Mount Kinabalu – an accessible 4000 m summit in South East Asia. Read on if you are interested in my two day trip to the summit and back.

Trip details

Destination: Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

When: 5 to 6 September 2008

Mount Kinabalu

One of the things I really wanted to do when on Borneo was climb Mount Kinabalu.

Mount Kinabalu is one of the prominent peaks of South East Asia and ranks number 20 in the world for topographic prominence. On clear days it looms over most of Sabah Province and can be seen from the coastal city of Kota Kinabalu which is the main starting point for a trip to the summit.

It is quite easy to book a trip to the summit, but sometimes permits can run scarce so it’s best to plan a couple of days ahead. The trip itself takes two days.

The hike to the summit and back

The first day the minivan from Kota Kinabalu dropped me off at Kinabalu Park Headquarters where guides were assigned. From the park headquarters, at an altitude of 1866 m, the entry point is Timphoon Gate. It is also possible to start from the Mesilau Nature Reserve.

On the way up to Laban Rata

On the way up to Laban Rata

The first day took me to Laban Rata – a mountain station at 3270 m where we spent the night in a doorm room. As always, when walking uphill for all full day, it pays off to take it slow and avoid lactic acid build-up.

The temperature difference is quite amazing this close to the equator. When we started, it was a hot and humid 32 C. At Laban Rata, it was 6 C and later at the summit it was a couple degrees below freezing. When we approached Laban Rata a slow rain was drizzling and the whole area was covered in mist.

Laban Rata mountain station

Laban Rata mountain station

After dinner, the mist and clouds cleared and gave me a beautiful sunset as a birthday present (yes, it was my birthday!). Wonderful!

Sunset from Laban Rata

Sunset from Laban Rata

I set off with my guide at 3 am aiming to be at the summit for sunrise at 6 am. The summit approach was not too difficult, but everything is strenuous at this altitude. I was happy that I didn’t feel any signs of altitude sickness as I had experienced it before on lower altitudes. We made the climb quite fast and spent an hour around the summit waiting for the sun to rise. It was pretty cold – even for a Swede – but I was pretty layered up. Some people made the climb in t-shirts and shorts, which must have been freezing – not recommendable.

The summit at 4095 meters

The summit at 4095 meters

Sunrise is always magical on top of a summit, and this sunrise did not disappoint. It is difficult to catch the beauty on camera – you have to be there to fully enjoy. it. But being this far above the mist covered green hills of Borneo is truly spectacular.

View from slightly below the summit

View from slightly below the summit

The way down was fast (careful with the knees though) and once again the contrast between zero degrees and tropical 32 C was amazing. Grilled fish at the Philippino market in the Kota Kinabalu harbor was a great way to  end a short but very rewarding trip!

Summary

Summing up, this is a climb (or rather a walk) that almost anyone can do. The trail is good and apart for some boulders and steeper parts near the summit, it is walking all the time. Although not extremely high, 4095 meters is still a respectable altitude and Mount Kinabalu offers one of the easiest ascents to this altitude that I have encountered. Do it!

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