Gasping for breath in the thin mountain air of Mount Kinabalu will have you thinking- is it really worth it to climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Borneo? But once you see the magnificent view of the sunrise from Mount Kinabalu summit, you will be glad that you made it there.
The best thing about this mountain is that you don’t need any mountaineering experience for climbing it. You need to have the courage and a guide. And you are good to go.
Where is Mount Kinabalu?
Mount Kinabalu is the highest point in Borneo and Malaysia. Borneo is an island in Southeast Asia that is shared by 3 countries namely, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. Mount Kinabalu is located within the Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site that is in Ranau District, West Coast Division of Sabah, Malaysia.
The mountain has an elevation of 13,435 feet (4,095 m) above sea level. Till now, around 5,000 and 6,000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 mammalian species have been identified in the surrounding areas of Mount Kinabalu. That’s why the mountain has been accorded UNESCO World Heritage status and is considered to be one of the most important biological sites in the world.
Who can climb Mount Kinabalu?
Mount Kinabalu summit, known as Low’s Peak, can be climbed by any person in good physical condition. You won’t need any mountaineering equipment on the main route to the summit. However, as per national park regulations, you must be accompanied by accredited guides at all times. Guides are also helpful if someone experiences altitude sickness while climbing Mount Kinabalu
Legends and Myths Regarding Mount Kinabalu
There are many legends and myths based on the mountain. The KadazanDusun people, Sabah’s largest ethnic group believe that the mountain is the sacred resting place of their ancestors’ spirits. So, the word Mount Kinabalu derives from the Kadazan word ‘Aki Nabalu’, which means ‘the revered place of the dead’. Many folktales and fables also tell different stories behind the name of the mountain.
According to a popular folklore, ‘Kinabalu’ came from the word ‘Cina Balu’ which translates into ‘chinese widow’. It is said that a Chinese prince ascended from the mountain in search of a giant pearl guarded by a ferocious dragon. He married a local woman of the Kadazan tribe upon his successful conquest. Later on, he abandoned her and returned to China. His heartbroken wife wandered into the mountains to mourn, eventually turning into stone.
How to Make a Booking?
You can make a booking via the official website of Mount Kinabalu. You can also make accommodation booking through them and klook. If you don’t want to pre-book your climbing trip, after reaching Kinabalu Park, talk to the officials and they’ll provide a guide for your journey.
How to Get to Mount Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur?
You have to board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu. Three airlines- AirAsia, Malindo and Malaysia Airlines, offer direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu that reach the destination within two and a half hours.
If you want to explore more of Borneo Island, you can fly to Sibu, Sarawak and travel overland by bus to Kota Kinabalu via Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah.
It is very easy to reach Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu. You can get on a minivan from the Long Distance Bus Station that is located near the night market of Kota Kinabalu city centre. The minivan leaves for the park when it is full and costs RM 20 for one-way travel.
Buses and coaches also leave for Kinabalu Park every morning from Kota Kinabalu North Bus Terminal in Inanam. In case you don’t know, this bus terminal is located 10km to the northeast of the Kota Kinabalu city centre. The journey by bus or coach to the park is about 1-2 hours and will cost you around RM 10-RM 15.
If you leave around eight in the morning, you might be lucky enough to catch a beautiful clear view of Mount Kinabalu outside the left-hand side of the bus as you approach the park. If you miss the bus to Kinabalu Park, you can get on a bus heading to Ranau, Sandakan or Tawau as they also pass by the park entrance.
If you don’t prefer to travel by minivan, bus or coach, you can get on a shared taxi at Taxi station near Jalan Padang. A one-way ride to the park will cost between RM 15-RM 18 per person. The taxis don’t leave until full, so you have to wait for a while.
If you have less patience and more money, you can hire a taxi for a one-day drive to the park and back that will cost you around RM 150- RM 200. But since you’re going to climb Mount Kinabalu, in my opinion, you shouldn’t pay so much for a taxi as you won’t be returning back the same day. Another reason for not hiring a taxi is that public transportations are much cheaper. So, for those travelling on a budget hiring a taxi is a big no.
For those who love driving, you can hire a car that is readily available at Kota Kinabalu airport. Various companies have various car hire rates so be ready to compare and negotiate. When you are self-driving to Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu, don’t forget to buy a fold-out road map from a bookshop in Kota Kinabalu, note down the towns on the way to the park, and follow the road signs after those towns. For a more adventurous trip, you can also hire a motorbike.
Climbing Routes of Mount Kinabalu
To climb Mount Kinabalu, you would need a minimum of two days. On the first day, you have to climb from either Timpohon Gate or Mesilau to Laban Rata. From Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata, there is a popular trail of 6 km. However, the entire journey is about 8.72km. The hike from Timpohon Gate starts in the morning, at around 7.30-10.30 am.
You don’t need to be afraid much as the first 4 km of climbing to Laban Rata is on a moderately steep trail. The trail is equipped with stairs and some rock paths. But you might face a bit of a problem climbing the rest 2 km as it is entirely rocky and turns into a watercourse when there is rain.
If you are an average hiker, you will reach Laban Rata from Timpohon Gate within 3-5 hours.
If you choose to climb up to Laban Rata from Mesilau, the climbing journey will be more tiring as the Mesilau trail is 8km long and more undulating than Timpohon.
From Laban Rata, the Low’s Peak is at a distance of 2.7 km. Most of the climb up to the summit is over smooth rock faces. But the initial 700 metres is aided by steep stairs and steps. The hike from Laban Rata to the Mount Kinabalu summit begins at 2.30 am so that hikers can catch the sunrise from the summit.
After successfully hiking the initial 700 metres, climbing the rest 2 km will be challenging. You have to climb over granite rock surfaces to reach the summit. The route is marked by guide ropes all the way to the summit and at some points, you will only have the rope for support. Hold the ropes tight as this path up to the summit is windy and there is no security safeguard to prevent falls.
Things To Do in Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu is not only famous for hiking and sunsets, but also for various other reasons.
The only via Ferrata to be found in Asia is the one at Low’s Peak. This iron road was designed to provide inexperienced climbers access to rock faces that are normally reached by mountaineers and rock climbers. You have to make a prior booking for accessing the via Ferrata.
Mount Kinabalu Park Museum
There’s a small one-room museum where you can read about the flora and fauna of Mount Kinabalu Park and the other Parks in Sabah.
Not every tourist seems to have the energy and time to climb up to Low’s Peak. If you are one such tourist, you can walk around the jungles and short walks through the jungle. At the Park entrance, a mud map is available to guide you.
You can walk along the trails located around the park entrance. Guided tours are available for this purpose. Walking the trails isn’t very tiring, but they aren’t wheelchair friendly due to stairs, narrow sections or other obstacles. Also, it’s not possible to get the stunning views of Mount Kinabalu from the trails.
Enjoy the Sunrise
Once you reach the Mount Kinabalu summit, seeing the sunrise will make you forget all your tiredness. The sky transitioning from a celestial navy blue to a stunning golden hue will make your jaw drop. To enjoy the sunrise from the Mount Kinabalu summit, you have to wake up at 2 am and start your journey from Laban Rata. If you do so, you will reach there by 6 am and get to enjoy the beautiful sunrise.
Where to Stay in Mount Kinabalu
As much as you’d want to plan a camping trip to the mountain, sadly it’s not possible. All tourists must accommodate themselves at the approved lodgings located in the park and Laban Rata.
Whether you plan to stay in a lodging inside the park or in a rest house in Laban Rata, you have to make your booking through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges. Rajah Lodge, Kinabalu Lodge, and Hill Lodge are the three most popular lodges inside Kinabalu Park.
You can book a dorm room or a suite if you are alone or you can book an entire lodge if there are more people. The price for a dorm bed is RM 70, suites are RM 92-RM 184, and entire lodges are RM 230-RM 1,150. You can also nook your stay in the famous Laban Rata resthouse.
Where to Eat in Mount Kinabalu
Other than lodges and resthouses, there are many restaurants and cafeterias in Kinabalu Park and Laban Rata. The food quality is good but the prices of food in Laban Rata are comparatively higher than the nearby towns’ prices. Some lodges also have kitchen facilities so you might be able to cook your meal.
Best Time to Visit Mount Kinabalu
The dry season is the best time to plan a climbing trip to Mount Kinabalu. According to locals, from March to September weather is dry and there are fewer chances of rainfall which makes these months the perfect time to conquer Mount Kinabalu.
Snow falls over Mount Kinabalu!
After 1975 and 1993, this was the third time snowfall occurred on this mountain. It happened early in the morning on Monday (28 February 2022) and some lucky climbers got to experience the phenomenon. If you are planning to climb Mount Kinabalu, I hope you get lucky too.
Even if you don’t get lucky enough to experience snowfall, if you make it to the summit, seeing the sunrise from up there is also a stroke of great luck.
What to pack for Climbing Mount Kinabalu
Before planning your trekking trip to Mount Kinabalu, make sure you have packed all the necessary items in your backpack. Every trekking trip requires a bit of packing, and trekking Mount Kinabalu is no exception. Here are some of the essentials that you need to keep along while heading for Mount Kinabalu-
- Lightweight clothing: The weather from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban is usually warm. So, wear lightweight clothes like t-shirts and track pants while starting your journey from Timpohon Gate.
- Warm clothing: The higher you go up the mountain, the weather will be cold and windy. Especially, on your 2nd day of trekking, you will come across cold weather. So, don’t forget to keep warm clothes along.
- Trekking/Hiking shoes: Most of you who have been regular hikers know the importance of trekking shoes. But if you are going to climb a mountain for the first time, let me tell you that you need hiking shoes for a good grip. Without hiking shoes, the journey will become more tiresome. Sports shoes can also be used if you don’t have trekking shoes.
- Trekking/Hiking Pole; Trekking poles will make your journey easier. Poles are available at the Kinabalu Park for 45 MYR.
- Head Torch: Hiking Mount Kinabalu requires 2 days and 1 night. So, a head torch is a must as you might need to hold ropes in the dark.
- Waterproof jacket: It often rains on the mountain. So, don’t forget to pack a waterproof jacket or a raincoat.
- Gloves: While climbing Mount Kinabalu, you will have to hold ropes a lot of time. Gloves will protect your hands from getting hurt by ropes and will also protect you from cold.
- Water bottle/Snacks/Energy food: Though there are restaurants and dining facilities available at the rest houses in Mount Kinabalu, you should keep a water bottle, snacks, and some energy food like chocolate, glucose etc with you.
- Lightweight backpack: No matter where you go for trekking, always keep a lightweight backpack along so that it doesn’t feel like an extra burden. Make sure that the bag is waterproof.
- Cap/Headscarf: It is essential to protect your head from cold.
- Necessary toiletries
- First-aid kit and medications
- Sunscreen lotion
- Insect repellent
- Small towel
The availability of climbing permits for Mount Kinabalu changes from time to time. One day climb permit isn’t available. The maximum daily limit for climbing Mount Kinabalu has been limited to 150 climb permits. The price of the permits varies depending on the nationality of the hikers. The rates of Mount Kinabalu climb permits have been mentioned below-
- Malaysian Adult- 50 MYR
- International Adult- 200 MYR
- Malaysian Child- 30 MYR
- International Child- 80 MYR
To apply for a climb permit, you have to book an accommodation in Panalaban. If you buy one of the climb packages of Mount Kinabalu from their official website, accommodation and climb permit will automatically be included.
Earlier we have mentioned the cost of a climb permit for Mount Kinabalu. But is the cost limited to only that? No. Climbing Mount Kinabalu can cost as low as 2050 MYR for international tourists and 390 MYR for Malaysian tourists. The cost includes a climb permit, accommodation at Panalaban, meals and other fees. You have to make the booking at least 6 months prior to your trip.
- Mount Kinabalu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the first place to receive this title in malaysia.
- It is the 3rd highest peak in Southeast Asia with a height of 4095 metres.
- Every year around 40,000 people climb this mountain.
- There are around 5,000 to 6,000 plant species in the mountain.
- It is one of the most conquerable and safest peaks in the world.
- There are two trails to Mount Kinabalu peak. One is the Ranau and the other is Kota Belud.
- Mount Kinabalu is one of the oldest mountains in the world. It was formed around 10 million years ago.
- Never try to climb the mountain without a valid permit.
- Never forget the packing essentials mentioned above.
- Make sure that you have a basic level of fitness.
- If you get injured during your trek, inform your mountain guide.
- Don’t forget to bring trekking or sports shoes.
- Always do as the mountain guide tells you to do.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
Can you climb Mount Kinabalu without a guide?
It isn’t allowed for anyone to climb Mount Kinabalu without a guide. You can share a guide with 4 other people or can hire one for yourself.
How long does it take to climb Mount Kinabalu?
It takes two days and one night to climb Mount Kinabalu.
What is the best time to climb Mount Kinabalu?
The best time to climb Mount Kinabalu is from March to September.
Is it difficult to climb Mount Kinabalu?
Climbing Mount Kinabalu is not a daunting task. No mountain climbing skills are required for it.
What is the death rate in Mount Kinabalu?
Though the mountain is considered to be the safest mountain to climb, deaths have occurred here quite a few times.
Can kids climb Mount Kinabalu?
Children aged above 8 are allowed to climb the mountain.
Should I purchase travel insurance before going to Mount Kinabalu?
Yes, you should definitely purchase travel insurance before planning your trekking trip.