Tag Archive for Sabah

The Road To Kilimanjaro


On November 2006 I went on my first overseas trip to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia to climb Mt. Kinabalu. It was a life-changing trip as it opened my eyes to many things and possibilities.

South Peak in Mt Kinabalu

South Peak in Mt Kinabalu.

More Mt. Kinabalu trek photos can be found here.

On my way down from the summit of Mt. Kinabalu, I met a middle-aged Malaysian climber. We chit-chat and he mentioned to me about his plans of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro after Mt. Kinabalu. He told me that it was something doable as it doesn’t require any technical climbing skills.

After I came back from the Kinabalu climb, I researched more about Mt. Kilimanjaro and became more interested with it. Aside from being the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895m, one of the things that really fascinated me about Mt. Kilimanjaro is its unique vegetation. There are 5 main vegetation zones from the lowest point to the highest point namely: farmland, forest, heather and moorland, highland dessert and the snow-capped summit. Looking at the landscape photos made my heart skip a beat and excited. From thereon, I dreamed of trekking Kili someday.

One of the biggest challenges in trekking Kilimanjaro for me was the cost of the whole trip. The airfare getting to Tanzania and the cost of the trekking package was already quite very expensive for me. It’s not possible to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro independently without a mountain guide as the park authorities had made it compulsory for all trekkers to arrange their walk through a licensed agency.

Aside from this, there’s the cost of buying gear/equipment for the trek, vaccinations and the mandatory tips for the guide, cook and porters.  Add this all up and I needed a considerable amount of money if I wanted to fulfill this dream.

In 2008 I decided to leave my home country in search of better of opportunities abroad so I can fund my Kilimanjaro trek as well as my other travel plans. I remember my former manager asking me why I have to quit my job and go overseas to fund this trek. I explained to him how expensive the trek was going to be. Then, he asked me further why I just can’t find someone to sponsor my trek. I can no longer remember my exact reply to him but I remembered what was going on in my mind that time. I’m not an elite athlete or a high profile mountaineer. That time the only high altitude mountains I’ve climbed so far were Mt. Apo (2,954m) and Mt. Kinabalu (4,095m). There are certainly more strong and fit mountaineers in my country who deserve the sponsorship much more than myself. So off I went to work overseas to save money for my Kili dream.

Hiking to the summit of Mt Apo with Lake Venado in the background

Hiking to the summit of Mt Apo with Lake Venado in the background

My 2nd summit of Mt Apo in October 2007

My 2nd summit of Mt Apo on October 2007

More Mt. Apo trekking photos can be found here.

While overseas, I didn’t had much opportunity to do any major trek except for the Mt. Rinjani trek in Lombok, Indonesia on July 2009. I did however kept myself fit by running which also became a separate obsession. I had this mindset that if I keep myself fit I will be ready to go to Kili anytime once I have the money.

Mt Rinjani, Mt Baru (crater volcano) and Segara Anak (crater lake)

Mt Rinjani, Mt Baru (crater volcano) and Segara Anak (crater lake)

Me with Mt Rinjani, Mt Baru and Segara Anak in the background.

Me with Mt Rinjani, Mt Baru and Segara Anak in the background.

More Mt Rinjani trekking photos can be found here.

Running which has also become a separate passion and obession. Photo by shutterunning.com during Columbia Trail Masters Thailand

Running which has also become a separate passion and obsession. Photo by shutterunning.com during Columbia Trail Masters Thailand

On May 2010 I purchased 3 books from Amazon all about trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro. My favorite is Henry Stedman’s “Kilimanjaro: The trekking guide to Africa’s highest mountain“. The book provided lots of information about how I was going to plan my Kili trek from budgeting, selecting a route, deciding when to go, selecting a trekking agency, gear/equipment needed for the trek, climbing preparations, dealing with AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) and many others.

I inquired about the prices of the trekking package provided by the different trekking agencies so I have a rough idea about the budget. Booking directly through a travel agent in Tanzania would definitely be cheaper as basically I’m cutting the middleman however, I had some concerns. If I select a travel agency in Singapore where I was based, I can be sure that they’re not going to run away with my hard-earned money and if I had any questions or issues about the climb it would be easier to contact and ask them.

I didn’t really told anyone about my plans except for a few close friends as I wanted to keep a low profile. I know that not all people share the same passion and dream with me. Some expressed interest in climbing Kili but they told me they have no budget for it as it’s too expensive. One friend expressed real interest but initial planning already indicated differences about certain choices.

There were plenty of important decisions to be made. Choosing a travel agency and trekking companion or going on my own can make or break the success of the trek. One thing I was already decided was the route I was going to take in Kili. Pretty much I was decided in taking the Machame route (also known as the “Whiskey Route”) as I have read this route is quite scenic and offers good acclimatization which will increase my chances of summiting.

Initially I was targeting to do the trek end of 2011 or early 2012 however, it was a very challenging and tumultuous year for me. I got laid off plus I had to deal with personal issues. I found a new job in 2012 and there was no way to squeeze in the Kili trek.

I kept wondering how long I must wait more to fulfill this dream. There came to a point each time I was on the bus on my way to work I kept thinking about the purpose of my life. If my life is just all about earning more money to have a more secure future. I was getting frustrated that I have become a coward and have become afraid to take risks. Then, I started to think again how I risked everything a few years ago to take my first step in accomplishing my Kili dream. I made a vow to myself that I was going to do the Kili trek before the year ends in 2013 no matter what happens. No more excuses.

In September 2012 I received a message in Facebook from one of my Malaysian friends.

“I remember a few years back you told me that you wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. I have a team here who will be going in February 2013. The cost is about SGD7,000. Let me know if you are interested. If you are, you are still subjected to “approval” from the team leader AND the rest of the team. Let me know soon, ok?”

My heart was pounding with excitement however, it was only short-lived. It was not possible for me to do the trek on February 2013 due to vacation leave constraints. I also thought based on my research I can get a cheaper price than this.

At the start of the second quarter of 2013 I made a life-changing decision. I quit my job and committed myself to pursue my Kili dream. By then I was decided to do trek on my own as I didn’t want to wait any longer who will go with me. I have done solo backpacking many times before but it was all in Southeast Asia. The thought of going to Africa and climbing Kili on my own was quite scary but I tried to keep positive thoughts and motivated myself that it’s all part of the adventure.


*This post is part of my Kilimanjaro Diary:
En Route to Kilimanjaro
Planning and Preparing for Kilimanjaro


Race Report: TMBT 2013


The TMBT Ultra Trail Marathon was one of the races I was looking forward in 2013. Although I had not been running much prior to the race I was excited to be back in the “Land Below The Wind”. Sabah holds a special place in my heart after I summited Mount Kinabalu seven years ago and opened my eyes to overseas backpacking.

The race doesn’t involve running in Mount Kinabalu itself however, it takes runners to the foothills of Mount Kinabalu.

Registration and Race Pack Collection

The registration and race pack collection was held at Hyatt Regency Kinabalu Keembong Room a day before race day.

Below are some pictures of the registration and race pack collection.

Queuing for registration and race pack collection

Queuing for registration and race pack collection

Registration and Race Pack Collection

Registration and Race Pack Collection

Race Course Map

Race Course Map

June Kit with his race bib and TMBT event shirt.

June Kit with his race bib and TMBT event shirt.

Group photo with the Singapore contingent

Group photo of the Singapore contingent


Race Day

I woke up as early as 2:15am to get ready for the race. I ate 2 pieces of bread for my breakfast before me and Beeping stepped out of Borneo Backpackers just before 4:30am. It was a few minutes walk to the City Park where the buses taking us to the starting point of the race were parked.

There were not much runners yet when we arrived. We left our finisher’s bag on the grass as instructed by one of the race officials. We bumped into Kelly who flew to Kota Kinabalu from Singapore to support some running friends. She gladly took our picture then continued taking photos of the other runners who had just arrived.

Me and Beeping. Photo taken by Kelly Lim

Me and Beeping after dropping off our finisher’s bag. Photo taken by Kelly Lim

We caught up with Tekko, Molly, Sharon, Brokie and her hubby who have also arrived. There was a bit of confusion where the finisher’s and drop-off bags were to be deposited. Luckily I was informed by Kelly to take back our finisher’s bag and hand it ourselves to the guy in the lorry.

A photo op before boarding the bus. Photo by Kelly Lim

At around 5am the buses left Kota Kinabalu in convoy for the starting line at Kampung Lingkubang via Kota Belud.

I took the time to get some sleep during the bus ride. At about an hour and a half into the journey, the bus stopped for a toilet break. While the other buses have left, our bus (bus no. 6) was still waiting for the other runners to come back to the bus. A friendly runner sitting close to us in the bus approached me and Beeping. He introduced himself as Chee Wee and told us he ran the Energizer Night Trail Run in Singapore.

It took almost two hours for our bus to arrive at Kampung Lingkubang. I believe we were the last bus to arrive. There was already a long queue to cross the hanging bridge as only 5 runners were allowed to cross the bridge at one given time for safety reasons. The starting area was about 100m from the opposite side of the bridge.

Me and Beeping while waiting to cross the hanging bridge to the starting line

Me and Beeping while waiting to cross the hanging bridge going to the starting line

Just before crossing the bridge

Just before crossing the bridge

We waited for almost an hour to make the crossing and by the time we crossed the hanging bridge Aman, the race director, was asking us to proceed immediately to the starting line as the race was going to start in 5 minutes as it was already behind schedule.

We hurriedly checked-in at the main hall and then proceeded to the starting line. Tekko, Molly and Sharon were already there. They told us they had been waiting there for 45 minutes now.

Race Proper

At about 7:57am the race officially started. All categories (25K, 50K and 100K) were flagged off at the same time instead of the initially planned separate flag-off time for the different categories.

After a few minutes of running we arrived at the first bottleneck of the race. Runners were queuing to cross the first hanging bridge of the race. Again only 5 runners were allowed to cross the bridge at one given time for safety reasons.

I was right behind Brokie and her hubby while Chee Wee was behind me. Beeping was behind a pack of runners with Tekko, Molly and Sharon not too far off from us. We were stuck there for more than 30 minutes waiting for our turn to cross the bridge.

Crossing the hanging bridge was quite exciting. It entailed focus as it was swaying and quite slippery as well. A runner before me slipped just when he was about to go down the stairs.

Coming off from the hanging bridge we made our way to the first hill. Brokie and her hubby went the wrong turn and I was about to follow luckily Chee Wee who was right behind me called our attention and showed us the right way.

First of the many uphill climbs to come

The first of the many uphill climbs. Photo by Chee Wee Ng

After the first challenging uphill climb it was time to go downhill. The trail was muddy and slippery so I had to go down cautiously. We then arrived at the river bank where we had to make a river crossing. This was the first of the many river crossings we had to do during the race but this was the deepest.

I removed my shoes thinking it was better not to get my shoes wet at that early stage of the race. I queued until it was my turn to make the crossing. The water was waistline deep for me. I held on to the rope walking slowly to avoid slipping. There was a photographer taking photos of runners making the river crossing and when I was somewhere in the middle a guy behind me shouted asking the photographer to shoot his leg. I looked behind and found out that the guy behind me was the inspirational SG Blade Runner. I safely crossed the river and tried to find a good spot to wear back my shoes. SG Blade Runner was having trouble getting out of the water so we helped pull him out of the water.

Brokie and her hubby had also crossed the river and were putting back their shoes. I told Brokie that I was going ahead as I didn’t want to stop for a very long time. I caught up with Chee Wee and we continued on.

Going uphill after the river crossing

Going uphill after the river crossing. Photo by Chee Wee Ng

We have not yet reached WS1 but we already spent more than an hour in the trail (mainly because of the bottle neck). According to the race course description an average runner would only take 30-45mins to arrive in WS1.

At around 9:25am I finally reached WS1(4.4Km) which was a school. I had to make an urgent toilet break. Chee Wee got there a few minutes ahead of me but he waited until I was out of the toilet before continuing to WS2.

After the first river crossing I didn’t bother anymore taking off my shoes as it was already wet and muddy.

We crossed streams, passed by paddy fields, ran alongside the river and crossed a few more hanging bridges. The scenery was just beautiful no wonder the race is called “The Most Beautiful Thing”!

By the river

By the river. Photo by Chee Wee Ng

Crossing the hanging bridge

Crossing another hanging bridge. Photo by Chee Wee Ng

Going downhill

Going downhill. Photo by Chee Wee Ng

Crossing a stream

Crossing a stream. Photo by Chee Wee Ng

The weather was scorching hot on our way to WS2 (Kampung Lobong-Lobong). Chee Wee took out his sunblock and offered me to apply some. I was lazy to get mine from my hydration pack so I gladly accepted the offer.

I was walking for most part of the open trails to conserve energy, only running during the downhill. We crossed a bridge that lead to a tar road with a sign that says Lobong-Lobong. I thought we must be nearby the water station now. However, the moment I started climbing the uphill road I realized I’m in for a lot of hardwork. It was a very steep climb and the heat was unforgiving. I have to make a few stops to rest and catch my breath. Chee Wee had gone ahead of me.

I checked-in at WS2(14.9Km) at about 11:50am, almost 4 hours into the race. Chee Wee was still there refueling. I refilled my bladder with water and ate some bakwa as I was getting hungry. I sat down for a few minutes to rest before I moved on to CP1 which was 3Km away together with Chee Wee.

Leaving  for CP1

Leaving WS2 for CP1. Photo by Chee Wee Ng

We entered a gate which lead us back to the trail. From what I can remember going to CP1 is that we were running in a ridge. CP1 is where the 25K runners split with 50/100K runners.

Going to CP2(Miki’s Camp) we had to tackle several hills with a windmill at the top that was making some weird sounds. It was still sunny and hot. I had to make occasional stops to catch my breath during the uphill climbs. I remember there was a runner I met while I was resting at one of the hills that he wishes it was going to rain as it was just too hot!

I then met another runner who was resting before proceeding the uphill climb. He told me that he got stung by a bee. I asked him if he needed any help and he asked me if I can help him treat it. He took out a brand-new Watson’s first-aid kit from his pack and tore the plastic then handed it to me. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to treat it. I looked through the contents of the first-aid kit and found an ointment which I applied to the affected area. He was thankful and we then continued the uphill climb.

I looked ahead and saw dark clouds coming. The trail led to a ridge with a pineapple plantation. I saw a hut with two race marshals. I asked them if this is already CP2 and they told me that it’s another 6Km ahead. I met some runners who were on their way back from the Miki’s camp loop. One runner told me the trail ahead is very tough but he encouraged me to press on.

It was a jungle heading to CP2 and it reminded me of my hiking/mountaineering days in the Philippines. I was mostly hiking at this section. I met more runners who were going back after doing the Miki loop and I was wondering how far I was from CP2 as it already seemed like a long hike in the jungle. I crossed a hanging bridge then continued going up and down the mountain. I had not yet reached CP2 when it started to rain. It seems that the runner who wished for rain had his prayers answered! The rain became stronger so I decided to wear my Salomon light wind jacket but the rain was just too strong for my jacket to keep me warm. I was getting wet and feeling cold. I began to worry if I was going to get hypothermia. I remember telling myself to just get to CP2 safely and decide from there if I should continue the race or not.

I finally reached Miki’s Camp (CP2 – 23.4Km) and felt a bit relieved. The race marshal recorded my bib number and timing then I signed. Some runners who were taking shelter at the hut were about to leave CP2 and I decided to follow them.

By then the trail had become like small streams and waterfalls. Even walking was very challenging at this point. Later on after the race I learned that some runners were not able to cross the river before CP2 as it had turned into a raging river.

As I was going back to the pineapple ridge area I met my Malaysian friend, Steve, who was making his way to Miki’s camp. Despite the rain and cold weather, I saw more runners heading to CP2 which made me feel motivated to continue.

I reached a hut and saw some runners taking shelter from the rain. I heard some runners (I think from 100K category) discussing whether to continue or drop off from the race. I asked a race marshal the directions for WS3(Kiau Nulu) and he told me to continue following the trail and I should find a sign where to turn.

I continued on and saw the other hut with the 2 race marshals. I had completed the loop and will now make a left turn and head downhill. After some sections of steep downhills the trail lead us to some rolling hills. I started running again hoping that I can make it for 8.5hours cut-off time at WS3.

The route finally led us to a paved road that was going downhill. I was running with a group of runners and one runner shouted than the cut-off was nearing. I tried my best to run downhill but it was still raining. My shoes felt heavy and I can feel water coming out from my shoes as it was too wet.

I arrived at WS3(26.9Km), Kiau Nulu, just before the cut-off time. A lot of runners were resting and taking shelter from the rain. I saw Chee Wee again and he offered me some hot tea which helped warm me down.

Me and Chee Wee discussed if we should continue and if we can make it for the next cut-off time at WS4 in Kiau Taburi (31.4Km). In the end we decided to continue and wait until the organizers tell us we cannot proceed.

The rain had slowed down when got out of WS3 and I was hoping it was going to stop soon however as we ran further the rain got heavier and heavier again. The race course took us to uphill roads which was quite tiring but I had to keep moving or else I would feel cold. There was a very steep section just before reaching WS4 in Kiau Taburi. Combined with fatigue and hunger, I was feeling dizzy that I felt like I was going to pass out anytime. I knew I had to take something and not wait until I reach the water station. I took shelter in a hut as it was still raining and took my Maxifuel Viper Active Gel. It was an instant energy booster and I continued the uphill climb. Not before long I reached WS4 which was also the finishing point for the 25Km runners.

I checked in and saw Chee Wee eating rice. My body was craving for solid food so I went to get some rice and chicken. I think I probably ate 2 cups of rice as I was just too hungry.

Chee Wee told me that he heard from someone that the cut-off time was extended for another hour due to the bottleneck at the early part of the race. We wanted to confirm from one of the race organizers but somehow that time we weren’t able to do so.

We left Kiau Taburi for Kinasabaran which was about 15.6Km away. The rain had stopped and we were treated with a clear view of Mt Kinabalu and a magnificent sunset. Seeing it made all the hardships worthwhile.

A beautiful sunset after a heavy rain

A beautiful sunset after a heavy rain

Mt Kinabalu

The majestic Mt. Kinabalu

The night had fallen as we continued trekking in the trail. It was a blessing I was with someone and not running alone because some of the markers weren’t so obvious to me. The trail lead us to the road where we had to a run quite a long stretch (no wonder they called this section “Road Rage”). Some portions were going downhill so I took the opportunity to run. There were cones on the side of the road provided for safety which also helped runners find their way. At intersections there were marshals stationed to tell runners where to go however, there was this one intersection where there was no marshal around. I continued running downhill and Chee Wee was following me until a runner behind us called our attention and asked us to turn back. He explained to us that we missed the marker which was an arrow placed on the roadsign. At first I was a bit hesitant to follow as normally there were marshals at intersections but after he told us that the marshal had already warned him to watch out for the marker ahead, me and Chee Wee decided to follow his advice.

We turned left and as we ran further we saw reflective markers which indicated we were on the right track. We were both so grateful for that guy if not we would have been running in the wrong direction.

The trail was very dark but I saw some green lights ahead. Initially, I thought they were headlamps but they were actually dog’s eyes. It was only me and Chee Wee in the trail and we were constantly checking for the reflective markers to make sure we were in the right track.

I felt like peeing but I was holding myself and just kept walking. Chee Wee asked me if we can take a short rest as he needed to apply some cold rub on his legs. I then took the opportunity to pee in the dark which made me feel so much better. We continued onto the dark trail with only our headlamps lighting the way.

After like an endless walk/run we finally reached WS5 in Kinasabaran. After checking-in we rested for a few minutes. I refilled my hydration bladder and ate my remaining bakwa. I sent an SMS to my friend Beeping asking how she is and found out that she decided to DNF at WS3 as she wasn’t able to cross the raging river on the way to Miki’s Camp due to the heavy rain earlier. She also told me that Sharon is already at the finish line.

Me and Chee Wee left WS5 for the final push to the finish line. The marshal reminded us to put on the reflective vest as we will be running in the highway. He also told us that only 5Km remaining which made me feel motivated however, as soon as we went downhill from the water station, I realized that the trail was very, very muddy and slippery. I had to go very slow holding on to some grasses on the side of the trail to gain some balance. There were other runners in front of me who were also going slow as it was just too slippery. I normally like downhill but this section was just too exhausting for my knees because I had to be overly cautious not to lose balance.

Chee Wee didn’t seem to have any problem with the slippery and muddy trail and soon became out of sight. I decided to just take my own time because I was still quite positive I can make it for the 15-hour cut-off time provided nothing bad happens in the last few kilometers to the finish line.

I was a bit relieved when I finally reached the highway as I no longer had to tackle the overly slippery trail.  A marshal recorded my bib number and told me just another one kilometer to the finish line but the last kilometer seemed like an endless uphill road. When I saw some structure with a bright light I thought it was the finish line but I was wrong. Then, I continued again and I saw another one but it was still not the finish line. I felt like the one kilometer seemed more than one kilometer and it was really testing my wits and patience.

Finally there was this lighted building with a few people outside and they started congratulating the runners arriving. They asked us to continue a bit further inside for the finish line. I made my way to the finish line and saw Beeping. I was so happy it was finally over.

I finished TMBT2013 50Km with an official time of 14:10 hours. TMBT2013 official results can be here.

There’s no doubt TMBT is a tough and challenging trail race. It will really test an individual physically and mentally. Add mother nature into the mix and it gets even more tougher however, the race course is indeed beautiful. It is worth all the pain and effort.

At Finish Line with Chee Wee and Sharon

At the finish line with Chee Wee and Sharon

TMBT2013 finisher's shirt and medal

TMBT2013 finisher’s shirt and medal