Ever since seeing a Channel 4 documentary called ‘Into The Abyss’ about twelve years ago, I’ve been fascinated with Low’s Gully, so when I heard that it was less than two hours away from Kota Kinabalu where we were staying, I knew I had to go and see it!
Low’s Gully is a 1600m deep rift that hit the headlines in 1994 when a group of five British soldiers got caught up in its depths for thirty one days. The Malaysian army came to their rescue after three weeks of searching and just in the nick of time as many of the badly trained group were on the brink of starvation (even though they were surrounded by all sorts of food – tapioca, sugar cane etc. according to a local woman we spoke to). Despite their best efforts, the army team had still only managed to descend about one third of the gully – it wasn’t actually bottomed until four years later when two of the original army team returned with a new group and threw as much equipment as they could at the rift – they rigged it with 5000m of fixed rope and successfully sneaked through. Known locally as ‘the place of the dead’, locals believe that the gully is a kind of purgatory where the souls of their ancestors pass through on their way to heaven or hell.
To get to the top of the gully, a trip had to be made to the Summit of Mount Kinabalu, but because of the popularity of this hike and the requirement by the park services for hikers to have bunk space prebooked on the mountain, I couldn’t do the trip the regular way – I was about four months too late. Luckily enough, I found a company that organised via feratta trips on the mountain that had their own hut – by going through them, I could get hiking on the mountain and do a via ferratta route at the same time for around the same cost as just doing the hike (but without the need to prebook months in advance). I had a date!
The hike up to the gully isn’t technically difficult, but it’s a pain in the hole if like me you’re not used to steep walks- its a 21km round trip that’s made up of thousands of steps built into the mountain (without the steps, the path would get eroded away because of the muddiness of the ground). The summit is at around 4100m, so it’s a little more difficult to catch your breath towards the top. The plan was to set out from the middle station a few hours before dawn to get a good view of the sun rising from the summit, but the weather was crap so all we could see was cloud. Luckily enough the sun burned most of it away once it had risen so it was possible to see the gully, but not as clearly as I’d hoped.
After taking some photos of the rift and the surrounding pinnacles, it was time to head back down the mountain, but this time by the via feratta route – this started at 3800m and wound down to 3200m, mostly by way of traditional via feratta steps but with some suspension bridges and tightropes. Altough not the original aim of the trip, it turned out to be the highlight as the views were fantastic. Later that afternoon, well and truly knackered, I returned to the bottom of the mountain and met up with Riona. This is a place I’d definitely like to return to – who knows, maybe it’ll become a destination for UCDCPC‘s canyoning trip some day :-)