Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Malaysia : Sabah : Mount Kinabalu
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.
Mount Kinabalu is known to be one of the most accessible mountains in the world. 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 Dusun tribe, 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.
- Minivan from the Long Distance Bus Station (Near Night Market, City Centre): The minivan going to Kinabalu Park leaves when it is full and costs RM 15 one way.
- Coaches from Kota Kinabalu North Bus Terminal in Inanam (10km to the northeast of city centre):Buses and coaches leave every morning for Kinabalu Park. Buses heading to Ranau, Sandakan or Tawau will also pass by the park entrance. The journey is about 1-2 hours and should cost between RM 10- RM 15. It's best to leave before eight - if you're lucky you'll catch a beautiful clear view of the mountain outside the left-hand side of the bus as you approach the park.
- Shared taxi from Jalan Padang: An alternative is to take a long-distance shared taxi at Taxi station near Jalan Padang. The station is located between Merdeka Field and the mosque (Masjid Bandar KK). A ride between Kota Kinabalu and the park should cost RM15-RM18 each way. Taxis will only depart once they are full, though, which usually means they have seven passengers(Toyota Unser), so you may have to wait a while. Alternatively you can pay for the missing passengers and leave immediately.
- Taxi: Regular (i.e. non-shared) taxis in Kota Kinabalu offer their services for RM150-200 or more for one-day drives to the park and back. Given the ease with which one can travel by public bus or shared taxi, however, this is an unneccessary option for budget travelers.
- Self-drive: Self-drive is another option with car hire readily available at Kota Kinabalu airport. Driving is an easy option for those accustomed to driving on the left hand side and gives the option to stop at things en route. Car hire rates are negotiable so compare rates on offer from the various companies. The distance to the park entrance is just under 100km from Kota Kinabalu centre, with the last 40 or so km being a sparsely populated mountain road. There is very little road signage directing you to Kinabalu Park, and there are a number of highway intersections en route (despite the fact that the route appears very simple on the map). The best option is to buy a fold-out road map at one of the bookshops in Kota Kinabalu, note down the towns en route to the park, and follow the road signs past those towns. For the more adventurous traveller, the trip can be done on a hired motorbike. Be aware that there will be no petrol stations on the mountain road (the final 40 or so km of the trip), and you should ensure you have enough fuel for the journey to the park and back.
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)
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.
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
- Souvenir certificate: RM10
- Left-luggage: RM10
- Portable Oxygen Bar: RM35
- Wooden Walking stick: RM5(No longer available for sale due to environmental conservation reasons by authorities, These are merely carved tree branches, sold (not rented) to you by the Park HQ. Choose a long, sturdy one; most they offer are quite flimsy and short.
- Metal Hiking Pole for rent : RM15 (No matter what, a walking stick or hiking pole of some kind is highly recommended, particularly to protect your knees and ankles.)
- Hire porters: Porters are for hire to carry your stuff to Laban Rata and back. The rate is RM8 for each kg of luggage.
To minimize costs, you can take the following measures:
- Join up with others to share a guide.
- Don't get the souvenir certificate. The choice of certificate appears to be opt-out: on the way down from the peak you should explicitly tell the staff at the Sayat-Sayat huts (at km 7.0) that you don't want the certificate, or else they may give it to you automatically.
- Hike up to the Timpohon Gate yourself. Note that this will add an additional hour or more to your hike, and to most people this is certainly not worth it.
- Bring your own hiking pole(s).
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 (it's not clear whether this actually happends, 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.
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.
3. Mt Kinabalu Climbathon
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.
4. Walk the trails: For the less adventurous, there are a number of trails around the park entrance. There are also guided tours, but the quality is highly dependent on the actual guide. Note that the trails (even the ones paved with concrete or using wooden planks) are not wheelchair-friendly as they invariably include stairs, narrow sections or other obstacles.
5. Enjoy a short jungle walk: The majority of visitors to the Park do not climb all the way to the peak. For those with limited time or energy, there are gardens and many short walks through the jungle to enjoy in the vicinity of the entrance. A mud map is available at the Park entrance and sign posts guide you.
5. Visit the Botanical Gardens: See the unique flora of Mount Kinabalu and Borneo up close. Inaccessible in wheelchair.
6. Park Museum: A small one-room museum with interpretive signs and displays is worth a look to read about the flora and fauna of Mt Kinabalu Park as well as the other Parks in Sabah.
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 protected]). Note: Be advised that Sutera (a.k.a. Sutera Harbour) is requiring hikers stay the first night at their lodge near the entrance. This is in addition to a required stay at Laban Rata at about 11,000 ft. The cost to stay is considerably higher than at lodging just outside the park, and includes a mandatory purchase of meals etc.
- Kinabalu Park, ☎ +60 88 889086, . At the starting point of the trail to Mt. Kinabalu. Accommodation ranges from hostels to individual rooms (for up to two people) to entire cabins and lodges (for larger groups). All have access to simple kitchen facilities. RM70 for dorm beds, RM92-RM184 for suites, RM230-RM1,150 for entire lodges.
- Laban Rata, ☎ +60 88 267289, . Laban Rata is the accommodation near the peak of Mt. Kinabalu where you'll stay when climbing Mt Kinabalu. Laban Rata Rest House is the main facility, featuring heated accommodation and the only restaurant. The compound also consists of several smaller accommodation units available, most with cooking facilities. Apart from Laban Rata Rest House, the only other heated unit is Gunting Lagadan Hut. The other is a Waras Hut which is non-heated dorm. All huts are close to the main resthouse, but even a 50m trek uphill in bad weather can seem like an eternity. Fills up very quickly so advance reservations (3-4 months ahead) are strongly encouraged. The link here does not list the dormitories, so call up and enquire personally.
UPDATE APRIL 2011: All huts and Laban Rata now cost 415RM for a 60 bed dorm. 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. (If they do fix it, a dorm bed at Laban Rata will cost 475RM.)
- Mesilau Nature Resort, ☎ +60 88 871519, . Mesilau Nature Resort is a tranquil hide-away amongst the foothills of Mt. Kinabalu. An alternate starting point to the summit of Mt Kinabalu, with accommodation managed by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges. Home to exotic species of fauna and flora, Mesilau Nature Resort is the best place to find the giant pitcher plant, the Nepenthes. Dorm from RM13, rooms from RM350.
- Tahubang Lodge, Taman Kinabalu, P.O Box 196, 89308 Ranau, Sabah, Malaysia, ☎ +60 88 879118 ([email protected], fax: +60 88 888094), . checkout: 9am. Just accross the road when geting off the bus coming from KK and in front of th park entrance. All rooms have shared bathroom. Clean and quiet, rooms are quite new (as of Sept. 2012) and there is a convenient neighbouring restaurant where eating is cheaper than in the park. Some rooms have a view over the valley. From RM70.
- D'Villa Rina Ria Lodge, ☎ +60 88 889282, . Located just 500 metres away from Kinabalu Park's main entrance. Standard room, family room and dormitory available. Restaurant serves delicious local cuisines. From RM50.
- Kinabalu Pine Resort, ☎ +60 88 386775 ([email protected], fax: +60 88 385857), . Situated on the main road between the Kinabalu National Park and Ranau is a great place to take your photos of the mountain. Meals, including beer, are available at the restaurant. Credit cards are accepted. From RM170.
- Kinabalu Rose Cabin, Km 18, Jalan Ranau-Tamparuli, P O Box 13654, 88841 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia., ☎ +60 88 888233 ([email protected]), . Two minutes' drive from the park gate. Great view of Mount Kinabalu from the rooms. From RM70.
- Magic Mountain Country Home, ☎ +60 19 8214338, . Located on a private property right within Mount Kinabalu Golf Course near the Mesilau side of the park, this Austrian-Malaysian country home offers "old-fashioned comfort, well-being, and grace". Due to the remote location, cooked breakfast AND set dinner is always included in the room rate. Service in English, German, Malay, and Chinese. Double occupancy. RM420.
- Aristo Kinabalu Resort, ☎ +6088872719 ([email protected]), . checkin: 2:00PM; checkout: 12:00PM. Started operation in June 2009 with 21 rooms of different beds arrangements with attached bathrooms and TV with cable channels. Apart from hotel rooms, AKR also has 6 rooms with bunk-beds arrangements. Reservations can be made via email. From RM30 to RM160.
- Mountain Lodge, Near to Kinabalu Park HQ (1Km before Kinabalu HQ from Kota Kinabalu), ☎ +6016-2084909. Wood based building with nice landscape and Mountainous scenery of Tropical Rain Forest! From RM25.00.
- Kiram's Village, Mesilau Kundasang, ☎ +60 19 8213443 ([email protected]), . Located near with Mt. Kinabalu Golf Course and 15 minutes to Mesilau Nature Resort (intake for Mesilau Trail) from RM200 per Cabin.
No camping is allowed on the mountain. All visitors must stay in approved lodgings within the park and at Laban Rata.
While Mount Kinabalu is one of the most accessible peaks in the world, it 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:
- Altitude: You are expected to ascend 2200 metres over the course of less than two days. Many hikers experience some form of altitude sickness upon reaching Laban Rata. The thin air causes problems for some. It's best to climb slowly and surely instead of rushing up and finding yourself exhausted. The mountain is high enough to cause altitude sickness, so familiarize yourself with the symptoms and keep an eye out for them.
- Fatigue: Hikers going on a two-day climb will have to make the ascent and descent in the same day.Bringing along muscular ache relief cream and knee/ankle supports may be helpful. Note that this involves trekking for around 8 to 12 hours depending on your speed. Note that your legs may ache for a few days after the hike. Don't plan any rigorous activities afterwards for the following few days, unless you know you can handle it.
- Bad weather: Rain, mist and fog are common occurrences at the park and at the summit. While summit attempts will be forbidden if there is rain, expect there to be rain on your descent. Paths can become very slippery and treacherous with onset of rain.
- Falls: The summit climb for the last 2km requires hikers to use the rope extensively in some stretches. In particular, there is a 700 metre stretch over a smooth rock face which is steep, requires hikers to rely significantly on their upper body strength and which has a sheer drop on one side. Note that there is no safety barrier or procedures to ensure that falls along the summit climb are halted.
A briefing will be provided by guide at 6pm daily before the climb begin.
- Poring Hot Spring is 39km from Mt. Kinabalu. There are several open-air pool-like bath tubs, there are also indoor Jacuzzi. Another main attraction here is the Canopy Walk over the 157.8-metre-long suspension bridge connecting the Mengaris trees. Its highest point is 41 metres from the ground. You can observe the ecological system at the treetops. If you are nature music lover, here you can hear the orchestral performance by the birds, insects and perhaps jungle animals. After the hike, this is a great place to relax sore muscles; however, it may be best to stay the night here as in the evening it may be difficult to get transport back to KK.
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