This is the sixth in a series of more in-depth posts on our trip to Borneo.
The Rajah Nepenthes – the largest pitcher plant is endemic to Mt. Kinabalu. It was one of the must-sees on our list. I was too exhausted the previous day to hike the trail up to see it so we returned the next morning. We drove up to Mesilau but had to stop near the entrance because a large group of climbers were having their pictures taken before starting the climb. They were taking up the whole road just below the trail head. A couple of beeps of the horn and eased through the crowd.
The nature center was deserted except for a woman and her baby who was cleaning up behind the desk. We noticed that officially the hike to the Nepenthes started at 11:30am. We asked to talk to the ranger and see if he would take us at 9am instead. He agreed.
The morning was cool and overcast – quite a difference from the brilliant sunshine of yesterday. The ranger led us along a concrete sidewalk, up past the Crocker Range Lodge to the start of the trail. We could hear the roaring sound of the river below. The trail descended down along the west side of the river through dense forest filled with moss, ginger, ferns and orchids. After a short while we passed by the historic Mesilau Cave where plant explorers have used as shelter while exploring the area.
Soon we reached the river and the ranger pulled out his keys and opened the gate to the botanical wonderland. Many of the plants growing on the opposite slope are endangered so the area has been fenced in to protect the plants. Mesilau means yellow and a quick glance across to the opposite hillside explained why. The soil was a dusty yellow in color. It turns out to be serpentine soil and very poor in nutrients. Poor soil is perfect for Nepenthes.
We crossed the bridge and started up the opposite slope. It was so different from the other side – much less lush. There had been many landslides and the area was clear of tall trees and plants. Most of the shrubs grew about shoulder high. The trail started to climb and soon we found the Nepenthes. The first one we came across is of my favorites – Nepenthes burbidgeae. The cups are chartreuse with magenta spotting and magenta and chartreuse striping around the lip. As we continued up we can see rhododendrons and bamboo orchids.
We came to an area that had recently been washed out and was quite rough. There were wooden ladder steps to climb but little or few railings. I found it a little scary. But the vistas kept opening up above the river and across to the northeastern slopes of Kinabalu.
And there it was. Nepenthes Rajah! What we had come half way around the world to see. It was huge, almost 18 inches. The large magenta cups laid on the hillside around the plant. It is said to hold at least 2 liters of liquid and can trap small mammals. Looking inside – I only saw one or two dead insects. The ranger said it was okay to handle and I pick it up and cradled it like a baby.
The rajahs were all around – hidden in the deep sedge grasses along the slope. The ranger had another surprise for us – a paphilopedium orchid (paphilopedium hookeri). A beautiful green and pink lady slipper. We knew they grew in Borneo but thought our chances of seeing one were remote. This was like frosting on the cake.
We climb almost to the top of the eastern slope – just about as high as yesterday. The ranger points across to the ridge and says that the first shelter is just at the top. That is as far as we went yesterday. The clouds were opening and closing with views of the craggy top of Mt. Kinabalu. Our guide told us that sometimes painters would come up to paint the views. It was a cloud forest as seen in films at about 6,000Ft. The weather was mild and fortunately not rainy. In fact since it was so open and exposed – it was very good that we had done it today instead of yesterday when the sun would have beated down on us.
The ranger was scheduled to lead the next hike so we turned and started our decent. We made one or two more stops to see the nepenthes and orchids. We thanked the ranger for a wonderful hike and return to the Inn for lunch. We had a wonderful Malaysian lunch including Pisang Gorang – fried banana fritters. Yumm.
After lunch, we headed to Mt Kinabalu headquarters which were about 20 minutes away. It was much more crowded than Mesilau. Mesilau is almost deserted. Most of the climbers and the day trippers come up by minivan or taxi to the headquarters. There were also several large tour buses filled with foreign tourists.
We decided to visit the botanical garden which didn’t reopen until 2pm. We decided to hike for a while along one of the day hike trails next to the botanical garden to kill some time. We returned just as the garden open and spent time admiring the orchids and tropical plants. We met an English couple and talked a bit about our travels. They had been to Poring and seen a Rafflessia in bloom. This was our second holy grail of the trip. It was a fresh bloom and only 3 days old. We were heading there tomorrow and it would still be in good shape. The flower lasts for about 7 days.
It took us about an hour to visit the garden. We decided to walk along another trail before returning. It was late afternoon and the sun was waning. Most of the tourists had left for the day. It was a nice and peaceful way to end our day and our visit to Mt. Kinabalu.
They are the size of a human foot!
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