Standing on the shoulders of giants


The gentle, almost timid sun tentatively broke the smooth line of the horizon and began her long climb into the early morning sky. She climbed and climbed, growing stronger with each passing second, and as the sky slowly reddened it struck me how effortless she made it look. That was because I was standing, with the wind buffeting against me, four thousand vertical meters above her. I was standing on Low’s Peak, at the summit of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo.


We had started our second day’s ascent at 2am, head torches on, pulling ourselves along weathered ropes and forcing our tired legs to take just one more exhausted step. Our surroundings had rapidly transformed from a verdant, lush rainforest strewn with alien plants and unrecognisable sounds to this grey, scarred landscape of sheer slopes tumbling down into powdered clouds far below. Now at the summit, as daylight began to push back the last of the darkness, the entire curvature of the Earth was slowly revealed to us and the horizon, rather than its usual straight edge, circled all around without interruption. Legend says that a Chinese widow chose the mountain as a viewing point to look out for her estranged husband’s return across the sea. I could see why. The view was breathtakingly vast.


Occasional pinpricks of colour broke through the thin layer of cloud below us, as other climbers came closer, and the small gathering of us that had got to the top first smiled down upon them knowing the anticipation that was coursing through their veins. Behind them, the peak dropped suddenly away and was replaced with the rolling contours of the land below. Trees that had towered over us at sea level became indiscernible from one another, resplendent in bold combinations of greens and yellows. We got the humble feeling that the mountain was favouring us, many climbers got no view at all stood here at 13,500 feet, but as the sun burnt the last of the clouds away it was as if the entire planet revealed herself to us below. There is nowhere to hide on a mountaintop, there are no secrets, and in that moment I ‘knew’ myself better than ever before and felt an indescribable sense of peace and oneness with all around me.


Not long before 6am we began our descent, and as the sun boastfully overtook us on her climb we returned to the World below with an indescribable sense of achievement, wonderment and awe. Looking back up, it was hard to imagine how the mountain, apparently ”young”, had ever not been there as the cold, grey rock stood timeless and defiant, the sunlight glistening off the minerals but incapable of penetrating any deeper. I know that I will never forget that sunrise for as long as I live, and the experience of racing the sun to her zenith, and standing meekly on the shoulders of that formidable giant will be with me forever.



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