[This is a guest post by Simon Chan, a travel blogger and one of my blogging workshop participants. All pictures in this blogpost are supplied by Simon]
Great Shots Should Never End in Tragedy: Safety considerations you need to know when climbing Mount Kinabalu
The hiking community in Singapore and Malaysia were saddened to learn about the hiking tragedy that took place at Mount Kinabalu on Monday (10 Feb 2014). The peak of Borneo is a very popular climb among the hikers in this region and astounding views await those who overcome all 4,095 metres (13,435 ft) to reach the summit.
Victoria Paulsen was doing what most adventurers do at some point in their hikes. She was probably drawn to that special photographic angle that would make her hike something different from everyone else’s. According to news reports, she crossed a safety barrier at the summit of Mount Kinabalu, slipped and fell, and her pursuit of the one unique image ended in unimaginable tragedy.
Paulsen was just 22.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu is not always the easiest of experiences. It is a climb that is popular with locals and tourists alike, but you have to be in better-than-average physical shape to really trek up this mountain properly. You don’t need to have any specialized gear most of the time to reach the summit beyond being appropriately dressed for the weather and having a good pair of hiking boots. It is also good if you know how to use a guide rope to your advantage (nearing the summit).
You should also have some idea about how mountain conditions can change. The best time to climb Mount KK is during March to August while end of the year (November and December) brings heavy rainfall. When the mountain gets wet, the mountain gets slick. Even with anchors in place, a slick mountain is not a hiker’s best friend.
The quest to get a great photograph is not worth the price of a life. In keeping with that thought, we thought we’d provide some tips [or reminders!] of how to take unique, stunning shots without placing your life at risk to get that perfect image.
1) Don’t Ignore Safety Barriers
Safety barriers are put up for a reason. It’s like a warning label: they exist because something happened to someone at some point in time or the potential for harm is very great. Don’t cross a safety barrier because you think nothing will happen! It only takes one moment or one unexpected set of circumstances for everything to go tragically wrong. You can still get a great shot behind a safety barrier!
2) You Can Never Prepare Too Much For a Climb
Mount Kinabalu might not need any specialized climbing equipment to reach the summit, but that doesn’t mean mountain conditions up there won’t change when you are up there exploring. Take a look at the history of the mountain or other region you’re preparing to explore to make sure you know what could happen when you are exposed. Just because something hasn’t happened for a decade doesn’t mean it won’t happen this year when you are out on an adventure!
3) Give Yourself Plenty of Time
Accidents tend to happen when photographers begin rushing around. As soon as you start rushing to get a shot, thoughts of safety become fleeting at best. Climbing Mount KK for the average person should take two days – one to get up the mountain and one day to get down for most people. Plan for an extra day after that so that you can have a buffer of time, instead of being stressed out by thoughts of rushing for that flight home.
For longer trekking adventures, a two day buffer is usually good to have just in case the weather becomes a problem or you just don’t feel good for some reason on one of the days. What’s the worst case scenario? That you get to have another mini-adventure after your planned itinerary is completed!
Check out Grace’s blog post on what else to do in Kota Kinabalu.
It’s true that Mount Kinabalu can be explored in its entirety in just one day, but patience is a virtue especially when you are planning to take amazing shots. Allow for more time to get great shots and they will appear!
4) Remember To Bring Water
It is a hard lesson that is only ignored once. Even if you are taking a tour and the brochure states that they will provide you with water, pack your own too! It’s better to have too much water than not enough.
5) Always Travel With Someone
When it comes to safety, more eyes are always better. Paulsen was reportedly climbing with some friends (and a guide) and that’s a good thing. The type of friend to bring along with you is the friend that will prevent you from making a bad decision in the quest for the perfect shot. They need to be willing to say “Don’t climb over that safety rail!” and work hard to make sure you aren’t your own worst enemy. Yesterday’s events prove, however, that sometimes having a good friend just isn’t good enough.
6) Always Tell Someone Else Where You’re Going… And When You’ll Return
The unexpected can strike at any time. It often happens, in fact, when we least expect something to happen! Some people have climbed Mount Kinabalu dozens of times and know the landscape like the back of their hand. That doesn’t mean a loose rock won’t cause a turned ankle and leave them unable to walk off the mountain!
By telling someone what your itinerary is, you are protecting yourself in case something does happen and you get stranded with no way to communicate. When you don’t report back in, your trusted someone can relay your itinerary to the search authorities and you will have a better chance of being found safe and sound.
Losing someone we love is always difficult. Together let us make sure that we as hikers stay safe as we enjoy our trekking adventures so that tragedies like Victoria Paulsen’s don’t have to be repeated.