Climbing Mt Kinabalu

Photo credits: L

Said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)


It’s 4 days after our Mount Kinabalu climb and my knees are regaining their flexibility. I appreciate the complexity of bending my legs and standing up or climbing stairs.

I’ve mixed feelings about the climb and himself is thinking of another climb regardless of how he felt during the descent. Another friend KW remarked that a sightseeing holiday without incorporating an element of overcoming personal limitations seem so meaningless. The endorphin high, a sense of achievement, an appreciation of being alone with nature.

This is what Mount Kinabalu does to you. You have not overcome the mountain. The mountain is still there but you are changed in the process.

History and legend:

The climb up was enjoyable and you see different vegetation. The UNESCO world heritage site boasts an impressive 5,000 to 6,000 plant species (excluding mosses and liverworts but including ferns)


The weather cool and the walk serene and pleasant – the mountain majestic, magical and otherworldly with hanging lichens, swirling mists and puffy clouds. No insects bother you because the ecosystem is quite well balanced.


Gold nepenthes cup

And safe. With mountain guides ensuring you don’t veer off the track. And men in orange fatigue patrolling the area. Blending with the climbers.

Stay close to the white rope and you’re unlikely to get lost even if it gets misty.
Respect the mountain. The Kadazan Dusu people consider the place sacred.
Respect the guides. We are guests in their land.
Do bring your own drinking water (2litres). No more refillable water at the rest huts.
Bring energy bars or snacks, a light raincoat for the occasional shower.

Don’t leave anything behind especially rubbish. At each pit-stop, there’s a rubbish bin.
Don’t take any plant specimen. You’re a guest.
Don’t talk loudly.
Don’t stop too long at the rest huts or you won’t feel like moving. Just take one step at a time.

Why climb?
1. Test of physical endurance – fastest time
2. Enjoy the flora and fauna of Borneo
3. Build comraderie with your friends especially when they offer to carry your bag


The climb
138 permits are issued a day. You may want to book early to get a bunk and a permit. We booked about 4 months ahead and the 1 May holidays were already fully booked, so were the weekends. We climbed on a Monday.

I took 6 hrs to climb the 6km up to Laban Rata where we spent the night. Enjoyed the scenery and slow climb. I didn’t feel tired at all. Others zip through. There are a few pit stops along the way.  The climb up from Laban Rata to Low’s Peak on the 2nd day is steeper and much tougher. Add to that, another 6km downhill. But the view is quite surreal.


Some TripAdvisor reviewers brought young children for the climb. I’m not sure how they do it as the steps at 4km onwards are huge. My legs are aching after 4 days because of the descent. Others skip through the descent, sure footed as a deer. But not me. I went down 2hrs slower than my friends and during practice I was faster than them when the ground was even. I reached the Timpohon gate at 410pm. I’m comforted that there were others who reached at 7pm. That’s 6hrs for 6km for descent. Not much cardio exertion at all. More on quad muscles and because I didn’t know where to place my steps on the rocks.


Mountain guides
The mountain guides and porters are deft footed and though small in size can carry up heavy loads.



We saw many porters carry gypsum boards (31kg), gas cylinders and even huge blue containers. Looks like they’re constructing a new hostel.


This is when you know why the mountain guides are called unsung heroes. My porter guided me and held my hand and told me where to step. She’s qualified as a guide. A 50 year old carrying 20kg of our bags. It’s important to engage your guides and respect them.

How does one qualify as a mountain
Mountain guides have to make at least 100 climbs before they qualify. They are employed by the Parks and assigned to the various tour groups.

Most are aware of the flora and fauna. If I were to return, I’ll read up prior and ask them questions. Our friends who raced ahead didn’t see the nepenthes hiding just behind a big leaf.

We met some climbers from Amazing Borneo who too never saw their guides. (Although this company usually gets the pick. ) Like most Gen Z, a number of guides are on their handphone.
If you signed up late, you may get an inexperienced guide. (All guides grew up in the mountain and know their terrain but may be inexperienced on how to engage tourists.)

Our guide Bill carried with him some medication which came in useful when our friend had cramps. He stuck himself close to the weakest link which we appreciated much.

Your mountain guide can help carry your bag for a small fee. $10RM per kg – there’s a standard fee which you can check with the Park. Rest of your luggage can be stored at the Base camp for $16RM per day per bag.

Our itinerary for the climb:

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