The trip really started for me at the Heathrow Hotel with the issue of the Jungle Monkey tops, a last repacking of kit before the flight and a team beer at the bar. On arrival despite the travel exhaustion we all congregated at the hotel rooftop pool to rest and acclimatise to the heat. A cold drink and a relax by the pool certainly helped the transition.
The following day we were met by our new friends Tham and Kim our local guides for the greater part of the Exercise. Under their guidance in the oppressive jungle heat we set off up Mount Trus Madi and begun our new obsession watching our legs for extras passengers. We encountered our first leech latched on to Gnr Harrison’s waist and after that the forest floor seemed to move with them. It was a hard climb up to the first camp racing the fading daylight due to the long journey from Kota Kinabalu, the final kilometre was completed in less than ideal rainy and dark conditions.
Breakfast of egg fried rice came, and we set off for the summit just before first light into the steep dense jungle. At the first false summit we realised this wasn’t going to be as easy as we’d hoped owing to a significant down climb the other side before having to retake the ground again.
We finally summited Trus Madi at 2065m shortly before midday where we were treated by the guides to dry cream crackers and apples, the crackers particularly helped our dwindling water supply. As we walked off the mountain on the third day we stopped off creating a particularly memorable moment by having a swim and a shower under a rainforest waterfall. Following a cultural evening at base camp the Trus Madi excitement seemed all but over until Maj Hannaford was bitten by one of the local guard dogs in the night. It turns out there was a use for all our pre-training and the heavy medic kit after all!
Following the mountain, we started our historical trekking tour of the Sandakan Death Marches following sections of the route the original route trodden by the 2434 British and Australian POWs that set off. It was a sobering to hear the awful conditions these soldiers lived under and that there were only 6 survivors by the end owing that to their escapes into the jungle. It was particularly moving meeting Domima Akoi (the ring lady), at the time a local girl who despite the personal risks was sneaking food to aid the POWs and hearing her experiences.
We followed the marches with our visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Sanctuary. The apes were incredible to see, from their human expressions you can see how the name ‘orangutan’ (man of the forest in the native language) was given to them. It would have been unthinkable to have made the long journey out to Borneo and have missed them.
Despite visiting in the rainy season, we thought we had avoided the worst of it until this point, so shortly after we started our climb up Mount Kinabalu the rain set in. The downpour continued for our entire climb up to the mountain hut and we arrived shortly after midday soaked through. We now faced the challenge of trying to dry our kit before our acclimatisation climb. Following the acclimatisation walk we escaped the rain and relaxed, playing cards and ‘adminning’ ourselves for our early start the next day.
At 0300 we began our push for the summit, spending several hours scrambling, often on all fours, up the bare rock. The going was slow and despite our acclimatisation we all felt the effects of the thin air, finally topping at 4095.2m just before dawn. It was a spectacular sunrise, well worth the effort and tremendous sense of triumph was felt by all both at the top and on re-crossing our departure line at the Park Gate.
Ex NJM has been an extremely valuable experience where we’ve pushed ourselves physically on the Summer Mountain Foundation Training, absorbed the local culture and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Excuse the pun but it has certainly been a high point in my career.
Lt Brougham, Troop Commander 269 (West Riding) Battery, 101st Regiment Royal Artillery.