Mountain ground squirrel

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When you stop at the pondoks (shelters) to rest on the way up to Mount Kinabalu you see heaps of these squirrels scavenging nearby. They know that there’s food to be had and are quite tame. We had one pondok to ourselves on our way down and the little guy in the photo took the nut right out of my hand and then sat down next to us to enjoy it. We were soon joined by an enthusiastic climber on his way up – he asked us to take a photo while he held up a bright pink banner with his girlfriend’s name on it. She hadn’t been able to join him on the trip and this was his way of keeping her up to date with his progress. Then we were joined by a couple from the Netherlands, who sat down to eat their packed lunch. We met people from all over the world in our two days at Mount Kinabalu – many Malaysians from KL and other parts of west Malaysia, Singaporeans, Swiss, Japanese, Koreans, Australians. It all added to the wonderful experience.

How do they do it?

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We could never have made it to the summit of Mount Kinabalu without the substantial aid of our friendly porter/guide. He carried over 10 kgs of our luggage on his back, while we had another 12 kgs between us in two day packs (mine being by far the lighter of the two!) He also guided us over the treacherous terrain and was constantly checking that we were managing. He had a walkie-talkie and kept in close contact with the others in our group as well as the authorities at the gate. When we stopped for a breather, usually taking the chance to have a long drink and something to eat, he simply crouched down and enjoyed a cigarette! As we were carefully negotiating the rocky steps, we would have to step aside for another porter carrying something incredibly heavy up to the base camp, which reminded us that almost everything up there has to be carted up on someone’s back! The porter in this photo is carrying a gas cylinder. They seem so sure-footed in their cheap plastic shoes and they run back down having deposited their loads at the top. They are extraordinary people.

Top of the world

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You feel as if you are at the top of the world when you’re standing at 4072 m near the summit of Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. We had this marvellous experience last Saturday. It was worth the gruelling climb up over hundreds of uneven steps and huge boulders. We left the base camp of Laban Rata at about 2.30am and made our way in the dark (with the help of headlamps and indispensable, experienced guides) up the steep incline to the top. We didn’t have the glorious sunrise that you see in many photos but the lightening sky streaked with clouds and the grey broodiness of the peaks at the top were spectacular. One has to hold on to those feelings when one is slogging all the way down. I think going down was infinitely more difficult!