Matt and Joanne’s Page

December 19, 2008

ACTUAL Cost of Our Roadtrip!

Filed under: Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 7:59 am

OK, in our last post I just kind of estimated what our trip costs were but Joanne thought it made more sense to figure out exactly what it cost us. If you don’t like numbers, this post might not be for you. But if you want to know exactly what this trip cost us, check out this mind-numbing table!

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Total Annual (12 months)
Food (includes eating out) $356.68 $491.44 $369.56 $401.99 $336.86 $298.79 $528.83 $553.45 $3337.60 $5006.40
Gas $1001.97 $205.53 $592.83 $349.00 $426.60 $464.46 $203.13 $277.57 $3521.09 $5281.64
Campgrounds $207.00 $74.00 $229.00 $208.00 $0.00 $40.00 $87.88 $39.44 $885.32 $1327.98
Health Insurance $260.46 $260.46 $260.46 $260.46 $260.46 $201.00 $201.00 $121.55 $1825.85 $2738.78
Cellphone $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $10.00 $0.00 $110.00 $0.00 $120.00 $180.00
Climbing Gear $0.00 $0.00 $426.58 $316.00 $0.00 $0.00 $35.85 $461.79 $1240.22 $1860.33
Car Insurance $52.00 $52.00 $52.00 $52.00 $52.00 $52.00 $52.00 $52.00 $416.00 $624.00
Yogi (Dog Stuff) $62.99 $4.11 $1.49 $55.00 $234.68 $298.60 $0.00 $0.00 $656.87 $985.30
Vehicle Maintenance $0.00 $0.00 $693.81 $0.00 $150.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $843.81 $1265.72
Propane $16.72 $0.00 $16.00 $30.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $62.72 $94.08
Misc. Spending $214.24 $126.62 $155.85 $594.50 $141.44 $360.00 $61.56 $0.00 $1654.21 $2481.32
Totals $2,172.06 $1,214.16 $2,797.58 $2,266.95 $1,612.04 $1,714.85 $1,280.25 $1,505.80 $14,563.69 $21,845.54

And here’s a little graph making it a little more obvious where all the money went!

So there you have it, $21,845 for the ultimate year-long roadtrip around the U.S for TWO! Doesn’t seem too bad at all…guess we better start saving for our next trip! Maybe next time we’ll make it through the whole year. 🙂

Some anomalies – the $1000 for gas in January was a result of driving the motor home from Oregon to Arizona – Yikes! $693 in March on car maintenance went towards towing and 2 very expensive motor home tires. The car insurance numbers are for the Civic, though surprisingly, I don’t think the motor home cost much more. The misc spending category is for costs that didn’t fit into other categories or for purchases for which we lost receipts.

Also, I’ve only included the period from Jan-Aug since we didn’t really track our spendings in Malaysia very closely. But the annual cost column extrapolates the first 8 months of the year to get an annual cost. And I should probably note that this doesn’t really include the cost of paying our mortgage: in an ideal world we would have sold our home and would still be traveling 🙂

December 11, 2008

The Cost of a Road Trip

Filed under: Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 10:20 am

I’ve had a few people ask me how much it cost us to take our extended road trip. I never really answered those questions because I don’t really know (Joanne tracked most of our expenses) but I did a lot of the initial budgeting, which is just as important if you’re thinking of hitting the road yourself. Every trip is going to be different and every person has slightly different spending habits but you can generally get a pretty good idea of how much savings you’ll need to pull off some traveling. First, we figure out the obvious costs of a roadtrip: the food, fuel, and a place to sleep.

For food budgeting, the best way to figure this out is just to look out how much you’re currently spending. Unless you plan on drastically changing your eating habits (by not eating out, buying cheaper food, etc) you can expect this to stay the same. For reference, we ate out infrequently, tried to eat cheaper foods when available (expired bakery goods anyone?), and ended up spending somewhere around $75-125/week. We never resorted to dumpster diving! Interestingly, we spent less on food while traveling in the RV than in the Honda Civic.

Fuel costs can be a bit tricky but if you can figure out a rough outline of where you want to travel, you can get pretty close. Use google maps to figure out distances between destinations: then add 30% for local trips and detours. Or just take a guess of how much you’ll drive, say 15,000 miles/year. Then figure out what you _expect_ to pay for gas (probably more than the current price of gas) and the MPG of your car and there you have it, your annual gas budget.

Finally, the cost of camping. $10/night seemed a good number for us but requires some discipline to stick with it. For example, we never stayed in private campgrounds ($25+/night) and only in public campgrounds when absolutely necessary (National Parks/Forests). We sought free camping whenever possible: this is easy in many of the states we visited (Arizona, Utah, Wyoming) but very hard in others (Colorado). In Colorado, we drove 45 minutes to our campsite every night ($6 gas roundtrip with our Civic) to avoid paying the $28/night campground fees in Estes Park. A similar situation was required in Boulder, as well.

So now you have the obvious costs of your trip figured out: maybe it’s looking pretty cheap. But what about the things that you might not have thought about right away? This list of expenses includes auto insurance, car maintenance, health insurance, cell phones, taxes, climbing equipment, $90 for an annual National Park Pass, and other miscellaneous expenses. I won’t go through all of these but just offer a few pointers for those on a tight budget.

#1 Don’t skip the health insurance! Especially dirtbag climbers! A $25,000 medical bill will ruin more than just your day! I’d recommend a plan that will completely cover you in case of a catastrophic accident (after the deductible, because 20% of $50,000 is more than I want to pay). $125/month here is money well spent.

#2 A prepaid cell phone is the way to go: the cheapest we found was $0.10/min with T-Mobile. Coverage can be spotty but it’s dirt cheap (assuming you don’t have to buy a phone) and you only pay what you actually use.

#3 Climbing Gear. For a year-long trip where you do a lot of climbing, expect to burn through at least 2 ropes! We also ended up buying a few extra cams and some aid gear before visiting Zion and Indian Creek. These turned out to be incredibly useful.

#4 Try to overestimate your expenses when creating a budget. This way you can be confident you have enough money to pull it off.

Creating this budget is good for two reasons. For one, you know upfront what kind of money you need saved up before you leave. And two, if you’re clever, you’ll track your expenses while traveling. If you end up over-budget in the first month, you can correct it in the 2nd month by spending less on food or gas or whatever. Especially when traveling in the RV we had a tendency to blow our gas budget so we would force ourselves to extend our stay in one location before moving on to lower our expenses. This will make it easier for you to stick with your budget so you don’t end up 1000 miles from home with no money!

December 1, 2008

Chaco Canyon

Filed under: Roadtrip — Tags: , , — Matt Stamplis @ 12:35 pm

On our way back to Oregon (from Michigan) we chose a slightly circuitous route in order to avoid snow in Wyoming and Colorado. So we drove down towards Texas and New Mexico: it added a bit of driving time (3340 miles and 51 hours of driving, according to google maps) but it allowed us to stop a few places we had never been before. One of the new places we stopped was Chaco Canyon and the mouthful-of-a-name Chaco Culture National Historical Park. I had vaguely remembered seeing some pictures of the place and although it was a bit of a detour off of I-40 we decided to go and spend a day there.

But on the drive to Chaco Canyon I started to get a little nervous: the final 20 miles of dirt road to get to the park was in lousy condition. In places the washboarding was bad enough that I had to slow the car’s speed to a crawl. And in one rocky spot, I had to hold my breath as our Civic just barely avoided bottoming out. All in all, the 20 miles on this road took me a nerve-racking hour and a half to drive! I was curious about this apparent lack of maintenance and did some searches online: there are groups lobbying to keep the road unpaved. One of them is even named They argue that by paving the road, visitation will increase dramatically and negatively affect the canyon. I more or less agree with this argument but my poor Civic would like to see parts of the road improved: no one needs to abuse their cars in this way!

Towards the end, as we progressed further into nothingness (60 miles from a gas station!), I started to have a few worrying thoughts. What if we get a flat tire? What if the car breaks down again!? What if this place is not worth it? Fortunately, the belts on our car managed to hold themselves in place (for once!) and the tires stayed puncture-free. And, as it turns out Chaco Canyon really is worth the drive! For starters, it has one of the most beautiful campgrounds!

This is one of the campground spots. Most of the sites are scattered along the side of this cliff band and are surrounded by huge boulders. A very sheltered and special place: inside the campground you can find the ruins of an ancient dwelling.

Chaco Canyon was one of the major settlements in the Southeast from around 800-1200 A.D. The area is famous for its huge public houses, where hundreds of rooms were connected together for communal living spaces, storage, and cermonial purposes. There are numerous great houses in the canyon that you can stop and see, in varying states of excavation. Pueblo Bonito is the largest site and also the most excavated: walking amongst the ruins gives you a good idea of the ingenuity of these people.

Morning shadows on Pueblo Bonito. Here you can get some idea of the size of this great house. It contained around 600 rooms and was up to four stories tall. The exposure of the sky is a little weird after stitching these shots together but I just didn’t feel like spending hours touching up photos today!

Taking a stroll around one of the massive plazas. Joanne’s bundled up here since temperatures dropped into the 20s at night. This may have been a bit of a shock to my mother-in-law who is still adjusting to the climate here!

I think every person who walks through Pueblo Bonito takes this exact picture…I couldn’t resist either.

November 24, 2008

Bukit Takun

Filed under: Climbing, Malaysia, Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 11:28 am

OK, I can’t resist: One last post from our stay in Malaysia! The day before our flight back home we decided to go “check out” this climbing area near Kuala Lumpur, called Bukit Takun. It has some of the only trad routes near the city and we were looking to climb something (after our failures on Kinabalu and Tioman!). So we met up with a local climber (Zee) who had been there once before and got a ride with him to go see.

Bukit Takun! A pretty impressive looking wall. There are numerous short routes along its base but the only route that tops out goes up the bushy looking face on the right. The imposing center of the wall is unclimbed!

The approach is not bad but requires some diplomacy and possibly some animal handling: the wall is in the middle of a gated community and golf course. Fortunately, the guard was willing to let us through. The approach trail picks up at the end of the road, right in front of this huge house. So we parked down the road to be a bit discreet and then walked by the house. Of course, they have 3 dogs that start barking like mad (there goes our discreetness); fortunately, the biggest dog was behind a gate. But the other two were getting a little close for comfort so we kept moving and entered the jungle.

Immediately we were swarmed by hordes of mosquitoes! The approach to the wall took, at most, 10 minutes but in this time we each donated a sizable portion of blood. The good news is the mosquitoes seem to bite you and then leave. After five minutes of hanging out at the base of the wall we were left to ourselves. But we lit a few mosquito coils to make sure!

Joanne and I didn’t really know what to expect from the climbing here. We figured we would climb a few pitches then head home. But Zee suggested trying the 9-pitch route that goes to the top. We figured sure, why not? I think we were half expecting to make it halfway then bail so we brought a little less than 1 liter of water for all 3 of us. Hot sun beating down on us in the tropics, 95% humidity: how much water could we really need?

Zee taking the lead on pitch 2. This was one of the best pitches on the route. There’s a great looking roof crack above his head that might make a fun variation. We ended up doing a traverse to the right.

Following the traverse on pitch 2. You can see the golf course in the background.

The first 4 pitches of the route are bolted on interesting rock. Bukit Takun is mostly limestone but it’s growing over a base of what might be granite. So the first pitch appeared to be granitic and the second was on incredibly shaped limestone: pretty weird! These pitches were well-protected and mostly fun. But at the halfway point up the wall, the bolts disappear and the route changes character dramatically. It becomes what I think could affectionately be called “jungle-neering”: an insane vertical bushwhack on roots that are loosely attached to flaky limestone. The climbing was never hard but it was always sketchy and I frequently found myself 20 feet above my last piece testing my holds and holding my breath as I cautiously moved upwards.

Jungle madness! I think you can spot Zee if you look closely. At least the mosquitoes didn’t follow us up the wall.

So maybe now it’s time to mention our water supply. By the end of pitch 3 or 4 we had finished our water; mercifully, the wall had moved into the shade but we were still thirsty. At one point I lead 4 pitches in a row but was starting to wear out so I gave the last lead to Joanne who took us over the last stretch of dagger rock to the summit ridge. But now we needed to get down!

Someone spray-painted arrows in places to mark the way down. But even with these markings, several times we found ourselves standing on the edge of a cliff and were forced to backtrack to find the correct way. We were slowly running out of daylight so there was a sense of urgency but it was still slow-going. Note to self: bring shoes for the walk off! Finally, we could see the remains of the old military camp that was here and found the short rappel down to the ground. Our tongues like sandpaper, we stumbled through the jungle until we came across a stream. Coming right out of the rock we figured it was about as clean as we would find and we all drank and drank. Maybe a little too much, too fast! I also picked a leech off me before he could sink his nasty little fangs into my ankle.

We made it down safely before dark and managed to navigate past the dogs again. After rehydrating we stopped at a restaurant and had some beer and noodles. 12 hours with no food and minimal water will certainly build a healthy appetite! All in all, everything turned out great (except the color of my urine that night, but that’s a different story…yuck!).

Bukit Takun certainly gave us some good adventure: we felt great to finally succeed on SOMETHING in Malaysia. But to any future climbers, and especially the local Malaysian climbing community, I would recommend finding alternate access to this crag. If it ever becomes more popular you can be certain that homeowners will shut down the current access road. Perhaps a longer trail could be established that comes in from a different side: it might make climbing here more painful but it would be better than having it closed for good. Or if there’s any incredibly rich climbers, buy the house at the end of the road!

November 20, 2008

Bad mechanic = roadtrip nightmare

Filed under: Roadtrip — Tags: — joannestamplis @ 5:59 pm

Well, we are back in Oregon now. Unfortunately the road trip from Michigan to Oregon was full of bad experiences. Let’s start from beginning: our Honda does not start when we first got home after leaving it sitting for 2 months. We took it in to J&D Auto in Oak Park, Michigan because my father-in-law ‘recommended’ it. This is a decision we will soon regret.

Turns out the timing belt is old and need replacement. They also replaced the power steering and air-conditioner belt since they looked old (note, they replace 3 belts). Well, somehow to replace the timing belt took J&D 5 days to do. Once the car was fixed, we started our trip back to Oregon. We drove from Michigan>>Indiana>>Illinois>>Missouri>>Oklahoma>>Texas>>New Mexico>>Arizona>>Nevada>>California>>Oregon took us about 1 week.

Anyway, here’s the fun part: the car broke down in Texas and when we took it in to the Honda Service Center, we found out that the power steering and air-conditioner belt tore off and the nut holding the pulley fell off. Apparently it is too hard a job for a mechanic to tighten the nut. Good thing J&D decided to waranty this (they later tell me they were kind enough to do this without much questioning. Ah ha….I’m not sure what is there to question when the nut fell off!)
Delay to roadtrip = 3 hours.

When we get to Las Vegas, the car engine was making rattling noise again and when we took it into another Honda service center, they found out that the timing belt is loose, skipped 2 teeth apparently. When we called J&D, they refused to pay for the waranty because they said that there are no prove that they did something wrong and our car could possibly be having internal problem…ah ha….SO NO NUT FELL OFF = NO WARANTY. Well, once the car is fixed, we drove from Vegas to Oregon fine and has absolutely no issue at all.
Delay to trip = 8 hours.

Basically everything that the J&D Auto touched, we need someone else to redo the work. Needless to say, I never completely comprehend it when people said a bad mechanic can make your life miserable until we experienced it first hand. So, in the end, we paid the exact same job TWICE!!! If we would have taken it into a good mechanic in the first place, we would not waste so much money and time. Note to anybody reading this, NEVER EVER take your car into J&D Auto unless you want to have the job done again after 1000 miles.

And here are the costs we had to pay:
1. Timing belt + power steering + air cond belt at J&D = $549.52 (we paid $183.98 because our car waranty which was still valid at that time covered the rest)
2. Power steering + air cond belt at Texas = $231.50 (J&D covered this which according to them is out of good of their heart, ah ha…)
3. Timing belt at Vegas = $524.39 (This is the full cost we had to pay and nothing from J&D)
Total cost just to replace those freaking belts = $708.37 + 11 hrs delay
If we took the car in to a good mechanic in the first place, it would have just cost us $200 the most and we would not have all the stress and waste time fixing the car.

November 19, 2008

Tioman Island

Filed under: Climbing, Malaysia, Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 11:14 pm

After killing some time on Singapore (more on this later!) we took a trip to the tropical paradise of Tioman Island. We wanted to scope out the climbing on the island and take a stab at the imposing Dragon Horns. From the mainland we caught a ferry to the village of Genting. But we had to get to Mukut, on the south tip of the island, so we had to hire a boat (a bit costly – haggle!) to get there.

Mukut village, nestled between the ocean and the beautiful Nenek Sumukut (Dragon Horns).

We arrived towards the end of the “tourist season” so Mukut was devoid of tourists. In fact, the only other tourist was a Frenchman named Martin who had stayed in the village for 2 months: during this time, we were the only people who had stayed overnight! It seems to me that it might get lonely staying in a village where no one else speaks your language. Then again, Martin drank 20+ liters of wine in less than a month. So that’s one way to pass the time!

A closeup of the Dragon Horns. The left horn has been climbed only a few times. A local Malaysian is working on another route but for now, there’s only one established route, called Waking Dream. To get to the base requires a moderate 1 hour hike from the North End of the village. The trail is mostly obvious, and a guide is definitely not needed. You’ll know when you’re at the base of the route when you reach a nice little platform with a broken radio (dropped by someone on route?) and a huge boulder with a nice hand crack on it.

The first “pitch” is sketchy jungle thrashing to reach a big ledge at the base of the real climbing. Here’s Matt hanging out on this ledge.

It turns out we didn’t get too far on the route, though: I took the lead on this 2nd pitch and started working up it. I was mostly aid climbing and while moving slowly, I was starting to get into the rhythm when I was getting close to the top of the 2nd pitch. It was here that the crack system began to thin and I found it hard to get any gear in. A hook (which we forgot in KL -d’oh!) might have worked and though the moves looked fairly moderate, I just couldn’t work out a sequence. So instead, I fiddled in a tiny micronut and eased myself into the top step of my aiders. I started reaching up towards a good looking handhold and then *POP* I was flying. I gave out a short scream as the micronut below me caught my fall.

I got back up there and started playing around with gear for around an hour but I couldn’t make any progress. So I down aided (the micronut I fell on is now fixed) then we bailed from the route. So we hauled food and water for 3 days but we never even spent the night on the wall. Instead, we went snorkeling and enjoyed the beautiful beach and atmosphere. Not a bad trade off!

Bailing on the route: rapping through a jungle with a heavy pack sucks!

Getting ready to snorkel. The water here was probably 40 feet deep but amazingly clear. Neither of us had done much snorkeling before this but we really had a great time, seeing beautiful coral, schools of fish, and even a big sea turtle. If you’re lucky (well, maybe that’s not the right word) you’ll see blacktip reef sharks: we saw one just standing on the dock. Fortunately, they’re not dangerous!

The beach at the village of Juara is pretty hard to beat. Beautiful sand, great weather. This is my definition of tropical paradise.

When we got tired of the hot sun we came to this swimming hole to cool off. The water here was cool and incredibly refreshing.

Our last day on Tioman, enjoying breakfast with our buddy Martin. He was the only other tourist in Mukut!

This was one of my favorite places we visited in Malaysia. So much so that I have reservations of posting some of this on here. If too many people visited some of these small villages it would change the place dramatically. (Yes, I’m selfish!) So I’m already thinking about when I’ll be able to return. 2010 maybe?

November 10, 2008

Borneo (Part 3) Mulu Caves

Filed under: Malaysia, Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 6:49 pm

So after bailing off of Mt Kinabalu we had some time to kill so we booked a flight to Mulu Caves in the nearby state of Sarawak. There are no roads to Mulu so the only way to get there is by plane or by boat. Both cost about the same ($125 per person roundtrip) but the plane is much faster so it’s a no-brainer. On the flight it was amazing to see the vast tracts of untouched rain forest sweeping as far as the eye can see.

The caves at Mulu are among the biggest in the world: The largest cave chamber in the world can be found there and the cave passages are sometimes so enormous you could fly a helicopter into the cave. But Mulu is best known for it’s bats: you may have seen them on the Discovery Channel. Most nights (if it’s not raining) millions of bats come swarming out of the cave. When we visited Deer Cave we could hear the bats squeaking. Then we looked up and realized that the ceiling was crawling with them. Millions of them.

The bats making their mass exodus to hunt insects. Despite being in a dense rainforest, there are very few mosquitoes around, thanks to the bats!

The video gives you a pretty good idea how many bats there are. We watched them pour out like this for around 25-30 minutes!

A beautiful pool in one of the caves at Mulu.

Inside of Deer Cave you can see a bizarre silhouette at the entrance. It looks a bit like a famous American President!

A huge underground river flows through Clearwater Cave (the world’s biggest cave, by volume). You can see the bridge that you walk across during the tour of the cave.

While the caves are big attraction at the park, there are a few other things worth seeing. Just taking a walk through the rain forest is well worth your time – you’re likely to spot a number of interesting critters.

This little guy was a bit shy: when we got closer he would try to get away!

When it rains, it pours! Enjoying a shower at Camp 5, the base camp area for some of the hikes in the area. To get here, you take a boat up the river then there’s a 9km hike into the camp. This camp is right besides the river and is a great place to hang out and relax. From here we hiked up Gunung Api (Fire Mountain) to see the Pinnacles.

The Pinnacles of Gunung Api. These sharp limestone pinnacles stab upward out of the surrounding forest. A beautiful and unique place but don’t come here for rock climbing: the rock is terrifyingly sharp and in places it is wafer thin.

On our last full day in the park we went on one of their “Adventure Caving” tours, to Racer Cave. It was pretty interesting, complete with giant spiders and bat-eating snakes. Here’s Matt squeezing through a narrower section of the cave.

November 9, 2008

Borneo Part 2 (Mt Kinabalu)

Filed under: Climbing, Malaysia, Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 2:35 pm

Our 2nd day of hiking was shorter (probably less than 3km) but we still had 2300 feet to gain to reach the Gurkha Hut, our basecamp. And we were pretty worn out from the previous day’s hike. Joanne was really struggling with her load: our guide offered to shoulder some of the load. We were happy to oblige and the day ended up being considerably easier than the 1st day’s effort, though I could feel the air getting a bit thinner. And so we arrived at the Gurkha Hut early in the afternoon.

We received a pleasant surprise on arriving: the hut is easily one of the coolest places to stay that I’ve ever seen in any mountain! For starters, it’s weather proof and rodent proof (though you can hear a rat moving around outside at night). Rain pours from the roof into two water storage tanks to provide water during droughts. Inside, you’ll find 4 mattresses, cooking ware, leftover fuel from other parties, and a small collection of books including a real gem: 3 volumes of journals that record the building of the hut in 1984 and all the visitors who have stayed in the hut. It makes great reading when the weather is bad, which is almost inevitable!

The Gurkha Hut! A cozy place for 2 to stay. You could squeeze a couple more people in if you wanted to be close.

The Western Plateau of Mt Kinabalu in all its glory! From left to right are Alexandra Peak, Oyayubi Peak (the tilted tower in front of Alexandra), the Dewali Pinnacles, Victoria Peak (the huge prominent peak on the right), then finally St Andrews is identified by the insanely overhanging prow in the bottom right. The Gurhka Hut occupies prime real estate here, right below Oyayubi: Any of these peaks can be reached with just a short stroll from your base camp, making for incredible access.

Alexandra Peak, as viewed from the Gurkha Hut. Despite being right next to the hut, the prominent face in the middle of the picture is unclimbed. Of course, all of the orange rock is overhanging and looks loose. And there are no crack systems on the lower half of the face!

The overhanging face of Oyayubi towers directly above the Gurkha Hut. Also unclimbed, I spent a lot of time looking over the face but it was difficult to see any line that wouldn’t be highly artificial. Some things might be better left unclimbed! Instead we climbed the much easier South Ridge of the peak. It was 4th class or so and was terrifyingly loose without a rope.

But before you get too excited about the prospect of first ascents and book the next flight to Malaysia it’s worth giving a word (or two) of caution. The rock here is geologically young and hasn’t been weathered as much as granite that I’ve climbed in the US. As a result, there is considerable amount of loose rock and there are very rarely continuous crack sections. And many cracks end up being shallow seams. As a result you’ll often find yourself climbing on semi-detached and hollow flakes with little or no protection.

And the other drawback to climbing on Kinabalu? The weather! Usually April-June and Sep-Oct are considered to be the dry season. But this year, things have been a little strange and the locals told us it’s been raining pretty much all year! And the weather didn’t change for us: it rained every single day. And almost every night. So we would wake up in the morning and it would usually be somewhat clear but the rock would be completely soaked. So we would wait for things to dry out but the weather inevitably would change, often with no warning.

The video shows a pretty typical view from the Gurkha Hut. There is so much bare rock and hardly any soil so the water just pours down the rock and forms rivers and waterfalls everywhere you look. I’ve never seen anything like it. During these rains the Gurkha Hut is cut off from the rest of the park: it would be life-threatening to try to descend the slabs back to Park HQ. I hope you brought a kayak!

So with horrible weather we did pretty much the only thing we could…wait. And wait.

I didn’t know anyone played Solitaire except on computers…

Occasionally the weather would clear up and allow us to play OUTSIDE!

On the edge of the abyss. From here, Low’s Gully drops for thousands of feet towards the Pacific Ocean. Some of the biggest (and most remote) walls in the world can be found here. Just reaching the base of these walls can take close to a week of rappelling and scrambling down the gully! Maybe next time…

Occasionally we even climbed with a rope. Here is where I decided it would be more fun to do a jig instead of climbing! Taken on the Southeast Ridge of Alexandra, shortly before bailing due to high winds. Then when it started raining an hour later we figured we made the right call.

Taking a walk over to the incredibly aesthetic South Kinabalu Peak. This was one of the few peaks we were able to summit! A clean slab with a 4th class move or two gains access to the summit and a spectacular view.

The view from the top of South Kinabalu Peak: you can see some of the huts far below.

After a week of crushing rain, our spirits were getting low. We had spied a few potential lines to try but the weather wouldn’t cooperate long enough for us to even walk over to their base. We hadn’t finished any technical climbs (though we bailed from several) and our food supplies were getting low. And then we received a text message from Park HQ telling us that there was a mistake with our permit and we would need to come down to sort things out. Argh!

We had been rationing our food supplies to try to stay as long as possible but when we finally decided to bail off Kinabalu we started gorging ourselves on the remaining food, trying to lighten our loads for the next day. And so, after 7 nights in the Gurkha Hut, we packed our things up and started the descend down the mountain. Despite ridding ourselves of fuel/food our packs were heavy enough that the 10,000 foot descent was quad destroying. It took 4 days of rest before we could walk downstairs without pain.

Before we left the park, though, we made one last stop at Park HQ. Here is where we had one last look at how things are run. We were leaving early so we wanted to see if we could recoup some of our fees; namely, the unused insurance and hut fees. Neither of us really expected to get anything back but we figured: why not? So we talked with the fellow who had helped us get our permit in the first place. He told us he couldn’t do this but he could ask his boss. So he called up his boss who told us that he, also, was unable to refund our money. But he could set up a meeting for us with an even bigger boss. Alright, sounds good!

We eat lunch and then come back to meet with this big boss. We’re lead upstairs to a secretary who lets us in to the room. This “boss” has a gigantic room, with over-sized chairs and an over-sized desk. Behind the desk, dozens of windows provide a magnificent view of Kinabalu. We’re mightily impressed and starting to feel confident that if anyone can give us a refund (or at least tell us “no”), this is the man. Of course, things don’t work out exactly like that.

It turns out there is an even bigger boss, “The Big Boss”, who is _still_ on vacation so no decisions can be made here. Even though the refund we are requesting is less than $100, we are told to leave an address and write and sign a letter requesting a refund. We are told that they we will get a reply. Not surprisingly, we never heard a word from them again! I could care less about the money but the experience was truly eye-opening. Needless to say, the management of the park is embarrassingly inefficient.

So I have mixed feelings about the park: Mt Kinabalu is a spectacular peak and the Gurkha Hut is the best base camp you could ever hope for in the mountains. The weather is a mixed bag: from reading the journals, there are spells of great weather so we just had some bad luck. And because of the elevation, temperatures are so much nicer than anywhere else in Malaysia (temperatures frequently drop to around freezing). And while a lot of the rock looks terrible (really sketchy loose flakes) there are sections that look fantastic. I won’t give away all the places I found but No Name Peak and Victoria Peak might be good places to find solid rock.

But park management left a bitter taste in our mouths. I would like to return and try our luck again in a couple years but there’s many other places out there, most of which don’t have such hassles involved. Still, as far as adventure climbing in South East Asia goes, it doesn’t get much better than this. If you’re thinking about making a trip there, feel free to e-mail or leave a comment and I can fill you in on all the details. Of course, there’s no guarantee things won’t be very different in a few years!

Next time: A trip to the incredible caves of Mulu! But first, one last parting shot from Kinabalu: we passed this guy on our way down. And this is why things are so expensive at Laban Rata!

November 7, 2008

Borneo Part 1 (Mt Kinabalu)

Filed under: Climbing, Malaysia, Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 8:46 am

Alright! Now that the jetlag has worn off it’s about time we started posting about our travels in Malaysia. We ended up not climbing nearly as much as we originally hoped because ….well, we’ll get to that later. First, it’s time to go to Mount Kinabalu! Read on to hear about absurd weather and even more absurd bureaucracy! I’m going to try to not be too bitter and nasty in some of the rants below but no promises.

We started our trip with one of the longest plane trips I’ve ever taken. We flew from Detroit to Atlanta to Seoul to Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, arriving some thirty hours after we left Detroit. Hello frequent flyer miles! Kota Kinabalu is a small seaside town in the state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. Borneo (the 3rd largest island in the world, behind Greenland and New Guinea) is split between Indonesia and Malaysia, with a bit owned by the Sultan of Brunei. The entire island was once pristine tropical rain forest though recent logging has made irreversible impacts. Despite this, parts of the island are among the most untouched places to be found on Earth.

Our first destination on the island was Mount Kinabalu. Isn’t the name just fun to say? Kin-a-balu! At 4,095 meters (13,435 ft) it is the tallest point in Malaysia and depending on your definition of the region, the tallest in Southeast Asia. But our real reason to come here was to explore the upper regions of the mountain with it’s vast amount of exposed granite and dozens of peaks.

The view from park headquarters was inspiring!

But first we had to pick up our permit and figure out where we were going to sleep that night. I had e-mailed the park before our arrival to reserve the West Gurkha Hut and secure our “Multipeak Climbing Permit”. (Here’s where the fun begins). After reading over the permit we became a bit confused: it specified 3 peaks that we were allowed to climb. And so we asked: “Well, what about all the other peaks?” We were informed that those peaks are “technical” climbs and require a rope (!) so we can’t climb those. HUH!? We actually had to show the park guide some of our gear: I don’t think he believed we had proper equipment.

And here’s where the confusion started: when visiting Malaysia 18 months before we picked up a copy of the local climbing guidebook, “Climb Malaysia”. It features a section on Mt Kinabalu and has the following to say about permits (for rock climbing): “You’ll need a Multi-Peak Climbing Permit … Send your applications along with your climbing resume…”. The park officials found the book fascinating (they hadn’t seen it before!) and asked to make photocopies.

Meanwhile, we decided to ask how we could get a “Rock Climbing Permit”. How hard could this be? This is when we were politely informed this request was impossible. Only one individual, the head of park operations, is allowed to issue these permits. And this individual was on vacation, enjoying the beach on Tioman Island. We had packed 2 70 meter ropes, 2 full sets of cams, 2-3 sets of stoppers, aid hooks, etriers, and ascenders and flown across the world with all this gear. You can be damn sure I was going to find a way to use them if I could!

Fortunately, the ranger we talked to was willing to do what he could to get a permit, making phone calls and trying to get a hold of “The Big Boss”. We had already decided we were going up the peak, whether or not we got an official permit. But we figured we’d give the park a day to figure things out: While waiting we decided to go figure out our accommodations. we needed to get a room for the night and then figure out a place to stay on our hike towards the summit. The price to stay in the hostel at park headquarters turned out to be RM80/person ($46 for 2 people). Our first question: where’s the cheaper accommodation? It turns out you can leave the park, take a right and walk a quarter mile to rent an entire room for RM30 ($8.50). Likewise, food just outside the park is much cheaper than the restaurants within. This was our first sign that the park had some dubious pricing practices.

But we still had to sleep 1 night lower on the mountain before reaching the summit plateau. And the park has only one option for sleeping on the mountain: Laban Rata. Last year they charged RM29/person for the dorm-style accommodations. But they decided to raise prices this year, to a whopping RM190/person. How could prices rise so much? They force you to buy 4 meals to go with the room and all the food has to be carried by porters up the mountain. We tried to get them to exclude the food (we had our own food) but they told us this was not possible. Setting up a tent is not allowed. So we were forced to pay $109US for 1 night at Laban Rata. Sheesh – what a rip off!

Who says the American Dollar is weak? Here’s the bathroom we got for $109. Un-sanitized water and cold water included. But hey, the toilets flushed! Laban Rata may be the world’s most expensive shit-hole hostel. It wasn’t the worst place we stayed at in Malaysia, but it was, by far, the priciest.

Finally we got some good news, though: we would be able to get our “Rock Climbing Permit”. We went in to the park office and signed a bunch of legal documents and then went to pay our “fees” (a nice word for the extortion racket the park runs). RM400 for “Rock Climbing Permits”, RM380 for 19 days at for the Gurkha Hut (which used to be FREE), RM380 for 1 night in Laban Rata, RM180 for a “mandatory guide”, RM266 for insurance (one of the documents we signed essentially said if we get in trouble on the mountain we’re screwed as the park provides no rescue resources – so I’m not sure what this insurance is). This adds up to a grand total of RM1606 ($459US). D’oh!

So after coughing up nearly all of our cash, we were happy to finally get started up the mountain! But with one bizarre stipulation from the park: they wanted us to send them daily updates to make sure we were OK. Of course, if we’re NOT OK, they’re not going to rescue us. OOOO-K. We were getting a distinct impression that park officials would prefer every visitor to follow their cookie cutter plan for reaching the summit. And they certainly did their best to dissuade us from following through with our plans.

The trail map to the summit.

Our first day we were hiking 6km from Park HQ (866m) to the Gunting Lagadan Hut (3323m). If you do the math, this is a whooping 8000 feet of elevation gain in just 3.7 miles! As I’m writing this, this is the first time I did this calculation – holy crap that’s a big day. But what made the hike more ridiculous was the size of our packs. We were both carrying about HALF of our bodyweight. My bag was somewhere around 80lbs, Joanne’s about 55lbs (I weigh about 150 lbs).

We must not have been very far on the trail at this point. I know this for two reasons: the trail is still flat and Joanne is smiling. Joanne was actually mistaken for a porter on several occasions!

The hike was, needless to say, one of the hardest I’ve ever done. The trail is relentlessly steep and with a crushing load I sometimes felt like I was climbing a ladder, using my hands to grab roots and whatever else I could to keep from toppling backwards. The last kilometer became a real fight: we would make it a few hundred meters at a time, taking frequent breaks. When we dropped our bags I noticed by legs were actually shaking from the effort.

Finally, we reached the Gunting Lagadan Hut, collapsed in our room, took a cold shower then went for dinner at Laban Rata. We slept like rocks, waking up at 7 still feeling pretty tired and headed to breakfast. The food is pretty mediocre at Laban Rata, especially considering the price. I was excited, though, to see french toast. I loaded my plate up and poured “syrup” all over the them. I started eating and immediately I commented how salty the food was. Salty fried rice, salty meat and worst of all, salty french toast! Gross! Then we realized what was wrong: the “maple syrup” I had liberally drowned my food in was, in fact, soy sauce. A bit confusing since it was in a maple syrup container and placed next to the french toast!

After filling up on what would be our last big meal for a while, we shouldered our packs in preparation for the final 2.5km to the Gurkha Hut…

Next time: Gurkha Hut and Kinabalu’s Western Plateau and (much) the bureaucratic nightmare continues… and many better pictures of the mountain! Click Here for Part 2!

October 30, 2008

Leaving Malaysia (soon)

Filed under: Malaysia, Roadtrip — joannestamplis @ 12:49 am

Just a few days left in Malaysia – our flight leaves Sunday around midnight. Matt is getting intense cereal cravings as our departure nears (mmmm…Frosted Flakes). We have lots of good pictures and stories to tell so expect a few updates early next week!

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