nBOSS deployment diary: week 4

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Sorting all the kit again!
Everyone had very long days on Saturday so we had a leisurely start on Sunday morning. After breakfast I headed to the Gaya St market in search of a Mount Kinabalu souvenir t-shirt and managed to find a suitably garish gold glittery one. Mid-morning we headed to UMS to unload vehicles and sort out kit for going to the islands and up Mount Kinabalu. We had to be quite methodical about making sure we had all the bits we needed as once we were 60km out in the South China Sea or 3000m up the mountain we wouldn’t be able to pop to the car to pick up something we’d forgotten. We finished up at UMS around lunchtime and had a fairly relaxing afternoon, doing some shopping at the mall and sitting by the hotel pool. Rain meant we couldn’t go swimming but it was still nice to be outside and read.
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Mengalum Island 
We had early starts to head to Mengalum and Mantinani islands on Monday morning. Me, Nick and Emily met Felix at Sutera harbour and we loaded our kit in the boat to head out to sea. We were joined on the boat by quite a lot of South Korean tourists who must have thought we were quite odd! We were very fortunate that the resort had generously agreed to transport us to Mengalum Island for free, and within an hour we were docking at the jetty surrounded by brilliant blue water and white sands. We were taken away from the main resort area in the back of a pick-up truck to the middle of a grassy field in the middle of the island. As the island is essentially sand, it was very easy to dig and we had the site set up quite quickly. This was just as well as halfway back to the resort the heavens opened and it began pelting down with rain. We dried off in the restaurant area while having lunch that was kindly provided for us. By the time we’d finished eating the rain had stopped and so we could enjoy some time swimming in the sea before getting the boat back. The swimming must have tired me out as I managed to spend most of the quite bumpy journey asleep!

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The next morning me, Emily, Connor and Omry hit the road again to head up Mount Kinabalu, picking up Brandon on the way. Nick and Simone were able to have a more relaxed start for their day going to check on some of the seismometers we had installed at the start of the trip. We got to the Kinabalu Park headquarters around 9am but then had several hours sorting out getting permits, insurance, porters and waiting for our guide. We had about 59kg of seismometer kit for the porters to take (Omry was carrying the instrument again) – apparently this wasn’t heavy enough to need three of them to carry it! We set off from Timpohon gate heading up on an excellent path. Lots of people passed us on their way down looking very tired. The route went up and up through the forest with shelters approximately every 1km. These had signs talking about the vegetation, and most excitingly, the geology. It was quite cool to see how the geology influenced what grew where, as well as how it changed as we made our way up. Fairly light rain began a couple of kilometres along, and by the time we reached the signs saying it was only 800m to the hut it had turned torrential. The rain combined with the altitude (around 3000m) made the final stretch up for the day quite a struggle!
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Warming up in the Laban Rata resthouse (of course there was 4G!)
We warmed up with hot drinks in the Laban Rata resthouse while we waited for Brandon, our guide and the porters to arrive and the rain to ease off. Eventually it turned into a misty drizzle and we headed out to look for a site to put the seismometer. We’d only got kit to do a direct burial, which is where you just bag up the seismometer and bury it without putting concrete, a slab or a bucket around it, so this meant we had to find somewhere we could actually dig. We initially looked around the area where a new weather station and a GNSS continuous GPS station are, but the ground was either granite or completely waterlogged. We then tried inside the fence of an older looking weather station. I was thinking the digging looked quite promising until I realised to my horror that there were frayed ends of wires the hole! I’d managed to pick the exact spot where some cables for the rain gauge came through – a lesson in thinking more carefully about where to dig – and always tubing your buried wires! It was a bit too late too install the seismometer that evening so we ate the food we’d brought up with us at the resthouse (I was feeling very guilty about the wire) and then headed to bed in a different hut. In the hut were bunkbeds with duvets, pillows and sheets and toilets and showers, so reasonably luxurious compared to some Alpine accommodation.
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We were woken up very early – 1:20am! – by the other people in our room putting on the lights and generally making quite a bit of noise. After failing to sleep while this was going on, we also decided to get up and ready and went to wait for our guide in the resthouse. We were one of the the last groups to set off, following a trail of head torches up the steps towards the summit. On our way up we gradually overtook most of the people who’d started ahead of us. Beyond the checkpoint the route changed from steps and decking to granite slabs with a rope running along it for support. We continued to make our way up and up in the dark – the altitude was definitely having an effect but the rock was quite easy to walk on. Eventually we made it up the final rocky crest to the top of Low’s Peak.
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We were there just in time for the very first light to be appearing which was quite special. The very top of Mount Kinabalu is very small and there were a lot of people trying to get on to it, so we we went down a short way to watch the sunrise over Low’s Gully before following the rope back down over the granite. It was now light so we could see all the the way down to the park entrance – a long, long way below. In the light we could also see the still fresh-looking debris from the rockfall caused by the 2015 earthquake that had killed 18 people. The scar on the mountainside and debris below were huge and it was a sobering warning as to the damage that earthquakes can do.
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Rockfall debris
We were back at the resthouse by about 7:30am and after breakfast we headed out to the older weather station to install the seismometer. Conor did a fantastic job of rewiring the rain gauge cable – hopefully this means it will continue to work – and we got the station assembled. We think it probably is the highest seismometer in South East Asia! The eventual plan is to set up a link with a screen in the Park HQ so that people visiting can see what the seismometer is recording. We were finished installing just before 10am and then began the long descent back down to the Timpohon gate. We made good progress and were down by lunchtime. We took the bus down to the park entrance and then drove back to UMS where we unloaded the car for the final time. I took the car to the carwash and to re-fuel while the others headed back to the hotel to start packing. For our final evening, we went to El Centro for dinner and cocktails. Despite being quite tried we managed to do reasonably well in the pub quiz and even won the third round! This was an excellent end to a very long, but exciting day!
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There was the feeling that we were reaching the end of something, but actually the project is now only just beginning – we’ll be heading back in around 6 months to check on the instruments and collect the first batch of data, and starting the work of better understanding what is happening deep below the surface of north Borneo!
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