Braving Mt Kinabalu months after earthquake

Ex-colleagues (from left) Tan Ken Li, Ang Chee Leng and Adrian Kok are among the latest from Singapore to climb Mount Kinabalu. The earthquake there killed 18 in June.
Ex-colleagues (from left) Tan Ken Li, Ang Chee Leng and Adrian Kok are among the latest from Singapore to climb Mount Kinabalu. The earthquake there killed 18 in June.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ADRIAN KOK

Singaporeans climb Sabah mountain again after reopening; new, safer trail in the works

Nineteen Singaporeans have made their way up Mount Kinabalu in the past month. This was after the popular peak in Sabah reopened after it was closed for a time following an earthquake that claimed 18 lives there in June.

Among the latest to make the climb was marketing executive Tan Ken Li, 26, who scaled the mountain on Sept 25 with two former colleagues. The trio took the 6km trail from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata, where climbers usually rest before heading to the summit.

This trail was less affected by the June 5 earthquake than the alternative Mesilau trail. 

Ms Tan noticed many rocks along the trail, but noted that most of them did not appear to be loose. 

She said: "They seemed stable, like they had been there for a long time. If I hadn't known, I wouldn't have imagined there was an earthquake a couple of months back." 

Mount Kinabalu was closed for almost three months, after a 5.9-magnitude quake hit its western side and caused massive rockfalls. A part of the trail leading up to Laban Rata, at 3,272m, was reopened to climbers on Sept 1. 

The remaining portion, to Low's Peak, the highest point of the mountain at 4,095m, will stay closed until the year end while a new and safer trail up to the peak is created. 

Even though the route to the summit remains closed, Ms Tan decided to go ahead with the climb, which features on her bucket list.

She said: "We always wanted to climb Mount Kinabalu, and made plans to do so earlier this year. Sadly, the earthquake happened."

She said they decided to carry on with their trip despite concerns raised by their families.

According to Sabah Parks, more than 1,100 climbers, including 700 foreigners, have trekked up the mountain since the reopening.

Before the closure, it saw 5,000 to 6,000 climbers a month.

The authorities are now working out an alternative route to the summit from Laban Rata, to circumvent the risk of rockfalls.

The new trail, recommended by local agencies and foreign mountaineering experts, will be situated at a higher, steeper elevation than the previous route, which was declared unsafe after the quake. Work on the new route began late last month and is expected to be completed by the end of next month. When ready, it might prove to be a longer and more challenging climb for visitors. 

Kinabalu Park manager Yassin Miki said the route would not be affected should there be rockfalls.

During the earthquake in June, rocks - some the size of houses - rained down on climbers. Ten Singaporeans were among those killed.

The 10 who died were seven pupils from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS), two teachers and a Singaporean adventure guide.

Families of the victims and survivors from the school plan to scale the mountain on June 5 next year, the anniversary of the tragedy.

Some have already started their preparations, including looking up flights to Kota Kinabalu, checking out insurance plans and designing training plans. 

Ms Quek I-Gek, 42, the marketing director of Mountain Torq, which operates the Via Ferrata trek that the TKPS pupils were on, noted that the new trail would give hikers a scenic view of Mount Kinabalu.

Its trainers, some of whom were leading the TKPS pupils when the quake struck, are trying to move on.

"They were born and bred in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. Although the quake has shaken them, it has also given them a greater respect for nature," said Ms Quek.

"Now, they are back up the mountain, where they feel the most comfortable. Life goes on for them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Braving Mt Kinabalu months after earthquake'. Print Edition | Subscribe