September 4, 2011

Mount Kinabalu : Piece of Cake?
Last month, 23 August marked the 10th anniversary of the tragic death of British student, Ellie James, who perished on Mount Kinabalu on 23 August 2001.

Ellie was described by family members as an adventurous and tough as nail young lady.

In a tribute to her daughter, Bruce James had this to say about Ellie,
"From the age of five she raised money to help human and wildlife charities.

"She became a vegetarian at seven and never wavered in her commitment to shake people from complacency.
"If her death inspires other people to stand up and be counted, her life will not have been in vain."
Before climbing the mountain, Ellie had spent time with villagers of Kampung Kiau Nulu in Borneo.*
*Excerpt from

Ellie survived at least for six days before succumbing to prolonged exposure. That is remarkable and is a testament to her strong will. She must had been a remarkable human being and her death was not only a loss to her family but also to Borneo. According to her family, she had wanted to work in the Borneo rainforest, to preserve it, what a wonderful friend she would have made for Borneo.

Source : New Straits Time
From her caring nature, I would like to think that her spirit is now watching over travellers/climbers on Mount Kinabalu.
Mount Kinabalu is sacred to the Dusun, they believed that the spirits of the departed amongst them, reside on the mountain. In the old days, the mountain was also the source of their livelihood.

They venerated and accorded respect to the mountain and its surrounding jungles. Certain taboos were observed when venturing into the mountain's vicinity. This was of course when they were still practising their old religion.

Here's an excerpt from the book Tourism and NatureConservation in Malaysia National Parks by Norman Backhaus:
“Mount Kinabalu hasplayed an important role to many ethnic groups living in itsvicinity. The Lotud, a Dusun/Kadazan tribe, describe how the mountainwas created by their supreme deities Kinohoringan and Umunsumundu:“Umunsumundu created the earth while Kinohoringan created the sky,cloud and all above the earth. The eagle, Kondiu, was sent to inspectall that they had created. Alas, the report was that the cloud wastoo small in relation to the earth. Kinohoringan (…) was ashamed(…). This was a blow to his pride. Umunsumundu understood hisfeelings and decided to reshape the earth instead, to make it equalin breadth to the cloud. She decided to create a mountain which shecalled Kinabalu or Kinorungoi. This mountain was to be the heart ofthe world. Rituals involving the sacrifice of cocks and eggs areperformed on the mountain in order to honour the spirits of the dead”
Source :
Picture published by Smith, Elder and Co in 1862

Mount Kinabalu is about 4095 metre tall and according to experts, it is still growing at the rate of 5mm every year. It is touted as South East Asia's tallest mountain. However, there are disputes to the accuracy of this. Read here. Notwithstanding, Mount Kinabalu or Kinabalu National Park is one the few places that I never grew tired of visiting; It is truly a beautiful place. Imagine that about twenty years before North Borneo was colonized by the North Borneo Chartered Company, a westerner named Sir Hugh Low, had climbed the mountain in 1851. I wonder whether he had seeked permission from the Bobolian (Dusun Priestess) before he made the climb. I'm certain the Dusun must had been protective of their sacred mount. In those days, headhunting was still in practice, I'm impressed that he even made it that far in land without being harrassed.

People who had climbed the mountain had varying experience to tell, some said it was difficult and yet some said it was easy. I suppose it depends on your fitness level and I think you also must have respect for the mountain. Otherwise, it could turn on you. This mountain afterall, is called the Abode of the Dead.

Source :
Climbing trail at lower elevation

Source :
Trail near summit

My advice to you if you're planning to climb the mountain, have a healthy respect for the mountain and mother nature. People get into accident because generally they let their guards down, make sure you have proper gear like footwear, clothing etc. Ellie is not the first casualty of the mountain. The Dusun of old believed that there are spirits on the mountain that can spirit people away and never to be found again. I think this belief could be explained to some Dusun folks who went to the mountain in the old days, perhaps fell off some ledge/ravines or like Ellie, got lost because of poor weather and they attributed the disappearence of these people to spirits.

I recalled when visiting the beginning of the trail to the mountain some years back, I saw a memorial dedicated to someone who had died of malaria while climbing the mountain.

Source :
This was the condition that participants of Mount Kinabalu Climbathon (held annually) found themselves in on 2 October 2004.

Source :
Above, the body of Sudin Yusin, a participant of the event on that day being carried down from the mountain by Park Rangers. Read what happened here.

So don't find yourself ill-prepared, inadequately equipped and make sure you do not have any health issue that might be aggravated by the climb. Stay close to your guide and follow their instruction, these guys know what they are talking about because they spend day in and day out in the mountain. That's their office.

We welcome your tourist money but we also want you to leave Sabah, healthy and alive. Here are some sites that I think you might want to check out:
Mountain Torq - If you are an adrenalin junky

Climb Mount Kinabalu - An American who climbed the mountain and decided to put up this site for people seeking information about climbing the mountain.

Be safe and welcome to Sabah, Land Below the Wind! Oh yes, if you meet a Dusun or Kadazan, say Kopivosian! That's hello in their language.
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