The 390 km2 (39,000 hectares) Maliau Basin was originally part of a 10,000 km2 (one million hectares) timber concession belonging to Yayasan Sabah (the Sabah Foundation), an organisation formed in 1966 through an Enactment by the State Legislative Assembly, with the objective of improving the standard of living and education of Malaysians in Sabah. In 1981 Yayasan Sabah voluntarily designated Maliau Basin as a Conservation Area for the purposes of research, education and training, along with Danum Valley Conservation Area further to the east.
The basin was ‘officially discovered’ in 1947, by a pilot. But it was not until 1988 that the first major scientific expedition organised by Yayasan Sabah and WWF Malaysia took place. The Murut, who traditionally inhabit the area but have never settled in the forbidding basin have since time immemorial organised a yearly hunting expedition to the rich grounds of Maliau, and know of the seven-tiers waterfall, the Maliau Falls (picture) at its heart – but they also know of many more stories and legends that surround the place.
While all of this region is rugged, the saucer-shaped Maliau Basin is distinguished by its almost circular perimeter, sharply delimited on all sides by cliffs or very steep slopes up to 1,500m in height, making it insurmountable on foot from most directions. The highest point is thought to be Gunung Lotung on the north rim, which is over 1,600 m in elevation, but has yet to be accurately surveyed. Resembling a volcanic caldera, the 25 km diameter Basin is in fact a sedimentary formation comprised mainly of gently inclined beds of sandstone and mudstone.
The Basin represents a single catchment, and is drained by a set of radiating tributaries of the Maliau River, one of which descends a magnificent series of waterfalls, known as Maliau Falls. Numerous smaller waterfalls have also been discovered throughout the Basin. The Maliau River then drains through a gorge out of the southeast of the Basin into the Kuamut River, which in turn feeds into the Kinabatangan, the longest river in Sabah.
After the 1988 scientific expedition other parties showed their interest, but it was mainly in its rich coal deposits. However, international pressure became increasingly strong to preserve the world-unique area. In 1997 the Sabah State Assembly gazetted Maliau Basin as a Class I Protection Forest Reserve and increased its size from 39,000 to 58,840 hectares to include the outer northern and eastern escarpments and Lake Linumunsut. In 2000 intensive field surveys started as part of the preparation of the Maliau Basin Conservation Area Management Plan.
The first major expedition to Lake Linumunsut (Sabah’s only true lake) in the northern part of Maliau was conducted in 2001. By now, only about 25% of the total area have been mapped, and less than 10% have been studied intensively. Yet, the Basin has already yielded more new species of plants and animals than many other places over many more years of studies! In 2002 we celebrated the ground breaking for the Maliau Basin Studies Centre Site by HRH Prince Henrik of Denmark and Tan Sri Datu Khalil bin Datu Haji Jamalul, the Director of Yayasan Sabah.
Now, talks are underway that the Maliau Basin may become Malaysia’s third World Heritage Site.
Visitors to Maliau Basin Conservation Area are welcome, but access is strictly controlled and permission to enter must be obtained in advance from Yayasan Sabah.
LEGEND & FOLKTALES
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.
THE CLIMB : TRAILS
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.
THE CLIMB : OVERNIGHT STAY AT LABAN RATA
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 CLIMB : CONQUERING THE 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.
THE CLIMB : VIA FERRATA
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.
Extreme Jungle Treking
Large Flora and Fauna