Altitude Sickness & Health

One of the most common common reasons why people cannot make it to the summit of Mount Kinabalu is altitude sickness. It is a make or break factor. (Read more here.) When you suffer from altitude sickness, your climb is going to be really really tough (or near to impossible) unless you take proper medicine.

Therefore, regardless how, you need to get altitude sickness pills ready before the climb. From my experience, 2-3 persons out of a group of eight persons suffer altitude sickness.

Please remember to buy more pills than your own needs. You are bound to have teammates who believe (without basis) that they are the chosen one to be spared by altitude sickness, refuse to bring medicines and ultimately, by chance (so unfortunately), suffer from altitude sickness.

I bought altitude sickness pills from Caring Pharmacy. The pharmacist sold me Acetazolamide. Below is my experience.

My first Climb

I pointed two fingers on my head as mark to
indicate I started to feel dizzy.
In my first climb, my dizziness started at 3KM or 2,455 meter above sea level. I remember this because, for the purpose of future reference, I actually took a photo then pointing 2 fingers to my head.

Later, I found out from wiki on altitude sickness : " It commonly occurs above 2,400 metres (8,000 feet)." Pretty accurate.

At 5KM, I had problem maintaining my balance walking properly on the rocky trail. I packed my camera into my backpack and stopped taking photo. I could not do anything else other than concentrating on walking and dealing with dizziness.

At Waras Hut, just a few steps away from Laban Rata, I lost my balance, slipped and fell on the ground. Fortunately, I did not hurt my legs or knock my head.

Slowly, especially when it near Laban Rata, every exertion of movement seemed to cause a rush of blood pumping up into my head. At Laban Rata, I could only sit quietly at cafeteria. Every movement caused shortness of breath and sensation like pressure of blood bursting my head. I just cannot move and cannot do anything other than resting.

Before the climb, two colleagues in previous group who suffered altitude sickness told me they vomited. So I guessed I was not so bad after all.

Finally I conceded, I took a pill for altitude sickness, went to sleep after cleaning up myself and dinner. When I woke up for the night climb to summit, everything seemed okay. I decided not to take altitude sickness pill during the supper before the climb.

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During the night climb, way before reaching Sayat Sayat, the altitude sickness bothered me again. After climbing the ledge, syndromes of "short of breath" and "blood-rush-head" caused me finally to sit down and rest. It was really bad. Those who are familiar with jogging or any other form of long distance activities know that one should not sit down in the middle of a jog, climb, etc. But I can no longer continue without taking a rest. And I took two more altitude sickness pills!

It was a real tough climb before and after Sayat Sayat check point. At that point, I was the second last among all the climbers of that night. The girl who trailed behind me was climbing without a touch light. However, I was so thankful that one of my teammates, Junious, was patiently accompanying me.

After Sayat Sayat checkpoint, I was so weak and, at one point, I crawled on the uphill trail. While crawling, I saw a few rats or may be squirrels. Yes, on the rocky face of mountain summit.

Before the climb, I have checked with many climbers, a few of them told me the toughest part of the climb was the steep walk after Sayat Sayat check point. I call that stretch of trail  the "point of regrets" because many told me that, at that point, they actually feeling sorry and regret to climb Mount Kinabalu!! Well, I did not feel that way, but I did feel regret to bring my SLR camera that had become so heavy in my backpack weighing me down.

At about 5pm, near Donkey Ears Peak, I was still crawling and struggling with altitude sickness. The mountain guide told my teammate that I could not make it. I was too tired to be bothered by his advice to quit. I crawled, finally, stopped, turned to my side and back, laid on the rocky face and looked at the starry night sky. It was beautiful. The night was so dark and the stars were so shining twinkling bright. The girl trailed behind overtake us. A while later, dawn broke. That was the magical moment, my altitude sickness syndromes suddenly disappeared. At that moment I believed that, just like Ultraman, it was the sun that gave me energy and cured me from altitude sickness. But later, I think it was most likely due to the two pills that I took earlier.

The amazing dawn break near Donkey Ears Peak.

I wrote this in my FB "This was the place Junious and I saw the dawn break and I first realized my altitude problem was gone, and I told Junious 'come let's take photo' and took out my camera, energetically.

Earlier I was 'forced' to lying down on the rock face to rest (for every few moves) and to looking at starry night."

I was excited with my new found energy. Junious and I simply walked up to Low's Peak, taking many photo along the way, without fuss. It was just that simple.

At approximately 7.30am we reached the peak, being the last among the climbers of that day. No problem, I am grateful.

My second climb

I took altitude sickness pill before the climb to Laban Rata and before the night climb to the peak.

In my first climb, I blamed all the toughness of climbing on having altitude sickness. In my second climb, I realised even without altitude sickness, it was still a real tough climb at "point of regrets".

Other health issues

  • Common minor injuries in climbing Mt Kinabalu includes sprained ankle and knees pains. You need to train to hike for at least a few time before the attempt to climb Mt Kinabalu. This is to ensure your body learn to avoid these minor injuries.
  • Let your body get use to climbing upward and descending downward.
  • Shoes are important, choose wisely. Avoid bad shoes
  • Some may get headache at night at Laban Rata, so take panadol before sleep.
  • Take Panadol when experience slight headache
  • Avoid climbing Mount Kinabalu if you have these sicknesses

Read more on "Guides on How to climb Mount Kinabalu?"

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