British group make historic trek
Group treks to reach summit
Slippery When Wet – 19 August
Today’s exploits started with Stew leading the swift climb to the finishing point of the previous day, before heading west along the Death March. Due to some heavy rain during the night, the track was extremely slippery under foot and a few members of the team were up-ended before being pulled back to their feet (after photo evidence had been taken). The route was a mixture of steady climbs with numerous rivers thrown in for good measure. The stop for lunch was picture perfect and it was next to a large river where the team cooled down by diving in for a swim. After a delicious combination of tapioca and yam the team continued the route through more palm oil plantations until reaching our destination and the transport back to our accommodation. Another good day for the team having covered just over 14 km.
Beware of the Blowpipes – 20 August
Today the team walked 18 km and we followed the Death March crossing numerous rivers at different points. The intervals between crossing meant that our feet never actually got dry all day! When we stopped for lunch we were lucky enough to meet the ‘Blowpipe Man’, a local 89 year old local veteran of the Japanese occupation who told us all about his days as a young man fighting against the enemy with his group of 13 friends. After a demonstration of his blowpipe he was kind enough to let us all try our hand and, to everyone’s surprise, there were a few individuals amongst the team who could use the pipe to good effect. For the majority of us, we clearly need more practice! We completed this leg of the route just in time for us to put up our hammocks and ponchos as the heavens opened up. It didn’t stop raining for the next 12 hours. Luckily most of us had a dry nights sleep.
Lalosing Hill – 21 August
Today was the most memorable day to date as we made history. No other group had walked this route since 1945 and the serious and arduous nature of it was reflected by the fact that in addition to our 3 usual guides we were accompanied by a further two native guides to the region, one is known locally as The Jungle King.
The day started off with a gentle road walk which turned into a leech infested 3 hour walk up a river. On occasions it got as deep as our thighs in mud as well as water, there were many obstacles to tackle such as fallen trees across the river which meant going cross country, often climbing over huge trunks littered with red fire ants. This was by far the hardest, most dangerous and exhausting part of our expedition so far.
Next we changed from river shoes back to jungle boots for a hour slog up through primary jungle. The intensity and steepness of the climb was something to remember. Often 70 degrees in angle, the hill proved to be so demanding due to the heavy rains from the previous night. Grabbing hold of any tree roots that we could find, whilst avoiding those with 3 inch prickles, the team managed to scramble up to the summit of Lalosing Hill. There was definitely no path and we followed Jungle Kings parang marks in the trees.
As the team finished this section of the expedition we were left humbled by the exploits of the POWs whilst feeling extremely proud that we had re-traced their steps and were the first to do it. The Daily Express, Sabah’s national paper, had the team in full glory on the front page after completing this historic part of the route. The author Lynette Silver stated in the article of the ‘historic significance’ of the team’s efforts in completing this part of the march.
Local Heroes – 22 August
After another beautiful night of heavy rain in the Malaysian jungle, we woke to a delicious local breakfast of what looked like ‘frog spawn’ porridge. We were then ready to continue on our arduous trek across Northern Borneo. A short distance into our daily mileage we stopped off and met a man known as the ‘The Boat Man’ (no relation to Rambo) who explained to us how he helped the allied escapees cross the river when he was only a teenager. ‘Boat Man’ carried on to tell us that he believed that he was now over 100 years young. Later on we got to listen to a woman known as the ‘Ring Lady’ who explained to us about how she, as a young girl, helped allied escapees and was rewarded with their wedding rings. Upon completing the day’s total mileage we were then allowed to continue on a further 6km so we would have less distance to cover the following day. Once the first kilometer had been completed we realized that we had been looking forward to doing 6km….all up hill.
Sabah Tea House – 23 August
Following the previous day’s epic cycle we were faced with a mere 15km walk, or so we thought. The day started with a welcome drive up the hill that is responsible for the majority of the group declaring that they will never touch a bike saddle with their buttocks again. The early section was relatively easy as we trekked through nimble tracks and secondary jungle and were even afforded our first glimpse of the majestic Mount Kinabalu. As the morning developed we were introduced to some of the ‘fruits of the forest’ and found ourselves re-acquainted with everyone’s favorite blood sucker, the leech! Other than feeding a handful of thirsty worms the morning passed with little incident.
The afternoon, however, we were introduced to Malaysian distance perception as we took on a very simple sounding 5km; this duly turned into double that amount. Much to the delight of the group we were all treated to a sighting of a pit viper consuming a gecko; I was over the moon only to be brought swiftly back down to earth with the realisation that I didn’t have my camera with me. The apparent 5km that we had begun eventually ended after 2 hours of hard graft through tough secondary jungle and rope bridges. Afterwards we had a chance to enjoy a look around the Sabah Tea House that is home to some of the most beautiful panoramic views in the region. There was only one thing left for the team and that was to build a memorial for the 641 British lives lost during the marches. 641 stones from the local river were used to construct the tribute – it must be said, thankfully, that Dave has not lost any of his bricklaying attributes as he set us all to work.
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