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TROPICAL PEAK: Putting GEAR to the test on Mount Kinabalu 

Traveling is a great way to find out what works when in comes to gear. f-stop Ambassador Sonny Royal has spent years traveling throughout tropical Asia documenting scientific and creative projects from areas of natural beauty and ecologic importance. This trip to the 4095m Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia is no exception. Read on for Sonny's insight on this trip with fellow f-stop Ambassadors Charles Ryan and Nick Heard as they push themselves and their gear to capture the stunning landscapes of one of the most important sites for biodiversity in the world.
 

Words: Nick Heard & Sonny Royal


There is no better way to push your gear to the limits than heading into an environment that is going to throw a range of conditions your way. Although not as extreme as other parts of the world, Mount Kinabalu can certainly present its fair share of temperamental weather at anyone on the trail and you never really know what to expect. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea, Mount Kinabalu stands out in stark contrast against the surrounding landscape and offers adventurers the amazing opportunity to explore a unique environment that you will only encounter on the island of Borneo. At a height of 4095 metres above sea level the mountain spans across a wide range of habitats, from rich tropical lowland and hill rainforest all the way to tropical montane and sub-alpine forest at the highest elevations, the ideal playground for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike.

 

Nick with his Tilopa and South Peak in the background (photo: Sonny Royal)

 

A group of us set out to film and photograph the journey equipped with a range of f-stop Gear to ensure we could capture every moment and deal with every weather condition the mountain had to throw at us. The initial climb is steep and requires a great deal of determination and endurance to tackle packing light, let alone carrying a bag laden with camera gear of all kinds. Thanks to the well thought out design of f-stop’s backpacks we could be certain that we could fit all the gear we needed for the trip with quick and easy accessibility due to the clever compartmentalisation options built into the bag system. The built in alframe and support straps made it a breeze to carry some 15 kilograms worth of gear as you can adjust the bag to distribute weight across your back and hips, which is important when climbing along a steady altitudinal gradient.

Kinabalu Park is exceptionally rich in plant species (photo: Sonny Royal)

 

Mount Kinabalu, due to its unique tropical location and towering height creates its own weather systems. While it can be beautifully sunny by the coast it is often noted that Mount Kinabalu and surrounding foothills are shrouded in cloud and more often than not shielded from view. The walk up took us along the well worn trail climbing from 1800m to 3600m above sea level with mist occasionally obscuring the surrounding views to create an ethereal feel to this natural wonder. Sure enough it wasn’t long until it started to rain and the rain covers came out to keep the gear safe and even without them I would have been confident to rely on my bags outer shell to keep equipment inside dry.

 

Charlie taking in the view with his well-loaded Ajna bag (photo: Sonny Royal)

 

Mount Kinabalu, due to its unique tropical location and towering height creates its own weather systems. While it can be beautifully sunny by the coast it is often noted that Mount Kinabalu and surrounding foothills are shrouded in cloud and more often than not shielded from view. The walk up took us along the well worn trail climbing from 1800m to 3600m above sea level with mist occasionally obscuring the surrounding views to create an ethereal feel to this natural wonder. Sure enough it wasn’t long until it started to rain and the rain covers came out to keep the gear safe and even without them I would have been confident to rely on my bags outer shell to keep equipment inside dry.

Torch light of mountain climbers illuminates the rock face with the glow of city lights and the Milky Way in the background (photo: Charles Ryan)

 

With gear set and ready to go from the night before we embarked on the final climb starting at 2am to reach the summit before the sun started to reveal itself. A gentle glow from the nearby Kota Kinabalu City lights lit the horizon whilst clear sky above us was filled with the immense Milky Way. Sitting at the summit as the sun began to rise was mesmerising and it wasn’t long before we could make sense of the bizarre landscape surrounding us. After the tree line the stunted alpine vegetation gave way to a bare granite rock face so expansive it seemed to go on forever. From the summit you can see the multiple peaks that project from the rock carved over centuries by wind and water to reveal what stands before you today.

Charlie and friend setting up timelapses above the clouds (photo: Sonny Royal)

 

Climbing the mountain is an experience we will not forget anytime soon, indeed we formed memories that will last a lifetime. Knowing that our gear was ready at a moments notice and safe in challenging conditions meant we could focus on the task at hand and make the most of our shooting opportunities every moment of the trip.

Sonny looking out over Low’s Gully (photo: Nick Heard)

Nick and friends descending the vast granite landscape (photo: Sonny Royal)

The climbing crew including our mountain guides (photo: Charles Ryan)

 

EXPLORE THE GEAR USED IN THIS STORY:

For this trip Sonny, Nick and Charles used the f-stop Shinn, Tilopa and Ajna