• Kinabalu
  • 4095 m.
  • Sabah, Malaysia, Borneo HP.
  • Location: North 06:04.505, East 116:33.514 (GPS at the summit)
  • Primary factor 4095 m.
  • Difficulty: YDS class 2+ (short section, see description)
  • Climbed July 29, 2006.


How to get there: This mountain is in Sabah, a province of Malaysia located on North Borneo. In order to climb this mountain, one needs to fly to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the province. There are frequent flights from Singapore. There are many hotels in Kota Kinabalu, we decided to stay at a hotel Rasa Ria, located about 30 kilometer north of the city.
Before you go, it is important to book lodging on the mountain. This mountain is very popular and lodging is limited and often fully booked months ahead of the actual date for a climb. This can be done via the Internet.
The travel time from the coastal area described above, to the National park headquarter is about 90 minutes by car. The best and most flexible option is to take a taxi and agree on a pickup time the following day. In 2006, such a round-trip taxi cost 250 RM, about 65 US dollars, very good value for money.
Still, there are convenient ways to travel at much lower cost. There are shared taxis leaving from the old bus station in the center of Kota Kinabalu. Look for taxis with the destination Ranau (passing the park HQ.). They fill up quickly and the cost (in 2008) was 18 RM. The return travel is also easy as there is a bus stop just outside the park with frequent buses to Kota Kinabalu. If you arrive at the park early (even the day before), the chance of finding other people to share a guide (and thus cutting costs) with, is quite good. (Thanks to Lyngve Skrede for this update.)
The park headquarter is located at N06:00.348, E116:32.552, elevation 1565 meter. You must fill in various registration forms, they check that you indeed have an advance reservation with the mountain huts higher up, collect fees for climbing as well as for a guide, then gives you a badge. They do, among other things, ask for your passport number, bring it along or (in an emergency like ours), just write down some reasonable looking number, and they will be happy. The trailhead is 4.5 kilometer further up a road (closed to general traffic) at location N06:01.729, E116:32.823, elevation 1866 meter.
Route description: This hike requires a permit as well as a mandatory guide. In 2006 the park entrance fee was 15 RM for adults, 10 RM for children (under 18). A party of two, like ours, had to pay another 154 RM that covered a climbing permit, a guide and insurance. Being one of the easier 4000 meter mountains in the world, the guide is not needed for any experienced hiker, but this mountain is visited by thousands of people every year. The guiding certainly also contributes to the local economy. The route is straightforward, well marked all the way. I have asigned a grade of YDS 2+ (not using the fixed rope), since there is a short section on a moderately steep slope of fairly smooth rock. However, this (and many places where it is not needed) section is well secured by a solid rope that people can use to enter up/down. I easily downclimbed this section without using the rope. If it rains and the rock is wet, then the route is more slippery and much caution (more use of the fixed ropes) is necessary.
From the park headquarter, there is a 4.5 kilometer road that climbs about 300 vertical meter, before you reach the trailhead. Most climbers take a shuttlebus in order to avoid this part (we did not and I do not know the cost).
The trail passes through a gate, then downhill and across a pretty narrow saddle, before it levels and gently starts to climb. The climb gets more serious fairly soon as you encounter fairly steep steps (like in a stairway), that heads uphill. There are markers every 500 meter and a pretty large number of rest areas supplied with water and shade.
The vegetation changes as you ascend higher, but for a considerable part, what you see is typical jungle (rain forest) vegetation. There are 40 species of oak growing here. Kinabalu is known for its great variation of plants, across its many different zones of vegetation. Best known are perhaps the insect-eating pitcher plants, but more than half the families of flowering plants in the world are represented here. The worlds largest flower (red and up one meter across) blooms here, there are 26 species of Rhododendrons, one of which only exists here. Kinabalu is also famous for orchids with about one thousand different species.
The vegetation changes and becomes lower as you continue to ascend (picture taken looking back down). After 6 kilometer from the trailhead you reach the Laban Rata hut where you (most likely) have a reservation.
The hut has a small supply of food and other items for sale, they also serve breakfast from 0230 to 0330, then general breakfast/lunch from 0730 and onwards, followed by a buffet dinner from 1730 and a couple of hours.
The route (typically the next morning) continues uphill, with a mix of stairs and general trail/rock. There is a gate next to the last hut just above Laban Rata. Higher up, you move onto the granite and a thick rope is supplied for extra security. One of the first rope sections is probabely the "crux of the climb". Not very steep, but steep enough that a fall would be very unpleasant indeed. Higher up, the trail starts traversing to the climbers left and reaches the highest hut, called Sayat-Sayat at 3668 meter, just after the 7 kilometer marker. There is a climber check-out/check-in post here.
After this check-point, there is a short slightly steeper section of rock before the granite slope becomes much more gentle as one approach the saddle between St. Johns Peak and Low's Peak. The final slope up to the very highest summit is again slightly steeper, but with many alternate routes and plenty of good, alternative paths leading to the very summit. From the summit, you have a full view of the horseshoe-shaped mountain and the deep canyon called Low's Gully in the middle.
Comments: I did this climb with my son Pål Jørgen, age 17. We started from the Rasa Ria hotel north of Kota Kinabalu at 0730 and travelled by taxi to the park headquarter, reaching it shortly before 0900. A few forms needed to be filled out and it turned out they requested your passport number. With the passports left behind at the hotel, this required a bit of improvisation, I scribbled down a couple of "believable" numbers, paid the required fees and soon we were ready to go.
Kinabalu looks quite impressive when viewed fromn the park headquarter, you realize that you are still a few kilometer from its slopes. It seems impossible to obtain a topographic map of the mountain, a posted description of the trail is the closest you find. Unlike most visitors, we walked the first 4.5 kilometer from the park headquarter to the trailhead. Our hiking time from the park office to the Laban Rata hut where we spent the night, was only 2:55, this is fast, most hikers should plan on (much) more time. (A vertical ascent from the trailhead to the hut of about 700 meter/hour.) We arrived at the Laban Rata hut shortly after 12 noon, and had lunch. From this hut, the mountain towers above you, its many smooth faces may make it look harder to climb than it is. Also, perhaps a bit fortunately, the highest summit, called Low's Peak is not among the more difficult peaks that dominate the summit plateau. We checked into a our room (4 beds shared with another party) and had a buffet dinner around 1800 as darkness came. Most people would try to sleep early, as many start the summit hike as early as 0200-0230. We estimated a time of 1.5 hours for the 2.7 kilometer, 820 meter vertical climb and decided to start around 0430 in order to summit at sunrise at 0600. It was a nice night with thousands of stars across the sky, no moon and almost no wind.
We woke up shortly after 0400 and started hiking at 0420, reaching the summit at 0550, just as planned. Our start was long after the rest as almost everybody left before 0330. We were unable to find our guide and had set out without him (he later told that he looked for us at 0500!). However, there is a checkpoint up at 3668 meter and you are supposed to show your badge (that people get when they register at the park headquarter). Mine was left behind in the pocket of my shorts, but Pål Jørgen was fortunately able to produce his. We were checked off the list and could proceed to the summit. It turned out that our guide later called this checkpoint, had been told that we had passed and realized that he would never be able to catch up. He therefore hiked up to the checkpoint and waited for us to come back down. We then descended back down together.
The summit (named Low's Peak after the first ascender, despite that he did not reach the summit) got rather crowded with perhaps as many as 50 people. We truly enjoyed the very nice scenery and the deep canyon (called Low's Gully) just next to the summit. This mountain has large, smooth granite rock with surprisingly few boulders. There is a pretty large number of subsidiary summit points (a few may qualify as separate peaks using a 100 meter criterion), and they are all very impressive, forming many different shapes and figures. Most well known is perhaps Donkey's Ears, that can be viewed from many different angles. We left the summit around 0645 and first headed down to the saddle connecting it to the second highest point, St. John Peak, at 4091 meter, barely 4 meter lower. The other high point on this side of Low's Gully, is Victoria Peak at 4088 m. From here, we had a good view of the granite structure of Kinabalu and the route of descent with the nicely shaped South Peak, 3922m, on our right hand side. This saddle is located at N06:04.399, E116:33.447, with an elevation of 4013 meter.
We headed back towards the trail and descended to kilometer marker 8, location N06:04.192, E116:33.656, elevation 3945 meter, where a few more photos were taken. We continued a bit further and made our next stop for photo at location N06:03.931, E116:33.864, elevation 3718 m, just overlooking the highest hut (check point) on the mountain.
We continued the descent, reached the Laban Rata hut at 0800 where we had a well deserved breakfast before continuing the descent at 0830, reaching the park headquarter at 1115. We had lunch at a nearby restaurant and then our taxi driver showed up aroung 1200 (2 hours early!). Thus, our drive back to Resa Ria ended up a bit ahead of time and a good swim in the pool was a good way to complete a very successful day. The sunrise as seen from the summit of Kinabalu, did perhaps not quite match the sunset as seen from the beach of Rasa Ria.
There is an annual, 21 kilometer run (half marathon), from the trailhead to the very summit and back down to near the park headquarter. The current world record for the distance is an "unbelievable" 2 hours and 40 minutes set by a Mexican runner, his speed corresponds to an average rate of ascent exceeding 1670 meter/hour.