Tips and Suggested Gears

Background

Mount Kinabalu, located at east Malaysia state of Sabah, is the third tallest peak in South East Asia with a height of 4095.2m above sea level (the tallest peak in Myanmar is yet to be opened to public and the second tallest peak located in Indonesia requires highest technical skill). Quite a number of literature classified Mount Kinabalu as “easy” or “relatively easy” for climbers with good physical health. To me, the climb was not that “easy”. I guess it is classified that way because no mountaineering equipment is required. It can still be a challenge to the physically fit ones. You will need a mountain guide and a licence to reach the summit. Book through a tour operator.

Do check the weather condition for the month you intend to climb Mount Kinabalu. March/April is a good choice as it is dry and the wind speed is relatively lower. If the rain is too heavy, the park won’t allow climbers to reach the top. Also, the wind at the top can reach 120 km/h in some months so I heard.

Most climbers start from the Timpohon Gate (1866.4m above sea level) and spend the first day covering a distance of 6km in reaching the rest-house at Laban Rata Hut (3272.7m). Many stay a night at the rest-house and resume the climb at 2.30am in the morning covering a distance of 2.72km before reaching the Low’s Peak (4095.2m).

After watching the sunrise at the peak, climbers begin the descend covering the entire 8.72km distance within the same day.

There is an alternative “scenic route” for the adventurers. It is 2km longer and involves a 2km steep descend and a 1km climb after that as you are heading up to the rest-house from the entrance. The mountain guide told me that if one loses his footing, it is a 2km drop to the bottom. That probably explains why some climbers prefer to take the standard route as the return route. Who in the right mind wishes to climb that 2km steep slope on the way down?

Of course, some prefer to complete the journey in 3 days and some can do it in one day. The world record is just over 2 hours and 50 minutes (yes, all the way up and down). The oldest and youngest climbers ever reached the peak (told by the tour operator)? 89 years old Japanese lady and a 4 years old boy from UK. There you go, some kind of trivial.

Suggested Training

To climb Mount Kinabalu, you will need stamina as well as overall muscle workouts – for strength – that include upper body (yes, you will need those muscles to carry your bag, climb the ropes, and especially if you plan to use a walking stick), thigh and calf (I would suggest cycling and jogging uphill as practice), and the muscles around your knees (I need to research more on that).

Rule #1 (and the only rule) – Respect the Mountain

Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprint. Don’t fool around and respect the mountain. Never underestimate what lies ahead of you.

Suggested Gears

Clothing – For the initial climb, you will need something light as the weather can be warm. Most of the path are shaded so that you may not need those expensive UV protection long pants. I hardly use my cap nor suntan lotion neither. As for the raincoat, buy it at the Park HQ (at entrance). It cost only RM 5.

When you approach Laban Rata Hut (your day 1 destination), the weather can turn chilly. Having a light windbreaker is always a plus.

Upon reaching the rest-house, temperature can drop to 12 degree Celsius. Bring along some fresh clothing to change and above all, wear your thermal underwear. They are essential.

As for the night climb, you will need a good jacket with a hood that can withstand up to zero degree Celsius. If you are afraid of the cold, get a pair of gloves as well.

Shoes – I have seen all sorts of shoes climbers wear and I would suggest a good pair of sport shoes. Water proof shoes may not be necessary as you are not going to trek across rivers. Get something comfortable that you enjoy wearing. My Nike’s All Condition Gear (ACG) works just as fine.

Torch Light – It is essential for the night climb. Those that attach to your head are the best. Get a good one. It will make your life a whole lot easier.

Walking Stick – I cannot imagine how I can make the descend without one. It helps a lot to offload the strain from your knees. Besides, a walking stick helps to balance yourself amongst the uneven terrain and to spot loose stones ahead. A wooden one can be brought for RM 3 at Park HQ (near the entrance) or RM 10 at the rest-house. If I do it again, I will invest on those professional ones that come with spikes at the bottom and handles on top. I will get two instead of one.

Gloves – You will need a pair of gloves (like the ones in the picture above) to hold onto the ropes during the night climb without risking of hurting your hands in such a cold temperature. It only costs RM 5 at Park HQ.

Water Supply – You can refill your water bottle along the way but bear in mind that it is untreated water you will be drinking. Bring some purifying tablets if you intend to drink it. Or you can bring along your own water supply. For the day 1 climb, 1.5 litre of water is probably enough. As for the night climb from Laban Rata Hut to Low’s peak, a small bottle of water should do fine. You will probably need another 1.5 litre to go down. You can purchase bottled water at the rest-house at Laban Rata Hut.

Energy Bars – You will get hungry as you scale the mountain. Chocolate bars is a cheaper option than those professional energy bars. I think I must have consumed close to 5 to 10 of them on my own.

Medicine – Bring some painkillers as you may encounter altitude sickness. Most likely you may not have enough rest for your night climb so painkillers are always good against headaches.

Money – The prices at the rest-house where you stop for a night’s rest can be steep. That is understandable because all that climbers consumed have to be lifted all the way from the bottom by the natives. Just to give you an idea, a plate of fried rice costs RM 15 and a can of Coke costs RM 10. Do the Maths and bring enough money.

Others

Porters – It is possible to ask a porter to carry your bags for RM 7 per kilogram. Many do but we didn’t. You have to make that decision before the climb.

Toiletries – The bathing facility at the rest-house (where you will spend a night) is minimal. If you can’t stand not bathing for a day but yet can stand bathing in cold water when the temperature outside barely hits 10 degrees Celsius, you may wish to bring along all your toiletries and towels as the rest-house will not provide any. Tong Kiat and I did not even bother to brush teeth (Cynthia did shower and brush her teeth for the record). Lose those extra weights!

Medicine for Sore Muscles and Joints – You probably don’t need to bring those medicine up although I saw some climbers did carry a small jar of Tiger Balm with them. However, after you reach your hotel safe and sound, the third thing you wish to do (first being a good hot deserving shower, second being a decent meal) is to apply some medicine to your sore muscles and joints.

I like the Tiger Balm brand. Tong Kiat prefers to use the plaster type (selling at RM 5 for 2). I can’t possibly buy like 10 packets and have them stuck all over my body so I used the plaster for my knee and the Tiger Balm lotion (comes in a small jar) for the rest of my body. Tong Kiat thought that the effect of lotion is minimal. Coming from Test Subject A (that is me), plaster has immediate effect and for the lotion to have the same effect, all you need is to scoop a significant amount of lotion and apply onto the affect areas. The texture of the lotion is a bit hard so Cynthia and I used the back of a teaspoon to scoop it up. Worked just as fine for us.

Mobile Phones – There is network coverage from the Park HQ to the rest-house. I have not tested if there is coverage all the way to the peak as I left my phone at the rest-house.

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32 thoughts on “Tips and Suggested Gears”

  1. Hi,

    We are a group of 6 going to Mt Kinabalu end of this mth. Wanna check with you regatding lockers at Mt Kinabalu? Before first day’s climb, are there lockers at the Kinabalu park? If so how big? Can luggage trolley bag fit in??? And is it safe to leave belongings at Laban Rata resthse before Day 2 climb?

    1. Nisha – Hi! Before the 1st day’s climb, I suppose you can stay in the lodging at the base of Mount Kinabalu. Alternatively, there are hotels at the town Kota Kinabalu where you can leave your luggage during your climb. That was what we did. If you intend to stay at the Park, you may wish to confirm with them if your belongings can be locked inside. I will be surprised if you can’t.

      You may wish to bring only the essentials when you start your climb. Porters can be hired to help you carry your luggage but since the climb only lasts 2 days, you may consider how much you wish to bring up, and down.

      At Laban Rata, I don’t recall there are locker services. Since day 2 climb is more tedious, we did leave some of our belongings behind. To be honest, that thought of whether it was safe to leave our stuff at Laban Rata has never crossed my mind. Mainly because I brought along all the valuables with me (such as money and passport) during the day 2 climb. I think you should too. And you can always use a small padlock on the bags that you leave behind.

      I hope this helps. Good luck with your climb!

  2. Thank you. Your tips are useful to us. We will climb Mt. Kinabalu in the middle of this month (19-21 March).

    1. Danny – Thanks for dropping by. Are you living in Singapore? It has been a while since I booked mine. I think the camping shops in Singapore offer reliable package. You may wish to do some shopping to see if your needs are met (such as, is it inclusive of air-ticket, accommodation, mountain guide, transportation, and etc.)

  3. This is being so useful man. I’m leaving for KK in 9 days. But I’m going to climb the mount in only a day. Starting on 7am and based on the brief tentative we must reach the top at 12pm and going down before 5pm. Pretty scared because most review I’ve read are all consist of 2days trip by spending the night at Laban Rata.

    1. Alia – Best of luck! You can do it. If you are physically fit, reaching the top in one day is very possible. There are hikers who do just that.. Keep us in the loop!

  4. Cool stuff peeps… planning for a trip in Apr so started my workout already… and the chick in the pix looks hot… i wouldn’t mind getting to know her to climb her mountains… 🙂

  5. Hi there!

    It is a pleasure to read your articles regarding to the Kinabalu experience you had!

    My bf and I are looking to take up such adventurous trip to M’sia in Oct 2012 from Singapore (SG). Can you recommend me a best place for the booking? the climb with guide? the accommodations? and how to go there from SG?

    I am so sorry that I am such a noob with so many questions. Your entries caught my attention that I believe you could be my great saviour! 😉

    Hope to hear from you soon!

    Good day! 🙂

    1. Soo Jen – I will try to help!

      First, since it has been a while since I climbed Mount K, I don’t have a specific place in mind for you to do the booking. But, to my best knowledge, shops that sell camping and mountaineering equipment often sell tour package to Mount K. If you look for these shops in Singapore (not many to cover your ground), you should be able to get what you want.

      Now, again, to my best knowledge, you don’t have to book air tickets, accommodation (both in town and at Mount K), mountain guide, and local transport individually. It may be cheaper that way but it is too much of a hassle. What you could do is to book a tour package that should include everything you need. You will still need to bring your gears. At least the logistic is settled.

      The tour package is often pretty flexible. You can specify how long you wish to stay in KK and etc. These packages usually have the option to extend your stay in town for one extra day. You could do white water rafting or visit a hot spring. From our experience, it is best to skip these activities because we were so tired after the climb that on the next day, we could barely walk!

      I hope this helps!

    2. Soo Jen, our team is going this Monday 11 june. You may wanna try our tour operator BC Tours Management S/B, attn ; Timothy David +60128207305. He was also being recommended by a friend who went up there last year. Quote my name, probably can get a better rate 🙂

        1. hi, is KK possible to be hiked by beginners? well not really beginners beginner but how much experty level should one have to hike this

          1. Katrina – Yes, so long as you are physically fit, you should be able to handle KK. It is a free standing mountain so equipment or technique is not required. Just walk up the slope! Except the last bit of course whereby you would need to use the rope attached to the peak.

            1. thanks Wilfrid!

              any suggested route to take? also, where to book a tour guide and accommodation. we might go there on our own, so what we just need is the accommodation when we get there and a tour guide. do you know any independent tour guide or an agency that handles things like this, perhaps they can join us to another group, we dont mind. 🙂

              thanks in advance.

          2. Katrina – To my understanding, there is a daily quota on how many climbers can reach the peak, due to safety issue. So you have to book a local tour guide in advance in order to avoid disappointment. Only local tour guides have the license to reach the peak.

            From what I remember, there are two routes. The scenic route – which is tougher and the normal route. Your local tour guide should be able to advise accordingly.

            I would suggest getting a package that should include flights, accommodation, transportation, and the tour guide. Because not only do you need to get a place to stay in town, but also up the mountain. Mount K is a popular destination. I am unsure if rooms at the mountain would always be available.

            May I know where do you come from? Because there are some online tour agency that could help.

            1. Katrina – I am from Singapore too. All good camping equipment selling stores should sell packages. If I were you, I would visit them soon and check out the prices and availability.

              Best of luck!

            2. hi Wilfrid,

              can you recommend some good agencies to visit? and their location? io just got here from the Philippines (a month ago) so Im not yet familiar with SG that much yet… ( and here I am exploring Malaysia alread) hehe… not that SG bores me but I’ll be staying for a year so I’m saving some sense of “lostness” here for the meantime. 🙂

            3. Katrina – OK. My friend recommends buying direct from Sutera Harbour in KK.

              You can Google the info and call them up. Best of luck!

    1. Grace – Yes, we went on a tour package. But you could book individual items. Just make sure you book a licensed mountain guide in order to get to the top.

  6. Hi I b intending to climb the mountain somewhere in april. Any recommendations to get gd package from singapore / is 2days 1night be sufficient for a beginner?

    1. Mary – You may check out the camping stores. They should have some packages for you. Alternatively, you could book separately too. But that involves a little bit of research.

      After the climb, instead of heading directly to the airport, perhaps you may wish to stay in Kota Kinabalu for an extra night and catch the plane the next day? You may need 2 days to climb up and down the mountain as a beginner.

  7. Hi Wilfred.

    Good tips! I’ll be climbing Mt Kinabalu end June so these are very much helpful. Thanks!

    I suppose I’m one of those who aren’t in their right mind as I’ve opted to do via ferrata on the Low’s Peak Circuit. I just have one question: Do you think I’d be able to catch an 11.30pm flight on the same day I descend if I do via ferrata?

    1. Liyana – Sounds like you love challenges and that is good!

      I think you should be able to complete your descend before nightfall. If you have the luxury of time, it is better to take a rest that day. But if you wish to leave on the same evening, that is good too.

      I remember for us, after we have reached our hotel, all of us could hardly walk!

  8. Hi..a very useful article!!
    I’m planning to climb Mt. Kinabalu in end of december with a friend.. we haven’t done any mountain climbing before. Is it doable for first timers with just average fitness level, and who are mentally strong..?
    Also, do you have any idea on the number (or percentage) of cancellations in december due to bad weather ? (I read that dec is a rainy season up there)
    Thanks!

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