Sunday, March 7

Volunteers climb Mt Kinabalu to celebrate Makna’s 25th anniversary


From left: Nazrul, Dee Lu, cancer survivor Gan Li Li, Zunnurin, Izzuan and Timothy at the summit of Mt Kinabalu.

KOTA KINABALU: Klimb Kinabalu 2019 brings more than just donations but a renewal of spirit, faith and willpower to carry on.

Symbolic to cancer patients’ determination and endurance throughout their struggles against the mortal disease, 25 climbers who include cancer survivors, volunteers, Makna staff and AirAsia Allstars courageously braved up the steep grade of Malaysia’s highest summit, Mount Kinabalu in Sabah.

This year, Makna turns 25. To significantly mark the milestone, Makna has been able to gather 25 climbers from all corners of Malaysia, including a Philippines national working in Kuala Lumpur to summit Mount Kinabalu on July 30.

Supported by AirAsia and Tune Protect Travel Insurance, the expedition, named as Klimb Kinabalu is part of Makna’s most anticipated annual fund-raising effort.

Initiated in 2012, Klimb Kinabalu is a cancer awareness and fund-raising event organised primarily to raise the level of cancer awareness to the public and at the same time generate some funds in helping financially-challenged cancer patients.

The word cancer can sometimes bring us down, but to this group of survivors, caregivers and volunteers, they took it all out to lift others up. They have come together to inspire those undergoing cancer treatments to become active despite their diagnosis, with the sole and special aim in raising awareness and generate funds.

According to Vemanna Appannah, the initiator of Klimb Kinabalu, he said, “The campaign always attracts like-minded volunteers coming together for the cause that is close to their hearts. The greatest inspiration climbing the majestic Mount Kinabalu despite all the personal struggles faced by an individual is the achievement of making it – this is beyond explanation. It is certainly a personal and emotional accomplishment that only an individual can comprehend”.

“This year is the seventh series of Klimb Kinabalu and with the biggest group consisting 25 climbers emblematically climbed Mount Kinabalu celebrating, thus Makna 25 years of operation. Twenty-five years had been an incredible ride for Makna, remarkable years of warmth, friendship and support. We appreciate our donors and supporters who have been a force of good on the growth of Makna and helped to take Makna to the next level”, he added.

For the climbers of Klimb Kinabalu 2019, the climb means so much more than just a new adventurous challenge – it serves as a symbol for a patient’s fight against cancer. To climb a mountain is both a mental and physical struggle that can be a building block beyond the individual’s inner control.

What Volunteers Say

Makna volunteer Timothy Dharvind Denis first climbed Mount Kinabalu in 2017 with Makna and since has become tame with mountain climbing. He pooled together a group of climbers for a regular training session in weekends at nearby hills and mountains.

Gunung Angsi, Gunung Datuk, Bukit Gasing and Batu Caves steps have become their weekend hang out sport to brave the 4,095 meters Mount Kinabalu.

“I’ve witnessed so many beautiful stories from different individuals, sharing how they were impacted by the loss of their loved ones to cancer, some who survived cancer and some still going strong battling it. It is overwhelming to see how cancer has affected them and my very own experience in losing my grandmother to this disease. We are doing this for them, with a pure message that we are all in this together to fight through the battle,” said Timothy.

Volunteer climber Leong Dee Lu shared, “I took this journey with two very dear friends, Renee Aziz Ahmad and Gan Li Li – both survivors with amazing inner strength. Together, they taught me to look at the world from a different perspective. Everyone suffers their brand of pain in this journey of life. But, we can take this journey together and offer strength through support and encouragement in the most difficult times. I will try to keep up and be there for them in this journey – a hand from a friend”.

Wilfredo T. Santos from Philippines was exhausted and almost breathless. He struggled to pull himself up at the near vertical granite wall using wet, cold ropes tethered to the rocks.

“I couldn’t push myself to the last 400 meters or so to the summit. Just like what cancer patients go through, some make it while others don’t. The physical pain and challenges I went through may be nothing compared to what cancer warriors go through. But I’m grateful to be part of Makna’s 25 years of supporting cancer patients and their families in Malaysia”, said Wilfredo who lost his mother to cancer.

The Journey Up

To begin with, the weather forecast got the team worried. It showed rain every day with little clear skies. On our arrival day, we checked-in at Sabah Parks Lodges, overlooking Mount Kinabalu. However, the mountain was covered by clouds and we couldn’t get the view of the mountain as it had been raining we were told.

The next day after breakfast, we sorted out our luggage bags with porters and engaged them to carry our belongings up the mountain. Geared in our trekking gears, we started to ascend to Panalaban from Timpohon Gate. We were cautioned by our guide about the unpredictable weather. One of our team members had to discontinue her climb and stayed back as her health suddenly did not permit her to climb. Leaving her safely with the ground staff, 24 climbers started their journey.

The team steadily walked passed kilometer one and two and slowly disintegrated to smaller groups. The fast paced climbers grouped together leaving the mid-paced and slow-paced to settle among themselves according to their respective climb pace. The cloud started to darken and just before the last group reaches Layang-Layang hut at 2,621 meters the rain started pouring. Everyone quickly slipped into their raincoats and rushed up to Layang-layang hut for shelter. There, they were joined by fellow climbers who were ahead of them. It had been a tiring 4

four hours walk up to Layang-layang hut. The climb started at 9.00am from Timpohon Gate.

Layang-layang hut is where climbers usually stop for rest and take their lunch as it is mid-way to 3,272 meters Panalaban resthouse. With no choice but to climb in the cold and freezing weather, we continue to ascend in the rain. Our guide warned us not to wait for the rain to stop as the rain wouldn’t stop anytime soon. It was raining all the way to Panalaban resthouse. Rainwater was gushing down the steep steps turning the trail to be muddy. Our shoes got completely soaked in rain water and somehow rainwater had seeped through our raincoats making our clothes damp. It had been a long, cold, chilly and wet hike. Some felt their lungs were burning as they gasped for breath in the thin mountain air.

Climbing mountain, one is challenged with many types of challenges, the elevation, the weather, physical fitness, unexpected injuries and many more. The journey is never smooth. Just like cancer, surviving cancer comes with many physical, emotional and financial challenges. At the end, we can see how far we’ve come in facing our challenges. Each challenge differs from another. The climb somehow relates the uncertainty of life’s struggle and victoriously getting out of it despite what life throws at us.

Battling between cold weather and fatigue the team starts reaching Panalaban between 3.00pm to 6.04pm. A cup of hot Milo never tasted that good when you crave for hot beverage in wet and freezing temperature. At Panalaban, the lights are usually off at 7.30pm, right after dinner. We changed to dry clothes and tucked ourselves under warm bed sheet to be prepared for summit push the following morning.

The next morning, on 30th July, after our supper, we started our summit push at 2.45am.  We hauled our backpacks and climbed anxiously towards the summit. One shall never underestimate the real threat of safety. Owing to their own ability and strength, some made conscious decision not to summit; not wanting to put risk to their health and safety, and rested at Panalaban.

The weather seemed clear and we began our summit ascend. The climb was grueling; the temperature was below zero as ice crystals started forming on our faces and clothes. All of us met the Sayat – Sayat checkpoint 5.00am cut-off time at 3,668 meters and pushed ourselves to the summit. Some were hit by mountain sickness and started vomiting yet kept pushing themselves to the summit. Others felt their lungs burning in thin mountain air and called off their climb at 8km point, 720 meters away from the summit.

Every step reaching the summit was excruciating. The legs ache and the heart raced climbing the sheer granite face as we gain in altitude. We pulled ourselves with great effort using ropes secured to the rock. The temperature was below zero, gritting our teeth as we make the final push. The final hundred meters greets with cruel jagged rocks. Climbing the final steps felt like magic placing our foot at 4,095 meters Low’s peak.

Feeling elated, we proudly unveiled Makna25 Klimb Kinabalu banner with extremely numb hands celebrating 25 years of Makna giving meaning to life.

We couldn’t catch the panoramic view from the summit. The view at the top was covered with mist. But what goes up must come down. Frozen and numb we start to descend. While climbing down, the South Peak shyly emerged from the mist to greet us. We felt overjoyed by its emergence as though it was saying “well done and have a safe trip home”. We slowly descend to Panalaban, had breakfast, packed our stuff and began walking down to Timpohon Gate.

Halfway down, we were not spared by the rain. We were again soaked in rain water as we descend. Overall we felt the accomplishment. We were there for one another and as chain effect we shared our life experience and grew stronger in the fight against cancer. The last team safely reached the foot of Mount Kinabalu 6.00pm on 30th July.

From the Survivors

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia cancer survivor, Gan Li Li said despite the heavy rains, cold blustery winds, high mountain steps and sore leg muscles, she’ll still look for higher and tougher mountains to climb for more experience, foresight and insights.

“Because that’s how life works – no matter what happens, which in my case, being diagnosed with cancer – never be defeated by it. Take one step at a time but always be prepared. Cancer is not the end but the beginning of a stronger journey.”

A two-time cancer survivor and currently living with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, Renee Aziz Ahmad described her experience as challenging, both mentally and physically. “My left foot slipped on a wet stone and I fell. As I sat there on the wet ground feeling miserable and rather defeated, Dee Lu (fellow climber) appeared in front of me with crispy M&Ms, jelly babies and electrolytes to cheer me up. After resting a while along the trail with an emergency blanket wrapped around me, I looked out at the amazing view which instantly reminded me why I was there. I was there because life is too precious to waste my time all the ‘What ifs’. What if I can’t? Or what if I fail? I was there because sometimes it’s better to have tried and failed than to have done nothing at all and wish I had.”

Nor Farizan, a 37-year-old cervix cancer survivor was glad for being able to pull through although she did not make it to the summit.

“The whole climb up towards Panalaban was tough – it was far beyond my expectation. To do this, one must be physically and mentally fit and possess a strong willpower to get to the finishing line. But despite it all, I am glad to be part of the team, to test my power and capability as someone who had cancer. I will train myself harder, hoping for another chance to conquer Kinabalu.”