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Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Climbing Malaysia's Tallest Peak - Mount Kinabalu - in Sabah, Borneo

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The climb up Mount Kinabalu

Climbing Malaysia's tallest peak - Mount Kinabalu.

Photo by Robert Nyman / Creative Commons

The jagged massif of Mount Kinabalu towering over Kota Kinabalu is an impressive site. At 13,435 feet tall, Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in Malaysia and the third-tallest peak in Southeast Asia. Over 40,000 people a year come to Sabah intent on climbing Mount Kinabalu - for good reason.

The biodiversity of the 300-square-mile park is stunning; over 326 species of birds, 4500 species of plant, and 100 different mammals call the area home. UNESCO took notice and made Kinabalu Park Malaysia's first World Heritage Site in 2000.

Mount Kinabalu has been considered sacred by locals for centuries. It is believed that the spirits of dead ancestors inhabit the peak. Climbers once sacrificed chickens to appease the spirits during ascents.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu does not require any special equipment or climbing expertise - a unique rarity for such a high summit. Good fitness and sheer determination are the only tools necessary to reach the top!

What to Expect While Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Many tourists choose to book their Kinabalu trek through a tour agency, either in Kota Kinabalu or before arriving in Sabah. It is possible to make arrangements to climb Mount Kinabalu yourself, however Sabah Parks strongly recommends that climbers at least hire a guide at the park headquarters.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu usually takes two full days, with an overnight stay arranged at Laban Rata in advance. Accommodation is extremely limited in the summer months; getting a date should be your first priority.

Day One

A bus is available for transport from the park entrance to the park headquarters, saving an additional three miles of walking along the road. The quick journey costs $2.

The park headquarters is an interesting place to explore - take your time. After paying the necessary fees and obtaining your permit, your adventure starts nearby.

The first day consists of four to five hours of steep hiking to reach Laban Rata where you will find communal showers, a dining hall, and accommodation. An early start at 2 a.m. the next day is necessary to reach the peak before sunrise.

Day Two

Day two consists of climbing relentless staircases and a rocky trail in the dark; many find themselves breathless in the thinner air. The trail fades away and climbers scramble their way to the top using a white rope which marks the safest route up the mountain.

Sabah Parks recommends that climbers do not spend much time on the summit because of the cold and strong wind. It takes around two hours to descend back to Laban Rata; checkout time is usually 10 a.m. Climbers eat breakfast and rest before finishing the descent - considered by some to be more difficult than the climb - in around five hours.

Tips for Climbing Mount Kinabalu

  • Water is available for free at refill stations along the trail; it is not necessary to carry more than one bottle of water.
  • Save money by purchasing high-calorie snacks for the trail in Kota Kinabalu.
  • Bring cold-weather gear including a windproof jacket and gloves; pack a dry change of clothes in a waterproof bag.
  • Pack a rugged flashlight or headlamp.
  • The $3 certificate of accomplishment presented at the end of your trek is optional, you may refuse to pay.
  • Some nausea due to the exertion at high altitude is expected, however listen to your body. If you experience severe headache or start vomiting, stop your ascent immediately.
  • Rafflesia flowers can occasionally be spotted on the slopes; ask at the ranger station about the possibility.

Fees and Permits

  • The entrance fee to Kinabalu Park is $5.
  • Climbers must purchase a permit - which is checked twice on the trail - at the park headquarters. Permits for adults cost $32; children cost $13.
  • Climbers are also required to purchase insurance for an additional $2.25.
  • A guide can cost up to $40 split between the members of a group; up to eight people comprise a group. Team up with people at the park headquarters to share the cost.

Kinabalu Park Headquarters

Overnight visitors and climbers must register at the park headquarters located at an elevation of 5,000 feet on the southern boundary of the park. The headquarters is the center of activity in the national park. Restaurants, exhibits, and accommodations are available as well as friendly rangers willing to answer questions.

Weather for Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Kinabalu Park spans four different climate zones, but the one you will certainly remember the most is the cold near the summit! Few people come properly prepared for the temperatures which can drop down to near freezing. Much of the dormitory-style accommodation at Laban Rata is without heat; plan to spend a short night of shivering before trying for sunrise on the summit.

Many of the 40,000 people who attempt to climb Mount Kinabalu each year are turned back by rain. Because of the potential for accidents on the slick rocks, guides will call off a trek halfway through if there is rain on the summit.

Getting to Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is located about 56 miles from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. The journey by bus takes around two hours; the one-way fare costs between $3 - $5. Buses traveling west from Sandakan take around six hours.

Buses leave in the mornings from the North Bus Terminal in Inanam - six miles north of Kota Kinabalu. To reach the North Terminal, take a taxi (around $6) or a bus (33 cents) from the bus station adjacent to Wawasan Plaza at the south end of Kota Kinabalu.

Long-distance buses traveling to Sandakan, Tawau, or Ranau actually pass by the national park entrance; tell the driver that you will be traveling only as far as the national park.

Note: If possible, sit on the left side of the bus for a beautiful view of the mountain approach.

After Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Visiting one of the beautiful islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park just outside of Kota Kinabalu is an excellent way to thaw out and rest sore legs after the climb!

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