Mostly Mental

Part 1

Part 2

Mount Kinabalu climbing experience, part 3

When they turned the lights out I knew right away I wouldn’t fall asleep. First, I was cold. Actually, my feet were freezing and since my socks were sopping wet I couldn’t put them on. Second, one of our bunkmates was snoring. Third, another bunkmate had a cold, which included a hacking cough and constant blowing of his nose. Fourth, someone else kept getting up and leaving the room. I assumed he was having stomach issues, but never clarified. Seconds ticked by. As did the minutes and hours. Before I was ready, they were waking us up. 1:30 a. m. and I didn’t get a wink of sleep.

As I sat down for a cup of tea and some toast I learned that no one, besides the snorer, had slept. One woman admitted she briefly considered staying in bed and skipping the climb to the summit. I had the same thought and confessed. Secretly I wanted her to say, “Let’s do it.” She didn’t.

Our guide arrived at 2. It was time to begin the final ascent. Surprisingly, my legs felt good. I was ready. 2.7 kilometers—no problem!

I put my wet boots on and my headlamp. The temperature was cold, but not uncomfortable. I stopped to gaze at the moon. Seriously, we were climbing in the middle of the night. How fun!

Right away we started climbing stairs. Great, more effin stairs. There was a stream of climbers. I passed some. Many more passed me. No worries, the guide said I had plenty of time to get to the summit before sunrise. One step at a time. At first I struggled with my headlamp. I couldn’t get it to point down at my feet so I could see where I was going. It took some finagling, but I worked it out.

Stairs and more stairs. I was sick and tired of stairs. Suddenly the stairs were gone. Now I had to hold onto a rope. Why do I have to hold onto a rope? What? They wanted me to hang from the side of the mountain holding onto a rope so I wouldn’t crash to my death. Were they flipping insane? And it was pitch black out. What happened to the stairs? I missed the stairs. I would never complain about them again.

Photo taken later in the day to show the steepness.

Photo taken later in the day to show the steepness.

Slowly I inched my way along the rope. Many of us were terrified and stopped constantly. The muscles in my upper body burned. Yet fear kept me holding on. Even when someone pulled the rope too tight, smashing my left hand against the rock. I knew there was blood, but I couldn’t see the damage. I could only feel the pain. I didn’t want to let go of the rope.

We got past the rope bit, and the ascent wasn’t as tough. There was a slope, but at least I didn’t have to pull myself up by a rope anymore. Not all of my problems disappeared. I hadn’t expected the altitude to get too me. I used to live in the Rocky Mountains. I thought I would be fine. Yet I found that I was getting dizzy and couldn’t breathe. Each step was a struggle. I reached a point where I could only walk ten steps and then stop. Each time I would count the steps and then rest. Over and over I had to do this. When I stopped I would look back and see a line of headlamps. So many people were behind us slowly moving forward. The sight was incredible to see. Surreal even. However I couldn’t take any photos. Actually I should mention that for this part of the climb I didn’t have my camera. All the photos in this post were taken by the Better Half, who wasn’t struggling at all. Yet at the time it was still too dark for photos.

Soon I can see the top of the summit.


Photo taken after the sunrise.

Thank goodness. I concentrated. Ten steps. Ten more. Yet I didn’t seem to get any closer to the top. It was like someone was pulling a carpet and the top kept getting further and further away from me. Frustration set in. Anger. I wanted to turn around. Looking back I realized how far I had come. And how far I had to travel back. Swearing I continued the trek. Ten steps at a time. The dizziness got worse. I started to see flashes of light. Shaking my head I tried to focus on the ground in front of me. Ten steps.

It started to get light out.

Time was ticking if I wanted to see the sunrise. I needed my body to forget the pain. Forget that I was gasping for air. Just move forward. That was all it had to do. That was when the mental bit sprung to action. For me to finish what I started I had to think I

Our wonderful guide

Our wonderful guide

could do it. Success depended on tiny actions, the rest was mental. Not saying a word to anyone I followed my guide. He showed me where to put my feet. My mental powers moved my legs in place. The summit was rocky. There were times I was on my hands and knees pulling my tired bones up. Now I don’t remember feeling any pain. Maybe I didn’t feel any at the time. I just kept moving forward. One step at a time.

Then I saw it. The sunrise. Isn’t it beautiful?

What? I wasn’t at the top. But I pointed to the sunrise. I was watching the sunrise and it was amazing. I looked down at all the poor climbers who missed their opportunity. I made it. The guide pointed up. There was more to actually reach the summit. I waved the preposterous idea away. For me this counted.

All the specks you see are people still making their way up.

All the specks you see are people still making their way up.

Not for the guide. He literally pulled me off the ground. Groaning I followed. It wasn’t much further, but I did make it all the way to the top. Yes! The view!

It was 6 o’clock in the morning and I was standing on the top of a mountain. Most people were still in bed, but I just climbed a mountain. I was a superhero. I looked down triumphantly.


Oh shit! I still had to hike all the way down. Over 8 kilometers. And our ride was picking us up at the base of the mountain at 3 p. m. I had already climbed for 4 hours. I had at least 6 more hours to go before I could call it quits. I wanted to cry.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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81 Responses to Mostly Mental

  1. Oh I was cheering for you there as I read it and felt rather emotional when I saw the photos! Well done you, what an amazing achievement. Mind you, I was also thinking…now they’ve got to go all the way back down again and that really hurts too 😦

  2. congratulations, your dogged determination is an inspiration

  3. Daniel says:

    I had never considered that after climbing a mountain, you would still have to climb all the way back down! That one detail never crossed my mind! I’m glad to know you had a successful climb though – patiently awaiting part four!


  4. Wow, I think that was your best post ever!! You had suspense, emotion, and humour all tied up in one, and I was on the edge of my seat. I am so proud of you :). To make it to the top and have all those people still climbing behind you is an incredible feat. I know there is no way I could do it, so I bow down to your determination and endurance! Oh, and by the way, you never gave me the choking warning again as I almost spit out my cereal over the “oh shit” sentence because I was laughing so hard :).

  5. Mjollnir says:

    Well done and I don’t doubt you’d have regretted it forever if you hadn’t gone to the top! 🙂

  6. You were indeed a superhero! Wow, I was getting short of breath just reading that. Lovely pictures and even more lovely memories. The part that got to me the most was the wet socks. Is there anything more uncomfortable than cold, wet socks. Ugh!

    • TBM says:

      For the next two days I was conducting surgery on all the blisters the wet socks and shoes gave me. Thank goodness I packed a first aid kit.

  7. Altitude Sickness. HATE! And the problem is, you don’t know you have it until…you cross some magic invisible line you never crossed before and then it is too late. Great climb. Excellent fortitude,.

    • TBM says:

      Thanks Robert. This was my first experience dealing with altitude sickness and yes, I hate it. I was amazed by how awful I felt and how weak I felt.

  8. lokastromma1 says:

    I am struggling with a fear of getting out my front door and here you are scaling summits. You are an inspiration.

    • TBM says:

      Thanks. And I wish you luck and courage dealing with your fear. What I learned from this experience is you can accomplish a lot by taking one step at a time.

  9. Bravo! No doubt the view from the top was spectacular. I am content to experience your ascent vicariously….

  10. Meanderer says:

    Your account of your climb is so vivid – I felt every step, every difficult breath, every feeling of despair – but also the feeling of elation of having done it. Very well done!

  11. Dounia says:

    Wow. Congratulations on such an amazing (and crazy difficult) feat! Everytime I read one part, I was waiting for the next to see how it continued…I was more and more impressed with every part!

  12. Jackie says:

    Wow! What an adventure! My hats off to you for having the fortitude to press forward.

  13. Madhu says:

    Wow! What an achievement! So impressed! Looks like i have a lot of catching up to do on your adventures 🙂

  14. bulldog says:

    Now my muscles are sore… but you made it and that is an achievement that you will have for the rest of your life… I’m proud of you… just got tired walking with you all the way… well not actually but I did feel your pain… well done…

  15. bocafrau says:

    The view looks stunning. I wouldn’t want to leave and just sit and enjoy for a while!

    • TBM says:

      I wanted to, but the top is such a small space. You get a chance to take some photos and then the guides move you along for others to enjoy.

  16. samokan says:

    Oh my. Great shot of the sunrise I guess you can say now “I climbed Mt. Kinabalu and I survived !!!! ” .
    I hate stairs, but seeing those steep climb, I would probably love the stairs too.

    Kudos for not giving up 🙂

    • TBM says:

      I might make a shirt that says that. When I got to the rope section I really missed the stairs. I didn’t feel like I was going to fall to my death when on the stairs.

  17. pattisj says:

    I think I’d prefer to linger there a few days after all that effort, and absorb the beauty. Great photos.

    • TBM says:

      Lingering would be nice. Except you get pretty cold once you stop moving. I had that issue when I would stop and rest. I didn’t rest long since I would start to shiver.

  18. Wowza, what a story! I felt more sorry for you with each paragraph, but you conquered the wet feet, the stairs, the slippery granite, altitude sickness, sleep deprivation, and saw the sunrise! Major kudos to you.
    “Great, more effin stairs.” Oh, you made me laugh out loud with that one. 🙂

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  20. poppytump says:

    Truly TBM you have achieved something amazing by your climbing of Mountain Kinabalu ! Your excellent account had me hooked stair by stair breath by pain .
    You got to your goal and boy was it worth it . A resounding YES ….. Congratulations 🙂

  21. aFrankAngle says:

    Cheers to your efforts, and my legs are sore from reading!

  22. frizztext says:

    “…It was 6 o’clock in the morning and I was standing on the top of a mountain. Most people were still in bed, but I just climbed a mountain…” – I’m sure, you’ll never forget the triumph!

  23. Hi. That was quite some feat you have achieved. As I keep reiterating , a few years from now you will forget all the hardship and remember only the achievement.
    I hope your next project is to cross a nice flat sandy desert.
    Great photos.
    Loved reading about your climb to the top.
    And that man with the flip flops, did he make it too?

    • TBM says:

      My next project will be much easier. Still a challenge, but not a mountain. Maybe a new mountain next year. I lost track of the man in flip flops. I hope he made it and had fun.

  24. The Guat says:

    Holy Crap! All of this by 6 a.m. Dude you are badass! I feel like taking some Advil and Aleve after that adventure. That sunrise point sounded like a good spot to stop for me too. I am so glad you got a chance to see that sunrise. 10 steps, baby! 10 steps at a time. But I’m so glad that you didn’t stop. So glad that you didn’t give up and made it to the top. Those views and that experience sounded amazing. You inspired me to get off my ass tomorrow morning. When I think of how exhausted I’m am at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. I’m gonna think wait … wait … she climbed a mountain by six! Cowboy up, girl! Cowboy up! Great pics! Great adventure. Great inspiration 🙂

    • TBM says:

      I’m not always a badass. Today I didn’t get out of bed until 8 a. m. since I was up late due to a writing deadline. Another photo finish. Of course if it wasn’t for deadlines I would never get anything written or make it to the top of a mountain to see a sunrise. I need goals. And pressure, mixed with some fear.

  25. Sartenada says:

    Congratulations! Amazing photos and so interesting story.

  26. nrlymrtl says:

    We always hear about the hike up in literature and films. The awesome sight, the sense of accomplishment, etc. And those are worthy things. But I do love how you point out that there is this wee little thing – the hike back down.

  27. fgassette says:

    YEA! YOU MADE IT! I am so impressed and inspired by your post. Your excellent writing had me feeling all your joy and pain. I felt myself rooting for you to continue and praying your pain would cease. What an adventure. The pictures of the sunrise are amazing. You will probably always look at a sunrise and remember this experience. WELL DONE!


    • TBM says:

      Thank you Francine. I can’t imagine forgetting this experience. And I have one little scar on my hand. It kinda makes me smile.

  28. Whoa, what a view!! So awesome that you made this life event happen. WOO-HOOO!

  29. Novroz says:

    Oh wow…look at the view!! I’d say everything paid off.
    Reading this made me feel a bit ache too…I can completely imagine all the pain in every bone we have.
    Memory of a life time, Right TBM? 😉

  30. congratulations. the writing and the pictures are amazing. you are a gifted writer. i too felt every step. bravo for you!

  31. What a glorious sunrise!
    Clearly after this heroic effort they should send a helicopter to pick you up from the summit.
    I often wonder about the guides. How do they do it day after day?

    • TBM says:

      The guides and the porters–can’t believe they do it all the time. And many of them smoke. How can they smoke and do this?

  32. Fergiemoto says:

    I’m out of breath reading about your experiences! Wow, what an adventure, and I’m very, very impressed. I don’t think I could do a climb like this…hubby, yes…me, no. I don’t think my stomach or nerves could handle “hold onto a rope…so I wouldn’t crash to my death.” Not to mention the exhaustion and the inability to feel my legs later.
    Congratulations, and good for you for this HUGE accomplishment!!! This is something you will always remember. (And other hikes you do after this may seem like a cake walk now compared to this one!)

    • TBM says:

      Thanks Fegiemoto. Now I’m looking forward to going on other hikes. At the time I never wanted to have an adventure of any type.

  33. adinparadise says:

    So well done to you. You must feel a great sense of achievement. What a climb, and kudos to your wife on her great photos. Magnificent shots. 🙂

  34. fendikristin says:

    when you reach the top all the pain went away but when you think about walking down the mountain ‘”again” feel like want to take a helicopter to take you down 😀
    it feels forever walking down than walking up

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