The majestic and awe-inspiring
Mount Kinabalu is one of the premier summer vacations
destinations for thousands of visitors to Sabah, Malaysian Borneo each year.
Kinabalu National Park, a designated World Heritage Site, boasts an
estimated 4,500 species of plants which includes 1,500 species of orchids,
77 of which are endemic to Kinabalu, Nepenthes pitcher plants, and the
Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world. The Park also supports 289
species of birds and 290 different types of butterflies.
Besides being the highest peak in Borneo and the whole of South East Asia
(between Irian Jaya and the Himalayas to be exact), and the youngest
non-volcanic mountain in the world, Mount Kinabalu is extremely
climber-friendly and compared to other much lower mountains around the
world, Mount Kinabalu is an ideal first mountain for novice mountain
trekkers to conquer.
The standard climb up Mount Kinabalu is via the Kinabalu Summit Trail at
Kinabalu National Park (~1,560m above sea level). The first ascent is from
the starting point at Timpohon Gate, about 4km or 30 minutes drive from the
Kinabalu National Park Headquarter.
If you prefer to start the ascent on Day 1, it is advisable to arrive at the
Park late morning the latest or else, depending on the weather, the Park may
not allow you to do the first ascent due to hazardous condition (i.e., the
fog may be too thick by late evening causing visibility problems and/or the
trail may be extremely slippery).
Most climbers prefer to stay overnight at Kinabalu National Park upon
arrival to not only acclimatize to the altitude but also to enjoy the
magnificent flora and fauna at the Park before the “assault” on the next
The first ascent is from Timpohon Gate just after the Power Station up to
the mid-summit Laban Rata Resthouse (or more popularly known as the 11,000
ft or ~3,873m). You will first follow the crest of a narrow ridge that dips
down onto the main slopes of Mount Kinabalu itself. A little further on, you
will reach a scenic waterfall known as Carson's Falls, named after the first
Warden of the Park. Don't forget to take a sip and fill your water bottles
with the fresh natural mountain water.
Conservatively, it should take a normal fit person an average 5-6 hours to
reach Laban Rata. Participants at the annual Mount Kinabalu Climbathon
competition went all the way up to 13,400ft (4092.5m above sea level) and
back in 2 hours. But it is not really about how fast you can reach the top.
It is about the experience of trekking pass different vegetation zones from
Oak and Chestnut to mossy and eventually to alpine type of vegetations, and
observing the rare and exotic flora and fauna on the way up.
Besides the heated Laban Rata Resthouse, the other option for climbers is to
stay at the unheated mountain huts. There is actually another accommodation
option at the so-called VIP Lodge, which is more expensive compared to the
others and also, more difficult to secure (i.e., only two such units
After a short night rest to recharge your battery, the second and more
grueling phase will commence early morning on Day 2, at about 2 am to 3 am.
The second ascent will be from the mid-summit all the way to the summit,
which is called Low's Peak, named after the British colonial officer Sir
Hugh Low, supposedly, the first person to conquer Mt. Kinabalu.
The ascent should normally take a few hours but it is much more challenging
than the initial ascent due to the thinner air near the summit. But near the
peak on the granite portion of the ascent, there will be a thick nylon rope
laid down to mark the route so that climbers will not get lost in the fog.
You can use this rope to pull your tired body up.
Although, to reach the summit is already an achievement, it is best to
target, if possible, to reach the summit just before sunrise to catch the
awesome sight. If you reached too early, it will be too freezing cold to
wait too long for the sunrise. On a good clear weather, the sky seemingly
turns from black to red then orange and finally gold as the sun appears.
When daylight breaks, you will truly feel that you are standing on top of
the world. You can see as far as Kudat and even Sandakan if the weather
Some tour itinerary samples can be found at the links below:
One important tip is to make reservation early. Given the popularity of the
Mount Kinabalu climb nowadays, it is advisable to book at least 3-4 months
in advance (or even much earlier during the peak season usually around
mid-year) to avoid any disappointment.
This is mainly due to the limited accommodation at the mid-summit (i.e.,
Laban Rata Resthouse, Mountain Huts or the VIP Lodge). In the event that
there is no accommodation at the mid-summit, the climb will not be possible
as strictly stipulated in the National Park's rules and regulations.
Additionally, a mountain guide is compulsory.
In essence, Mount Kinabalu is relatively an easy mountain to climb. There is
not much risk of acute mountain sickness at the first phase of climbing.
Given climber-friendliness of the mountain, conquering the mountain must be
high in your list of “activities to do” if you were to visit Sabah. For the
average fit person, a visit to Borneo will not be complete without
conquering Mount Kinabalu.
About the Author:
e-borneo.com is one of the leading Borneo-based
Borneo Travel and Trip Advisor
web sites, which also serves as a Borneo travel gateway and tour
intermediary for the best and cost-effective custom/full-package
vacation deals to Malaysia Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) and Brunei
Darussalam. Please visit e-borneo.com for more
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