Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain of Borneo with the summit of Low’s Peak recorded as 4,095.2m above sea level. Local people in Sabah believe the mountain is sacred and that the spirits of their ancestors live within its lofty reaches. A chicken used to be sacrificed at the mountain’s peak every time it was climbed, but these days just seven chickens are killed on the mountain to appease the spirits once every year.

Mount Kinabalu is only 80kms from Sabah’s capital city of Kota Kinabalu and known for being amongst the most accessible mountains on the planet. Any reasonably fit person can attempt the climb and no specialised mountain climbing skills are necessary. The main tourist trail up the mountain is a ‘trek and scramble’ route, and locals between the ages of three and 80-years-old regularly complete it.

The mountain can nevertheless be dangerous and there are regular climbers which get into trouble during ascents, especially during rain or dense fog. But an estimated 20,000 people attempt the climb every year, of which only one will get into serious trouble.

Although experienced guides can climb to the top and return in less than four hours, most tourist take two days to do the whole journey. An overnight stay at Laban Rata (3,272.7m above sea level) is normally arranged with tours, so the final attack on the peak is timed to leave at 02:30 so that sunrise can be caught at the top. Soon afterwards the mist rolls in, and the stunning views are obscured. Afterwards climbs return to Laban Rata for breakfast before continuing the descent.

The best weather for climbing takes place during April while the months of November and December have the most rain and are to be avoided. Temperatures range from 20-25°C at the main park to approaching freezing at the top. Therefore, appropriate clothing is crucial to enjoy the trip and stay warm and safe. Climbing during the full moon is ideal as the extra illumination picks out the white rope of the climbing path.

The entrance to Kinabalu Park can be reached very easily from Kota Kinabalu, any bus to Ranau, Sandakan or Tawau from the KK North Bus Terminal in Inanam (10kms northeast of the centre) will pass the park gate.

It’s best to leave before 08:00 and to sit on the left hand side for the one-to-two hour journey for the best views. Tickets cost RM10-15. There are also direct buses from Sandakan which take six hours.

Non-Malaysians pay RM15/10 (adults/children) for entry to the park. There is also a RM100 fee (plus and an additional RM7 for insurance) for climbing the mountain. Alternatively, visitors can climb from Mesilau Nature Resort where the trail is two kilometres but less steep overall.