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Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

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Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

We planned and trained (although not for months)….it wasn’t a last minute thing, you have to have a guide take you on the climb, and you have to have permits to do it, so you have to organize it in advance. We booked it up thru TYH Borneo Tours in advance, so we knew we were going to do it. We climbed on Dec 23/24th Dec 2013.

Things we took with us - we did extensive research on the web, looking at other reports, blogs etc, to see what we needed to take with us.

Change of clothes for day 2, waterproof jacket, fleece, scarf, waterproof gloves, hat, handwarmers, headlamp, waterproof overpants, painkillers, toiletries, towel, wet wipes, snack bars, camera, hiking poles, sunglasses, sleep mask, earplugs, flip flops. We didn’t need a towel or flip flops as Laban Rata provided them, but we didn’t know that until we got there.

We took and wore hiking boots, but we saw quite a few people who wore trainers.

After being picked up from the hotel at 7.30am the mini-bus did 3 more stops to pick up other climbers. Our group of 7 people comprised of Neil and I, 2 people from Germany, 1 from Holland, 1 from Australia, and 1 from Japan. We were the elders of the team, being 50 and 54 years old….the others ranged in age from 24-27…..

After driving about 2 hours we finally got to the mountain, where we were required to register, get our permits, and meet our guides. To register, they wanted our passport numbers, but since no-one had mentioned to us that we would need this, we of course, didn’t bring our passports with us….huge problem for a while, then they decided they would accept our driving licence numbers, but again, who carry’s a driving licence (or a passport) to climb a mountain…eventually the mountain ‘police’ decided that they would accept a credit card number….since I wasn’t completely comfortable giving them this, I pretended to copy from my credit card, but transposed a few numbers….no-one checked, and I’m not sure why they would need this anyway. At one point they did say we couldn’t climb without the passport numbers. Registration complete, we got our lanyards, permits, and met our guides.

We had two guides assigned to our group. Thomas and Robbie. They went off to find our packed lunches that were part of the ‘mountain climbing deal’ After getting our brown bag lunch, we got back into the mini bus, and were shuttled across to Timphon Gate, the entry gate to the mountain. Here we had to show our permits, and they logged us in as starting the climb.

Being with a group of people one of the guides leads the way, while the other brings up the rear (basically me at the end always) The climb starts at 6000ft and it is uphill almost immediately and is very steep, only a couple of very short sessions where there is some semblance of level ground. The trail is very clear, pretty hard to get lost, and consists of LOTS and LOTS of steps…either cut into the rocks, or slippery wood stairs created where necessary. The trail is well marked with km markings every 0.5km…and rest stops with shelters and a toilet about every km.

There are several other groups going up and down the mountain at the same time, along with porters taking supplies to and from the Laban Rata rest stop. We weren’t the fastest, but we weren’t the slowest either. The porters going up and down are crazy…they carried huge, bulky lumpy parcels strapped to their backs, supermen!

I had read that you could get a porter to carry your backpack or the guides might take it for you, but no-one mentioned it, so we carried our own to start with…after seeing other guides carrying peoples backpacks, I asked ‘my personal guide, Robbie’ if he would carry my backpack….no problem, he seemed more than happy to carry it for me….no mention of price, but after going about 2.5km already, I was happy to let him carry it for me. I figured whatever the cost, it was worth it. When we saw other guides carrying 3 and 4 backpacks at a time, I didn’t feel so bad that Robbie was carrying my smallish backpack.

So having lightened the load, we continued on…the youngsters were usually ahead of us, but we usually caught up with them at the rest stops, where they kindly waited for us. At the 4km rest stop we took a little longer and opened the brown lunch bag. Lunch consisted of 3 sandwiches, one mystery meat (???), and two egg (think thin omlettes) along with an apple, and a bottle of water. Yummy….??

Suitably fortified, we continued up and up…

We finally made it to Laban Rata (10,700ft) at 2.10pm, after climbing for 4 hours and 10 mins. Our guide checked us in, and appeared with a bundle of towels, we were assigned to room 7.

Room 7 consisted of 8 bunk beds, very close together…we had a selection of used flip/flop type sandals, and some hooks on the wall. We had one key for all of us(not sure if the room was ever locked, but I didn’t ever feel like our backpacks or contents were in danger of theft, maybe I was too tired to care.) The beds were made up with clean sheets and a blanket, with a spare blanket on the beds if needed. Clean and comfortable but VERY basic. Down the hallway was the bathrooms. After travelling and hiking for hours, I was ready for a hot shower…..

There were two showers, two toilets, and two sinks in the ladies bathroom. There was a soap dispenser in the shower, and at the sinks. A sign told us that due to water pressure, there wouldn’t be any water available except for certain times….however a check of the water showed there was some cold water available. After running it for a while, it stayed cold…VERY cold….and never got hot. I personally couldn’t take a cold shower….and we are talking really cold…like ‘mountain icy cold water’ cold….I freshened up with my wet wipes at the sink. The other girl in our group braved the showers but reported it was incredibly cold, so in hindsight I was ok not having a shower.

Laban Rata is pretty basic, a big dining hall, with a small shop to buy snacks and drinks, at one side and the kitchen area at the other side. All food is buffet style, and the meal times are set out to correspond with the climbing.

Supper 2.00 to 3.30pm

Breakfast 7.30 – 10.30am

Dinner 4.30 – 7.30pm

Since we were there before dinner, and we couldn’t shower, we took a well earned nap and rested.

When we went downstairs for dinner, a lot more people had arrived and the dining hall was pretty full, we filled our plates and squeezed in to sit with our group. Dinner was very carb heavy…noodles, rice, bread, but they also had soups, meat dishes and veggie dishes, so everyone should be able to find something to eat…desserts were cakes, and fruits. Food was surprisingly good, or maybe we were just so tired and exhausted we would eat anything…needing to be re-energised it all went down well. Dinner finished, there isn’t really much to do, we chatted for a while, went outside to view the sunset, no TV to watch, no games to play, no books to read…perhaps that was all planned so we would go to bed early……our guide checked in with us, and told us to be ready for a 2.30am start…

In bed by 7pm…Sleeping was hard…so many people so little space…..as tired as I was, it was hard to be in a strange bed, plus one additional person had been assigned to our room, and they came in after we all went to bed, and fidgeted about with no lights on…with people getting up and down for various reasons, I should have used my earplugs, but I didn’t want to become one of the people I was complaining about by digging about in my backpack in the dark.

Day 2 – Push to the Summit!

The aim is to see sunrise from the summit, and the pressure is on to make it there in time. We got up at 2am, I am not a big breakfast person, and eating what they called supper at 2am was even harder for me, but knowing I needed something, I ate some scrambled eggs. Supper buffet consisted of cereals, French toast, eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, fruit etc

Checking outside it was looking wet and dark…we dressed for the weather, with our waterproof jackets, trousers etc. We knew it was going to be freezing and wet. The guides were well wrapped up, and we figured we should take a lead from them. We left most of our gear at the rest house, but took a backpack to carry the camera, snacks and handwarmers etc.

We grouped and left at 2.30am.

It was very dark, most of us had headlamps on, and although we had tested them before leaving, they seemed pretty feeble in the dark, climbing a mountain.

It was steep and hard going up to the summit, coupled with dizziness, headaches, breathlessness, and nausea (all the fun of altitude sickness). I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, I struggled to walk any distance at all, finding I would take about 10 steps and have to stop for a breath. I pushed on, forcing myself to go for 15 steps without a break, then 20 steps. Since the ‘young ones’ had left me in the dust, it was Neil and I and Saturo (from Japan) bringing up the rear. My guide Robbie was awesome…he walked with me pretty much side by side, pointing the best foot and hand holds to follow, when I had to pull myself up with the rope he helped, and was so patient and kind to me, never making me feel hurried or slow, or old.

When we started climbing we quickly warmed up…and we took our fleece jackets off, stuffing them in our backpacks… with the consistent, drizzly rain, water soaked thru our backpack and made them pretty damp…. close to the summit, when we were absolutely freezing and had to put them back on, I was a little concerned, but they turned out not too bad, I think Neil’s was slightly wetter than mine. But not wearing them wasn’t really an option.

I had 3 layers of clothing on, a pair of workout pants, my hiking pants and the waterproof pants, one thing I hadn’t considered was how restrictive this would be. Fine for walking, but try climbing a mountain, and trying to scramble over giant bolders. Not so easy when you are short!

We passed the checkpoint where we had to show our permits and check-in to prove we made it to the top, this was located at about 7.25km.

We reached the summit (13,495ft) at about 5.20am. We were about 10th up the mountain, I felt pretty good about that, as much as I struggled, we still passed a few people.

After we reached Low’s Peak, the summit, we took the mandatory pictures at the height marker sign. Then we discovered that because of the rain and fog, we weren’t going to see a sunrise…all we would see was cloud. Big, black, wet, all consuming clouds. That made it easy, no point in hanging around freezing cold, and wet, let’s get down again. We left to head down at 5.45am.

From the rest stop to the summit, there is an anchored rope guiding you all the way, sometimes it was so steep you were literally pulling yourself up using the rope, and pretty much rappelling you way back down. Going up in the dark, you don’t really see how steep it is, which is probably a good thing, not sure I would have done it, it would have scared me too much, and of course, coming down, you have no choice but to go down…. In some ways it was almost easier going down backwards, that way, you can’t look at the steep drop. Having waterproof gloves with good grip was such a good idea…I had even taken handwarmers with me, and I was super glad I had. The rocks were steep and slippery in places, both Neil and I slipped a couple of times, resulting in some bruised legs, and a scraped elbow.

As it got lighter, the clouds would clear for a minute showing some breathtaking scenery, but a minute later it would be clouding and misty again. Pretty windy and cold even though the sun had risen.

We got back to the rest house at 8.15am, ready for some breakfast and some dry clothes.

We lay down to rest for about an hour after eating, and the guide told us we should be ready to leave by about 10am. Packing our backpacks up we headed back down the mountain.

My guide, again volunteered to take my backpack, and I was happy to hand it over.

Coming down was hard, different muscles, and stubbed toes, the wooded stairs were slippery and steep, and the rocky steps, meant you couldn’t walk taking step after step, it was one at a time, with great concentration of where you were going to step next, looking for the next foothold.

Our guide estimated we would get down in 4 hours, and of course the younger people left us in the dust. I was so tired by this point, I was ready to get it over and done with. After stopping at the first couple of rest-stops, I decided we didn’t need to keep stopping, and just kept on going….I figured if Neil needed a rest, he would tell me….we made it to the bottom by 1.15pm. Checked in for the final time.

The trouble with getting there so quickly was, our transportation wasn’t there. We took our boots off, went to the little snack bar, got a nice hot sugary cup of coffee and waited for the mini-bus.

While waiting for the mini bus, I asked my guide, Robbie how much I owed him for carrying my backpack. I don’t know if he would have said anything otherwise, he hadn’t made any suggestion of money. He looked embarrassed, looked at the other guide for confirmation then suggested 60 Malay Ringgits. I gladly gave him 100 MYR.

Once back to the main park entrance where we had originally gotten our registration done, our guide got our certificate to prove we had done the climb. Something to frame and put on the wall.

But I am very proud to have completed it, it was the biggest physical challenge I have ever done….not sure what I am thinking, I was 50 last year….the other 5 people in our group, were all aged about 24 – 27 years old. Although one of them kindly let me know, he could never imagine his parents doing anything like this…

Thoughts after the climb…I wished we had taken two cameras, we took our ‘good’ big camera for taking great pictures, but we had put it away at some point and forgot to turn it off, so we ran out of battery, and missed many picture opportunities. Plus having a smaller camera, would have been easier to snap pictures. This was a once in a lifetime thing for us, and we missed lots of photo ops.

Sore legs….we both had sore legs for days afterwards. I later heard from a KK resident, that is known as the ‘mountain walk’!

Edited: 18 January 2014, 22:28
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for Kota Kinabalu, Wangaratta, Sandakan
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1. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

Great report.

I have sent you a Personal Message.

Turin, Italy
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2. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

Thank you for the trip report. I enjoyed reading it tremendously. I too have had the experience of being 'disappointed' when the promised magical sunrise failed to appear. Although in my case they were at Gunung Brinchang (we drove, ughhh), Thailand's Phu Chi Fah (also drove & walk, lol) and Mount Batur (horrendous climb for lazy guy like me). It's great that you made it to the top since it does sound like a crazy climb for an average, little-prepared guy like me.

Again, thanks for the story. Love it.

Lincoln, United...
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3. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

Hi, I really enjoyed reading your report, my husband and I have also climbed Mount Kinabalu. We climbed it about 6 years ago when we were in our late 40's. Unlike yourselves we were extremely fortunate to see an amazing sunrise ( early April ). However we could not get a room in the main accommodation, so stayed in a little tin hut with 4 other people, our toilet ( an even smaller tin shed was several feet away). It was a fantastic adventure to climb the mountain, and your report has made me want to do it again. Thanks


Jesselton, Sabah...
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4. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

Thanks for this fantastic report! I enjoyed reading very much. I was impressed with both of you with good physical and max energy and able to finished the task! My experienced quite similar when I climbed Mt. Kinabalu back in 2010 October. I was 22 back then and suffered from attitude sickness and of course tiredness, but keep pushing myself beyond my max ability and eventually I succeeded. :)

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5. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

Thanks heaps for your great report. My wife and I are climbing the mountain in 3 weeks and we are taking my 59 year old mum. She is extremely fit but is terrified of heights. She wants to conquer her fear head on. Thanks again for your post and wish us luck.

Leeds, United...
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6. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

Great report, thanks for taking the time to write it, and well done!

I climbed Mt Kinabalu several years ago and can still remember the aching legs afterwards like it was yesterday.

Such a shame you didn't get a good sunrise....a good excuse to return to this wonderful part of the world one day :-)

Aliso Viejo...
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7. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

Thank you, that was a great trip report!

Sydney, Australia
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8. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

G'day! Congrats on the climb! What an inspiration!

My sister and I are scheduled to climb Mount Kinabalu early Dec 2014. Several web sites advise against climbing in Dec due to wet weather. I have read that you climbed in Dec and it seems fine. I pray Mother Nature gives us good weather!

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9. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

This was a great report to read- thank you for sharing! My boyfriend and I are climbing the mountain in about two weeks time, I have climbed Kilimanjaro 4 years ago but I think I was much fitter then and had less fear! Kinabalu scares me slightly. Hoping for a sunrise!

Kedah, Malaysia
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10. Re: Trip Report - Climb Mt Kinabalu (very long)

Thank you for your sharing and well done! =)