Hiking to Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

6th May 2013
Photo of Hiking to Mount Kinabalu, Borneo 1/4 by Sameer
Mount Kinabalu
Photo of Hiking to Mount Kinabalu, Borneo 2/4 by Sameer
Mt. Kinabalu view from Kundasan
Photo of Hiking to Mount Kinabalu, Borneo 3/4 by Sameer
Mount Kinabalu View from the top
Photo of Hiking to Mount Kinabalu, Borneo 4/4 by Sameer
Mount Kinabalu Summit

Mount Kinabalu (Malay: Gunung Kinabalu) is a prominent mountain on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is located in the east Malaysian state of Sabah and is protected as Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site. Its summit, Low’s Peak ist 4,095 metres (13,435 ft) above sea level. It can be climbed through the main climbing route without mountaineering equipment. Climbers must be accompanied by accredited guides at all times due to national park regulations.

There are two main starting points for the climb: the Timpohon Gate (5.5 km from Kinabalu Park Headquarters, at an altitude of 1866 m), and the Mesilau Nature Resort. The two trails meet about two kilometres before Laban Rata.


1. How to get there: From Kota Kinabalu bus station; there are mini buses that go to the park entrance of Mt. Kinabalu. It costs 20 RM/person. The ride is 1.5 hours with the view of the mountain insight. After your climb and come down the mountain, you can wait for the passing mini bus at the park entrance to get back either to Kota Kinabalu or to Poring Hot Springs. However, the waiting time may be extremely long. Taxi can be called from park head quarter. It costs 200RM to Kota Kinabalu or 160RM to Poring Hot Springs.

 2. You can stay outside the park for the first night. However, private lodgings are significantly cheaper than inside the park. Take an early direct bus from Kota Kinabalu and arrive at the Park entrance early in the morning so that you can start your hike right away, thus saving one night stay at the park. There is a possibility that you can climb up and get down the mountain in one day and saving all the lodging and food costs (very expensive).

In good physical condition, one can reach climb the mountain from Timpohon gate to Low's peak in 5-6 hours and get down in 3 hours. The world record for such an activity is slightly over 2 hours. Wow!

Accommodation is available inside the park near the headquarters by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (also known as Sutera Harbour). Sutera now requires hikers to stay for 1 night at their lodge, in addition to a required stay at Laban Rata (This also includes mandatory purchase of meals). The cost to stay is much higher than at the lodgings just outside the park, The higher price that you pay is essentially for a good view of the mountain at night. If money is a concern, there are plenty of private lodgings just outside the park. At the park HQ, you can see the Laban Rata Guest House (the white dot on the mountain) in the distance. Laban Rata Guest House is the place that you will stay the next night before the summit push. If you stay with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, they also sell dinner and breakfast coupon for the cafe. Again, the cost is on the high end.
Photo of Mount Kinabalu Park Entrance by Sameer
Photo of Mount Kinabalu Park Entrance by Sameer
Photo of Mount Kinabalu Park Entrance by Sameer
Timpohon gate at 1866 m (6,122 ft) is the starting point of the hike. You will check in at this point and must be accompanied by a guide. From this point, you actually first go down to a waterfall before go up the mountain and then walk to the Laban Rata Rest house at 3,270 m (10,728 ft). It takes 3-6 hours for most people accomplish this section of the climb. There are no roads in this section so porters carry the supplies for the Laban Rata Rest house. They carry supplies up to 30 kilograms on their backs. About ever half a kilometer there are rest areas. Most of them have a bathroom and some seating. However, there are no food or water. However, the park HQ will give you a packed lunch and bottled water before you start.
Photo of Timpohon Gate Kinabalu Park Ranau Sabah Malaysia by Sameer
Photo of Timpohon Gate Kinabalu Park Ranau Sabah Malaysia by Sameer
Photo of Timpohon Gate Kinabalu Park Ranau Sabah Malaysia by Sameer
This is the rest area for the first climbing day where you will get a dinner and two breakfasts. Leave behind all the things that you do not need for the summit push. The guesthouse in Laban Rata provides limited space (booking through Sutera Harbour is a must) to ensure space. The rooms offer two double deck beds (4 people in one small room). Climbers usually get to bed around 8pm and prepare the next day summit push. Tips: There are three guesthouses in Laban Rata. Most climbers prefer the lower Laban Rata where the canteen is situated. Late arrivals ususally have to stay at the upper house. When you’re at 3600 meters above sea level the 200-meter climb will seem like a long way. If you have to stay in upper guesthouse, finish your dinner and then go up. You still need to come down for breakfast though. The canteen is the best place to see the sunset and even the Kota Kinabalu city lights at night which makes all the sweat and tears worthwhile.
Photo of Laban Rata Mt.Climb, Lot G15 Ground Floor Wisma Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia by Sameer
On the 3rd day wake up at 1.30am. After a buffet breakfast, cover the last 2 kms (2600 ft), from the Laban Rata Rest house at 3,270 m to Low's Peak (summit) at 4,095.2 m, you will reach the summit before dawn. You will have to climb the rock with an assisted rope at some places since the last section of the climb is on naked granite rock. Tips: The Low's peak is actually a very small space with capacity for at most 20 people. Most climbers try to get up there before dawn. However, my experience is that you can see just as much sun rise from a lower point and also avoid all the traffic. It is rather cold up there especially with the wind. It will be very warm as soon as the sun is out. After enjoying the sunrise, everybody go down through the same route that they come up. The once jammed space in Low's Peak will be empty until the next dawn. Most of the climbers will get to the Laban Rata before 9am. After breakfast, they begin their journey down the mountain and reach the Timpohon gate at about 1-2pm.
Photo of Low's Peak Summit by Sameer