Sunday, February 23

Mountain guides look forward to reopening of quake-hit Mt Kinabalu

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PENAMPANG: Three weeks after the 5.9 magnitude earthquake in Kundasang which claimed the lives of 18 people, the mountain guides who depend on bringing climbers up and down Mount Kinabalu are still facing an uncertain future.

Many of the more than 200 mountain guides registered with the Kinabalu Mountain Guides Association are now jobless as guiding climbers on Mount Kinabalu was their only source of income.

Therefore the announcement by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun that Mount Kinabalu is expected to be reopened to climbers in early September was received with high hopes by the mountain guides.

“If this is a reality, then we express our gratitude to all concerned for making it happen as we can go back to earning an living. We really hope that it will reopen. For now, we are supporting our families through the financial assistance from the government and the donations that we have received from all generous donors,” Kinabalu Mountain Guides Association chairman Richard Soibi said.

Richard, who was met at the fund raising dinner organised by the Society of Hope for the families of the mountain guides who died in the earthquake on June 5 and the Kinabalu Mountain Guides Association, said this when asked to comment on Masidi’s announcement last week.

Masidi was reported to have said that once reopened, the number of people on the mountain at any one time would be reduced by about half, from 192 to about 90, in the early stages of its reopening, to climbers.

“The safety of climbers is of utmost priority. We do not want to take a risk by maintaining the number as in the past,” he told reporters after handing over contributions to the victims of the June 5 earthquake.

According to Richard, at the moment, the donations are being disbursed in stages to all the members of the association so that they will have a source of income until the time when they can all go back to work.

He added that Sabah Parks director Dr Jamili Nais had agreed that mountain guides would be hired to help out with the repair works of the trail up Mount Kinabalu.

“In fact on June 22, a group of mountain guides together with Kinabalu Park, Sutera Sanctuary Lodge and Mountain Torq staff had gone up the mountain to survey and evaluate the damage on the trail but because of the continuing tremors they were instructed to descend,” he said.

Richard disclosed that the association had disbursed some funds to the members twice, the first time was RM200 as it was all the association could afford at that time.

“The second time was RM400 to active members and RM250 for non-active and trainees. By active we mean those who depend solely on being a mountain guide to earn a living. The non-active members are those who have supplementary income from other activities like farming and rubber tapping,” he said, adding that this was from the donations that poured in to the association.

To the question about the welfare of the porters, Richard said there were two categories of porters, one is porter canteen which is supervised by SSL and the second, porter for climbers, are supervised by the mountain guides and Sabah Parks.

“We, the members of the association, take on two roles as we can be the guide or the porter. For the canteen porters we give assistance in kinds because they do not contribute to the association’s welfare fund.

“Every time we are assigned to guide climbers up the mountain, between RM10 to RM13 are deducted from the fees paid to us and it goes to the association. This is used to pay the salary of the association’s three clerks and also for the welfare of the members when they are in need, like if they or their immediate family members are sick and also when their children want to pursue higher education.

“On June 1 we just started our CRS fund where we collect RM5 per member but the earthquake happened four days after which is why we do not have much in our collection yet,” he said.

Richard added that on average, an active mountain guide could earn about RM850 a month as they also had expenses when climbing the mountain, like purchasing food and drinks while in Laban Rata, which is quite expensive.

An active mountain guide can do an average of eight trips up and down Mount Kinabalu a month, he said.

Meanwhile, when asked to comment on Parti KeADILan Rakyat (PKR) Sabah chairman Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin’s suggestion that the government help out by paying the minimum wage of RM800 to the mountain guides until the time climbing activities were resumed, Richard was of the opinion that it was a good proposal.

“Yes this is a good suggestion as we have no source of income at the moment. We thank the government if it can implement this,” he said.