[Above picture] Mount Kinabalu porters taking a break after completing the 6km trek from Timpohon gate – the starting point of the climb – to the Panalaban base camp. – Pix by NSTP/Khairull Azry Bidin
NOTE: From April 1-2, I climbed Mount Kinabalu and had the chance to talk to some of the most inspiring individuals, the mountain porters. Here’s what I learned.
STANDING at only 160cm and weighing 52kg, one would be forgiven for doubting Jvy Mius’ ability as a porter, carrying heavy loads up Mount Kinabalu.
However, the sight of his lithe frame springing from one rock to another as he treks his way up to the Panalaban base camp of Malaysia’s highest mountain is a marvel to behold.
Depending on the weight of the load, the 22-year-old Dusun lad from Kampung Waang in the highland district of Ranau can reach the base camp, located 3,272m above sea level, in under two hours.
“That is if I am carrying light objects. If the loads are heavy, then I will reach the camp in three hours. If they’re heavier, my climb will take four to five hours,” he told the New Straits Times.
The speed is remarkable given that climbers, depending on their fitness levels, usually take between four and nine hours to complete the 6km trek from Timpohon Gate — the starting point of the climb — to Panalaban.
Jvy is one of 82 porters, or “tulun mamamabo barang tumakad nuluh”, from the Sabah Mount Kinabalu Porters Association, which was established after the 2015 earthquake.
“Tulun mamamabo barang tumakad nuluh” means “a person carrying things up the mountain” in Dusun.
Porters from the association hail from Kota Marudu, Tuaran, Kota Belud and Ranau.
Jvy said the heaviest load he had carried was 46kg of building material, comprising wooden planks and concrete, for construction work on the mountain.
“I’m used to this (carrying heavy loads uphill). This route (the trail leading to Panalaban) is our playground. We just close our eyes and we are there. No complaints.”
On April 1, Jvy along with 15 porters, helped to carry bags belonging to a group of mountaineers, including journalists, during a two-day climbing expedition led by Sabah Parks to unveil two new hostels in Panalaban.
Prior to the climb, knapsacks were weighed and given to each porter. The weight of each load determines how much a porter would get. For that climb, Jvy made RM260.
Jvy said not many youths showed an interest in becoming porters.
“But the mountain provides us with jobs. I make between RM100 and RM350 a day. Furthermore, scaling the mountain is good for health and I enjoy the outdoors.”
Sabah Mount Kinabalu Porters Association president David Simpat said a rate of RM6.50 per kg was charged to carry climbers’ belongings. An additional RM4.20 per kg was charged to carry food, as well as cooking gas cylinder, to the Laban Rata guesthouse, managed by Sutera Sanctuary Lodge.
For building materials, he said, the fees varied depending on size, adding that porters would usually ask for RM10 or more to bring 12m -long wooden planks to Panalaban.
David, 38, from Kampung Kiau Nuluh in Kota Belud, has 12 years’ experience as porter.
He said most of them took up the job as a career and followed in the footsteps of their fathers.
Like others, Jvy and David started climbing the mountain since primary school, helping their fathers carry loads to Panalaban.
This helped them became used to the trail and become mentally, as well as physically prepared.
“I worked as a storekeeper with a private tourism company for three years.
“However, it was not challenging nor thrilling. So I quit the job to become a porter and have never looked back.
“Being a porter, I have the advantage of using the mountain trail as my training ground because I am also an ultra-runner.
“I will go to the mountain five days a week. During my rest days, I plant pineapples,” said the father of two.
(*Originally published as ‘No mountain too high for porter’ in the New Straits Times on 17 April 2019)