Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Climbing Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

Standing majestically at 4,095m (13,435 feet above sea level), Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Mount Kinabalu derives its name from the Kadazan word, ‘Aki Nabalu’, meaning ‘the revered place of the dead’. It is also Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO.

Watch the video about our trip

Travel: We traveled in early May, hoping to avoid the rainy season.

2am at Summit Base Camp, ready to finish the ascent.

Shoes: You'll see some locals dashing from bottom to top in just crocs or slippers. I wore Merrell trail running shoes, Jeff wore his Asic sneakers, Adam wore supportive running sneakers, Celine and David wore trekking shoes... In summation, don't fuss over expensive trail shoes unless you want to spend; and boots will be overkill.

However, I had custom insoles that saved me a LOT of potential injuries or additional pain. Highly recommend that you see a podiatrist to get insoles made if you're often on your feet or going on long runs and treks; the Dr. Scholls stuff off the shelf isn't going to help. (I get mine done at East Coast Podiatry with Georgina Callahan-Tay. They also do insoles for high heels, which is just amazing).

Weather: We were fortunate. It was misty during the first half of our climb, so it was breezy and pleasant. You can see I'm wearing a sleeveless top and my friends are wearing short sleeved shirts. As we neared the summit base, it got cooler and only drizzled for a moment, which is when I put on a light Adidas windbreaker and a cap to block any light rain. Typically, you can expect it to be hot and humid at the bottom, and sudden gusts of unpredictable rain. Bring a small towel to wipe that sweat!

At the basecamp, it can get chilly especially after sunset. I wore a Lululemon fleece (so light and warm!), and a North Face windbreaker (also light, warm, and quick to dry!). I was a little cold, but was fine wearing light hiking pants, fresh socks, a buff/scarf, gloves, and a beanie. If you don't like the cold, consider wearing a much warmer jacket, and have leggings under your pants. The extreme wind at the top gets merciless at times.

The climb: Approx 4-7 hours. Stairs, so many stairs of all shapes and sizes. Keep your backpack light! You don't need to carry much, especially if you end up hiring a porter. Water, some snacks, toilet paper, face towel is all you need besides clothes.

Starts to get a tad cooler with each kilometer up.

Our path was lit by moonlight luckily.

Summit climb: Approx 4-6 hours. The top is a very different challenge in the dark, in the cold, and at higher altitude. There are vast flat granite slopes that can be slippery if wet. There are steeper inclines where you will need to use the rope to climb up short distances. We were also fortunate this night to have full moon lighting our paths – thankfully because my headlamp was not very bright.

Toilet breaks: There is a sheltered modern western style (no squatty potties) toilet and sink every 1-2 kilometers. Bring toilet paper. There are no toilets during the final summit climb, but honestly, you'll be too cold and tired to even want to pull down your trousers.

Summit Base camp 

Camping overnight: It's not glamping, but it's not camping either. In a multi-story shelter, you get a room, a bed with sheets and a pillow (bunk beds if you share a room), clean toilets and showers, and a dinner (6pm) & breakfast (2am) & brunch (6am) buffet spread. They provide you with towels, slippers too. The heaters are solar powered though, so if you need motivation, remember that hot water is in limited supply. First ones there get more, last ones might not get any! I had the ice cold shower option.

Bunk beds

Our view from the window

The showers (heaters are solar powered)

It's basic accommodations, but I was happy with it – it's much better than sleeping outside on granite ground in a tent with no bathroom. Some friends however have complained about it not being comfortable enough, the bunk beds being rickety, or the mattress being too short if you're a tall person. Bring extra cash here if you need to refill on bottled drinking water or a cuppa hot Milo; food is included if you are on the Amazing Borneo package (worth it).

Bugs, leeches, mosquitoes: We had no issues with any of these critters! If seen, Mosquitoes and leeches are usually around base level, the latter of which loves to show up during rainfall. It gets cooler and less humid as you ascend, so you don't see them much as you climb. I got mosquito bites only when I was boarding the van to leave the mountain base.

Descending after sunrise, you realize how steep it all actually was.

When locals zoom past you holding giant beams, wearing simple shoes.

Emergencies: There is a helipad for emergency evacuations at several points, and a few measures to minimize casualties in case of natural disasters (presumably in response to the earthquake a few years ago). On the way up, we saw a young woman being carried down the mountain on someone's back because she sprained her ankle at the summit. The experience didn't look particularly comfortable for anyone involved.

The Summit trail starts from the Timpohon Gate (1,800m; 5,906 ft) which is located near the Kinabalu Park Headquarters. Before reaching Panalaban (3,273m; 10,738 ft), climbers will encounter a series of trail shelters (pondok)—Pondok Kandis (1,981m; 6,499 ft), Pondok Ubah (2,095m; 6,873 ft), Pondok Lowii (2,286m; 7,500 ft), Layang-Layang (2,702m; 8,865 ft), Pondok Villosa (2,690m; 8,825 ft), and Pondok Paka (3,080m; 10,105 ft). The climb from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban takes approximately 6 to 8 hours.

Big Thanks to Amazing Borneo!
Special deal for Gastronommy readers:
SPECIAL DINNER CRUISE & CLIMB COMBO: Get your CRAZY CLIMBERS PRICE for the North Borneo Cruises Now when you book your climb package!

Option 1) Sunset Dinner Cruise @ RM199/pax (U.P. RM365) 4.50-7.00PM Daily Cruise Session
Option 2) KK City Night Dinner Cruise @ RM120/pax (U.P. RM365) 7.50-10.00PM Daily Cruise Session

- Booking Period: Now till 31 July 2017
- Travel Period: Now till 31 March 2018

Terms & Conditions for Promo: 
- Promo rates are Exclusive for Mount Kinabalu Climbers only (International and Malaysian). 
- Applicable for all Mount Kinabalu Climb packages. 
- Cruise dates are subject to availability and schedule. 
- Promo rates are not applicable for the following Peak Season Dates: 
24, 25, 31 December 2017
01 January 2018
14-17 February 2018

To book with Amazing Borneo tours, visit

Special thanks to David Yeow Photography!


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