Mount Kinabalu

This weekend I climbed Mount Kinabalu, the ‘tallest mountain in southeast asia’! Definitely a bucket list item! My coworker that I was supposed to go on this trip with bailed at the last minute.  I would’ve preferred company for such a huge endeavor, but I do enjoy traveling solo – I was probably the only one doing it alone (albeit with a guide), but I don’t think it detracted from the experience. I was proud of the physical feat but mainly amazed by the views – above the clouds scaling an awe inspiring mountain 🙂

Sunrise at the summit of Mount Kinabalu!

Anyway, I flew to Kota Kinabalu (KK) from KL on Thursday night. Then after a quick sleep, I immediately got started – I got picked up at 6:30 the following morning. We drove 2 hours into the park up some steep, winding roads. We arrived at a point where I met my guide and got a walking stick to rent (thank god I did that). The weather was already crisp.

Start Point: Timpohon Gate, elevation 1866 m

I hiked from Timpohon gate, the standard starting point, to Laban Rata, the sleeping spot for the night. I arrived around 3:30pm, and I think it took me about 6 hours total – maybe a bit slow but not bad for 1404 m (4606 ft) straight up! It was also my first time hiking with a substantial backpack, actually, so that probably added some challenge.

The air there was so clean and nice, and the trail was well done with rest areas along the way. At the very beginning there was a waterfall, then lots of steps that eventually turned mainly into stones. We saw a pitcher plant along the way and just in general there were many pretty plants. Closer to the end we seemed to be walking through mist and got a nice view of the stone Mt Kinabalu! The trail started to get exposed to the sun and also I started to feel the altitude a bit – nothing too bad but breathing was noticeably harder. After all this hard work my guide and I made it to Laban Rata! I went to claim a bed, take an ice cold shower, and get briefed on Via Ferrata (more on that later).

Sleeping spot: Laban Rata, elevation 3270 m

After the briefing, it was dinner time. I was so starving after expending so many calories and ate a bunch of spaghetti, rice, fruit, you name it. I chatted with a Polish couple I had met on the trail, observed a scrabble game (haha), and watched the beautiful sunset from far above the clouds. I was loving the cold weather so high up – the true Midwesterner came out in me! Later I went back and played some wholesome Uno with some people and attempted to sleep early – we had to be ready to hike more by 2:30am!

I couldn’t sleep much, plus some people found it necessary to wake up at 1:30 am and start chatting…I ate some breakfast and tried to get a bit less grumpy. Then it was time to put on a bunch of layers, hat, and headlamp, then go out into the dark and follow the line of people beginning the trek to the summit. My guide told me it was a full moon – and man was it bright! It was crazy to be trekking up in the dark, cold, basically on the edge of a mountain with rocks and boulders and stuff being slightly visible. I remember being amazed and also excited to be able to see it once it was light out.

full moon!

I took a few breaks due to the elevation, but made it up to the summit by 5:30am or so – the end was quite hard as you have to scramble up some rocks and try to keep your breath! I went up and got a picture with the summit sign, then walked down just a bit to find a good spot to watch the sunrise. I was slightly early and it got a bit cold, and there were clouds blocking the sun – but both of those didn’t matter, because the view was absolutely stunning.

Summit: 4095 m

I do wish I could’ve spent more time at the summit, but it was already time to go down. We saw some ice in one of the small pools of water (rare, apparently), and I was loving all the rock formations (mostly granite, apparently). The views speak for themselves, of course. I also saw where there was a big white boulder that had fallen during the earthquake in 2015 that had killed a few people 😮 They had to reroute part of the trail due to that. A reminder that mother nature is unpredictable & dangerous, I guess.

Anyway, I had a quick rest then did a via ferrata route called Walk the Torq! Via ferrata is sort of between rock climbing and trekking – you’re basically strapped to the face of the mountain so you can do this crazy route, but you won’t die if you fall, haha. Wikipedia’s definition, if you’re interested to know more:

A via ferrata (Italian for “iron road”) is a protected climbing route found in the Alps and certain other locations. The essence of a modern via ferrata is a steel cable which runs along the route and is periodically (every 1 to 10 metres (3.3 to 32.8 ft)) fixed to the rock. Using a via ferrata kit, climbers can secure themselves to the cable, limiting any fall. The cable can also be used as aid to climbing, and additional climbing aids, such as iron rungs (stemples), pegs, carved steps and even ladders and bridges are often provided. Thus via ferratas allow otherwise dangerous routes to be undertaken without the risks associated with unprotected scrambling and climbing or the need for climbing equipment such as ropes. They offer the relatively inexperienced a means of enjoying dramatic positions and accessing difficult peaks.

Me doing Via ferrata!

I wasn’t able to get too many pics due to needing my hands to not fall and injure myself, lol. I took some videos that I’ll include sometime later. You can get the idea of the crazy amazing view. I am glad I’m not afraid of heights! Whenever I’m strapped in I have no fear…maybe I should have a bit more fear, really…

Via ferrata was actually quite tiring – but then I had to get back down to my sleeping quarters to eat. And after another break, it was already time to descend all the way down. This last leg was fine at the beginning – I had been going uphill all the way til now, except for the descent from the summit (actually 9 hours total of hiking uphill, new record for me!). But for some reason going uphill has always been way easier for my leg muscles than going downhill. Soon my knees start to hurt and I unashamedly slowed down. I tried to ignore the pain and savor some last views. After a very long 4 hours, I made it back then got to eat and go back to the hotel to relax.

The next day I went to a big Sunday market in KK, a cute cafe, and also to the the Sabah museum – easy activities for tired old me.

I definitely will return to KK/Sabah to see the islands, have a bit of a more leisurely hike in the park, and also to explore Sarawak and other parts of Borneo! Mt Kinabalu was absolutely amazing. I’ve never seen anything like that and I do want to scale more mountains in the future 😀 Maybe a bit rushed but that’s just how it is. So worth it!


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