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By Nancy Nais
ALTHOUGH it was a wonderful hike and by far the longest stretch of path I have ever been on, nothing came close to this Mount Santubong for its challenging trail and adventurous experience.
While Mount Santubong summit 1 is not very tall, standing at 810 meters (2,658ft) with an elevation gain of about 2,663ft, it is rated as hard.
It is not exactly a beginner’s climb with all the sheer rock surfaces, extremely steep and vertical slopes that require you to climb over aluminum ladders while using tree roots as stepping stones.
Located at Damai Peninsular some 35 minutes drive from Kuching city, Mount Santubong provides a spectacular backdrop for several local hotel resorts, fishing villages, and the renowned Sarawak Cultural Village.
To start conquering it, hikers are required to register at the Sarawak Forestry Corporation park office just below the foothill.
Open from 7am, the park imposes cut-off time by noon to ensure safety of hikers who must start their descend from the summit and reach the park office before dark.
From the starting point, there are two main trails which hikers can chose, either the loop trail which is only 2.5km and rated easy for me or head to the F7 view point and proceed to the summit view point at F15.
The distance from park office to F7 is about 2.6km which requires 1.5 hours to complete with difficulty levels of 3 to 5.
Most of this section is through lush rainforest with bridges, small stream to cross and a descent to a creek with a slim waterfall.
The last leg from F7 to F15 is about 1.3km but do not take the distance for granted.
This is the part that I considered as ‘killing’ because it requires at least 2.5 hours of hiking time due to extremely steep trails with difficulty levels of 7 to 9 because hikers must climb at least 21 aluminum ladders to reach the summit.
The whole path from F7 onward was indeed tougher where I had to rely on ropes and exposed tree roots as foot and hand holds.
This section was all uphill with several tall boulders and sheer rock faces with ropes and ladders to help on the way.
I am grateful that the park had built some rest stops from here which undoubtedly were very much needed as the strain of the climb had hugely affected my lungs as well as legs.
Surrounding these rest stops, there were spectacular views of the landscape below.
The final stretch which took away the last ounces of my energy to scramble to the top was the almost upright rock surface.
Upon stepping on the summit and seeing the signboard, I could feel the adrenaline surge in me screaming ‘I made it’.
By the way, it took me exactly one year to consider and finally dared to climb this mountain, despite being a regular hiking enthusiast who treks mainly in search of waterfalls on weekends.
After 30 minutes of rest with coffee and butter cakes, it suddenly occurred to me that the journey was not over.
It was time for descent and that gave me immense panic as I thought back of the journey heading up. What about going down?
As I was descending with trembling feet, I was gripping onto every rock, root, and ladder step I could reach with my dear life.
In order not to slip or end up sliding down accidentally, I had to hike down backwards at many points between F15 to F7.
It was mentally and physically challenging.
Despite the challenges, I must say that Mount Santubong summit was fun and adventurous.
There is always the danger of slipping and falling or sustaining minor injuries on this trail, so it is advisable to have some level of hiking training before embarking on this particular climb.
Again, Mount Santubong is not for beginners, so never hike alone. Always go with a friend or a small group. Bring enough water and some light food, carry basic medical supplies which may come in handy and wear proper jungle hiking shoes with good grip for slippery surfaces.
If you are afraid of heights, you may want to reconsider.
Never mind about the rain though. After all, being in the nature means appreciating them as much as you can.
If you still choose to conquer this mountain, then start your climb as early as 7am so that you can get back to the base before late afternoon and in the event of sudden thunderstorms which tend to happen throughout the year.