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Escape To Borneo (Images)

One of many world’s great metropolis views is from Kowloon, trying across the Victoria Harbor to the mountainous concrete, glass and steel spires on the island of Hong Kong. From Hong Kong trying again, the views have been never so lofty, as a result of for seventy three years the low-flying planes of nearby Kai Tak airport required building height restrictions. Now, though, with the new Hong Kong Worldwide Airport at Chek Lap Kok, some powerful unleashed energy is pushing the Kowloon landscape greater, like crashing tectonic plates eternally lifting great mountain ranges additional above the clouds.

Not too long ago, after giving a speak at a convention in Hong Kong, I spent a while resting in my room on the 41st flooring of the Renaissance Harbour View Resort gazing at the mountains-in-the-making across the best way in Kowloon, and questioned how far away might I find the true thing. An unfurl of the map confirmed that the 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 without an elevator was strictly against physician’s orders, as two weeks earlier I had undergone surgical procedure, an inguinal hernia repair, and was instructed to put low. But, researching Mt. Kinabalu I found the summit was known as Low’s Peak, after the European who first climbed the mountain in the middle 19th century. The weekend was nigh, so the next morning I was on an Malaysia Airlines flight to the state capital of Kota Kinabalu, simply four levels north of the equator, for a gut-wrenching, four-day journey in Borneo.

For greater 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 men who lived in bushes, of prodigious leeches that stood up when sensing a human. Borneo, which dominates 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 writer Alfred Dent, who leased it and finally called it British North Borneo. It was a state administered as a business enterprise till 1942, when the Japanese invaded and took management. After the Second World War, the British returned and Borneo grew to become a Crown colony. In 1963, Sabah gained independence and joined the Federation of Malaysia. The title Sabah means, “land beneath the wind,” a place 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 evening, saturated and scorching, with a slightly sweet odor. Even though it was dark, I may sense the mountain to the east, bending me with its silent thoughts. It appeared to reel in the minibus I rode 60 miles up into the eponymous park headquarters — Mt. Kinabalu is the most accessible huge mountain within the tropics — where I had dinner and checked into one of many spacious break up-level chalet. This was base camp with style.

As I sipped a port on the back balcony, tiny life in the tangle a couple of yards away broadcast information of my presence in a gentle din of clicks, trills, buzzes and noises ranging from deep fat frying to the shriek of automotive alarms. But, there was greater than wildlife in this backcloth of biodiversity beyond my ft. The 300-sq.-mile national park’s botanically well-known flora embody more than 1,000 orchid species, 450 ferns, 40 kinds of oak, 27 rhododendrons and a plant that bears platter-measurement flowers, the Rafflesia. In all, Mount Kinabalu is dwelling 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 outdoors right into a day tidy and vibrant. For the first time I may see the placing granite massif that appears like a mad ship riding high rainforest waves, with fantastic masts, tines, spires and aiguilles dotted across its pitched and washed deck of rock at 13,000 toes. Waterfalls spilled down its sides as though a tide had just pulled again from a cliff. The youngest non-volcanic mountain in the world, Kinabalu is still growing, pushed upwards at the rate 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 ago. Mount Kinabalu now lies near the positioning the place the two elements joined on the northeastern tip of Borneo.

About forty million years ago, the region lay below the sea and accumulated thick layers of marine sediments, creating sandstone and shale, later uplifted to kind the Crocker Vary. Mount Kinabalu started out about 10 million years ago as an enormous ball of molten granite known as a “pluton” lying beneath the sedimentary rocks of the Crocker Range. This pluton slowly cooled between nine and 4 million years ago, and about 1,000,000 years ago, it was thrust from the bowels of the earth and grew to a top most likely several thousand toes larger than at the moment. When the Pleistocene Ice Age emerged, rivers of ice lined Kinabalu, eventually sporting down the soft sandstone and shale and shrinking the summit. Low’s Peak, the very best level on Kinabalu, and the horned towers of the mountain, had been created by the bulldozing of these big glaciers.

Checking in with Jennifer at the Registration Office at Park Headquarters, I noticed the sign that mentioned nobody could climb to the summit without hiring a certified guide. So, I enlisted Eric Ebid, 30, a mild man of Borneo, small, enthusiastic with dangerous teeth but a ready and actual smile; eyes the color of wet coal that could see each forest twitch; little English but a knack for speaking; and an exquisite singing voice. His sneakers were product of skinny rubber, not a lot more than sandals, but he walked with a spring that made his limbs appear to be manufactured from some resilient, lightweight wood. 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 useless. They call the mountain Aki Nabula, “Revered Place of the Lifeless.” They were as soon as warlike, and used to hold their captives in bamboo cages up the slopes of the mountain, and spear them to loss of life within 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,one hundred toes that not only supplies electricity to Kota Kinabalu, however has a cable that stretches up the mountain to a relaxation home two miles above sea stage.

Off the bus, we stepped by way of a gate right into a world steaming and flourishing, rife with birdsong. We have been in one of many world’s oldest dipterocarp rain forests, far older than the arbors of the Amazon Basin, now the last place on earth for many of the stone island welded down jacket world’s rarest plants and wildlife.

The ascent began by shedding a hundred toes of altitude, dropping us right into a rainforest as lush and improbable as the canvases of Henri Rousseau. Then, in earnest, we started the unrelenting five-mile rise, switching back and forth over razor backed ridges, by way of groves of broadleaved oak, laurel and chestnut, draped in mosses, epiphytes and liverworts and thickened with a trumpeting of ferns. The path was fashioned 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 regular intervals, there were charming gazebos, with toilets and tanked water. I stopped at the first, refilling my water bottle.

For 1,000,000 years Kinabalu was a spot where solely imaginations and spirits traveled; nobody disturbed the lifeless there — till 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 chicken and seven eggs. Additionally they left a cairn of charms, including human teeth. To not be outdone, Sir Hugh left a bottle with a observe recording his feat, which he later characterized as “the most tiresome walk I have ever skilled.”

By late morning, we entered the cloud forest, the place the upper altitude and thinner soil start to twist and warp the vegetation. There have been fixed pockets and scarves of fog. At 7,300 feet we handed via a narrow-leafed forest where Miss Gibbs’ Bamboo climbed into the tree trunks, clinging to limbs like a delicate moss. Lillian Gibbs, an English botanist and the first woman 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 homes, shelters or corduroyed trails.

By mid-day the weather turned grim; skies opened, the views down mountain were blotted, and the climb was more like an upward wade through a thick orange soup of alkaline mud. I was soaked to the pores and skin, but the rain was heat, as if it was all meant to be humane, even medicinal. For a second, I forgot my hernia.

Still, when the rain turned a deluge, we stopped at the Layang Layang Staff Headquarters (which was locked shut) for a relaxation and a hope that the downpour might subside. We have 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 girls, bent beneath burongs (elongated cane baskets) heaped high above their heads with loads of food, gasoline and beer for the in a single day hut, marched by on positive toes, trekking to serve the vacationers who now flock to this mountain.

The first vacationer made the climb in 1910, and, in the identical yr, so did the first dog, a bull terrier named Wigson. Since the paving of the freeway from Kota Kinabalu in 1982, tourist improvement has been rapid, by Borneo’s standards. Over 20,000 people a year now attain Low’s Peak — the best level — via the Paka Spur route, and a whole bunch 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 heart of the cloud forest, among groves of knotted and gnarled tea-bushes, whose lichen-encrusted trunks and limbs have been stunted and twisted like walking sticks. On the ground we stepped over foot-long purple worms, black and brown frogs and a black beetle the dimensions of an ice ax.

As we climbed Eric pointed out numerous 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. Coming out of a protracted leaf, relatively like an iris, was the trapping mechanism, a tendril and cup with a mouth that looked like a tiny steam shovel, or the lead in “Little Store 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 toes 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 younger and hulkish, he looked, in a word, terrible — dour and green and was of the historic mariner kind, shaken and filled with foreboding recommendation. “It is best to only do that, mate, in case you are in great, great form,” and that i felt a ping where my hernia scar pinched.

Accustomed to the Spartan A-frames and Quonsets that serve as huts on other mountains I have climbed, I was unprepared for the majesty of the spruce-wood Laban Rata Guesthouse. Anchored on stilts at the sting of a cliff simply above 11,000 toes, two stories 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, regardless that this was months before or after the holiday, and a tv with a satellite 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 through 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 instantly there was an empire of silvery gray 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 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 hall have been hot showers.

Exhausted from the day’s trek, I fell into the arms of Morpheus around seven, trusting that Eric would come by with a wake-up knock round three a.m. The motivation for beginning in the wee hours was that tropical mountains usually cloud over after sunrise, and infrequently it begins to rain soon after, making an ascent at a reasonable hour not solely more difficult, but harmful, and the coveted views non-existent.

Positive enough, at the crack of 3 there was a knock on the door. One in every of my roommates, a British lady who was suffering a headache, introduced she would not be going additional. Another half-dozen at the hut would also flip round here, affected by exhaustion or altitude sickness. I felt sorry for them, but additionally felt pleased with myself that, regardless of my wound, I had the moxie and power to continue. I fumbled for my hiking boots and tripped downstairs for a cup of tea. At 3:20, I donned my headlamp and set out below a blue-black sky hung with a glittering Milky Approach. The stars seemed as near and thick as when I was a child. I listened for ghosts, but all the things was bone quiet and cool. This was really a mountain of the lifeless.

I followed the little white pool of mild my headlamp forged on the granite simply forward 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. Trying again, I noticed a constellation of 20 or so headlamp beams bobbing and flashing as their homeowners negotiated in my footsteps. I was amazed that in my situation I could possibly be forward of so many.

The emergence at treeline onto the chilly granite face was abrupt, simply 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 everybody seemed to maneuver a bit of quicker, enamored by the faucet of unwrapped stone, rhyming with the rock. “Pelan, pelan,” (slowly, slowly) advised Eric, as though he knew of my harm.

At locations where the rock angled up forty levels or extra, solicitous trail builders had anchored expansion bolts and mounted stout white ropes. At one point, 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 gentle of 6 a.m.clambering up an aplite dyke, I may 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 graceful plates we had been scaling grew to become a pile of frost-shattered blocks and boulders, forming a jumble of big tesserae seeking a mosaic.

To the roof of the world we scrabbled just because the solar showed its face. I sucked some skinny air, and regarded around. It was gorgeous to look at the mountaintop transfigured by sunrise. The undulant granite towers warmed with gentle, 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 towards the heavens, with the fathomless interior of Borneo far beneath me. On one aspect 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 acquired famously caught within the jungle-stuffed slash. Padi fields, kampungs (villages) and an countless expanse of jungle unfolded on another side; the dancing lights of Kota Kinabalu and the shimmering South stone island welded down jacket China Sea on one other.

I circled the damaged bottleneck of Low’s Peak, taking in each aspect. After i accomplished the circle and seemed west again, sunrise arduous on my again, the immense shadow of Kinabalu, a huge, darkish-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 gentle-headed, filled to the brim with the helium of gratefulness and felt pretty trick that I had finished what my doctor had mentioned I couldn’t. I felt glued together with sweat and brio, king of the jungle and strutted and posed. Until I appeared throughout the plateau and noticed a tall, darkish-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 help however ask, and in a Dutch accent she replied, “Skiing accident in the Alps a pair weeks in the past. Destroyed my ACL. That is my anterior cruciate ligament. Physician stated I could not climb mountains for six months. But, I couldn’t resist, so here I’m.”

Humbled, I began again down the mountain.
Still sore from the climb, I spent two extra days in Borneo, the place all who handed instantly recognized something about me, smiled knowingly and said “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 Heart, 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 by way of the eight to 12 yr rehabilitation course of and been released again into the wild. It was a thrill to face among the apes, exchanging curious seems to be and wondering 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 journey in a hand-carved boat along a gallery of sonneratia bushes, where proboscis monkeys, with large 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 almost deafening, and that i could barely hear the guide as she identified a yellow-ring cat snake twisted round an overhanging department simply above my head.

And that i trundled down a laterite street, by way of plantations from a Somerset Maugham tableau, to go to the limestone Gomantong Caves, about as little as I might go in Borneo after Low’s Peak, where the nests of tiny swiflets’ deliver excessive prices in China as the primary ingredient for the prized fowl’s nest soup. It was a nightmarish place, a spot crawling with poisonous centipedes, stuffed with the acrid stench of bat guano and the crunching sounds underfoot of a special breed of big crimson cockroaches that can strip a fowl carcass in a matter of hours. I was happy to depart. Then I used to be again in Hong Kong.

This time I stayed at the Intercontinental, closest hotel to the waterfront, with the finest view of the Hong Kong Island skyline. As I sat again within the hotel 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 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.