Note: the climb from laban rata (the base camp) to the summit started at 2 am. so pictures of the climb has been taken from going back down. Most of these will be shown in reverse.
At 2AM we gathered in preparation to climb, some of us even tested the comfort of our clothing outdoors for a few minutes. It was cold, so cold I was hoping that the climb would heat my body up, or the night would warm up with the impending sunrise. We had to wait one more member (Lim) as he alone of our group was hungry enough to eat breakfast down at laban rata (about 100 m downhill and double back). By now there were some groups that went up already.
Once all our climbing members were ready, we started entered the gate. and climbed the stairs. Aware of the cold, thin air and the almost 3km climb, I followed behind Mr. Chong’s relaxed pace. Where once in a while he stopped to take a breather every few steps. At just about 500 meters to our climb, we had to stop as norul began to have a gastric attack, and started to puke by the stairs. At this point, the climbers behind us overtook us.
We continued to climb with repetitions of resting for norul who was experiencing signs of altitude sickness, we had to allow groups behind to overtake us. At some point the stairs ended, and there were just rocks, later we had to hold a rope while climbing a gradual incline, I noticed some porters just climbed up the area parallel to the rope. I wasn’t confident enough to do so, not in the pitch darkness. Climbing down later I realize how the porters were able to do so.
At some point duing resting, I noticed a few interesting things. I could see lights from people’s torches lighting up the route to the top. You could see it was zig-zagging to the right, then left and then right again to the top. And when I looked up, I noticed the sky was filled with more stars than I have ever seen before in my entire life. It was amazing. I the mountain was far enough from light pollution to allow all the stars that rarely show to be seen.
As Norul’s conditioned worsened the porter/guide informed us that a check point was close by. So we decided to continue. There was a booth where there was a person checking everyone’s tag to ensure who has passed, and checking it off a list they had. There was also a resting cabin and a toilet nearby. While the rest tended to Norul, I lined up to go to the toilet. Reminder not to eat a lot before going up, especially food that gave me gas :p
When I got back from the toilet, some of our members had already went on to climb, while the rest decided that one of them had to either accompany norul either to rest there, or to climb back down. Having climbed the summit before, Mr Chong volunteered. So now the rest of us continued to walk.
It was an easy walk for a while, before we had to climb up using the rope again. At some point, I got frustrated that I just crawled up. I realize it was mistake, as doing so I then had to rest as I felt really tired.
At this point, I realized that it was every man(or woman) for himself (or herself). As most of us were now separated from each other by our own pace. Those who were fast went on, while those who were taking it easy ( or tired :p) were left behind. I also noticed that I felt a bit sleepy. I had originally attributed that to not having enough sleep, but I found that later that it was actually drowsiness caused by the altitude sickness. But I still pressed on. It was annoying to realize several times what I thought was almost the top wasn’t. As I saw from the bottom the edge looked like the top with some people resting around it, but when I reached there was another point to climb.
I soon understood what discomfort my wife was experiencing before reaching laban rata. As I was forcing myself to reach the summit before sunrise. I noticed I could hear my heartbeat through my chest as well as my head. I could literally hear a drumming on the sides of my head. So I stopped a few times to breath deep, and then continued when the drumming reduced. It happened every 2 to 5 steps. At some point, I found one of our group – Haji Rahman – in a sleeping position on the ground, I pointed a torch light at him and called out his name.
He asked me where the rest was. And since I was very sure I was the slowest, we found out that most of our group had passed him by without noticing him. So I continued climbing with him, but again our difference in pace separated us by a distance. By this time, the sun has become to rise, and I was at a position that covered the sunrise. But later I could see the sun above the clouds, behind the mountains.
As I neared the peak, and felt the warmth of the sun, I succumbed to my drowsiness, sat down, face the sun and closed my eyes. Even when I haven’t reached the summit, I already had a sense of achievement. To be able to be at that place, at that moment, to enjoy the result of planning and training of the year before. Then as I opened up my eyes, the sun was only slightly higher, and the day was already brighter. I got up, and was ready to rejoin my friends waiting at the summit for the photo shoot.
As I struggled with a new pain of going to the toilet again, I climbed up the peak slowly, and before I realize it, I was a few more steps, when my friends called me to join them. Maybe, I was already acclimatized, maybe I already had my rest, or it was the excitement knowing I was that close. My drowsiness was gone, so I quickly climbed up the last few meters , to the concern of my friends. I was okay. Up there we took a few group pictures. I took pictures of the the peaks around us.
When I reached the top, there was a mixed sense of awe, relief, achievement and excitement. Later, on the walk down, I had the question, as some of the others may have been asking.. What’s next? In a post mortem a week later, Steven Song asked all of us to ask ourselves the question of what is our personal mountain in our lives. I would like to think I already know the answer, the question I had, was how do I climb my personal mountain, the way I climbed this one?