04 Sep Climb Mount Kinabalu 50 Steps At A Time
The journey to conquer not only the highest mountain in Malaysia, but myself.
As a Malaysian, I have always wanted to hike the highest mountain in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu. After the 2015 quake that hits Sabah, I regretted not hiking it earlier as part of the mountain, called the Donkey’s Ear, was heavily damaged. Since then, Mount Kinabalu is on my to-hike bucket list.
I tried my very best to stay active and train my lower body muscles whenever I have the chance even though I have an extremely packed working schedule. Hence, two (2) months before the hike, I went for a 5km run at least once a week (that’s my cardio training), strength training at least once a week, and conditioning exercises at home almost every day. On top of that, I used the stairs to reach my office, which is located on the 8th floor, every single morning to train my leg muscles. I highly recommend you to do more than these so that you have better stamina for the hike. Trust me, you will enjoy the hike so much more with better stamina and stronger muscles! 🙂
To hike Mount Kinabalu, you’re required to get a local hiking guide and hiking permit from the officials. So to make things easier, both Mike and I joined a local hiking group so our logistics and hiking permits are pre-arranged. The good thing is, we have a guide to guide us up to the peak of the mountain.
Day 1: A day before the hike, we met up with the other members of the hiking group at Kota Kinabalu, and headed to Kundasang, which is two (2) hours away from Kota Kinabalu. Along the way, we got to know other hikers better, some are avid hikers, some are professional hikers who hiked Mount Kinabalu for more than three (3) times. Their past hiking experiences really excite us, and we can already feel the adrenaline rush!
The ride to Kundasang was quite a pleasant one as we managed to get some rest in the mini-van. Upon reaching Kundasang, we checked in to our homestay, freshen ourselves and head out for a warm hearty dinner. Though day time can be very warm, the temperature at Kundasang in the evening and night time can be quite low. It was about 16°C that night, so we have to put on our fleece jacket. After dinner, the lead of the hiking group briefed us on the flow, arrangement of things, as well as tips on packing our bags. To ensure we have sufficient energy to hike, our bags need to be as light as possible. Hence, there is an option to get the porter to carry our additional stuff/bag, which we choose not to, as our bag was not really heavy.
Day 2: It’s a chilly morning as it rained the night before, and I just feels like hiding under the blanket. Knowing that we need to gather by 8am, we quickly freshen up ourselves and changed. We then departed to dabao (buy packed-meal) our breakfast and lunch from one of the roadside stalls on the way.
We arrived at Kinabalu Park at about 9.00am, which our guide arranged for all the necessary registrations, so what we need to do is just to fill up the indemnity form at the office. Upon registration, we were all given an ID Tag which we need to wear it all the time during our hike. After that, the bus transferred us to Pondok Timpohon, aka Timpohon Gate, where our journey to Mount Kinabalu begins.
The climb up to the destination of the day, Laban Rata (3,273m above sea level), will take approximately 4 to 6 hours, covering about 5km. A good note to keep in mind is to complete at least 1km per hour. The trek will pass through different vegetation zones from oak and chestnut to mossy. There is a rest station with toilet every kilometer, so you do not have to worry about answering nature’s call. (Note: You have to bring your own toilet paper!)
As weather forecast reported that it might rain around noon, both of us decided to hike at a fast pace. The first half of the hike is quite easy; the second half is quite challenging as the trail is rocky and steep. We managed to stop at the Layang-Layang rest station to grab our packed-lunch, and rest for awhile. Unfortunately, it started raining at about 11.30am, making the trail extremely wet, slippery and difficult to climb. We managed to reach Laban Rata at about 2.30pm.
Upon checking in to our hostel, we took turns to freshen up and rest. Due to the rain, the temperature dropped, making all of us reluctant to bathe. (Some of us do not even bathe :P) Since the hostel doesn’t have a heater, we headed over to the restaurant to get hot tea and wait for our dinner. At about 5pm, dinner (buffet style) was served.
As the sky starts to get dark at about 6.30pm, most climbers headed to their room to rest as we have to rise early on the next day for the summit attack!
Day 3: We started our day at about 1am, where we packed our bags (only things that we need for the hike, e.g. jacket, water, snacks, and camera) and grabbed supper. Once done, we gathered for the summit-attack briefing by the guide and embarked our summit attack mission at about 2.45am.
- The temperature at that point is cold (less than 5°C) and even colder at the summit, which is why it is highly advisable to wear proper warm clothing, like a fleece jacket and wind breaker.
- Due to the rain from the previous day, the trail up to the summit is extremely slippery, so a pair of good hiking shoes will be very helpful as hiking shoes/boots have better grip compared to running or training shoes. Also, hiking shoes usually have thick shoe soles that will protect your feet from injury.
- Start your hike slow and steady as fatigue from the previous day and high-altitude may affect the climbers. I personally did not take any altitude sickness pill, but it is good to prepare the pill as altitude sickness is not a joke.
- Get yourself a pair of good gloves with good grip texture so that you will have a good grip at the assisting ropes especially on the summit attack day. I used the Robesbon warm gloves which you can purchase from PTT Outdoor.
- Avoid taking long breaks in between as it will drag your time to reach the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint.
- All climbers are required to reach the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint latest by 5am, as per the Sabah Park’s regulation. Failing which climbers are not allowed to proceed to the summit.
From Laban Rata to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, or better known as Low’s Peak, is about 2.5km. The gradient from Laban Rata is steep with stairs for the first quarter of the climb. After that, a guide rope emerges to assist climbers in pulling themselves up the rocky surfaces of the mountain, which is why it is highly recommended to get yourself a pair of good gloves.
To be very honest, the climb was quite challenging as we are not used to hiking in the middle of the night, what more in the cold weather, high altitude, and tiring body. Nonetheless, we managed to reach Sayat-Sayat checkpoint at about 4.30am, where all climbers have to get their permits checked. From here, the climb gets tougher as the roped trail is steeper and more slippery than the first half of the climb.
At this point, due to the higher altitude, low temperature, and strong wind, we became extremely exhausted. The 1-kilometer climb from Sayat-Sayat to the summit is not a joke and requires very high level of mental strength. However, we have come so far that we do not want to give up. So to motivate each other, we kept a slow but steady pace by counting our steps: for every 50 steps we take, we will rest for 10 seconds. Thankfully, this method managed to pull us up to the summit – Low’s Peak before the sun rises.
To be honest, we are extremely grateful for the good weather during our climb from Laban Rata to the summit – Low’s Peak, as the authorities have to call off the summit climb to the batch of climbers the day before due to bad weather. Half way through the hike, I took off my windbreaker as I started sweating like mad, and it is also to prevent myself from getting sick. But nearing the peak, I have to put my windbreaker back on as the wind up there is extremely strong and temperature at that time was nearing 0 Celsius. [At that time, I was wearing a training shirt, fleece jacket, and a windbreaker, which are good enough. Oh! And a good pair of gloves to keep your hands warm.]
Summited Mount Kinabalu (Low’s Peak), Sabah, Malaysia – May 2017
The beautiful thing about climbing mountains is that you will see great views and get a sense of priceless achievement; but the scary thing is the descending part can be quite scary, especially for someone like me who is afraid of heights. Thanks to those friendly climbers who are kind to reassure me that it’s not as steep as I thought. So, step by step we made our descending journey.
As the sun rises, the temperature began to rise, so we have to take off our windbreaker and fleece so that we do not soak in sweat.
Upon reaching Laban Rata, we headed to the dining area to settle down, rest to regain our appetite to eat, and grab breakfast to fuel our body for the journey down to base camp, then we went back to our rooms to repack our bags. As we have a plane to catch in the late evening (not recommended to book a returning flight on your descending day), both Mike and I decided to descend with a couple more climbers in our group.
My nightmare started after 1km descending from Laban Rata as my left knee began to have this sharp poking pain in every step I took. It’s horrible to the extent I wish to just give up knowing that I have 5 more kilometers of descending to do! (1km in the jungle is unlike 1km on a normal road) To make it worst, heavy rain started to pour which made the trail slippery. At that moment, I truly understand the importance of a pair of healthy legs! Without a pair of healthy legs, there are so many things you can’t do, like hiking and climbing. I looked forward to seeing every rest hut as they served as a goal for me to refer, at the same time, keep telling my mind that it is NOT PAIN AT ALL, and I CAN DEFINITELY reach the base safely!!
No words can describe my feeling when I saw the Timpohon Gate, I literally wanted to cry due to the excruciating pain that I have gone through, but I chose to sit on the bench to calm my already-exhausted mind and stone while waiting for the other climbers.
At that moment, I said to myself that I will never ever climb Mount Kinabalu again, but after weeks of resting and reflection, I think I will go back to climb Mount Kinabalu again. It is not because I have forgotten the pain that I have gone through or blame the mountain for the pain, but I have to prepare my body in order to enjoy the climb. Afterall, it’s a journey to conquer my own self, not the mountain.
Thank you, Mike, for giving me this awesome birthday present. Happy to receive such a great adventure and climbing experience. It is priceless and special. 🙂
// Want something more adventurous? Discover the best hike in Nepal – Everest Base Camp, by clicking HERE [Everst Base Camp trek]