Thursday, December 20, 2012

12 of The Best from 2012

It's almost the end of the year and time to look back at some of the key events and best photographs captured during the year. It's always difficult to pick out a few photographs from the many hundreds (or possibly thousands) taken during 2012 but here is a selection of the 12 key images which inspired me.

A tango evening in February was a great opportunity to try and capture this sensual dance. There were a number of professional tango dancers who had flown into KL for this Tango Festival and it was so inspiring to see this wonderful dance ... and of course the music was great too.

Bukit Nanas Heritage Mansions
My interest in old heritage buildings took me to the rundown row of old mansion houses on Jalan Tun Razak in KL. I used to look out over these buildings from an office many years ago and it's been in the back of my mind to capture these before they disappear for good. In their day these buildings probably represented the elite of down-town accommodation but sadly these buildings are now crumbling away and will probably disappear for good due to re-development.

Twin Towers
I have been in KL for over 20 years now and have seen the tremendous developments to the city. None more so than when the magnificent Petronas Twin Towers were built and the subsequent development of the central city area around this site. I wanted to capture a picture of the towers so early one Sunday morning in early April I headed to town and took a number of images using a tilt-shift lens which allowed me to merge multiple frames into a larger panorama without the usual sloping distortion you get when using a wide angle lens on a tall building.

Emperor Jade Pagoda
In May I was in Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam on business but managed to fit in a visit to the Emperor Jade Pagoda on the recommendation of Peter Stuckings a professional photographer who now lives in Ho Chi Minh. This pagoda is very traditional and if visiting when the light is right you can experience these wonderful rays of light coming in through the slatted wooden roof and creating long beams due to the incense smoke. I was luck to visit during a ceremony so there was also some atmospheric chanting and singing to augment the visual feast.

The Long and Winding Road to the Lakes
I usually return to UK once a year and this year took the opportunity to make a trip to the Lake District in Cumbria, North England. The scenery here is beautiful with rolling hills and many lakes providing were numerous photo opportunities in this region.

Bordeaux Châteaux
After the UK trip I had the opportunity to visit the Bordeaux area of south west France where there are many world acclaimed vineyards. This picture shows the famous Margaux vineyard. To be expected during a trip like this there was much eating and drinking to sample all the local delicacies.

Dinosaurs in Paris
No trip to France would be complete without a few days in the capital, Paris. I always enjoy this city with its magnificent architecture, museums and history as well of course as being able to eat some fantastic French food. This photo was taken inside the Museum of Natural History situated in the Jardin des Plantes.

Lost Legacy
My interest in heritage buildings came to fruition in September when I had the chance to display a set of photographs at the Guerrilla Photo Exhibition at Avenue K Shopping Centre in KL. My exhibition was titled "Lost Legacy" and highlighted the disappearance of many of the prime heritage buildings which exemplify the unique architectural style of Malaysia.

An urbex outing in central KL uncovered this gem of an old house left abandoned right in the centre of the city. The old house was in ruins and inhabited by many bats and this old red umbrella left on the floor created a great shot - an HDR image converted to black and white then the colour restored to the red umbrella for effect.

This was a small project I did to focus on the two major rivers that flow through KL, the Klang River and the Gombak River. The two rivers are still polluted although somewhat better now than many years ago

Rice Bowl of Bali
In September we returned yet again to Bali, one of our favourite spots in S.E. Asia. We stayed in Ubud and took a nostalgic walk through the rice paddy fields which we had done 6 years before. There are always some great photo opportunities her and when I came across this old man working in the fields I couldn't resist a portrait highlighting his skinny but fit body against the wonderful rich colours of the rice fields in the background.

The Roof of Borneo
In October I finally achieved a long ambition to climb Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. It was a tough climb over two days but rewarded with some stunning photos. The above South Peak really stands out against the clouds in the background and in my view is a lot more impressive than Low's Peak which is the tallest peak.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Roof of Borneo - Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo in South East Asia is an awesome mountain towering over the surrounding jungles at a height of 4,095m. It sits within the Kinabalu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is home to a myriad of botanical and biological species covering a number of distinct eco-regions from the lower semi-tropical jungle up to alpine environment close to the summit. Having climbed some of the Mesilau Trail earlier this year I finally decided it was time to attempt the summit so at the end of October, and luckily coinciding with a full moon, myself and a few others travelled to Kota Kinabalu for the 2 day climb.

To climb Mount Kinabalu there are two trails you can take; either the Timpohon Trail from the main park Head Quarters or the Mesilau Trail which is somewhat longer at 8km. The Timpohon Trail which runs from the Kinabalu Park Head Quarters up to Laban Rata resthouse is 6km long, which doesn't sound long but the gradients are steep (from 1,564m at park HQ to 3,272m at Laban Rata) and the terrain extremely rough and rocky making it a tough climb in around 5 hours or more.

Magic Mountain
Our base for the climb was Magic Mountain, where I had stayed on my previous trip to the area. Run by Peter Achleitner and his wife Lily this guesthouse close to the park HQ, under the east ridge of Mount Kinabalu, offered comfortable rooms and more importantly some great home cooking including home baked bread, cured ham and bacon, salami and locally grown herbs and spices. A great way indeed to prepare for our climb and of course to rejuvenate our bodies post-climb. Peter is a great source of local information and offered us plenty of excellent advice and recommendations for our stay. He also keeps a good collection of wine and some excellent German beer which was greatly appreciated on our return after the 2 days up the mountain.

Park HQ to Laban Rata
We decided to take the shorter Timpohon Trail route (a wise decision in retrospect!) and after arriving at the park HQ, where we registered, were transferred to Timpohon Gate to start our climb at around 9:30 in the morning. As you climb on Day 1 towards the Laban Rata resthouse at 3,272m you pass through varying types of vegetation from large tropical trees at the lowers levels to small shrub-like trees and alpine plants at the higher elevations. In many places you are walking through mist and clouds.

Laban Rata
Laban Rata is the main accommodation hut on Mount Kinabalu at a height of 3,272m and is the usual overnight stop used by climbers prior to doing the final ascent to the Low's Peak summit. There are a number of private rooms but the bulk of the accommodation comprises 6-man dormitory bunk rooms. A restaurant offers breakfast, dinner and supper. Due to cable damage, apparently back in 2009, the dormitory rooms are unheated and there is no hot water but luckily we had clear weather for our climb so arrived at Laban Rata dry. We arrived at around 3pm in the afternoon after the 6km up from the Park HQ in time for an early dinner at 5:30pm, in bed by 7:30pm and then up by 2:00am the next morning to make the final push on the summit.

Laban Rata to Low's Peak
From Laban Rata resthouse to the summit of Low's peak, the highest point of Mount Kinabalu, is a steep trail of 2.7km rising a total height of 823m. Leaving Laban Rata at 2:30am in the morning, after a few hours of rest in a 6-man dormitory, the first portion of the final summit trail consisted of hundreds of steep steps rising up through the last of the vegetation. Moving up using just the small beam from your headlight and trying to suck in the thin air as you struggled with the gradients is a tough experience. We were lucky that it was a full moon which illuminated the whole mountain creating a surreal experience. Soon we reached a steep granite rock slope where we then had to use ropes to assist us climbing up till we reached the final rest hut, Sayat Sayat, at 3,668m. From here to the summit was a steady steep slope over the large granite slabs of rock. I struggled with this last section as by now altitude sickness was causing me to gasp for breath and required frequent stops to regain my breath and get the heart rate down. Just after dawn at 5:50am I completed the last steep scramble up the rocky peak and reached the summit for a magnificent view over the other mountain peaks of Kinabalu and down to the coastline of north Borneo where we could see the lights of Kota Kinabalu and the sea.
Low's Peak Summit
As you sit on the summit you see the other peaks of the mountain including, Alexandra Peak, St John's Peak, South Peak, Donkey Ears Peak, Ugly Sister Peak, King Edward Peak and Tunku Abdul Rahman Peak. Just to one side of the summit is the heart wrenching sheer drop down Low's Gully which is an 1,800m deep gorge on the north side of the mountain, one of the least explored and most inhospitable places on earth. In 1994 two British Army officers were severely criticised after having led a party of 10 adventurers that required extensive rescue efforts from both the RAF and the Malaysian army. Five members of the party were trapped for 16 days and did not eat for five days before being rescued. The breakaway party of five successfully completed the world's first descent of the gully in three days.
Low's Peak to Laban Rata The euphoria of reaching the summit was soon dampened by the thought that I had now to climb down that day all the way to the park HQ. So after only 15 minutes or so at the summit I started the laborious and difficult way down initially to Laban Rata for breakfast prior to the gruelling 6km down to the park HQ. Going down was difficult given the steep slopes and the need to be ultra careful. One slip or mistake could be dangerous; the last thing you needed was a silly ankle strain or worse at this height. Going down I had the opportunity now to see and photograph the magnificent mountain peaks which we could now see clearly in the early morning light. We reached Laban Rata at around 7:45am and by then my legs were shaking and feeling like jelly.
Laban Rata to Park HQ After a good breakfast and a rest it was time to make our way down the long 6km to the park HQ, again being ultra careful about our footing as the large boulders and sharp rocks could have caused a nasty injury had we fallen. Again we passed through a great deal of cloud and mist which helped to cool us. One of the strange sights I saw was the cloud and mist hitting the small stunted trees and then condensing on the leaves causing rain to fall - on one occasion I saw a tree in the middle of the trail and it was raining just under the train as you passed - amazing! We eventually reached the park HQ at just after 2pm in the afternoon - we had been walking now for around 12 hours since the early start at 2:30 am. Probably the hardest bit for me was the last 50m as this was an uphill section to reach the Timpohon Gate and by that time I had reached "The Wall". However it was a great feeling to complete this climb and after some lunch and a much needed (and expensive!) beer I was feeling good again. We collected our certificates and then headed back to rest prior to our return to KL. To put this climb into perspective a notice at the end of the trail highlighted the record times for the annual mountain race up Mount Kinabalu .... I still cannot believe how it can be done in this time!
Porters of Kinabalu
One of the most amazing things we saw during our 2 day climb was observing the many porters transporting goods up and down the mountain. Everything needed up at the Laban Rata rest house at 3,272m on Mount Kinabalu needs to be transported up the mountain using the local Dusun porters; food, drinks, dried goods, cooking materials, plumbing materials, water tanks, electrical equipment, bedding, linens, etc. These local porters are a wonder to see as they slowly but surely pass you with their heavy loads carried on a simple wooden backplate with string shoulder straps and head strap,as you struggle up (or down) the slope. There are even women porters who are incredibly strong and some of the loads these porters carry can be 30 - 50kg or more. One amazing sight I saw on our descent from the mountain was being passed by a porter carrying a small Asian lady down the mountain who obviously had made it up but could not make the descent. The cost of this is service is apparently around RM300 per km. It crossed my mind at the time that perhaps I should have considered that!

Video Slideshow