Outside of our lodge it is pitch-black and, for the first time since I’ve been in Malaysia, neither muggy nor warm. I have two pairs of pants and a too-big pair of gloves on, but it’s still cold. I’m ready to get moving and soon we are, in a single-file line up wooden steps and then on a nicely-cut trail that alternates between packed dirt and tree roots and solid rock. About an hour in the path changes to rock exclusively. Here, thick white rope marks the best places to walk and gives us something to hang on in the sections where the incline is steep.
It’s just rock now, no trees or brush. Further in front of me, outside of the three or so yards my headlamp lights up, stretches an ink-dark canvass splattered with yellow lights. Some of the bright spots are stars, others are the headlamps and flashlights of more ambitious hikers closer to the top. It’s impossible to tell the difference between the lights and the stars when it’s this dark and we’re this high. Sleep-deprived, sweating, and with no idea where the mountain ends and the sky begins, I feel a little like I’m walking through space, or at least in a poorly-lit dream.
Later the solid sheet of rock we’d been walking on changes to big boulders. Carefully-placed steps and jumps across and up the rocks, and finally my headlamp just shows the sky. We’ve reached the peak, a small space, soon crowded with our tired and heavy-breathing group and other groups close by. There are fifteen minutes before the sun is expected to rise
I can’t see much as it’s still dark, but I know we’re high—the battered sign close by says 4,095 meters, I hear. This will likely be the most impressive sunrise I’ll ever see. It will definitely be the only one I plan on waking up this early for. I pull out my camera and wait.
Fifteen minutes of not moving, though, and I’m nodding off. I know this will be on the coolest things, ever, but my body is giving out on me. I turn to my more awake brother.
“Aaron, can you wake me up when the sun comes?” I slouch down on a rock with my head between my legs and close my eyes.
Soon it’s coming up, though, and I lift my head.
In the beginning it’s slow and tentative, first the dark changing to periwinkle blue and then real light, far away, white-peach colored lines poking gradually up between dark soft-edged clouds. As the white gets higher, the color turns electric, bright blood orange, and spreads across the sky. We’re high enough that full-formed clouds are below us, a thick and round and billowing bottom frame to the now quickly-changing picture.
ps-- my brother is a real writer! For more on Borneo and our trip, check out his stories.