Guide on edge after deadly mountain drama

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KOTA KINABALU: Even after four days, Zainudin Mahlie is still reeling from the effects of the deadly drama which unfolded on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu last Friday.

This 35-year-old mountain guide looked on edge on Monday at the funeral of a friend and fellow mountain guide Valerian Joannes in Kampung Budu Tuhan, at the foot of the mountain in Kundasang. He has not slept properly since the tragedy and has been attending one funeral after another.

Valerian, an employee of Mountain Torq, which organises mountaineering courses and activities at one of the challenging spots on the mountain called Via Perrata, was one of 16 people killed on Borneo’s famed mountain last Friday by falling rocks shaken loose by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake whose epicentre was near the town of Ranau, about 20km away.

Zainudin told The Malaysian Insider he still could not fathom the fact that he was spared death with the decision not to climb last Thursday. 

“My service was specifically requested by a group, but I couldn’t make it as I had something urgent to attend to that day,” said Zainudin from Kampung Sunsuron in Tambunan. “So I asked a friend who was free that day to take them (the group) up instead. Since we only make our earnings from guiding people up, my friend had no hesitation to take over my place.”

The fact that his friend and the six climbers in the group survived, albeit after a 20-hour ordeal before they reached Timpohon Gate, the starting point of the climb, without injuries, soothed his jangled nerves.Zainudin said on hearing the news that climbers were stranded on the mountain by the quake, he rushed to the Kinabalu National Park headquarters and made contact on his mobile phone with guide friends he knew who were on the mountain to find out what was happening.

“They told me what their situation was and made several requests which I first communicated to park officials and later to the search and rescue authorities.

“They told me many climbers were gathered at a spot, and there were several climbers who had serious injuries and had requested for a helicopter to airlift the injured.”

Soon Zainudin became the unofficial intermediary between the guides on the mountain and search and rescue officials on the ground relaying messages and instructions back and forth. “They requested for helicopters not only to airlift the injured, but also all the climbers as they were exhausted, cold, and running short on food and water, and some were beginning to show signs of panic,” he said. “The path at Sayat Sayat Hut (a checkpoint where a park staff makes the head count of everyone passing it and a mere 500m away) was obliterated. It was blocked by a pile of rocks.”

It was only later that they found the situation was similar at Via Perrata and Laban Rata, a rest stop area for climbers. The park official manning the checkpoint at Sayat Sayat Hut reportedly managed to flee in time. 

Help, however, was slow in coming, Zainudin said. He only heard the drone of a helicopter some three hours after he passed the request for one. “I quickly told my friends the helicopter was on the way and they were euphoric.”

Not long after, Zainudin was forced to relay the grim message that the helicopter could not land due to heavy fog shrouding the area, and that the climbers were to stay on the mountain overnight and wait for another attempt to airlift them out the next day.

Zainudin said the guides made the decision to ignore the “crazy instruction” to stay on the mountain overnight, and the 32 of them up there made the decision to gather all the climbers who were in many small groups into one large group and to shepherd them down the mountain. — The Malaysian Insider

 

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on June 10, 2015.