Hiding out of sight when my friends checked into their room, (they thought I was in England) I waited a moment, then grabbed a tray of beers and knocked on their door as if I were room service. The shocked looks on their faces were priceless, and will always be one of my greatest travel memories. The location: Borneo, Malaysia, and I simply was repaying a compliment, as they’d surprised me in Vegas a couple of years previous.
Once excited reunions were over, myself and 6 of my oldest friends got down to the business of having fun and planning our adventures.
First up, the 2 day trek on one of south east Asia’s highest mountain, Kinabalu. At 4,100 m (13,451′) it’s not for the feint hearted, though the first day is a leisurely hike through some of the most beautiful and diverse terrain on the planet. With over 4,500 species of flora and fauna, UNESCO recognises its ‘outstanding universal values.’ It was majestic, and an amazing place to catch up with some of my closest friends.
To make the summit for sunrise on day 2 meant a ghastly 2:00 a.m start. Yes, you hike a really steep mountain in darkness with only a headlamp to light the way. Due to a misunderstanding…okay, our mistake…we had only one lamp between seven of us. Needless to say, the going was slow and treacherous. However, we eventually made it to within 100 m of the summit with plenty of time to spare before sunrise, and took a rest.
Then it hit me: the dreaded altitude sickness. The headaches came with a vengeance, and my stomach tied itself in horrific knots. I was a fit lad in those days, but altitude sickness is no judge of fitness, and I was beaten. My ascent was over, and while my friends left me for their summit push, I stayed huddled under a rock, alone and freezing, and cursing my sensitive disposition. I know, you’re probably thinking, ‘it’s only 100 more meters, surely you could have made it?’ But I can assure you, I couldn’t have made it 10 more, let alone 100.
‘The route down was difficult, even in the light. At times we had to negotiate thin ledges and vertical rock faces with ropes and a few carved steps, and seeing it in the daylight showed us just what we’d ascended in darkness. We were amazed we didn’t die.
Safely down, we rushed back to the hotel.
2002 World Cup. England v Argentina. Beckham steps up, and drives his penalty straight down the middle, sending these weary hikers into party mode.
How d’ya like them apples, Diego Simeone?
I strongly recommend climbing brooding Kinabalu to anyone with a sense of adventure. When you do, don’t forget your headlamps. And if you forget them…good luck.