The Comprehensive Guide to Climbing Mount Kinabalu
If you are looking for the ultimate and comprehensive guide to Mount Kinabalu, you have found it. Mount Kinabalu is renowned around the world for its majestic view, challenging peaks, and rewarding climb.
In 2000, Mount Kinabalu made it to UNESCOs World Heritage List. This means that special measures are being taken for the preservation and protection of Mount Kinabalu for the present and future generations. However, before you get started on the journey, it is best to be informed and learn everything that you possibly can about the destination. That said, let us get started.
Kinabalu means the revered place of the dead. It is the belief of the local Kadazan people who inhabit the area that there are spirits who make their dwelling place at the top of Mount Kinabalu.
Another piece of ancient folklore states that Kinabalu translates to Chinese widow. This theory holds that a Chinese prince once climbed the mountain to obtain a large pearl being protected by a ferocious dragon. The prince then married a Kadazan woman. However, it was not long before he left the woman and made his way back to China. The wife went to the mountains with a broken heart and turned into stone.
Sir Hugh Low is credited with being the first person to successfully climb Mount Kinabalu. This happened in 1851. However, it is important to note that he did not reach the highest peak of the mountain as he believed that it was only accessible to birds.
English botanist Lillian Gibbs is credited as the first woman to climb Mount Kinabalu. She was able to take home with her over a thousand botanical specimens that were subsequently put on display in the British Museum.
Level of Difficulty
The level of difficulty of Mount Kinabalu is precisely that: difficult. In terms of statistics, it is 26 kilometres long and it would take approximately two days to climb it. The maximum altitude of Mount Kinabalu is at 4,095 metres. Walking up Mount Kinabalu is steep and demanding to say the least.
The altitude also climbs up pretty quick. Climbing the mountain is not advisable for beginners or those who have trained insufficiently.
The climb begins at 1,500 metres of 5,130 feet above the ground. As mentioned earlier, the mountain has made it to UNESCOs World Heritage List. This is due to the fact that up to 6,000 plant species can be found here.
While the climb up Mount Kinabalu can be gruelling at times, it is also infinitely breathtaking.
Mount Kinabalu Trail Map
Preparation Before Climb
It is of extreme importance to be prepared before attempting to climb any mountain. Mount Kinabalu in particular because of its level of difficulty. While scaling Mount Kinabalu will definitely be tough, it is certainly not impossible as it has been done many times before.
Having said that, what preparation needs to be done before the climb?
First off, if you are already engaged in a regular form of exercise such as running, power walking, or other cardiovascular activities, you are on the right track. Age is not a factor herefitness is what is most important.
Things You Should Know
- There are total of 146 climb permits & dormitory beds in all huts of Laban Rata only.
- There are no longer heated dorm & shower since 2009 – except 3 private rooms in Laban Rata.
- It is advisable to stay in the Kinabalu Park or a highland resort prior climb for high altitude acclimatization (Refer to all 3D2N & above climb packages)
- Never attempt to catch a flight on the same day of descend as you are likely to miss it.
|A backpack about this size is ideal, but bigger is OK.||Head-mounted torches are highly recommended.||Good, sturdy trail shoes are essential.|
Weather conditions can change rapidly on the mountain. A clear, warm day can suddenly turn into heavy sleeting rain in a matter of minutes. Climbers must be well prepared for any eventuality.
Accommodation at Laban Rata
All bedding requirements are provided at Laban Rata, so there’s no need to take sleeping bags and the like. Meals can be purchased relatively cheaply at Laban Rata, so climbers need only provide snacks and lunch on the first day (if it’s not provided by a tour group).
As such, the trip can be completed comfortably with a small backpack of about 35-40L. A larger pack will be fine, but keep weight to a minimum. After all, it’s hard enough climbing the mountain without lugging any unnecessary weight!
Items and Equipment Every Climber Should Carry
|1.||Waterproof Jacket||This is what keeps you warm during you sleep. You probably sweat too much during ascending, but boy make sure you get a water proof one!|
|2.||Warm Light Weight Jumper||Polarfleece or windfleece is ideal. You'll be probably wearing this most of your ascending.|
|3.||Warm and Lightweight Pants||Not Denim Jeans! as it remains cold when wet.|
|4.||Spare Socks and Underwear||Preferably extra socks because you will be sweating entire day. Remember to bring extra plastic bags too!|
|5.||Beanie/Wollen Hat||You will be taking lots of photos a long the way and make sure you have a good looking beanie when you have your victory shot.|
|6.||Sturdy Woollen or Fleece Gloves||Not compulsory but if your fingers turn purple during your ascend, you'll be too late.|
|7.||Trail Shoes||A strong gripping or slippery shoes will hugely determine your experience of climbing. Make sure to choose a good pair!|
Waterproof Your Bag!
All your gear should be packed inside waterproof plastic bags in case of rain on the mountain. The last thing you want when you arrive tired and sweaty at Laban Rata is for all your clean, dry clothes to be soaking wet!
Keep in mind that the above list of equipment does not include what you wear on the trail as you set out from park headquarters. What you wear on the trail is really a matter of personal preference. Some climbers prefer to go light and just wear a t-shirt and shorts for the early stages, adding a jumper as they reach higher altitude. Others prefer to wear pants and a long-sleeved shirt – it’s up to you.
Types of Clothes to Wear
The climb is strenuous and you will get very warm, simply through your exertions. Layering of clothes is always a good strategy, so you can adjust your clothing depending on the situation.
Suggested Walking Clothes For Early Stages
- Shorts (or lightweight pants)
- T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt
- Woollen socks
- Sturdy shoes with good grip and ankle support – runners or sneakers are far from ideal
- Cap or hat to keep the sun off your face
It’s a different story for the early morning trek to the summit. It gets very windy and quite cold at Low’s Peak, so you’ll need to rug up with the gear you’ve carried up in your backpack.
What To Carry
Wear your warm socks, pants, shirt, warm jumper and waterproof jacket when you head off. Gloves and beanie are also essential. Carry a litre of water, snacks and a camera in your jacket, or in a very small day pack. You may get quite warm in the early stages of the climb after Laban Rata, but you’ll be glad of the protection as you trek above the tree line. (Source: climbmtkinabalu.com)
Important Notes for Climbers on Mount Kinabalu
- Identify your mountain Guide who will display an identification card.
- Travel together in your own group and stay with the mountain guide at all times.
- Alert your mountain guide if you face any difficulty.
- Do not scream, shout or curse the mountain at any point of time.
- Display your climbing permit and show it to Park Officials at the check point at Timpohon Gate, Laban Rata and Sayat-Sayat on your way up and down.
- If for any reason, you are separated from your group or the mountain guide, please follow the white rope that marks the summit Trail. If visibility is very low or in the dark please hold onto the rope and follow it. (There is a thick white rope leasing all the way from the vegetation belt above Panar Laban to the summit. Use this rope to help climbing up and prevent falling when walking down.
- Please follow and use the rope for your own safety.
- The weather on the Summit area can deteriorate in a matter of minutes. Thick mist may reduce visibility to only 3 meters, and rainstorms and wind of up to 120 km/hr. may occur at times.
- Please hold on to the rope, which will lead you to safety.
- If you are separated from your Mountain Guide and lose sight of the rope - stop immediately. Stay where you are and blow your whistle to attract attention.
- Do not find your own way out. Help is definitely on the way. The Park Officials at Sayat-Sayat check point will notice that you are missing.
Health Preparation for Climbers
Do not climb if you are suffering from or have a history of the following ailments:
- Heart Disease
- Severe Anemia
- Peptic Ulcers
- Epileptic Fits
- Obesity (Overweight)
- Chronic Asthma
- Muscular Cramps
- Hepatitis (Jaundice)
- Any other sickness or disease that may be triggered by severe cold, exertion, and high altitude.
“Once in a Lifetime!”
Climbing Mount Kinabalu is usually a “once in a lifetime” experience for most people, so it is vital that proper preparations are made beforehand.
With superior information and sufficient time to prepare, you stand an extremely good chance of reaching the summit.
Minimum Health Requirement
Although the majority of routes leading to the summit of Kinabalu require no technical climbing skills, some kind of training beforehand is important. It is important to remember that you will be hiking on surfaces with varying angles which may put lots of stress on your ankles and knees.
It is also worth remembering that most of the injuries which occur on Mount Kinabalu happen on the way down. When climbing Mount Kinabalu, take a slow pace to allow your body to acclimatize to the altitude, as at 3000 meters, you only have 70% of the oxygen you would normally have at sea-level.
If you plan to take any medication during your climb, you must consult your doctor prior to departure. The effects of medications may vary with altitude and stress. All climbers should consult their doctor or a specialized travel clinic well in advance of their trip.
To ensure your own safety and that of the team, and to make the climb an enjoyable and fulfilling one, it is advisable to bear in mind the following:
- Overnight in Kinabalu Park or Kundasang Highlands (1500m a.s.l) prior to climb allows you to acclimatize to altitude changes and reduce AMS while climbing
- Engaging a mountain guide is compulsory for yourself or your group (Ratio of Max 6 climbers to 1 mountain guide)
- Wear comfortable trekking or running shoes with a good grip
- Cut your toe nails to prevent knocking into your shoes
- Have enough warm clothing for the summit climb
- You should feel comfortable and be able to move freely in what you wear (Denim jeans not recommended)
- Try to pack your climbing bag at around 4-8Kg (Do not bring too many unnecessary things)
- Do not have a heavy breakfast prior to the climb
- Try to finish your packed lunch within 1-2 hours from the start of the ascent (To reduce weight)
- For any special meal diet such as vegetarians, please inform our Mount Kinabalu Booking Centre consultants for arrangement
- Some chocolate & energy bars may be satisfying
- Trek at a normal pace (Too fast may result high altitude sickness & vomiting, too slow will drain out your energy)
- Rest longer at 4th or 5th KM mark – about 10 mins for high altitude acclimatization
- Should you feel too tired to carry on, try not to sit or lay down on high altitude, just stand still
- Untreated fresh mountain water is available at every shelter; you may refill them at these stops (Bring some water purification tablets)
- Boiled water available for refill at Laban Rata Restaurant & Pendant Hut
- Be extra careful with your steps during the wet spell
- Do not run at any time while ascending or descending the mountain
- Do not run at the summit especially around the 7.4 KM mark (Most dangerous point)
- Cover your nose (and mouth) with a scarf in windy condition on high ground
- Make extra sure your feet and hands are warm and dry during the final ascent
- When descending, try to walk sideway or in a zig-zag way to prevent slipping and reduce pain on joints
- Do not bring valuable items
- Fit Climber trekking duration (3 to 4 hrs) from Timpohon Gate to Mountain Hut (Laban Rata)
- Average Climber trekking duration (5 to 6 hrs) from Timpohon Gate to Mountain Hut (Laban Rata)
- Unfit Climber trekking duration (7 to 8 hrs) from Timpohon Gate to Mountain Hut (Laban Rata)
- Bring extra Ringgit Cash (No Credit Card available at Laban Rata)
- Trekking Pole available for rental (RM10.00 – RM15.00) at stop-over stores between KK City and Kinabalu Park
- Laban Rata Restaurant OPEN 7.00am and CLOSE at 7.30pm (No Food available after 7.30pm)
- Laban Rata Restaurant staff will clear up Tables, Chairs, Utensils and Drinking Water Pot at 7.45pm – 8.00pm
- Laban Rata Grocery Counter Closed at 7.30pm (Selling À la Carte Food, Beverages, Chips, Chocolate Bar, Batteries…etc)
- Laban Rata (Non-Heated Dormitory Rooms, Blanket, Bed, Bed Sheet and Pillow provided )
- Pendant Hut (Non-Heated Rooms, Sleeping Bag, Bed, Bed Sheet and Pillow provided)
- There will no health checks conducted by any authorities during climb registration, so climb at your own risk
Feedback from Past Climbers
According to one TripAdvisor reviewer from Pulau Penang Malaysia:
It’s definitely worth for the tears and sweat. Opt for Mesilau Trail for way up. You could see beautiful flora and fauna, scenery and fresh atmosphere!
Another reviewer on TripAdvisor from Albano Laziale, Italy stated that:
When you reach the top for sunrise at 5:30 in the morning all your efforts will be repaid with the beautiful view and strong, amazing feeling. Keep this feeling with you as long as you can, live intensely the moment and enjoy it because after that moment you will start to descend, painful descent, and if while you are going down you find a knee, is probably mine, bring it back to me. Please.
Mount Kinabalu Packages
- Mount Kinabalu Fast Track (1 Day Non-Summit Hike)
- Mount Kinabalu Hardcore (1 Day Low’s Peak Summit Hike)
- 2D1N Mount Kinabalu Climb
- 3D2N Mount Kinabalu Climb & Kinabalu Park Stay
- 3D2N Mount Kinabalu Climb & Kinabalu Park Stay (Premier & Private Heated Room)
- 2D1N Mount Kinabalu Climb With Ferrata (Walk The Torq)
- 3D2N Mount Kinabalu Climb With Ferrata & Highland Resort Stay (Walk The Torq)
Top 10 Booking Tips
- It normally takes 2D1N to complete a Mount Kinabalu climb.
- There are ferrata & non-ferrata type of climb packages
- Identify your ideal climbing date (day 1 ascend) & confirm availability with us
- We will secure any climb permit that is available on your ideal date.
- Book your airtickets only when your climb slots are secured.
- Climb slots are secured/guaranteed after payment is made.
- Do let us know if you require other tour/accommodation arrangement.
- Book through us safely or with other licensed agencies listed in Sabah Tourism Board
- Beware of bogus/scam websites operated by unknown organisation.
- Buy additional travel insurance in your country for better coverage & payout.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Mount Kinabalu?
Mount Kinabalu is in Kinabalu National Park in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Sabah’s capital city, Kota Kinabalu, is about 90 minutes by air from Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
How long does it take to climb Mt Kinabalu?
The climb takes two days. Climbers trek 6km to Laban Rata on the first day, taking four to five hours, before climbing to the summit early on the following morning. The return trip from Laban Rata to the summit can take anything from six to nine hours. Climbers then descend to the park headquarters that afternoon, which takes three to four hours.
Do I need any special equipment for the climb?
No. One of Mount Kinabalu’s main attractions is that climbers don’t need any special climbing equipment. Good walking shoes, a head-torch and a sturdy windproof jacket are the only essentials.
Do I have to do any special training to climb Mount Kinabalu?
No. A reasonably fit and healthy person can attempt the climb with confidence. As long as you do some regular exercise as part of your lifestyle and you are injury-free, you can reasonably expect to complete a successful climb. Of course, the fitter you are, the better. And, the more experience you have at trekking in hilly terrain, the easier you will find it.
Is Mount Kinabalu a safe mountain to climb?
As long as you stay on the track, there is little to no chance of suffering any injury. There have been incidents where climbers have become lost, injured or killed on the mountain but this has only happened when they leave the marked track in poor weather. Listen to your guide’s instructions and take care at all times and you will be fine.
How bad are the effects of high altitude?
Altitude sickness affects every person differently. Most climbers will experience at least a mild headache, while a very small minority of climbers will be overcome by nausea and vomiting. Others will suffer these symptoms to varying degrees. The headaches can be helped with paracetamol or similar, and plenty of water. But, if you suffer badly from altitude sickness, the only remedy is to return immediately to lower altitude. Your guide is experienced in this area and he will tell you if it’s not safe for you to continue.
Does it snow on top of Mount Kinabalu?
Very rarely, if at all. There have been isolated reports of snow on top of the mountain, but the summit and its surrounds are almost always bare rock with sparse vegetation. It rains regularly, though, particularly in the afternoon, and can become very cold and windy.
Things to Notice/Cautious
While climbing Mount Kinabalu is safe, this only applies if you choose to stay on the track. Doing otherwise puts you at serious risk of injury and other dangers.
There are several incidents of climbers getting lost and being climbed during the climb but majority of the time this only occurs when they veer of the marked track of Mount Kinabalu.
Poor weather is often a factor in these incidents. the key is to listen to your guide at all times.