Mount Kinabalu

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Mount Kinabalu

Majestic Mount Kinabalu

Majestic and supreme, it stands above all else from the Himalayas to the island of New Guinea. Seen from the city center, the sandy shores of the surrounding islands or an astonishing view upfront, Mount Kinabalu changes with every view. At 4 095 meters above sea level it is almost twice the height of the surrounding peaks, this dome of solid granite demands attention from near and far. A crown of peaks tearing through a bed of clouds, timidly rested behind a cluster of clouds or standing beautifully composed on a clear day, Mount Kinabalu exerts an emotion or even as the Indigenous Kadazandusun says, it exudes a sort of magic.


The origin of Mount Kinabalu's name is uncertain, but two main tales remains as the reasoning to its name. A popular folk tale begins with a fantasy that long ago, a dragon lived up high in the peaks of Mount Kinabalu protecting a huge pearl. And there was a Chinese prince who had traveled thousands of miles to Borneo in search of this pearl. Where he finally laid the dragon, and descended the mountain with the pearl in his possession.

It is said that while resting in the villages nearby he met and fell in love with a Kadazan girl, whom he then wedded. There are several versions of this tale, depicting the prince as a loyal man who died of old age and another of him abandoning his wife to return to homeland China. Whichever it is, the consequence of the wife's sorrow is the same. She mourned his absence in the solitude of the mountain, where she eventually turned into stone. Hence the name, Chinese "kina" and widow "balu".

Legends aside, there is another theory that the name is derived from the Kadazan words "Aki Nabalu"- the revered place of the dead. It is to the belief of the Ingenious Kadazan people that the mountains top is a sacred ancestral home, the final resting place for departed spirits.


Don't be alarmed by the enormity of Mount Kinabalu, as it is among the most accessible mountain peaks in the world requiring no prior experience in mountain climbing. However, that doesn't mean that it is an easy climb. Hikers attempting the climb should be in good health, and it is recommended that you do brisk jogs and walks months prior to the climb. Although the weather at the Kinabalu National Park is a nice cool 20-25 Degree Celsius, be prepared to face near freezing drops in temperature as you approach the summit. There are 2 trails up Mount Kinabalu, The Summit Trail and The Mesilau Trail. Both trails converge at the Layang-Layang staff quarters, 5.5 km from the starting point. Depending on your level of fitness, it should be a 5 to 6 hour climb to reach the rest house at Laban Rata.

The Mesilau trail begins at the Mesilau Nature Resort, and is 2 km longer than the Summit Trail, 8.5 km from the summit. It is said to be a more challenging route as compared to the Summit Trail, and offers a much more scenic hike up to Layang-Layang. The summit trail begins at Timpohon Gate, a short drive inside the Kinabalu National Park, and is an 8.5 km trail to the summit. The foot of the mountain is filled with a diverse array lush greenery and botanical wonder that flourishes at every sight. The trail is a steady climb up rocks and tree roots that serve as steep stairs. There are five pondok (shelters) scattered on route to Layang-Layang. And as you climb higher the air gets cooler and thinner, so be sure to use these rest stops if you really do need them.


It takes about 3 hours or so to reach Layang-Layang at 2,621m above sea level, it is a staff quarter where the paths of both The Mesilau and The Summit trail converge. From Layang-Layang you journey on to Laban Rata, and as you venture further in the mountain it is apparent that there is a slow but drastic change in scenery. Lush vegetation give way to harsh granite, and soon brown tree branches are mystically silver, a soft peel from its branches. At 3,273m above sea level, Laban Rata is your accommodation destination for the night. Comprising of a handful of lodges, it promises hot meals, a comfortable bed and other basic necessities before and after your ascent to the summit.

It is also here where beautiful granite walls, some almost vertical, will remind you of the sheer magnitude of Mount Kinabalu and your pending climb to its peak.


The highlight of the journey is of course watching the first streak of light peeking on the horizon, a sunrise over the whole of Sabah. Hence, it is a 3 a.m call time on summit day. It's another 2.7km climb to the summit over the smooth granite face and rocky slopes. Be sure to have your headlamp ready as the climb is done in the dark. The air is thin and seeing that it is a good 3,300m above sea level, nausea, dizziness and altitude sickness may start to take its toll even before you get off the bed. So keep those medications handy and ready at any given time, some even experiencing nausea as low as 2,000m.

With the peak swelling before your eyes, take comfort in knowing that soon you'll be up there as the last stretch of ascent to the summit is the steepest and hardest part of the climb. A line of ropes give support and direction to hikers as they ascent the peak, but do watch your step as there are no save guard lines. Crowning the top of Mount Kinabalu is a handful of peaks, each with significant shapes and features. But the highest and the one that hiker's will be aiming for is Low's Peak, 4,095m above sea level.


Certified by the Guinness World Records as the worlds highest suspension bridge at 3 600m above sea level, the Via Ferrata puts you on the edge of the world without having to jeopardize your safety. Literally meaning "iron road" in Itallian, the Via Ferrata is a carefully crafted system of rungs and rails crowning Mount Kinabalu's summit. It offers hikers dramatic views of the mounts surroundings and of the mountain plateau itself.

There are 2 routes offered by the Via Ferrata; Walk the Torq Route and Low's Peak Circuit Route. It's best to begin with Walk the Torq. At 3 520m above sea level it is designed for beginners, with a 2-3 hour climb offering dramatic scenic views that can only be seen if you were mountaineering to the summit. With a thrilling tightrope walk, and a swinging monkey bridge, you are literally scaling the granite walls and walking on cloud nine.

Low's Peak Circuit on the other hand, is designed for those with an above-average fitness level. At 3 776m above sea level, it is the highest Via Ferrate in the world and offers a 4-6 hour route crowing the mountain's top with an optional summit attempt. It connects to the Walk the Torq Route, hence you'll be able to experience both route. The Via Ferrata is a whole different approach and experience on Mount Kinabalu, an adrenaline pumping adventure that will leave you with unforgettable memories and pictures.


Embrace your stay on the summit for it won't last very long. Some hikers even having to descend in less than an hour after their ascend. It's a slow careful journey back down to Laban Rata for breakfast, a quick pack and back on route to Timpohon Gate. The descent to Timpohon Gate will take as long as 5 hours, and with the summit done and over with, take your time and enjoy the natural wonders of Mount Kinabalu.

*Permits, insurance and a hired guide are compulsory and required by all climbers prior to the climb.

Hiking/Running shoes
Windbreaker Jacket
Waterproof Jacket
Long Johns or Wind pants
Extra Pairs of Socks
Beanie/Woolen hat
Woolen/Fleece gloves

Water Bottles
Energy or Power Bars
Headlamp with spare batteries
Pack Cover or Large Plastic Bags
Altitude Sickness Medication
Antiseptic Cream