mountain the August before had a tough climb. The rains were pelting down and the winds were howling. They had tree hugging experiences all the way up.

So, there are seasons to climb. Best time would be from April till July, but some years August and September could be good too. Whatever time of year though, there's most often than not - rain. The mountain is a wet, wet place and can be treacherous if climbers aren't prepared. The rest huts are a refuge and can be a lifesaver. Tucked into the woodern eaves above are stretchers, in case of casualties along the way.

If anyone is injured along the way, the guide can transport him or her down - piggyback style. As long as he/she is not over 50kg. it costs RM100 per km. if the injured weighs more than 50kg, then a stretcher will be used. That, according to Biling, would take 7men. However, if it's a critical situation, a helicopter will be sent to the Panar Rata.

Most of the time I was trekking on my own. There were 8 of us from the group on this trail and all setting different paces. With the walking stick in hand, a videocam and cameras - I was content. The endless climb took me to a ridge that connected to the main Kinabalu massif. This narrow strip gives a clear view of either side into the valleys. The mist wafted in like moving clouds. From the sweat, the breeze and being enveloped in a blanket of mist - I felt the cold creeping into my bones.

My breath was becoming shallower - I resorted to reminding myself of putting my yoga breathing to test. It worked! I caught up with Felix on the ridge. He wasn't looking too good. feeling a little nauseous . He was a little surprised that I had regained my strength and seemed to be doing better than when we started off. I let him in on my little secret and by the next hour he was convinced he was feeling better and had regained much of his strength, enough to make it to Panar Rata

2.45pm - Mesilau Trail meets Summit Trail

From there onwards, the climb begins. Some 500m from here our trail meets up with the Summit Trail (the 5.5km on the mesilau trail)and joins the 4km point of Timpohon Trail at Layang Layang. This steep trail is known as the Golden Trail and is supposedly the stretch up this trail. It was endless and beautiful. The strong colouration as I found out later is due to the ultrabasic rocks that contain high concentrations of toxic elements such as nickel or chromium. The vegetation changes abruptly. Only plants able to survive in high levels of toxicity such as the LEPTOSPERMUM or TEA-TREE (Leptospermum recurvum), locally called 'sayat-sayat', a shrubby tree with small greyish leaves and starry White flowers; and the Southern Pine (Dacrydium gibbsiae), one of the southern hemisphere conifers, take over the scenery.

At the 5km mark we arrived at Pondok Villosa where nearby is the nepenthes garden. This is where climbers can spot large pitcher plants (the nepenthes villosa up to 25cm or 10" long) in bushes. Although orchids are common here, of which the mountain and park possess a staggering 746 species of the total estimation of 1,400sp that are found in Borneo . The main flowering season is from October to January, but I managed to capture a beautiful spray at Pondok Villosa. At Pondok Villosa,I had some time to spend watching a couple of (I believe) Borneon Mountain Ground Squirrel frolicking about.

The Golden Trail was tough. Its steep steps were uneven and seemed to extend forever. sympathetic climbers coming down from Panar Laban gave encouraging words, like 'round the corner', 'almost there' etc.

5.00pm - Laban Rata Resthouse and Panar Rata

Not much longer, I arrived at Waras Hut. Cant imagine that the 7kms could have taken me 8 hours to finish. But the entrance to Laban Rata Resthouse was most inviting. The digital thermometer on the wall showed 8°C. I pushed open the swing doors and found most of my climbing mates already showered, changed to warm clothing, fed and content in front of the TV. I then made a beeline for the counter and ordered myself a fizzy drink (RM5.20), a hot bowl of maggi mee (RM11.60) and a pot of tea (RM4.60)

After a 'hearty meal' and a chat with the others, I went off for a hot shower. Those who don;t have towels, can rent them for RM5 each. Soap provided. There are men and ladies washrooms upstairs.

The sun was setting and we had a great view from the balcony at the canteen. The dramatic backdrop of the granite rockface combined with the strong orange of setting sun is a definite postcard shot. As for those wanting to send a postcard to loved ones with a mount kinabalu postmark, there is a postbox at the canteen counter. For others who'd prefer to call home, there are phone booths at the entrance to the resthouse. The I-Talk phonecards can be purchased at the counter too. If you'd prefer to call from your mobile phone; 019 and 012 have service at Panar Rata.

The name Panar Laban is derived from a corruption of the Dusun word meaning 'Place of Sacrifice'. Early explorers stopped to sacrifice a white cockerel and 7 eggs to appease the mountain spirits. Today, the sacrifice is still carried out once a year

A tiny convenience shop sells panadol among other medications and some first aid kid items, chocolates, rubber shoes, gloves, some toiletries, Maggi noodle packs, postcards, rain ponchos etc.

The prices here are much inflated and one will understand why, when trekking up the trail. Porters are hired to transport all necessities for the 'camp'. Men and women alike carry as much as 25kg of goods in their rattan backpack up and down the mountain. With ease too!

Besides Laban Rata, there are several other huts such as Panar Laban Hut, Waras Hut and Gunting Lagadan Hut. Although they are not heated, warm bedding is provided. There are basic cooking facilities and common bathrooms.

I went upstairs to my dorm room and lights out was at 8.00pm. hardly got any sleep. The lightning lit up the skies intermittent..thunder in the distance and rain pelting the windows. Oh no, we'll be up on the open space in this rain in just 5hours.what a downer! The crowd downstairs was cheering to the Thomas Cup semi finals on TV. The heater in our room was on auto timer and came on at about 11.00pm . it got incredibly uncomfortable in the heat. That May night was a little warm but I'm sure it would be God sent during colder and wetter seasons. A restless night..

Please Note:

All lodging on Mount Kinabalu are very difficult to book due to the limited quota of climbers allowed to overnight on Mount Kinabalu.

If you book directly with the park booking counter, you will probably get a much more discounted package price as compared with travel agents. And all this is subject to availability. Also, different travel agencies have different pricing for similar climb packages and it is for you as a climber to do as much research as possible before making your choice on which agent to go with or to take your chance and book a space to climb whilst at the park's booking counter itself.

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