Tuesday 17 October 2017

Mount Kinabalu: The sacred - and dangerous - mountain

Tourists walk away from Mount Kinabalu hours after a magnitude 5.9 earthquake shook the area in Kundasang, Sabah, Malaysia
Tourists walk away from Mount Kinabalu hours after a magnitude 5.9 earthquake shook the area in Kundasang, Sabah, Malaysia

Aine Fox

To the local community living at its foot, Mount Kinabalu is seen as the resting place of their ancestors.

The mountain, the highest between the Himalayas and New Guinea, sits in Kinabalu Park which became a Unesco World Heritage site in 2000.

Read more here: University graduate faces jail over naked photos on mountain  

The Kadazan and Dusun communities have long held the mountain as a sacred place.

According to the Global Diversity Foundation, locals believe their loved ones must be buried facing the landmark when they die so their spirits can see the mountain as they start their journey to the afterlife.

Read more here: British tourist faces jail over naked photos on mountain 

The charity said: "Although many have since embraced formal religions, Mount Kinabalu is still a venerated sacred place, a source of their identity and spirituality."

The establishment of the park in the 1960s restricted access for villagers, and the mountain's popularity with tourists grew.

Traveller manual Rough Guides said: "Although there are other hikes within the park, the prospect of reaching the summit fires the imagination of Malaysian and foreign tourists alike."

Since 2010, an annual pilgrimage has been made by local villagers during which a ritual known as monolob is performed, asking the mountain spirit to keep those who climb it safe.

In recent years, efforts have been made to gather knowledge and history from elders to ensure the mountain's traditions are not forgotten by the younger generations.

Mount Kinabalu, which can be seen from the west coast, is revered by locals as "aki nabalu" or the home of the spirits of the dead. It dominates the 290 square miles of Kinabalu National Park.

It sits in a region which boasts powerful ecology, flora and geology.

The impressive sights from Mount Kinabalu's 13,435ft peak entices tens of thousands of climbers but there is also danger in the beauty.

Read more here: 'Naked climbers' held in Malaysia 

German tourist Victoria Paulsen, 22, died after falling around 100ft down a rocky surface from Low's Peak, the highest point in Kinabalu last year.

It is named after Sir Hugh Low, a British colonial administrator who made the first climb in 1851.

He did not manage to make it to the summit. This was achieved by zoologist John Whitehead in 1888. The summit trail through luxuriant jungle foliage is now a big tourist attraction.

The weather can make the tough trek, along with any rescue attempt which may have to be launched, more challenging.

Read more here: Malaysia quake death toll rises 

The body of Briton Ellie James, 17, who was lost in a storm on Mt Kinabalu in August 2001, was discovered at the base of a steep rock face.

Rescue teams, who scoured the peaks and gullies around the summit only to be beaten back by tropical storms and by dense swirling mist, had been frustrated by six days of bad weather which hid her location.

A threatening mix of lashing rain, gales and temperatures that plunged to below freezing at night made exposure a danger.

A 10-man British Army team survived for 29 days after becoming stranded in a narrow ravine in 1994.

Rescuers described the soldiers, who had been on a training expedition, as being trapped "like a spider in the bathtub".

The men were stuck between two giant waterfalls and had written "SOS" in pebbles . Steep cliffs stopped a helicopter landing and a thick mist from the mountain peak had begun to flood the ravine. Stretchers had to be winched down from the helicopter.

Press Association

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