Note: Mountain closed to climbers
Following an earthquake in early 2015, Mt. Kinabalu is closed to climbers until September 1st.
Mount Kinabalu is Borneo's tallest mountain. You can climb to the top of Low's Peak (4,095.2m or 13,435.7ft above sea level). The height of the mountain is often given as 4,101m but recent satellite imaging has proven this to be incorrect.
No specialized mountain climbing skills are required to ascend it, though along certain sections on the summit trail, hikers will need to rely on guide ropes to make the ascent and descent. The trail that most tourists use is described as a 'trek and scramble'. Locals are reported to begin climbing the mountain from the age of 3 and the oldest person to reach the peak was 80 years old. However, how much one enjoys the climb depends strongly on how fit you are and how well you acclimatise to the thin air at the higher levels.
Nevertheless, the mountain can be a dangerous place, especially during the rain or when there is mist. On average, every year one person gets into severe difficulty out of the estimated 20,000 people who attempt the climb. The higher slopes can be very slippery when it rains and dense fog reduces visibility to a few feet.
Although it is possible to climb to the top and back in less than four hours, most climbers take two days, with an overnight break at Laban Rata (3,272.7m above sea level). The final attack on the peak takes place in the early hours of the second day (most begin at 2:30AM) in order to catch the sunrise at the top. By mid-morning the mist begins to roll in, obscuring the breath-taking views.
Climbing weather is best around the month of April while November and December brings rain. The temperature ranges from a comfortable 20-25°C at the main park to something approaching freezing near the top (depending on the weather). Bring appropriate warm clothing and windproof gear. If possible, climb during the full moon as it helps illuminate the white rope that marks out the climbing path.
The mountain, called “Aki Nabalu” by the Kadazan Dusun people, is sacred to locals and thought to be the “revered abode of the dead”. Local tribes believe that spirits of their ancestors inhabit the top of the mountain. Previously, a chicken was sacrificed at the peak every time a climb was made but these days this ceremony only happens once a year during which only seven chickens are sacrificed to appease the spirits.
Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in Sabah's Crocker Range. The landscape ranges from tropical rainforest to subalpine at near the summit. Mount Kinabalu is the key attraction in the Kinabalu Park.
Flora and fauna
There are six distinguisable vegetation zones in Kinabalu Park - Lower Mountain Forest, Upper Mountain Forest, Ultrabasic Rock Forest, Lower Granite Boulder Forest, Upper Granite Boulder Forest, Summit or Subalpine.
The park is known for its diversity of flora and fauna, which includes over 1,200 species of orchids and over 40 species of oak. 1
The climate experienced in Kinabalu Park and at Mount Kinabalu depends on the altitude you are at. In the lower reaches, the climate is tropical, marked by afternoon showers. Temperatures at the summit can go to freezing.
From Kota Kinabalu
The Kinabalu Park entrance is very easy to reach from Kota Kinabalu.
You can also catch buses from Sandakan (a six hour journey). Some mini-vans are also available. The journey took 4 hours and it costs RM 30
1. Park Entry Fees
Adult/ Person below 18: RM3/ RM1 (Malaysian), RM15, RM10 (Non-Malaysian)
2. Climbing Permits for Mount Kinabalu
Adult/ Person below 18: RM30/ RM12 (Malaysian), RM100, RM40 (Non-Malaysian) NB: It's RM200 for a permit to attempt to climb Mt Kinabalu within a single day for a non-Malaysian adult (May 2015). Also note these rates are subject to 6% tax.
3. Climbing Insurance
All visitors intending to attempt the summit need to purchase climbing insurance at RM7 from the park.
Engaging a guide is compulsory for those intending to make the summit climb. The cost ranges from RM128 to RM150 depending on the size of the group. Note that there is restriction on group size. If attempting to climb the summit in one day, you must have a guide for every two people. If you are in a group of three, you need TWO guides!
5. Transport to (and later, from)
Via Timpohon Gate:RM16.50/way(1-4 persons) RM4/person (5 persons and above)
Via Mesilau Trail:RM85.00/way(1-6 persons) RM15/person (7 persons and above)
6. Optional fees
To minimize costs, you can take the following measures:
Shuttle vans are available if you are staying within Kinabalu Park. However, there is no road access to Laban Rata or to the summit.
Kinabalu Park is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna that changes in nature as your altitude increases. Near the top of the mountain the trees thin out and give way to shrubs, stones and fabulous views. Around km 4.5 there are some large pitcher plants off the trail; a well-informed guide will know where they are.
1. Climb Mount Kinabalu
A typical itinerary allocates two days to attempt the climb. On the first day, hikers make the climb from either Timpohon Gate or Mesilau to Laban Rata. On the second day, the climb starts at around 2 am in the morning for the summit trail to Low's Peak. The descent back to Kota Kinabalu Park takes place after the summit climb.
a) From Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata
The more popular trail (6 km) starts at Timpohon Gate. It is a straightforward upward climb along a well-marked path with signposts marking each half-kilometre.
There are periodic rest stops about a kilometer apart up the mountain. The entire journey is 8.72km, with the last stop about 6km up before arriving at Laban Rata. Usually, the climb starts at 7.30-10.30 am. The first 4km climbing to Laban Rata is in moderate steep trail where the trail is equipped with stairs and some rock path. The last 2km is entirely rocky and which turns into a water course when there is rain. An average hiker takes between 3-5 hours to reach Laban Rata from Timpohon Gate. The vertical ascent is 1400 metres from Kinabalu Park.
b) From Mesilau to Laban Rata
The Mesilau trail is 8km in length and is more undulating as compared to Timpohon.
Getting to the summit
From Laban Rata, the climb to the summit is 2.7 km, and most of it over smooth rock faces. The verticial ascent is 800 metres.
The intitial 700 metres is aided by steep stairs and steps. The climb usually begins from 2.30am so that hikers can catch the sunrise from the summit. The winds are relatively less gusty at this time of the day as well.
The next 2 km takes place over granite rock surfaces. The route is marked by guide ropes all the way to the summit. Several stretches are steep and require hikers to use their arms to use the rope for the ascent/ descent. In particular, there is a 700 metre stretch which clambers over smooth, steep rock surfaces with only the rope for support. The winds can be very gusty in parts. Note that there are no security safeguard to prevent falls.
Warm clothing, gloves and spare dry clothing packed in waterproof bags are essential to cope with the climate. You need a headlamp as well to illuminate the path while making the summit climb. Unnecessary clothing and equipment can be left at Laban Rata.
One day climb
For the more advenurous and physically fit, there is also an option to climb to the summit and down in one day. This is not widely publicised - presumably to maintain patronage at the expensive mountain huts. To arrange this, you should speak to the park ranger at the park office - turning up in person is generally more effective, so that the ranger can see that are serious and is less likley to fob you off than if you were to enquire by phone. The one day climb is more weather dependend than the two day option, and there are set time limits for each stage of the climb which must be met, otherwise the rules say you will be turned around (your guide should be slightly flexible on the time limits - half an hour or so, but be aware that the time limits would require you to climb at a reasonable pace). You will be required to hire a guide. You can expect to start at 0730 and will be required to come down by 1730 before the Timpohon Gate is locked. Because the one day climb will bring you to the summit well after sunrise, you should consider the sesonal weather patterns - at times, the mountain top clouds over shortly after sunrise and you may not get a view from the summit. The climb to the summit is almost 2300m, and the one day climb is physically tough, although not impossible for the reasonably fit (no hiking experience necessary, just fitness and some willpower).
Once you complete the strenuous hike up to 11,000ft, you might have enough energy to do the only via ferrata ("iron road", a set of cables and ladders bolted to the mountain)  to be found in Asia, which happens to be the world's highest. It is still relatively unknown so take the opportunity to do it without a crowd of people pushing you. There are 3 different paths to take on the via ferrata, with times ranging from 4-5 hours for the longest to 2-3 for the shortest. Keep your travel plans in mind when booking the via ferrata and after-mountain activities, as this time is added to the 4-5 hours it takes to descend the mountain on the second day of hiking.
It is possible to do the via ferrata as a walk-in activity without prior booking. Each day there are 12 spaces available for 'Lows peak circuit' (RM600), and 40 for 'Walk the Torq' (RM440). You must reach Pendant hut before 3pm for the mandatory safety briefing to be able to do the via ferrata on the way down from the summit the next day. The advantage of this is that should the activity be cancelled due to bad weather, a full refund is offered to walk-in participants. Those who book a package through an agency are not offered any refund or compensation.
The Mt Kinabalu Climbathon is held annually with the 23 km trail running from Kinabalu Park to Layang Layang and  top runners complete this route in under 2 hours 40 mintues.
There are cafeterias and restaurants both at the Park entrance gate and at Laban Rata. The food prices at Laban Rata are relatively higher compared to prices at nearby towns. This is because raw materials need to be carried up to Laban Rata by porters. For example, a buffet dinner of 6 different dishes costs RM33; a can of beer is a whopping RM20; tea is RM6. The quality of the food is good, however.
However, if you don't feel the need to stuff your face, you can bargain with the staff and get one plate of rice/curry chicken for RM 15.
To save money, you can stock up on bread, baked goods, chocolate and other lightweight but energy-giving foods in KK before you depart. It is good to bring your own supply of instant noodles and tea sachets as well as snacks, though be warned that in the cafeteria they will charge you RM1 for hot water! Some huts have electric kettles where you can boil your own water for free.
However, from 1st Jan 2008, all climbers are charged for mount resort food. They will provide you with four meals. This is inclusive in the hotel's rates. First day lunch is provided for takeaway (to be eaten on the way to Laban Rata) during breakfast. Normally they will provide 3 set of sandwiches, fruit, eggs and 1 piece of chicken.
For climbers from Timpohon or Mesilau Gate, they must reached at Laban Rata before 7.30pm for buffet dinner or else they need to pay by themselves. While for buffet breakfast, the end time is 10.30am before you start your journey back to Timpohon or Mesilau Gate.
Water, that is. During the hike to the top it's important to stay well hydrated. Fortunately, at each pondok (rest pavilion) on the trail, there's a large tank of free drinking water constantly being fed by pipes leading down from clean water sources high up on the mountain. The tanks are marked "Untreated Water", but the water is safe to drink. Thus, it's unnecessary to bring lots of heavy bottles of water along; one container will suffice.
It is best to book accommodation beforehand — indeed, the hike has become so popular that you may have to book months in advance. The park can be very full especially during clear weather periods. Note that it is not possible to stay overnight on the mountain except in the accommodation provided at Laban Rata, and camping is not permitted - you must, therefore, have pre-booked accommodation. However, sometimes there are cancellations. If you are unable to book mountain hut accommodation in advance, get to the Park HQ as early as possible on the day of your intended climb and inquire there. You may luck out and get a bed. By regulation, booking must include guide services.Starting 1st Jan 2012
Laban RataRM290(Malaysian) & RM485(International) per person for Dormitory (Inclusive 1 packed lunch, buffet dinner, breakfast and lunch)
Formerly administered by Sabah Parks all accommodations in the park must now be arranged through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, a private company,  Tel: +60-88-303917 Fax: +60-88-317540 email@example.com). Note: Be advised that Sutera (a.k.a. Sutera Harbour) is requiring hikers stay the first night at their lodge near the entrance when booking more than 60 days in advance. This is in addition to a required stay at Laban Rata at about 11,000 ft. Bookings within 60 days of climb date do not require this - lodging just outside the park is considerably cheaper.
UPDATE MARCH 2014: All huts and Laban Rata now cost 596RM. This includes a packed lunch, dinner at Laban Rata, breakfast before and after summit ascent, lunch at Laban Rata, climbing permit and compulsory mountain insurance. Additional compulsory charges include park entrance fee and mountain guide. Since 2009, there has been a problem with the electricity, leaving all rooms unheated and with cold water. A small generator does provide some lighting. There doesn't seem to be any plans on fixing this in the near future, it is still the case in March 2014 (If they do fix it, a dorm bed at Laban Rata will cost 475RM.)
No camping is allowed on the mountain. All visitors must stay in approved lodgings within the park and at Laban Rata.
Mount Kinabalu is by no means an easy climb. Be aware of how dangerous the mountain can be during bad weather. On the summit trail, stay close to the guide ropes and to your guide. If you lose sight of the guide ropes, blow a whistle or shout. Note that because of the thin air and the acoustics of the mountain, your shouts will not carry as far as you might expect and may seem to come from many directions. It's best to have a climbing partner, especially in large groups which can string out as stragglers get left behind.
For the summit climb, dress appropriately. Temperature can be freezing at times. It's better to have several thin layers that you can peel off as it gets warmer. A hat is vital to keep warm. Gloves are needed to pull yourself up the guide ropes in some places. Bring a torch (flashlight). Make sure it does not fall out of your unzipped pocket as you climb along. Better still, use a headlamp so that your hands can be free.
Potential issues and dangers include the following:
A briefing will be provided by guide at 6pm daily before the climb begin.
Mount Kinabalu is considered sacred by the local Kadazan Dusun people, and for that reason utmost respect is demanded and climbers must refrain from shouting, screaming or cursing at it. Public nudity (including topless sunbathing) is not only regarded as highly provocative on the mountain, but it is also an offence in Malaysia and will result in arrest. Under Section 294a of the Malaysian Penal Code, a person guilty of committing an obscene act in any public place can be jailed three months, fined or both. In case of foreigners, deportion from Malaysia and an entry ban to Malaysia can also result.