Sabah quake: Pray for TKPS

Mighty Kinabalu in the background
Mighty Kinabalu

The Sabah earthquake and the tremble of mighty Mt Kinabalu shocked and struck many chords within me. I love trekking that mountain. As a pastor I have led three church groups (20-40 members each time), of young people and families mainly from eleven years old to over fifty. To hear of news of the Sabah quake and the deaths of young climbers aged 12, and teachers of Tanjong Katong Primary School is deeply sad and disturbing. I was a teacher before, and I am a parent too, and I understand to some extent a parent’s heartbreak for I have lost a child before.

The pointing of fingers have started. People blaming the “angmohs” for disrespectfully posing naked and peeing on the sacred mountain and invoking the wrath of the gods. People blaming the school, the Ministry of Education and impersonal policies and decision making processes. Parents blaming each other and themselves. This is not the time for all these. Not the time.

Writer Ovidia Yu posted this in her Facebook:

So long as we live, they too shall live,
For they are now a part of us,
As we remember them.

Poet, writer, artist, social commentator Gwee Li Sui posted a haiku on Facebook:

Haiku to the Sabah Quake Victims
———-
As you sought to reach
the sky, it rained down boulders.
Nature has wronged you.

A church member Cynthia Koe posted in her Facebook:

In times like this it is not about what to say but what should not be said.

A time like this is a feel moment not a word moment. A listening moment not an encouraging moment.

Mourning takes time and a hand to hold not a ” aww, it is ok” hug time. Let them share their loved ones’ stories and lets hear with tears as they say their last goodbyes.

What she said is true and it inspired me to write a Haiku on my Facebook account:

Not the time for blame
But for tears and holding hands
For grief to mend hearts

So it was good that the Tanjong Katong Primary School opened it grounds for its school community to grieve.

It was good that the Ministry of Education mobilized its counselors to help survivors and classmates of the departed to grieve and process the trauma.

It was good that the government declared a day of mourning today: flags flown at half-mast, a minute of silence at all South East Asia Games venue before the start of events.

We need to pray for TKGS and all the bereaved families. It will be very very painful for them in the coming months. No, years.

RIP: Fellow Singaporean hikers who lost their lives in Sabah quake
RIP: Fellow Singaporean hikers who lost their lives in Sabah quake

Mt Rinjani vs Mt Kinabalu: which is tougher?

Mt Kinabalu (4,096 m) in Sabah, Malaysia
Mt Kinabalu (4,096 m) in Sabah, Malaysia

Mt Rinjani (3,726m)  in Lombok, Indonesia
Mt Rinjani (3,726m) in Lombok, Indonesia

At the end of our trek, we compared the level of difficulty of the Rinjani trek with the many Kinabalu treks we have done. Most of the trekkers have done Kinabalu a few times. It was unanimously agreed by all who have done both, that the Rinjani trek was tougher. I had talked about this with trekkers – people I do not know – I had met in Bukit Timah and most of them tell me Rinjani was tougher. When these fellow hikers in Bukit Timah mentioned the comparative difficulty I found it hard to believe because Mt Kinabalu is higher than Mt Rinjani. However, now that I have done Rinjani and am in a better position to compare, I have to agree with all the other people’s opinions.

Perhaps one factor that weakens my opinion is that I climbed Kinabalu about 5 years ago. Memory of the hardship and challenge has faded. However, my friends have climbed Kinabalu recently and their opinions are that Rinjani is tougher.

My friends and I are easy trekkers. We are kiasu, kiasi, and kia bo. These friends have done several treks in Nepal like Poon Hill, Annapura Base Camp, Thorong la Pass and other Everest treks. They have done Mt Fuji in Japan, Mt Agung in Bali, and a tough Trans Gopeng Cameron trek. When compared all other treks with Rinjani – everyone said this was tougher.

The comparison between Rinjani and Kinabalu will look like this in a table of comparison:

Aspects

Mt Rinjani

Mt Kinabalu

Height

3726 m

4096 m

Difficulty level of first leg

2.5 out of 4

3 out of 4

Ascent

3.8 out of 4

3.5 out of 4

Nature of challenge

-Loose gravel that sinks as you step forward.

-Sleep overnight in tents and inconvenience.

-Possible altitude sickness and thin air.

-Sleep overnight in relative comfort.

Return leg

3 out of 4

2.5 out of 4

Rinjani trek: spectacular views, frustrating ascent

Mt Rinjani (3,726m) is second highest active volcano in Indonesia
Mt Rinjani (3,726m) is second highest active volcano in Indonesia

Loose volcanic gravel coupled with frustration is the big challenge of summiting Gunung Rinjani, the second tallest active volcano in Indonesia. At 3,726 m, not a frightening height, it is the fifth tallest mountain in Indonesia. The three tallest mountains are all in Papua province.

We have made what we thought was adequate preparation but the mental challenge was what was most crucial. We had been training weekly at Bukit Timah hill, did a few endurance treks, in addition to two treks to Gunung Belumut and Gunung Lambak in Kluang, Johor. We did staircases during the weekdays too. At least I tried. This physical training was all necessary but the desire, the determination to summit is the crucial piece that was the crown of all preparations.

Easy walk in grasslands at the beginning
Easy walk in grasslands at the beginning
Then the hills get steep and misty
Then the hills get steep and misty
Drizzles and mist and constant change of apparel
Drizzles and mist and constant change of apparel

The trek began with pleasant grasslands and rolling hills, cloudy and misty weather and some drizzles. The hills gradually became three steep uphill climbs to reach the Sembalun crater rim where we pitched tent, ate, rested and prepared for the final ascent to the summit at 2am the next morning.This was outside my comfort zone – living in tents. Most of us used wet wipes to clean ourselves, change our clothes and used a miner’s torch to pack ready for the ascent. I slept soundly to my pleasant surprise.

Thank God for porters who got everything ready before you reach Sembalun crater rim.
Thank God for porters who got everything ready before you reach Sembalun crater rim.
Tuna lemak with white rice tasted like lontong.
Tuna lemak with white rice tasted like lontong.

We woke at 2am but preparations, breakfast and getting all geared up caused a delay and we started at 4am. It would be too late to catch the sunrise. I did not mind. I planned to trek at a pace I am comfortable with. I do not mind reaching the summit after sunrise. And so it was that I reached the summit with my wife and three other friends at about 12 noon.

Trekking up at 5 am with head torch
Trekking up at 5 am with head torch
Glorious sunrise came before we could reach the peak
Glorious sunrise came before we could reach the peak
Rinjani sunrise arrests your attention
Rinjani sunrise arrests your attention
Sengara Anak crater lake is beautiful and so is the newly formed mountain in its foreground
Sengara Anak crater lake is beautiful and so is the newly formed mountain in its foreground
Short breaks to re-energize and re-hydrate
Short breaks to re-energize and re-hydrate

What was supposed to have taken us 3 hours took some of us 8 hours. Of course along the way we took in the sights, the sunrise, the scenery and took numerous photographs. The journey was to be enjoyed and there was no prize for the fastest. The toughest stretch was 1 km slope of loose gravel to the peak. This took us several hours. It looked so near but it took so long and so much out of you. It one long  frustrating plod. Three steps forward, two steps back. The incline was about 60-80 degrees. The ground was soft, and the gravel loose, and our feet kept sinking backwards. It was frustrating till the very end. However, you see others ahead of you, and some at the top, and talk to some on the way down, and that encouraged you to keep going.

The last 1 km was tedious, frustrating and morale sapping
The last 1 km was tedious, frustrating and morale sapping
There is always that "a bit more" before we reach the summit.
There is always that "a bit more" before we reach the summit.

Lord, strengthen my legs and my hands. Guide my feet to solid ground. Bring me to the summit. Help me to get up there. And with patience and endurance, my wife and I got there and were filled with relief that the worse was over, and we made it to the summit. We were the last group to be there – we took our photos in peace and quiet. Setting your heart to reach the top was vital. The rest was God’s grace and moving step by step in the right direction.

Kenny, Ye Ping, Jenny, Eric, Judith - the last ones at the summit.
Kenny, Ye Ping, Jenny, Eric, Judith - the last ones at the summit.
The day after - having breakfast.
The day after - having breakfast.
Makeshift $10 toilet with a million dollar view
Makeshift $10 toilet with a million dollar view
Lovely spectacular views of the volcanic crater lake.
Lovely spectacular views of the volcanic crater lake.

We started on 28 April (Monday) and ended on the 1 May (Thursday). We stayed three nights in tents in the mountains. The first and second night we stayed at the crater rim: Plawangan Sembalun. It overlooked the beautiful Segara Anak crater lake. On the third night, we clawed our way to Pos III along the Senaru route, and camped there. There we spent the last night, and looked forward to the short trek back through equatorial forest back to civilization and the Villa Ombak Hotel Resort on Gili Trawangan.