This post was originally published on the 20th Novemer 2013 on the website Mums on the Go. With Mums on the Go closing down in March 2016 I wanted to ensure this story was preserved.
Expedia recently published my official account of climbing Mount Kinabalu (4095m), my intent to inspire people to travel to Sabah and take on this mighty mountain if they like a good challenge. Everything I wrote was a true account of my experience but it is not the whole story for me as a person.
The climb was a first for my husband and I since our Himalayan Honeymoon. When I committed to the climb I was the most unfit I have ever been in my life and as the mother of 5, 2 and 1 year old I struggle to get any “real” exercise. I had huge doubts – could I really get fit enough to climb a mountain in only 10 weeks?
We prepared physically the best we could which often included things like doing the vegetable shopping on foot, my 1 year old in the back pack, and once the pack was loaded with food I would walk home via the train station and do 10 rounds up and over the pedestrian bridge. Hardly ideal training but the best I could manage.I also worked with the wonderful Justine from Plus One Fitness for 10 weeks – every Friday morning while my baby was sleeping she would come to my house and we would work out on my back deck.
I didn’t consider any emotional preparation until the week before we left I was suddenly overwhelmed by the idea of leaving my children in a foreign country, for 48 hours, and not being able to contact them during that time. Thank goodness I had total trust in the capabilities of Sharon from Mayday Mummy who came with us to care for them during this time – can you imagine what a mess I would have been otherwise??
What I recall most strongly when I reflect on the climb is the personal struggle rather than the beauty and the achievement. I developed altitude sickness late on the first day. I have experienced the effects of altitude before so I knew what was happening to my body was more serious than that. As the nausea worsened along with my headache I honestly didn’t know if I would make it to my lodge. My guide and husband gently encouraged me in those final few hundred meters, reminding me that there was no rush and we could take as long as I needed. Each step was a struggle. I just wanted to cry.
On the way up – still feeling good
I took aspirin, which thins your blood and helps manage altitude sickness, and went straight to bed.
Sleeping off altitude sickness
An hour later we went to the main hut for dinner and I had improved a little. I had to sit and negotiate, with my husband and guide, about whether I would be climbing again at 2.30am. It was such a hard conversation for all three of us. On one hand I knew I had to listen to my body and if I wasn’t well I couldn’t climb and even if I was well enough to start there was a very good chance I would have to turn back before the summit. I made my husband promise to climb without me or continue on if I had to turn back. He didn’t want to agree, after all climbing mountains together is part of our wedding vows. Eventually he conceded simply because I told him I would ignore my body and climb if I felt my inability to climb would stop him from going.
I went to sleep that night missing my children deeply. I went to sleep really thinking that I would not be able to complete what I had come to the mountain for – to prove to myself I could still do it even after 3 kids.
I woke at 2am feeling surprisingly good. My body had acclimatised well and I was confident in telling my husband and our guide I was going to make the journey to the summit but there was a niggling voice asking me if I was sure I would turn back if I needed to, after all I am the first to say I am a stubborn mule when it comes to achieving things. If you read the Expedia post you will get a sense of what it was like to climb in complete darkness up the steep granite.
Climbing in the dark
We walked slowly, really slowly knowing that was my only hope of preventing my altitude sickness returning. My headache set in early but I knew as long as the nausea stayed away I would be OK. I realised we would not quite reach the summit for sunrise but we would be not far off, to race the clock would most likely spell the end for me so I had to accept this. My husband passed a man who was curled against a rock in the fetal position with his girlfriend, overcome by altitude sickness, I doubt he made it any further. Most people will summit without any real effects but for the unlucky few altitude sickness is a cruel and random blow.
I cried when I finally made it to the summit. I don’t have the words to really explain why. I felt relief, joy, pride, love. 12 hours earlier I truly did not believe I was going to make it and it meant the world to me that I did.
I know my husband will think I have not spoken enough of him in what I have written about our climb and most likely feel a little unloved as a result.
This was a really amazing thing for us to do together and I would not have made it without his support but as so much of the climb was a mental and emotional battle within me that is the place from which I share my story. He is an amazing man and I am blessed to be his wife. He was amazing in his support for me emotionally and physically during the climb. I can’t think of another human being I would have wanted on that mountain with me.
On the way back down – much easier in daylight
Maybe it will change over time but when I think about climbing Mount Kinabalu I mostly recall the emotional challenge rather than the physical challenge. The physical challenge was huge for me but the emotional challenge even greater. I am enormously proud of myself for getting through, enormously grateful for the love and support of my husband, and look forward to taking on more challenges with him in the years to come.