I have never been emotionally involved in a tragedy ever before – more than I was when the earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 struck a big part of Sabah – which I thought was not serious at first – until the news of casualties at Mount Kinabalu reached me. The final number of those killed – 18 – came to me as a shock; in fact, it devastated me more than I had thought it would.
Mount Kinabalu is not just another mountain. It is a mountain that means so much to the people of Sabah. I remember how I’d climb up to the rooftop of my family’s house in Keningau just to take a glimpse of the mountain almost every morning. It had to be morning, because it’d usually be obliterated by clouds when the sun rose further away from the horizon.
I first climbed Mount Kinabalu when I was 14 years old, together with my group of schoolmates and teachers from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Keningau. I almost didn’t make it to the peak because I was down with sickness on the night before the summit attack – which I learned much later in life was a form of altitude sickness. I remember how I didn’t even take any photo up at the peak because I was the last one to arrive and everybody else was starting to go down so nobody had the time to take even a single photo of me. Uhuks!
Then I climbed again with a group of friends when I was studying at the University of Malaya. That was one of my best climbs because I really enjoyed it very much. I remember how we brought a guitar with us so we’d stop every now and then to sing in front of other climbers. Some of them would even sing along. I remember how a group of excited tourists from Korea danced Sumazau with us when we sang a local Dusun song.
Then my next climb happened when I was working in Sandakan. I went with a group of my ex-colleagues so it was more like a re-union for us. I remember how I was struggling so much that I almost didn’t make it to the peak. It was very cold – probably sub-zero – because I remember having ice beads on my cap. I couldn’t even talk because my mouth was so numb and my saliva was freezing and my noise just wouldn’t come out. I did make it in the end but I’d remember the struggle for a very long time.
Then my last climb happened about 2 years ago. This time, I was quite confident that I had the stamina to do a one-day climb. In order to be allowed to continue to the peak, I needed to reach Laban Rata before 11 am, or 11.30am at the latest. We started off quite late because we didn’t book one day in advance as we were supposed to, so they had to find a mountain guide who was willing to be taken in at the very last minute.
By then, I had already become somebody who could always call himself a marathoner (ehem!) so I was quite in my tip-top condition. I ran my way up – literally – so I did make it to Laban Rata at about 11am. Too bad, my climbing buddy was not quite up to it and she only managed to arrive Laban Rata more than an hour later. Needless to say, the mountain guide wouldn’t allow us to continue so we returned to the base of the mountain with a little bit of disappointment. I vowed to return again sooner than later.
But that ‘again’ would seem to have to wait a little while longer. The earth-quake struck right underneath the mountain, damaging most of the trails and changed the landscapes of the mountain forever. Perhaps, the most outstanding one is the chipping off of the Donkey Ear. The quake sent rocks and boulders galloping down the mountain, obstructing parts of the trails. Many parts of the trails were damaged by landslides which were later worsened by fleeting rain and a series of aftershocks.
Perhaps, the most tragic part of the whole tragedy was the loss of lives of more than a dozen climbers and four mountain guides. It really was devastating. I got emo every time I read about how the families and most people of Sabah (and beyond) reacted to the tragedy. In a way, it was devastating, but in another, it brought the people of Sabah closer together. We never experienced anything like it before. Perhaps, the closest to something like it was the intrusion by a group of militants from the Southern Philippines but that was a different story altogether.
There are still aftershocks happening every now and then and it’s been almost a month now. The worse might be over but the sorrow is still very much felt. Things are recovering and I heard the trails are being rebuilt and expected to be re-opened in September although I have a little bit of doubt on that. Some of the routes would have to be altered which is actually quite exciting because it will give climbers the opportunity to see the mountain from new different spots.
Mount Kinabalu might be full of scars all over its body now (mostly due to landslides) but I believe it will recover – even faster than most of us think. Many people believe that Mount Kinabalu is not only sacred but it also has a soul and that soul is in pain now because of the scars. I mean, something like that. I am not really worried or saddened by the changes of looks in Mount Kinabalu unlike some other people because for me it was nature who did it and whatever is done by nature is part of a natural process. I believe Mount Kinabalu had been changing from time to time right from the beginning of its existence.
I mean, we’ll just have to trust nature. She knows what to do and believe me, it wouldn’t be long before all the scars are covered by layers of moss and plants and everything that you wouldn’t even notice that they were once there.
Mount Kinabalu has lost its ‘halo’ ? You gotta be kidding me. It just went through a little bit of transformation as part of a natural process so no, it has not lost the slightest bit of its halo or glory or whatever you like to call it. Majestic, breath-taking beautiful and mysterious – Mount Kinabalu will always be there to capture our hearts and imaginations. In fact, I can’t even wait for my very next climb to this beautiful mountain – whenever that may be.