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.
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.
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.
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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