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Going Further: the long climb up Mount Kinabalu in Borneo

Words OLIVER BERRY W@olivertomberry
Illustration DELPHINE LEE (3) @delphinemonkey

ENDLESS, SLIPPERY, WINDING STEPS. Steps that are steep and shallow. Steps that are deep and broad. Some are formed from intertwining tree roots, gnarled and knotted by centuries of growth. Others are carved into black volcanic rock, slick with moisture. Countless steps behind; countless steps to come. I've been on Mount Kinabalu for only three hours, and I'm barely a quarter of the way to the top, but I've already climbed enough steps for several lifetimes.

At 4,095 metres, Kinabalu isn't just the highest mountain in Borneo, it's one of the highest mountains in all of Southeast Asia. A great hump of brooding black rock, thrust up by the movement of tectonic plates from the state of Sabah's northern coastline, the mountain, in Kinabalu Park, is a formidable sight: more fortress than mountain, a tower of inky granite, wrapped in mist and shrouded in steaming jungle. To local Dusun people it's known as Aki Nabalu, 'the sacred place of the dead.' It's a holy mountain, haunted by the spirits of their ancestors, and as such, definitely not a place for the living. But ghostly guardians aren't the only obstacles for the 20,000 or so people who set out every year to conquer Borneo's highest mountain. For them, and for me, it's the steps that hold the greatest dread.

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Lonely Planet
September 2018

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