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Mount Tambuyukon Part 1 : The Toughest of ‘Em All

Written By: jipp - Mar• 04•18

So I ticked something off my bucketlist last week when I went to climb Mount Tambuyukon, which at 2579m is the third highest mountain in Malaysia. In case you didn’t already know, all the three highest mountains in Malaysia are located in Sabah. I’ve climbed Mount Kinabalu like several times and Mount Trus Madi, the second highest, once like 3 years ago. But then I knew right from the beginning that Mount Tambuyukon was going to be the toughest of them all to conquer.

Based on what I read from blogs and all, Mount Tahan was tough (and it was) but Mount Tambuyukon was tougher. I was not really physically prepared. Usually before I go for a climb, I’d usually go and climb any of the mountains near KL just to warm my muscles up a little. I did plan to go climbing Mount Nuang but an accident that got somebody killed near its peak had prompted the authority to cordon the trail off until it was safe to climb again.

Source : https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-17085865-stock-footage-sub-station-serinsim-of-river-and-mount-tambuyukon-background-sabah-malaysia.html

It was this unpreparedness that had almost prompted me to call it off, probably for the umpteenth time. But then the more I wanted to cancel it, the more I thought it was now or never. Besides, my two buddies were more than excited to do it so it would be selfish to let them down when they were all set to go.

Booking to climb Mount Tambuyukon is quite straight-forward. You email a letter of application to the Sabah Parks, in which you detail out the names of climbers, the intended date and how many days you want to do the climb. People usually go for the 4D3N – and even the 5D4N – depending on their level of fitness. Since most of the fees are daily-rated, spending more days at Mount Tambuyukon will cost you more.

And I was told that the staff members at Kinabalu Park are allowed to assess your fitness so that they can decide if you are eligible to do the climb within the number of days that you have applied for – or you may have to add in more days and – unfortunately – pay more. Weird as it may sound but then Mount Tambuyukon really is not a mountain that you can simply mess with.

Registration at Kinabalu Parks

So once the letter is sent, they’ll come back to you with a letter of approval together with all the details on fees that you need to pay during the registration. To tell the truth, I was taken aback by how expensive the fees are for Mount Tambuyukon. The permit alone will cost you RM100 per day, meaning you’ll have to fork out RM400 for a 4D3N and that is not even inclusive of the guide fee, which is another additional RM110 per day. Even worse is the fact that one guide can only take in up to 3 climbers at a time so you may want to consider going with a group of threes or you’ll have to pay more.  Grrrr.

Taking a porter or two would have cost us more but we challenged ourselves to bring everything on our own – tent, clothes, sleeping bag, cook ware, utensils, food stuff – you name it. We went totally porterless. Thanks God I already did a climb where I had to bring everything on my own when I went to climb Mount Tahan last year so I already had a little bit of experience on what to and what not to bring. By the time we had separated all the stuff among three of us, each of us had to carry some 16kg on our back!

So after clearing all the registration and fees at Kinabalu Park, we drove over and arrived at Monggis sub-sation at about 1pm. Monggis sub-station which is located at the foot of Mount Tambuyukon is the starting point of the trail. It looked empty when we got there but after calling around somebody finally turned up. He did not seem to expect us but he did know that we were coming based on the booking diary that was kept at the hostel.

Moggis Sub-station

I’m not quite sure what exactly happened but we had to wait until 3pm before a guide finally came up. I think some people would book but they don’t turn up so whoever is managing the guides wouldn’t have the guide ready until the climbers have arrived at the sub-station. I assume some climbers probably cancel their trip at the eleventh hour so the management would rather play safe, but of course at the expense of those who really want to do it. Problem is, there is no phone coverage at the sub-station itself so they have to go out to the villages where most of these guides reside and get somebody to be the guide for the day. It all drags the time out and causes unnecessary delays.

So by the time we started off it was already 3.30pm. It was a series of mild ups and downs but due to the late departure we had to continue trekking in the dark. The experience was surreal. The forest came alive with all kinds of sounds at night. I call them the sounds of nature. By the time we arrived at Sungai Wuluh Camp where we camped for the night, it was already 8.30pm. We promptly cooked (or rather my buddies did, I only helped with chopping the onions LOL!) and had one of the best dinners ever. I mean, eating in a jungle is always the best and foods always taste better.

Our first problem of the night came in the form of blood-sucking forest flies. They are very much similar to the sandflies that gave me headache when I trekked the Mildford Track in New Zealand early last year, only less ferocious. Yet their bites inflict immediate stinging itchiness and there was no way that we could ever escape from their incessant attack. Luckily the guide knew what to do.

Sungai Wuluh Camp

He put up a small fire and let the smokes shoo them away, at least until we were safely covered inside the tents and ready to go to sleep. I remember I got woken up in the middle of the night by something moving very close to the tent. Din my fellow climber told me the next morning that it was actually a wild boar, probably sniffing around for food. It was always a good idea to hang everything where the wild boars could not reach out to.

After a quick breakfast the next morning, we pushed on to Musang Camp where we’d be camping for the second night at the mountain. This was when the real challenge began. It started with a little bit of descent to a very beautiful waterfall then from there on it was all climbing up. That was also when leeches of all sizes came in full show of force and power and cunning.

We were there during a rainy season so the leeches were really breeding and blooming and thirsty for blood. I have never seen so many leeches in my entire life. They seem to crawl all over and I can see them in just about every corner, waiting to prance over at any moving thing that we were. There was no way that we could ever escape them. They really know how to slip in. It was good that I wore short pants instead of long ones like my other buddies did. With short pants it was easier to get rid of them and in fact most of our rest stops were spent on getting rid of them.

We stopped for lunch at a riverside campsite called Kapuakan camp. We did all the cooking and we did not intend to rush. Kapuakan was also where we were going to spend out last night camping later on our way down so we left some of our stuff at under the canvas hut. I was expecting a significant relief on the burden but somehow my bag still felt just as heavy.

It was another three hours through beautiful (and very silent) forest before we reached Musang Camp. At an elevation of about 1500m, the forest began to take on a different setting. The trees were shorter but much lusher and more densely foliaged. There was a mild downpour when we were about two kilometers to Musang Camp and the forest was suddenly blanketed in heavy mist. The whole experience was surreal. It was more like a dream-like adventure to me now.

We managed to reach Musang Camp before dark. After setting our tents up, we had to descend to a little creek some 1km down to get water. It was almost dark so we had to rush. Luckily it was rainy season so there was plenty of water. I was half expecting that the elevation that Musang Camp was, the leeches could no longer survive the climate. How wrong I was. They were still all over. Even the ferocious flies were still there, smarming us with their itchy bites. Again we were forced to set up a small fire to shoo them away. Otherwise it would be impossible to stay outside of the tent.

After a decent dinner and little bit of chat, we went to our tents to sleep. We had to sleep early because we had to wake up early for the summit attack the next morning. I said a little prayer for a good weather because I wanted the climb to be worthwhile. Climbing a mountain is always about the views and scenery – apart from the adventure that comes with it. And probably a little bit on the health side. LOL.

Sometime before midnight, I was woken up by strong pounding over my tent. I thought it was a downpour but I later realized that it was just strong wind. I returned to sleep feeling a little bit relieved. I had about an hour or so before we pushed for the summit and I was both excited and nervous. The summit attack is always the climax of every climb.

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Looking back at 2017

Written By: jipp - Dec• 31•17

Another year is coming in. And of course another is passing by. I’m not sure if 2017 was even an eventful year. I think it was quite slow compared to the previous years. I didn’t even do much traveling. Perhaps the only travel trip that is worth highlighting is my 2-week road trip all over New Zealand. New Zealand was great, but I was expecting more. The country is quite monotonous with the exception of the far South. It was beautiful – no doubt – but again I was expecting more. But of course the road trip was something that I had to do at least once in my life.

Then my solo trip to Chiang Mai. It was more like to tick something off my bucketlist. Again, I was expecting more from the Rose of the North. I was only there for 6 days but it felt too long. I decided that 3 days is enough for a place like Chiang Mai. I’ve been to Bangkok several times and still I couldn’t get enough of it and that was not quite the case when I was in Chiang Mai. It also made me realize that my bucketlist probably needs some revision.

Chiang Mai

Then I did something that I had long wanted to do – to conquer the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia. Mount Tahan really surprised me. It was tough but it really was worth it in the end. I had never been to a climb where I had to bring everything on my own – from tent to food stuff – everything. It really felt like such a fulfilling accomplishment. It felt like such a real mountaineering. And it felt so good to be standing at the highest peak of Semenanjung – the part of Malaysia that I had spent half of my life settling in.

Then my trip to Manila. It was my 3rd time to Manila but this time I landed at the capital city of the Philippines probably at the worse of time. I had to wander the streets of Manila in knee-deep water through incessant and howling rain. In my effort to avoid floods, I ended up walking in the dark streets and back alleys, across squatters and packed neighborhoods that I had never expected existed in what appeared to be a posh area in Manila. All the towering 5-star hotels are only a front facade that covers the reality of what lies behind.

The looming images of people drinking and smoking and chattering on the front verandas of their rickety houses while I was walking hurriedly past with my backpack in the rain are still vivid in my head. There were times when I felt like I had taken a wrong turn and was lost and I had to contemplate whether to turn back or keep going. What appeared to be quite a short distance from EDSA LRT Station, it took me 3 hours to reach my hotel in Guerrero Street. It really was quite an experience.

Perhaps my biggest accomplishment this year was the acquirement of a Master’s Degree – something that I had never thought of doing since I really thought I had had enough of studying when I did my Bachelor’s.  I’m not even sure how the idea came about and before I knew I found myself burying my face in countless journals, research papers, books, and whatnots.

Doing Master’s really involved a lot of thinking – and lots and lots and lots of writing. Thanks to all the blogging that I did over the years, I could finally put all the skills to a good use. I found writing was much easier than how it would have been if I did not blog at all. Then I think of all the driving that I had to do going back and forth between KL and JB. It really felt lonely at times, especially when I had to be on the road for 4-5 hours on my own. It really involved a lot of sacrifices, be it time, energy or even money.

When it was finally over, it felt like I had whole world all to myself. The relief and sense of accomplishment were massive. For me doing a Master’s is not really about the certificate itself, but more for the journey that I had to go through while acquiring it. It taught me to be patient (very very), meticulous (very very), pro-active, independent and perhaps a dozen more of other things. But above all it taught me to really really think and make full use of my brains. LOL.

I’m not really sure about what lies ahead for me in 2018 but somehow I can sense that it is going to be a very very interesting year. I have my fingers crossed to that.

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