Ulp. It's an Alp.
When a mountain makes it onto the state flag, you know it’s a big old mountain. And Mount Kinabalu, which stands over 4000m above Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, is certainly that.
The nine year old and I will be climbing it on Wednesday and Thursday. (Well, hiking, technically, albeit with the odd bit of rope and head-torch action.)
And every time I see the bloody thing looming up, I wonder whether this is a good idea. Particularly since one part of Z’s incentive package for the summit climb is that I am giving up smoking.
Not for the first time, it has to be said, but hopefully for the last.
The logic was, basically, this. Up a mountain it will be impossible to buy fags and, most likely, impossible to ponce any. Plus, it’s hard enough to breathe at 4000 metres without adding smokes to the mix. Giving me a built-in 48 hour detox.
In theory, the sense of achievement at climbing the mountain combined with doing so sans my morning, noon and evening nicotine fix will make this giving up more, well, lasting than the last. Eat your heart out, Allan Carr.
However, as the fateful day looms ever closer, my perspective is beginning to shift.
Now, it’s a fairly well-known fact that nicotine is at least as addictive as heroin. (Thank god we don’t inject, eh?) And, while coming off nicotine doesn’t quite compare to cold turkey a la Trainspotting, it’s not necessarily conducive to a good-tempered ascent of a mountain.
Or good-tempered anything, in fact.
Particularly not when day 2 begins with a 2am or 3am wakeup call to make the summit a) for sunrise and b) before the cloud comes in. (If it’s raining when we wake, we won’t try for the summit. Odds are we won’t see jack, plus temperatures get close to freezing up there and Z has nothing by way of body fat to counteract hypothermia.)
He has never been any good at early mornings. This was an unalloyed blessing through infancy and early childhood. It made getting up for school a bit of a bugger. But the irritating smugness when friends babbled on about how their kids had had them up since 5am did, kind of, make up for it.
Nonetheless, waking Z up for any mission more strenuous than “put on clothes, brush teeth, don pack, retain consciousness until on bus/boat/train [delete as appropriate]” requires a degree of “wakey-wakey, rise and shine” jollity and Mary Poppins niceness which doesn’t go too well with nicotine withdrawal. Or, I would imagine, aching thighs.
This is before we get to the vertigo. I have it. Z doesn’t. It’s associative. Which means that if he does anything remotely stupid near an edge I will be either rigid with fear or shrieking like a banshee. Or both, of course.
And physical fitness. Z is, arguably, now fitter than I am. Not when it comes to the packhorse stuff. Lugging 20-odd kilos of backpack around South-East Asia does do something for one’s fitness.
While we can both walk pretty long distances over tough terrain, he steams up hills ahead of me. Whereas, due partly to the old fagaroonies and partly to sheer bloody age, I have a tendency to puff.
Bolstered by the prospect of a) a non-smoking mother (a prospect about which he is, quietly, sceptical) b) unlimited sugar and caffeine en route (yeah, yeah, I know you’re supposed to do dried fruit but I find Mentos, Cadbury’s Eclairs and endless cans of Coke work perfectly well, thank you) and c) virtual tokens for the MMORPG of his choice, he seems fairly relaxed about the mountain.
I, on the other hand, am beginning to dread it.
Which brings me to wonder. Why, precisely, are we doing this?
Wayull… Take a look at the top of that mountain. It’s a surreal landscape. You can see all the way across the South China Sea to Palawan, in the Philippines, where we were some months ago, on a clear day. The ascent leads through a myriad different microclimates, past dramatic waterfalls and orchid zones.
And, also, there’s that sense of achievement. That summit sense. The “we made it” sense. The feeling of pushing at – oh god, who am I kidding? – beyond one’s physical comfort zone and achieving something, not remarkable in the grand scheme of things, but remarkable for us. Which, hopefully, the boy and I will remember till the ends of our lives.
And, fingers crossed, we’ll remember it in a good way. Anywise, I’ll keep you posted…