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Mount Tambuyukon Part 2 : The Summit Attack

Written By: jipp - Mar• 10•18

We woke up at about 1pm for a simple breakfast (we boiled rice the night before) and pushed for the peak at about 2.30am. That was when the hell began. I’ve been to so many mountains and going to the peak was always the most challenging. But this one was extra challenging. The trail was so heavy with undergrowth and the trees were interlocking with each other by the roots and branches!

Coffee-ing before pushing for the summit

In fact there were times when our feet no longer had to touch the soil but stepping from one tree root to the next. It was very slippery and I can’t even remember how many times had I slipped and almost injured myself. I simply lost count. Holding to the tree trunks and branches for support was futile as they were covered with some sort of cold and sticky moist. It was like touching a hair-gel and it didn’t feel good at all. I wish I had a pair of gloves with me but I didn’t.

Things were worsened by the existence of overhead tree branches or even fallen trees on the trail. Bumping my head on any one or two of them was unavoidable especially when I had to watch my step and my head at the same time.

Things became easier when the sun came up and we reached the bonsai area. The bonsai area really was so beautiful. I gotta highlight this one. I remember thinking about those beautiful bonsai parks in Japan or probably China. The existence of beautiful rock formations among the beautiful spread of bonsai trees made it look even more spectacular. The jagged rocks that jotted out reminded me of the beautiful pinnacles at Mulu National Park.

We actually took 7 hours to reach the peak from Musang Camp. I did not expect to see the sunrise because we were there when Sabah was experiencing one of its worse monsoons in many years. Floods were reported here and there and I had almost postponed the climb, probably for the umpteenth time because I wanted to be there when the views were good. But then based on my experiences in the past, weathers at high altitudes are always different and very much unpredictable. And that was proved to be right again this time.

Apart from the brief rain that we had experienced the day before, it was all clear. Over at the peak, we were served with a spectacular full view of Mount Kinabalu – something that I rarely saw at photos taken by other climbers from Mount Tambuyukon. I gotta say I’ve had enough of pictures of Mount Kinabalu – they are like all over – but it was good to see it from a different angle and elevation. It was certainly different. We could even see Kota Marudu (which I assumed it was) in the far distance and beyond was of course the dark-blue South China Sea.

After having lunch at the peak (rice and canned food), we started down with renewed energy. I always dread descending but this one was extra worse. I was at the back of the pack so I let them all go down well ahead of me while I took all the time in the world to enjoy the spectacular views that came my way. I’d take time to stand still on one of the boulders and watch the clouds parading their way across over the mountain side.

I could not believe that they actually moved so fast. It almost felt like watching a time-lapse video, only this one was real. I was back to dreading when I returned to the trail with undergrowth and interlocking tree roots. It was like there was no end to it. It really was quite a struggle for me and there were times when I felt like shouting my frustration out because just when I thought I was almost there (Musang Camp), I’d be slapped with the bitter fact that I still had a long way to go. Urghhh!

After what appeared to be unending way down, it was such a great relief when I finally made it safely back to Musang Camp. Unfortunately that was not quite the case for my fellow climber Din. He stepped on some loose boulder, put his whole weight onto it but landed at the wrong angle of his right ankle when the stone gave way. He ended up spraining his ankle real badly. He had to literally drag his injured leg down the mountain and it was quite a struggle to see him struggling.

After a little bit of rest, we packed our things and descended further to Kapuakan campsite where we camped for the night. Again, I let the others go way ahead of me so that I could enjoy the wilderness by myself. The forest was so silent and all I could hear was the rustling sound of the lush leaves as the mountain winds blew steadily against them.

Then there were those weird sounds made by wild animals. Some of them felt so close to me while most were distant, although it has always been known that sounds by animals in a jungle can be deceiving. Of course they could smell my existence from miles away so they’d disappear even before I had the chance to spot any of them. But I knew for sure that they were there somewhere.

One thing I gotta highlight about Mount Tambuyukon is its pristine and unspoiled forest. I’ve been to quite a number of forests in Malaysia (and beyond) and most of them are a leftover of heavy logging activities in the past. The forest in Tambuyukon is certainly NOT one of them. It is so virgin that I could not trace even the slightest sign of logging activities in the past. It’s amazing how they were spared since most of the forests in Sabah are secondary forests (logged down and replanted). The towering Tropical trees are so marvelous to look up at. Their unspoiled bodies stood tall, their souls intact. They certainly have stood the test of time for hundreds of years.

Kapuakan Camp is located very near to a thunderous river. To tell the truth, I don’t fancy the idea of camping near to a river – especially a thunderous one. The growling sound can be quite intimidating. I’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking that a pair of giant feet was thumping around my tent, waiting for the right time to stomp on me.

Luckily I was too tired to allow myself to wake up to some imaginary intimidation. Unlike in previous nights when we went to sleep quite early, we took quite a bit of time chatting ourselves away over coffee while enjoying our last night at Mount Tambuyukon. It was amazing how we did not encounter anybody else but ourselves all throughout our climb and back. We literally had the whole mountain all to ourselves.

at Kapuakan camp site

Our guide Richard told us how only a couple of weeks before somebody got lost while descending from the peak of Mount Tambuyukon and it was actually all over the news. Just so happened the lost guy was actually under his care. He told us how the climber was quite a difficult one, insisting to continue hiking on his own even when he was told to wait for the others in his group (I wish the guy was there to confirm or deny this. I mean, I know whoever was guiding him would try to discredit and find excuses. I’ve had row with guides in the past because they’d rather stick to their fellow guide and let his climbers go on their own despite the hefty guiding fees smh).

Somehow he took a wrong trail – which was probably a trail left by wild animals or illegal hunters (sadly) who are known to roam the area – and lost his way. A full swing of rescue mission was dispatched, and he was only found 2 nights later, weak and hungry. He had probably picked up some survival lessons from somewhere that when he lost his way, he traversed along a river that he came upon in the hope that the river would lead him out to some village or something. Richard told us that he would have made it to a village even if he was not rescued anyway. In fact he almost made it when he was found.

Trekking across the forest of Mount Tambuyukon, which was so dense and thick, I could imagine how easy it was to get lost. There were trails – or at least looked like one – that could lead you off the right trail which was not easy to return to once you are lost. In fact I almost strayed off course once. Luckily my fellow climber called out to me, because he too almost took the same wrong trail and was worried that I’d fall into it too so he decided to wait up on me. Apparently, his worries had saved me from getting lost. Phew!

Trekking back to Moggis Sub-station from Kapuakan Camp was quite light and easy. We did not intend to rush so we enjoyed whatever there was to enjoy especially the beauty of the forest which never failed to amaze me. The trees were so heavily foliaged and the limited sunlight had probably limited the growth of plants underneath. Combining that with the existence of creeks with ever-streaming crystal clear water, they would certainly make a perfect campsite. I did not mind to stay another night or two really.

It was almost four when we made it back to Moggis Sub-station. There was a jubilant feeling about making it back alive especially when we had just returned from conquering what was certainly one of the toughest mountains for me so far. I mean, it was not only about the mountain but also about the fact that we brought everything on our own. It was quite an experience. We returned to our hometown Keningau feeling accomplished, satisfied and proud. We had conquered all the three highest mountains in Malaysia. Those feelings would probably keep us going at least until the call for another climb come knocking at our doors. LOL.

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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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