Just updating some info here, it is long and a bit verbose, so bear with me (incognito6174, 17May2010)
I have been to the mountain twice now (Dec 2008, May 2009) and will now come again in Aug 2010. Call it my love for mountains. I have learnt the hard way, on what is the best way to increase your chances to make this trek a successful one. Every mountain climb requires some amount of preparation to be done beforehand; and Mt Kinabalu is no exception. I am listing down step-by-step, one way of looking at the preparation, of course there will be other ways, but this is a good one, I think.
1. Mountain accommodation: The most important step which quite a few people overlook is pre-booking your accommodation on the mountain. Here, I am assuming most of you will do the trek overnight. In that case you should be aware that there are limited beds at the Laban Rata (where you will stay for the evening at 3000-odd metres altitude). That means only 192 permits are issued every day to climbers, if you have confirmed accommodation at Laban Rata, you will get a permit. Else you won't and sadly, your trek won't happen on that day. Now, accommodation at Laban Rata is managed exclusively by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges. The mountain has become so popular amongst climbers, that they have started accepting requests for booking up to 6 months in advance and they get filled really fast esp. in the climbing season. So you are well advised to plan ahead for this trek. Call Sutera on +60 (88) 287887 and enquire in advance. Too many people have come without confirmed acco and have gone back frustrated to see it fully booked and have had their trek cancelled.
2. Flights: Secondly, it is important to book your airline tickets in advance, too. Assuming you are coming from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, this is the next important step in your prep process. As of May 2010, there are few flights to KK from Singapore and the timings are a bit odd, so make sure you plan ahead. Air Asia (low cost, no-frills), Malaysian Airlines and Singapore Airlines are good options to consider. Remember that you have to start your climb at 9 am; so reaching Kota Kinabalu on an early morning flight is a bad idea since the park is a good 2 hours drive away from the airport and you don't want to start climbing as soon as you are out of the air-plane. So plan to reach at least the evening before and stay in the city or at the base of the mountain at the park HQ.
3. Reaching the park: The approach to Mt Kinabalu starts from the Kinabalu Park HQ which is a 2 hour drive away from the Kota Kinabalu city. Most people start from the city early in the morning, reach the park HQ around 9 am or so and then start their climb. Buses are readily available from the Inanam bus terminus in KK city, or you can take a taxi. Some people (I am trying it out this time) book their accommodation near the park to avoid the morning drive and start climbing early. Staying near the mountain also allows you to experience slightly cooler environs and see the magnificent views of the upper slopes of Mt Kinabalu while you sit in the verandah of your hotel, sipping a hot cup of tea. The wikitravel page has names of a few lodges near the mountain.
4. Start exercising, if not already: While anyone who has climbed the mountain will tell you that it is no walk in the park; it is also not very difficult, provided you are accustomed to climbing or can maintain an elevated heart-beat rate for sustained periods of time. So, start exercising and walking (preferably on inclines or small hills) for 1-2 hours to get in the best shape.
5. Clothing: The temperature at the park HQ is a pleasant 20deg C and drops as you start climbing. At Laban Rata it can go to 5-10 and can also get freezing at the summit. Unless you hail from the mountains , you are most likely a person living in the temperate or tropical zone like me. You must plan for warm clothing. The first half of the climb during the day i.e. to Laban Rata, can be done in shorts/skirt and t-shirt. Thereafter, you might need long-johns, full-pants and a windproof jacket (waterproof if you're climbing in the rains, anyways the weather is unpredictable). Gloves can be 'handy', and cover your ears with a scarf/balaclava. Avoid opening a new pair of trekking shoes on the day of the climb, a worn-in pair allows you to get used to the shoes (and allows the shoes to get used to your feet). You don't want blisters with a 30min walk to the nearest resting point (be ready for them, though). Buy a pair of good trekking shoes, or this trek can be done with your good quality running shoes too.
6. Taking care of your health: The mountain is well above 3000m, and most trekkers will experience some form of headache while climbing (this is natural). So equip yourself with some pain-killers and aspirin. This will be useful. Also, most of the climb is made of naturally forming steps, so it can put considerable strain on your ankles, calves and knees. Avoid stepping on free-standing stones or you might trip and fall or sprain your ankle and your mates will have to carry you then.
7. Travel light: As a rule, do not carry any unnecessary items, and a good way that I use to check whether something is unnecessary on a trek is - "will I be in considerable trouble if I do not have this item with me on the mountain?" Any inclination towards no, and I keep the item at home. Carry the following things to make your trek easier: - head-mounted LED torch, a small one with 3 LEDs is sufficient - spare shoe-laces - Ziploc bags to protect items from rain
8. Finally, enjoy the trek. It is easy to keep complaining about lack of facilities on the trail or how the summit has been shrouded by clouds, some even complain about the toilets at Laban Rata. Remember it takes considerable effort to even bring these facilities to you; and the locals work very hard for little money (through guide fees, food costs and tips). Most mountains of the height of Mt Kinabalu don't even have accommodation or a clearly mapped out trail; forget decent toilets and beds and sumptuous breakfast of eggs to eat. To help the locals, buy from them directly and tip them as you can, esp. the young boys who can sometimes be your guides. It is the trail and the fun we have when walking, that is more important than beating all others to the summit. I'll leave you with eminent mountaineer Ed Viestur's thought - getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.