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Saturday, March 03, 2001

Retracing the steps of Low (Sabah)

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah Society is set to stage one of the most unusual expeditions, dubbed "Following The Footsteps of Sir Hugh Low," from March 7 to 12.

The extraordinary attempt via Low's original route from Kampung Kiau Nulu is a reminder to the world that it is first and foremost a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the first proven climb of the summit of Mt Kinabalu in 1851.

Also, it is a fitting tribute to Low, whom the late Tom Harrison called a "real hero of Kinabalu," who achieved that groundbreaking feat on March 11, 1851.

"Not only did he climb it first, but he did it twice more within a few years, each time with enormous difficulties," Harrison wrote in the book, KINABALU Summit of Borneo. The nine-member expedition, including three doctors, is led by well-known gynaecologist and obstetrician, Dr Chin Shui Hiung.

The other expeditioneers are Dr Ravi Mandalam, a radiologist, Dr Liew Hong Bang, a general physician, Christopher Chin, a lawyer and solicitor, Tengku Soraya Puteri, a finance executive, Adlin Hong, a bank officer, Vicky Ng, a personal assistant, Catherine Chu, a teacher based in Kota Belud and journalist Kan Yaw Chong.

Said Dr Chin: "This is one way to make the public aware of what a priceless natural heritage we have so that it continues to be preserved for our future generations, especially now that it has been named a World Heritage Site."

"It also enables Sabah Society members to see, appreciate and study the vast biodiversity of the flora and hopefully the fauna as well along this unspoiled route," Dr Chin added.

After 1924, the original Hugh Low route was not used by other climbers again mainly because of its "scary" and "toilsome" terrain.

"We also want to highlight Mt Kinabalu both nationally and internationally in order to help promote ecotourism," said Dr Chin.

Of permanent significance is the GPS charting and mapping work going to be carried out during this trip to establish an accurate route for future reference, noted Dr Chin.

"Sir Hugh Low left behind no absolute record of exactly what route he took. But we'll try to get as close as possible where he went based on some general hints in his reports of his ascents," said Dr Chin.

For example, an excerpt from a friend of Low: "Our course was at first nearly east up the sub-spur of a great buttress. The walking was severe, from the constant and abrupt ascents and descents, and the narrowness of the path when it ran along the sides of the hill, where it was but a breadth of the foot."

Low reported protracted "steep" climbs and at times, "frightful."

And none of the present expedition members have been there before.

"There is a big unknown factor. We don't know exactly what the terrain involved. So, the feeling of everybody carries a sense of scepticism," Dr Chin said.

"Looking at the contour maps available, it suggests the going is tough, dangerous and a lot of endurance involved.

"We obviously need stamina but I think endurance is the key factor because there is a lot of steep climbing to do and at certain stretches, we may have to use ropes," he said.

For instance, one section of the climb before Paka Cave involves walking across a rock face.

"That's a dangerous part," said Eric Wong, former Kinabalu Park Warden and now Director of Enforcement of Sabah Parks.

Aware of what entails, Dr Chin said: "We know the dangers and risks, that one wrong step may create disaster. So, we got to be very, very careful."

Even after Paka Cave, the group will not follow precisely the main tourist trail. After Panar Laban, they will take the steep rock face where Low originally may have used.

"We'll tackle that if weather permits. If the weather is wet, the guides will not allow us to attempt it," Dr Chin said.

"On the other hand, if the weather is dry, we'll go up but they allow that on condition that we use ropes," he added.

Luckily, the group has the service of one of Kinabalu Park's most competent mountain guides in Martin Moguring who was one of two key local members of the joint Malaysian-British Low's Gully Expedition in 1998.

So, Dr Chin is quite confident.

"The group is keen and rearing to go. They are prepared physically and mentally with a lot of team spirit and team dynamic so that we can travel as a group," he said.

Under Dr Liew, the team underwent regular training at the steep hills of Bukit Padang over the last few weeks with specific fitness targets to meet.

As one of the last endurance preparation, the group did a marathon walk up and down Bukit Tivung, the highest hill in the hinterlands of Penampang.

As a result, every one of them is as fit as a fiddle.

The group, together with at least 20 other Sabah Society members, will proceed to Kg Kiau on March 6, where they will stay overnight for a social gathering before Society President Tengku Datuk Dr Adlin who will flag them off on the morning of March 7, after a sacrificial ritual to slaughter seven white fowls to be officiated by a local high priest.

Source: Daily Express

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