Mount Kinabalu Climb, March 16th and 17th, 2011

March 15th, 2011

We left our hotel at 7am in Kota Kinabalu, heading for the Kinabalu National Park. Kinabalu Park was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2000, and the first one in Malaysia. Two hours later, we arrived but it took longer than it should have due to stoppage to photograph our sought after “prize” – Low’s Peak. The mountain got larger and larger and took on a mystical appearance. Clouds would form and drift along constantly changing the look and feel, thus the many stops.

View of the mountain from the highway.

Upon arrival at the Park headquarters, our pre-arranged documents were waiting for us and also finished up other necessary arrangements: guide, porter and lodging.  We explored some simple jungle trails to get a feel for what was in store for us – we would discover that the trekking over the next two days were significantly more challenging.  Our accommodations were very comfortable at the Peak Lodge.  There was a perfect view of the mountain from our deck.  Again, the constantly changing character of the mountain was an inspiration for what lay ahead.  Rain came and went throughout the afternoon into evening, giving us pause to consider what our climbing conditions would be.  By early morning, the skies had cleared: more photos ops.







Awesome sunrise and clouds.

Hopefully our sunrise will be the same!!!
The morning of our climb.
Early dawn.
What a sight!
Rain and mist blowing through.
View from the Kinabalu Park Headquarters.

March 16th, 2011

Our guide was a bit late; needless to say we were anxious to start our climb!  After a hearty breakfast, not too different from a marathon race carbo-load meal, we were transported to the starting gate named Timpohon, elevation1866 meters (6,122 feet).  At 7:40 am we started our climb.  I had my cameras and clothing in a backpack, Tom had a smaller backpack and a shoulder rucksack and Dan had two heavy backpacks, one of which was carried by our guide, Anddy Maz.

The trek begins downhill for the first few hundred meters through the rainforest.  At this elevation it is a temperate climate and we were all clad in shorts, tee shirts and hiking shoes.  The trail became steep immediately sending our heart rates to near anaerobic.  The terrain was constantly taxing our balance skills and leg muscles.  It was a good thing that we had train for months before this climb.  Thankfully there were rest huts with toilets about every kilometer as we were consuming a lot of water.  The only water provided along the trail was collected rainwater, NOT a good thing for us foreigners. Thus the three liters of bottled water we each carried in our packs – dehydration can contribute to altitude sickness.  The scenery along the upward trek was awe-inspiring as we moved from dense rainforest to wind-driven alpine vegetation and terrain.  The following photos can best describe better than words.

Four hours and fifty minutes from Timpohon gate, we arrived at Laban Rata, our base camp for the night before the final ascent. From this vantage, the rock-face of the mountain was right “in our face”!  This made us wonder how much more difficult the next day’s climb could be compared to today’s grueling ascent.  We checked into our hostel, Gunting Lagadan, at elevation of 3353 meters (11,000 feet).  We were issued a single towel each (for use after our cold showers) and this was the extent of the amenities we would receive while here. The cramped room had two bunk beds that we shared with a nice couple from Perth, Australia.  We made friends with other climbers from Great Britain and San Francisco – they were good company as they shared stories of their travels.  After dinner, we all went to bed early to rest up for an early call time for the final ascent.

View from the Timpohon Gate of the valley.

Trail of rocks and boulders, going straight up!

Cool and damp at the start.

Looking at the summit at the start of the trail.

View of the valley

Mist blowing through.


At a rest area.

Porters carrying supplies to Laban Rata.

When will it end!!!

Windswept vegetation.

Trail of slippery rocks.

Rest stop!

Next day's climb

Laban Rata, overnight rest area at 11,000 feet.

Friends we met, from all over the world. At Gunting Lagadan

March 17th, 2011 (St. Patrick’s Day)

After a restless night in our unheated, cramped and noisy hostel, we arose at 1:30 am.  The temperature at 11,000 feet was 47F and 32F was predicted at the peak.  After struggling with what to wear and what to bring along on the climb, we headed to breakfast.  Climbers began queuing at 2:15 am for the 2:30 am start in order to reach the peak for sunrise.  Because this portion of the climb is in total darkness, most climbers were wearing headlamps.  The conditions of the trails, with seemingly endless flights of stairs, up to the final check point (Sayat Sayat,  3810 meters or 12,500 feet), were similar, but steeper, to the previous day’s trek.  We were noticeably rising in elevation at a faster rate.  Starting at the check point, the terrain was all granite rock-face and the vegetation disappeared.  Due to the darkness, this was even more apparent on our descent.  For this portion of the climb, a thick white rope was anchored to the granite to act as a trail marker also to assist us in the steeper parts of the mountain.

After the steeper parts of this segment, there was a slightly inclined “plateau” which gave us a chance to catch our breath. We were amazed by the awesome star filled night and the view of a glowing Kota Kinabalu some 90 kilometers in the distance.  Most of the maps tell us that the summit is at 8.5KM, then as we go past each marker, 7 KM, 7.5KM, 8 KM, and finally the 8.5KM marker, not at the top yet.  However, Low’s Peak at 4095.2 meters (13,450 feet), was still another 200 meters straight up!!!  Finally, we are at the top. WE MADE IT!!!  As an aside, Tom, filed past every single climber of that morning and reached the peak at 4:48 am.  The next climber, as Tom, proudly tells it, was eighteen minutes behind him.  I was in the 10th to 15th place.  There were jubilant cheers, high fives and fist butting as each climber got to the top.

I took out my hand phone and attempted to call my wife, Becca, but alas, there were no bars.  There was hand phone service at 11,000 feet, thus I assume that I can call Becca.  As we waited by the marker on the peak to see the sunrise, it was a sight to see the slow moving stream of headlamps heading towards us.  Unfortunately for us, the clouds blocked the sun from shining on the mountain.  We could see that the sun shone through other openings in the clouds but not on the mountain, boo hoo :-((  I tried my best to capture our achievement with the camera, the light was low thus the quality will not be the best.  No worries, it will be etched in our memories forever.







Brave soul at the edge....

The other side…
Views are amazing!!!
It gets crowded at the top!!!
At the top!!
Tom, at the Summit.
First light from the top.

Descending to Kinabalu Park Headquarters.

Even though climbing up was taxing on the lungs, heart and muscles, it was more difficult going down the mountain.  Focusing on every step is a must, and figuring out the next three steps will keep you from an unfortunate fall.  A misstep could result in a finely etched image of your face on Mount Kinabalu!  While the breathing was easier on the descent, the quadriceps, knees, ankles and feet (toes) take a beating.  Two days after completing the descent, the feelings in our legs are not unlike that of the pain felt after running a marathon.  Thankfully the scenery, terrain and vegetation were just as spectacular going down as going up.



Getting near the end!!

A pitcher plant found only in Borneo.
Thank goodness for ropes.
A golf course.

I hope that you have enjoyed the narrative and photos as much as we enjoy our adventure.  Thank you.

Here is a link to these images and more:

Click on the album: “The Climb up to Mt. Kinabalu”


One Response to “Mount Kinabalu Climb, March 16th and 17th, 2011”

  1. Lisa Rymer Says:

    I absolutelylove the walkthrough of the trip! Nicely written. The climb looks like a tough challenge but loads of fun!
    Are your leg muscles starting to feel a bit better after a couple days?

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