Malaysia is not a destination we generally associate with a hiking adventure. But one day, in between badminton games, a Malaysian friend mentioned his home town has the highest mountain in South East Asia; a good mountain to climb. We were immediately intrigued by the idea.
A few months later, we found ourselves in Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital of the state of Sabah located on the Island of Malaysian Borneo. KK is a vibrant and growing city in South East Asia and is fast developing as a resort destination due to its proximity to tropical islands, lush rainforests and Mount Kinabalu.
We spent our first day exploring a bit of the city but mostly resting as the next day is an early start for the pre-arranged transfer to the Kinabalu National Park headquarter to begin our Mount Kinabalu hike.
Both a park permit and a mountain guide is mandatory for the climb. Climbing is possible all year round but it is best to avoid the wet months of November and December. April, the month of our climb is ideal for weather but very popular so we had less choices for the mountain guide company. Some people stay in Kinabalu National Park or a highland resort at Kundasang prior the climb for high altitude acclimatization but we did not do that.
The transfer service from our company, Mountain Torg, promptly picked us up at our accommodation, Hotel Eden 54, at 6:30 am. We took only what was essential for the climb, water, some food, rain gear, warm clothing and head lamp, leaving the rest of our luggage with Hotel Eden 54. 1.5 hours later we arrived at the Kinabalu National Park headquarter, filled out some paper work, look around and headed over to Timpohon Gate (1,866 m), the starting and ending point for the climb.
We started our climb just before 10:00 am. The entire climb to the summit is 8.72 km but we only had to climb 6 km up to the Laban Rata lodge for our stop before the early morning summit climb for the remaining 2.72 km climb.
For the first 4 km, the path was moderately steep and equipped with stairs and some rock path. The last 2 km was entirely rocky and it started to rain (it always does we were told). But by this time, the rain was almost welcomed to wash away some of the sticky perspiration from the climb. Five hours later we reached the Laban Rata rest house (3,300 m).
We unpacked, dried off our clothes around our assigned bunk in the unisex dorm room, had a quick shower, and headed over for the buffet meal that was included with our climbing package. We expected basic mountain lodge
food and were pleasantly surprise to find a full Asian (and some western dishes) buffet with many main courses selection, soups, desserts, and choice of beverages. Beer was also available at extra cost. While we certainly enjoyed the feast, I felt somewhat guilty knowing that everything we were enjoying had to be brought up the mountain with manual labor.
After our meal we had our orientation session for the Via Ferrata portion of our climbing package.
We initially had some reservation about the fitness level required to include this additional activity with our climb. But the cost of attempting it as part of this climb was so reasonable we decided to have a go. I felt Mountain Torg did an excellent job with the briefing required for a good Via Ferrata experience.
At 2:30 am, in total pitch darkness, we commenced the 2.7 km climb to Low’s peak, the summit, at 4,095 m. We followed the guide comfortably for the first hour. Thankfully there was little wind and even though the path was wet from yesterday’s rainfall, it was not slippery. The initial path had steep stairs
and steps. Then toward the end, it changed to granite rock surfaces where the steep sections had a rope for support. By this point, the high attitude was starting to affect our climb and we had to stop and rest for each 3 to 5 steps. So we were using the rope not only for safety, but also just to pull ourselves forward.
We finally reached the summit just before sunrise. There were already a number of other climbers ahead of us also waiting for the hard earned sunrise photo. After enjoying the sunrise we made our way down to the Sayat Sayat check point (3,800 m) for our Via Ferrata experience. We were assigned to a group of 6 people with
two guides for the Via Ferrata decend, a 500-m steep vertical descend back down to 3,300 m. We went down several steep granite rock surfaces and also had to rope up to cross a canyon.
By the time we completed the Via Ferrata and arrived back at the Laban Rata lodge, we were very tired and hungry. After a breakfast provided by the tour company, we gathered up our day pack and started the 6 km hike back down to Timphohon gate. Early afternoon, during our hike down, it again began to rain. By the time we got to Timphohon gate, we were totally exhausted from the lack of sleep, the climb to the summit, and the additional Via Ferrata activity. There were many climbers
waiting in downpour for their transfer from Timphohon gate back to their accommodation, a bit of mass confusion. We thankfully were picked up by one of the drivers for our transfer back to Kota Kinabalu. We promptly fell asleep in the car and did not wake up until the driver reached our hotel.