The sun is shining. The air is crisp and clear. Lush green leaves stand out in sharp contrast against a sky of deep ultramarine. The world is full of opportunities. The scurrying sounds of small forest creatures as they scamper through the underbrush. Welcome to the magnificent Mount Kinabalu!
Nestled in a renowned World Heritage Site – Kinabalu Park, Mount Kinabalu, along with other upland areas of the Crocker Range is well-known worldwide for its tremendous botanical and biological species biodiversity with plants of Himalayan, Australasian, and Indo-Malayan origin.
For most adventure seekers and climbers out there, Mount Kinabalu is one of the most hiked mountains in the South East Asian region. From having a stunningly lush tropical forest, many variations of flora and fauna, to the tallest peak with the addition of its wildlife diversity, thou shall not miss Mount Kinabalu Climb that will take your breath away.
What you need to know about Mount Kinabalu Climb
- Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in Malaysia, standing at 4.095.2m above sea level.
- Climbing to the summit of Mount Kinabalu takes at least two days and one night, depending on the Mount Kinabalu climbing package.
- Staying for an additional night at mountain accommodation is mandatory.
- There are only 120 climbing permits issued per day.
- Climbing Mount Kinabalu requires a climbing permit, climbing insurance, mountain guide depending on the number of climbers, and the Kinabalu Park entrance fee.
What to bring?
- Have enough warm clothing for the summit climb.
- Wear lightweight clothing like t-shirts and track pants for the first ascent.
- Wear covered walking or hiking shoes with good grips.
- Bring a waterproof backpack to store your items like energy bars and fluids.
- Carry a hiking pole to complement your climb.
- Wear warm clothing like jackets, windbreakers, long sleeve shirts, thick trousers, thick socks for the second ascent.
- Wear a cap, beanie, head scarf or mask to keep warm and protect your face.
- Wear a head torch as most of the time you have to hold the rope in the dark.
- Wear gloves to protect your hands from rope burn and cold.
- Carry as light as possible, with a bottle of water / sports drinks and a few energy bars.
Is Mount Kinabalu Climb actually tough?
From signing up for a package, arranging the hiking essentials, getting my fitness level into shape, to being mentally prepared, everything is still fresh in my memory. If I were to conclude Mount Kinabalu Climb in a sentence, it would be a test of endurance, both physically and mentally.
However, was it really challenging? Despite the pain and struggle, it provided a truly rewarding experience. Without pain, how could we find bliss? Without struggle, how could we know happiness?
Mount Kinabalu, here we go!
First ascent – Timpohon Gate to Panalaban
The whole landscape was bathed in the warm glow of the rising sun. We had a hearty breakfast, took a lunch pack and were assigned a mountain guide, the next thing we knew, we were already on a shuttle bus to the starting point for the climb.
Fresh air filled my lungs as soon as we set foot on the entrance of Timpohon Gate. For the first ascent, we covered 6 kilometers from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban with an average climbing time of 5 hours.
The short but strenuous 6 kilometers on the first day of climbing covered a mostly forest environment. With uneven, rugged and rocky terrain along the way, my adrenaline rush began to kick in.
Hiking among primeval forest and crossing many bridges and streams, the breathtaking scenery undoubtedly mesmerized me. In spite of the bumpy path, we were hooked by the bountiful thriving plantations.
Due to the lower climate, the surrounding area was overgrown and vigorous. The scenery was pleasing to see. It was so beautiful that we could hardly believe it exists. With occasional breaks, I came across some of the porters and mountain guides who have been employed in the field for more than three decades.
They are the real athletes. I could not utter a word while glancing at their huge and muscular calves. Reasonably, they have been ascending and descending the majestic creature for so many years.
The speed of climbing to Panalaban greatly depends on individual fitness level. Regardless of the speed, I gradually caught my breath and consumed a few ounces of my electrolyte drinks while making my way.
Having separated from my teammates, I would just keep moving at my own pace. The temperature was around 20 to 25 degrees with a slight breeze. In the midst of the sounds of laughter and conversation, the joy of being with family and friends, every climber was enjoying a delightful day.
There were huts along the way where we stopped to rest and stay hydrated. Funnily enough, each hut eventually became my short term goals. Even though the trail is steep with countless staircases, it is advisable to not stop any longer than 5 minutes. Once your body cools down, you will need more energy to regain the momentum again.
At the 4 kilometer mark, we stopped at the Layang-Layang Shelter to enjoy our packed lunch, and most importantly, take the much-needed break before resuming the last one kilometer to Panalaban.
While munching your meals, watch out the friendly squirrels in the undergrowth and at the rest huts. These adorable and tame squirrels are sometimes fed by the many tourists that attempt the climb everyday.
The final kilometer of the first ascent was the steepest and most challenging, albeit doable for everyone, and will surprise you with a view of vegetation. Immediately, I was attracted by the Bonsai alike landscapes that looked almost like a Japanese garden.
The flowers are made up of different vibrant colors of red, pink, violet, orange, and yellow. From a distance, they appeared to be a swarm of Bonsai. The flowers’ petals are soft and sweet smelling. The rocks, clouds, flowers, and green leaves all blended together beautifully.
I took great pleasure in the lovely blossoms and breezy atmosphere, without being able to articular my emotions. I secretly knew that the panorama would be imprinted on my mind forever. The next minute I realized, I was already so close to Panalaban.
The moment of seeing the iconic Laban Rata resthouse was indescribable. Located at 3,272 meters above sea level, the Laban Rata resthouse offers climbers warm lodgings and hot meals before and after climbing to the peak of Mount Kinabalu.
The compound also consists of several smaller accommodation units such as Gunting Lagadan Hut, Panar Laban Hut, Waras Hut, Lemaing Hut (Malaysian Climbers only), and Pendant Hut (Via Ferrata Climbers only). Upon checking in our dormitory room, we took some time to rest and recharge our energy.
Mind you, dormitory rooms are not heated and shared bathrooms do not provide hot water.
Second ascent – Panalaban to Low’s Peak Summit
Taking some time to relax our fatigued legs, we had the earliest dinner at around 4.30 in the evening. Not long after, we dozed off. The mixed feeling of anxiety and excitement became more apparent when hearing the alarm ringing at 1am.
We dragged our sleepy head getting out of the cozy bed, hoping for no severe symptoms of altitude sickness, and gearing up for a more daunting and technically difficult climb to Low’s Peak Summit.
A light supper was served before heading off for the summit. By 2.30am, we met our mountain guide to begin the final ascent. Under the guidance of our torchlight and mountain guide, we followed the ever-ascending steep trail to the summit surrounded by total darkness.
At first, there were long sections of steep wooden steps, followed by smooth granite slabs with guide ropes. From the final checkpoint at Sayat Sayat all the way to Low’s Peak, there were big white ropes along the trails, but the slabs were less steep.
The technical difficulty of the final summit stretch and the temperature at the top came as a surprise to most of the climbers. The climb is generally not considered difficult in good conditions, provided with properly built staircases. However, it can swiftly become unpredictably dangerous if the weather becomes progressively worse.
After a two-hour struggle from Sayat Sayat Checkpoint, I tasted the triumph on the glacial and numbing summit in time to see the black sky turn to the milky cloud. Being surrounded with the wisps of clouds, the summit reveals a distinct glacier carved pinnacles, rising from the smooth granite dome. It is one of the safest and most conquerable peaks in the world – provided that you’re reasonably healthy and physically fit.
The most stunning sunrise!
When everything feels like an uphill struggle, just think of the achievement and satisfaction you get from the top. Finally, we did it! We reached the Low’s Peak Summit at around 6 in the morning and were blessed with clear skies to witness the most stunning sunrise ever!
The sky was all the colors we all have been yearning for, as if catching a moment we would never see again. And in a moment we were cast in crimson, immersing in a rosy glow. Climbers slowly took their phone and camera, albeit the freezing weather, through the air that grew brighter with each passing moment, and captured the striking rays.
There is no summit without a struggle.
Without mountains, we might find ourselves relieved that we can avoid the pain of the ascent, but we will forever miss the thrill of the summit.
Standing proudly at the tallest mountain in Malaysia and South East Asia at 4,095.2 meters above sea level, overlooking the spectacular vistas at Low’s Peak Summit, my heart is full.
Coming back to the question, is Mount Kinabalu Climb really that tough? If it promises an enthralling and once in a lifetime experience, why worry so much about not being able to succeed in reaching the peak?