Sunday, July 27, 2008

Flippity Flap down Penang Hill

I wasn't too happy with my hike up Penang Hill last week. So this morning I revisited it a gain in an attempt to improve my time and feel better about myself.

This time around, I started at the Moon Gate rather than tackling the tar road head on. The weather was great. Cool and windy. And I was making good time too, but alas... as I was about to reach the 84 stop point, my shoe gave way. The sole came off.

So 'flap, flap, flap'... That was how I made my way back down. But halfway through, I was so annoyed with it that I ripped the whole thing off.

Damn! And this is the same pair of shoes that I use for court games and for gym as well. I guess all these activities will have to halt till I get a new pair. Any sponsors out there? :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Insufficient Iron...

I went to Adventist Hospital with Chiang Mei and Vincent with the intention to donate blood.

Unfortunately, after drawing some blood for analysis, the nurse came back to be with the news that I only have sufficient hemaglobin for myself, and not enough to donate.
Hence I had to stay at the lobby area while Chiang Mei and Vincent went on with their blood donation.

This is the first time that I have not been able to donate blood. Was a total surprise to me. Hemaglobin.. how to get more of it? I guess one main component would be to get more iron into my body. Searching the web, i came across the site

Seems like i'll hv to reconsider my food choices. Not an easy task as I eat outside most of the time.

But the big big bad news is.... I'll hv to cut down on my coffee consumption. According to the same website:

How to survive without coffee????

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Five minutes too late...

This morning, I joined the Penang Hill Climb competition organized by Kwong Wah Yit Poh. The climb starts from Youth Park and ends at the top of the hill.

The number of participants was astounding... much more than the Hikathon which I participated a few months ago. But a very large percentage of the participants were school kids, so it reminded me of my school time cross-country events. :)

YB Lim Guan Eng made the special trip to the Youth Park to flag off the competition. I guess his popularity is still very high among Penangites as there were thunderous claps when everyone saw him. A few even tracked back to snap photos with him.

We took the tar road all the way so the climb was a bit mundane, but it was challenging as there were many steep sections. The first part was (up to 56) was particularly challenging, which left many of us (myself including) gasping for breath as we took a rest. After an arduous climb, with numerous rest stops in between... I did make the whole climb up to the top. In 125mins... 5 mins later than the 120mins limit set by the organizers for certification. What a bummer!!!

{I did get a cert, actually... maybe I looked so pathetic that the officials took pity, or maybe the officials just gave out all the certs that they have already printed to everyone who completed the climb. I strongly suspect it is the latter).

But looking back, I only have myself to hold responsible for being 5 minutes too late. I managed to push myself to complete the task, but apart from the sore thighs from the steep sections, I also had to battle a lot of negativity can cropped up in my mind. At one point, I was already planning to give up when i reached 84. I even thought of a title for the entry in my blog... "Tackled 56, Defeated at 84". Sounds catchy, right?

But anyway, the point I wanted to make was that I have the willpower to attain what I have aimed. But not a strong enough mind to banish the negative thoughts that arose in the process of achieving what I have set out.

In retrospect, I achieved my goal of reaching the top. With or without the negative thoughts of giving up. Wouldn't it have been a better achievement had I maintained the confidence of reaching my goals throughout the process? 5 minutes is not a long duration. I could have easily shaved it. I wouldn't have taken so many rest stops or the rest stops could have been shorter had I not had to battle the devils in my mind.

And I would have returned being more proud of my cert.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Part 1: Mulu National Park and the Pinnacles!!!

To get to Mulu, we first had to find our way to Miri. We took an AirAsia flight to Miri and then a MasWings flight from Miri to Mulu

Enjoying a cuppa on the plane

Arriving at Miri Airport

We spent a total of four nights in Mulu National Park. 2 nights (the first and the last) at the HQ, and 2 nights at Camp 5 (for the Pinnacles Trail).

Upon arrival at Mulu, we hopped on to a run down van which served as a taxi to get from the Airport to the HQ. We opted for the budget accommodation at the HQ. For those with more dough to spare, there is always the higher class Royal Mulu Resort.

At the Entrance of Mulu National Park HQ

After settling in at the HQ at about 11am, there wasn't much to do as our first cave trip/adventure will only start at 2pm. All tours at Mulu National Park has to be accompanied by Park Guides, and cannot be undertaken by individual groups.

While waiting, we just lazed around the HQ, which houses a well equipped information center. There is a souvenir shop and cafeteria there as well.

Right about 2pm we all gathered at the Main office for the start of our trip to the Deer Cave and Bat Cave. We were first briefed by our guide who was named (you'll never guess it)... 'Undi'! Honest, that's his name.

Undi the guide, giving a short briefing

From the main office, it took us about an hour to walk to the entrance of the Deer and Bat cave. But the trail was easy as the park has put up a raised platform all the way.

The caves were amazing... The expanse of it was just outstanding. As expected, it was dark, cool and not to mention, damp inside the cave. But it was well lit, highlighting amazing limestone features. The amount and variety of the stalactites, stalagmites were outstanding! Not only that the features on the limestone were very interesting as well. But I guess nothing beats the famous 'Abraham Lincoln' limestone formation!

Amazing cave formation

The famous 'Abraham Lincoln' of Mulu

We had very much looked forward to viewing the exodus of bats from the caves that evening. It was said that the bats will swarm out from the cave in the thousands each evening. But alas, due to the rains, the bat decided to stay put in the cave that evening and we left feeling disappointed.

The next morning, we packed up to head for pinnacles trail challenge. We have to make our way to Camp 5 first. The Pinnacles trail takes a full day and that is the reason that we had to spend the night at Camp 5 before waking up early to tackle the climb the next day. From the HQ, we all hopped into a long boat.

All set in the long boat

There is no cafeteria at Camp 5 although a well equipped kitchen is available. It is expected that guests will prepare and cook their own food while staying at the Camp. Unfortunately, we did not find out about this till we were already in Mulu. So we had no choice but to make a stop at one of the villages along to way to stock up on food. And I must warn that the prices of things in Mulu is jacked up like mad! We should have brought in our supplies from Miri. It would have been much much cheaper.

Stocking up at the village store

But that being said, we were still very grateful that we could actually stock up. Else we will have to endure having to live of just the snacks and energy bars that we brought. I guess we really had to count our every single one of our blessings.

On the way, we also stopped at two more caves... Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave. The highlight was a underground river that runs through the Clearwater Cave.

A river that runs through the cave

After going through some shallow waters, we finally arrived a Kuala Litut. Here, we had to continue on foot to Camp 5. We unloaded our stuff (including the supplies that we just bought) and proceeded to hike for 8km to reach Camp 5. Luckily, the trail was quite flat (although we had to be vary of leeches that lurked around). But with a heavy load on our backs, it was still quite a challenge.

Camp 5, our home for the next two nights

Camp 5 is built on a clearing by a river. The view is very picturesque, with mountain ranges on both sides. When we arrived, there was a large group of hikers already there. Apparently, they were from an adventure club based in KL. The started their climb up to the pinnacles that morning, and some of them had already made the trip down and were relaxing at the camp. We chatted with them for a while, and they shared some of their experience of the hike. It really sounded tough!

That evening, there were some commotion at Camp 5 as 7 members of the adventure clubbers were not back yet, despite it being dark already. And the cold rain didn't help at all. Those back at the camp were starting to get worried.

Our guide for the trail the next day, came over to our room and gave us a short briefing. The message from him was loud and clear... the pinnacles trail, although only 2.4km long, is very steep and TOUGH!!! And the hike down is much more challenging that the hike up. He really made us nervous with stories about the hikers who were still not back yet. The trail is rocky, and full of intertwined tree roots. This makes it a very difficult hike down. And it being wet and dark makes it a thousand times worse.... After that 'pep talk' we all got nervous and went to sleep (it was only 8pm that time) determined to wake up early to start the hike so that we don't get trapped up there.
{Fortunately, by 10pm all the previous hikers made it back to the Camp).

The next morning, two guides (Joseph and Andrew) led our team up to the Pinnacles. True enough, the trail was very challenging. For much of the first parts, the trail was steep, and rocky. I had to stop to catch my breath every now and then. After about 2 hours, we reached the 2km mark. It also marked the start of the 'vertical' route. Here, the trails is extremely steep and full of precarious sharp rocks. We had to use ropes, ladders and courageously step over steel bars that function as bridges over deep ravines. I refused to allow myself to weigh in how dangerous it was at that time, but looking back... it really was. One mis-step will cause severe injury. Plus you will still have to make your own way back down the steep trail to get help. What a challenge....

The tough climb up

Catching my breath

Start of the vertical climb

A warning.. please heed

Waiting for my turn at the ropes

A precarious bridge. Slipping brings dire consequences!

But I am glad to say, that all of us successfully made it to the top, to enjoy the breath-taking view of the famous pinnacles. The Pinnacles are natural limestone formations, shaped by nature. After partaking our lunch there, and snapping lots of photos, we proceeded to make our trip down.

And just as everyone said, the trail down is much worse or challenging than the trail up. As the whole mountain is basically just rock, there is not flat area or leaves to cushion your step. We either had to step on rocks or tree roots. After a while, it really felt like every step that I took was a foot reflexology. It was torturous! Just imagine a 3 hour foot reflexology with a super master, and you will get an idea of what i mean.

Hurray, we have reached the peak!

Playing a fool up at the peak

Breath-taking views of the Pinnacles

I was so exhausted and my muscles so over-used that once back at the Camp, I just sat at the bench and didn't move an inch for more than half an hour!!!
But once recovered, I was rewarded with a cool, refreshing bath in the river...

Dead tired!

So, was the view of the Pinnacles worth the pain and exhaustion? Arguably yes (maybe?). Is the pain worth the confidence booster of "if i can do this trail, i can certainly do 'that'"? Definitely, a thousand times YES!

The victorious gang who conquered the Pinnacles

We spent the night, all sleeping like babies at Camp 5 that night. But the next morning, we all woke up to a severe case of muscle-aches all over. But despite that, we still had to carry our backpacks and make the 8km hike out of Camp 5 where the long boats were waiting to take us back to HQ.

That evening, we braved our muscle aches to make the 1 hour walk to the bat observatory. And we were rewarded with the amazing view of bats swarming out of the cave. It was a truly spectacular sight that is not to be missed!!!