High altitude, right attitude

Rescue unit: The SAR-HAT members on Mount Kinabalu.

KOTA KINABALU: The country now has a dedicated centre for high altitude training with the opening of the Mount Kinabalu High Altitude Training (HAT) Centre in Ranau district.

The centre, the first of its kind in Malaysia, is set to help train climbers on safety features and better prepare them for their mountain climbing expeditions, said Sabah Parks director Maklarin Lakim.

He said the centre could further promote Mount Kinabalu as a destination for avid climbers and newbies wanting to train for either normal climbs or even more challenging climbs.

Although the HAT is open to the public, it will only allow climbers to scale the mountain according to their experience and capabilities, and documents are needed to prove this.

“The climbers’ quota is based on the availability of facilities and as for now, the centre is operational but still in the process of improving amenities such as accommodation and water supply,” said Maklarin.

Unlike the usual climb that ascends to Low’s Peak, the high-altitude training will cover several peaks and trails, including Alexandra, Victoria, Oyayubi Iwu and Gurkha Hut, but for now, the HAT only covers the Gurkha Hut.

The centre was launched in phases in conjunction with the launching of the Mount Kinabalu Search-and-Rescue High Altitude Team (SAR-HAT) in Kundasang recently.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew, who was present at the SAR-HAT launch, said Sabah was fortunate to have Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia and South-East Asia (4,095m).

“This makes it a perfect place for acclimatisation and training for climbers before they ascend higher mountains, including Mount Everest,” she said.

She congratulated Sabah Parks, the custodian of Mount Kinabalu, for taking proactive steps in establishing the SAR-HAT which consists of 20 members from the Sabah Parks Rescue Team, six from the Fire and Rescue Department and four mountain guides.

“These three teams serve as the first responders in the event of accidents on the mountain, supported by the police, the Air Operations Force and the Health Ministry,” Liew said.

She said this team was formed to strengthen mountain rescue operations and serve as a preparatory measure for the opening of high-altitude climbing on Mount Kinabalu.

On issues regarding the different training aspects for mountain climbing, Mountain Search and Rescue (Mosar) chief for Mount Kinabalu, Ridwan Mohd Taib, said for Mount Kinabalu first-timers, it was best that they attend at least two to three months of proper physical training first.

He said for any heights above 2,500m, one would start suffering from acute mountain sickness which could cause symptoms such as delusion, nausea, fatigue and other discomfort.

“That is why most climbers are asked to first stay overnight on the foothills of the mountain at Kundasang to get used to the high altitude and cooler weather,” said Ridwan, who is also the Ranau fire station chief.

“I am sure the condition at other higher mountains such as Mount Everest will be more difficult and there has to be more intense and lengthy preparations to go through.”

Veteran Malaysian Mount Everest climber T. Ravichandran is among those who love using Mount Kinabalu as their training ground before heading for more challenging climbs.

He said it was vital that each climber be well prepared physically and mentally before going for more dangerous expeditions, because up there, they would be faced with far more challenges.

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