Key information: Mt Kinabalu
- The massive granite precipices of 4,095m Mount Kinabalu rise clear of the steamy Sabah Jungle. This is one huge, awe-inspiring volcanic plug.
- Ascend through beautiful cloud forest, emerging onto the smooth, steep rock of the upper slopes.
- The next morning, see the mountain's shadow recede into eternity on the clouds below, and enjoy the silhouetted fantastical formations as the sun rises; peer into the upper reaches of the deadly Lows Gully.
- A tough climb, gaining some 2,500m in less than 24 hours: you will feel the altitude.
- Walkopedia rating87
- Natural interest17
- Human interest5
- Negative points3
- Total rating87
- Note: Neg:Altitude gained very quickly.
- Length: 26km
- 2 Days
- Maximum Altitude: 4,095m
- Level of Difficulty: Difficult
Mount Kinabalu stands, at 4,095 m, in magnificent isolation above the Borneo jungle. Its top is a vast platform, formed relatively recently from volcanic upheaval and still growing, from which jagged peaks and pinnacles soar. Its upper slopes consist of several thousand feet of smooth precipice.
This is a steep, demanding walk with altitude gained more quickly than is advisable. The top is cloud- girt for much of most days: it is a dangerous and gloomy place once enveloped.
The climb starts at around 1,500m (5,130ft) above the National Park's pretty headquarters. The path winds, for the first kilometre, pleasantly around the hillside through thick forest and past the pretty Carson Waterfall, before turning onto the first staircase, which disappears ominously into the trees far above. From here it is several hours of dreary, painful slog to the Laban Rata hut, where a short night will be spent before the pre-dawn assault on the peak.
The trail follows long ridges up through a succession of very different vegetation zones. The mountain is a World Heritage Site, partly because of its magnificent botanical diversity. It is estimated to harbour up to 6,000 plant species, (including over 800 species of orchid, over 600 species of ferns, of which 50 are endemic) and has the world's richest selection of carnivorous pitcher plants. You will trudge through cloud forests of moss-covered trees, past pink-flowering rhododendrons, straight trunked, parasite-infested trees, ferns and azaleas. Gradually, the soil turns redder and shrub-heather takes over.
The Laban Rata hut is remarkably pleasant, considering it feeds and sleeps so many people and sits on an inaccessible ledge at 3,300m (just under 11,000 ft).
You will start early (2:30 a.m.) for the pre-dawn (and pre-cloud cover) assault on the peak. The 750 plus metres (2,500 ft.) up from the hut to the plateau at the top is fairly miserable, a very steep, tough slog, the altitude and yesterday's exertions making every step an effort. Some steep scrambles up ropes on near-vertical rock give a degree of light relief. Finally, though, you reach the great cracked dome, and things got a lot better.
You will see great peaks and pinnacles silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky. The rim of the infamous Low's Gully is just below the final Low's Peak, a fearsome chasm dropping thousands of sheer feet into thick gloom.
The western view from Low's Peak is miraculous: far below, the shadow of the mountain visibly retreats back towards you across the clouds as the sun comes up. All around are the sharp, eroded pinnacles of the lesser peaks, the misty lowlands slumbering far below. Despite all the pain, it is worth it.
The descent, 2,500m (8,000 plus feet) to get down in one go, certainly isn't much fun, with screaming joints and agonised muscles by the end.
WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk
Mount Kinabalu is a young place, a huge, sheer dome of granite which forced its way up through the earth's surface a few million years ago. It now stands, at 13,500 ft. /4,095 m, in magnificent isolation above the noisily slumbering Borneo jungle. Its covering of softer rock has been torn away to form its lower slopes, leaving a vast platform from which jagged peaks and pinnacles soar. Its upper slopes consist of several thousand feet of smooth precipice.
While this is a remarkable mountain, I have to admit that it is not.....READ MORE
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Borneo - Lonely Planet Country & Regional Guides by Chris Rowthorn and Muhammed Cohen.
An excellent short guide, Kinabalu Park, by the Park Authority.
Kinabalu: Summit of Borneo - K.M. Wong/ A. Phillips (detailed book)
Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei - Lonely Planet Country Guide (2001) by Geoff Crowther and Tony Wheeler
The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei - Charles de Ledesma Lim, and Rough Guides
Malaysia and Singapore: Eyewitness Travel Guide - Ron Emmons
Malaysia Insight Guide - Insight Guides
Southeast Asia on a Shoestring - Lonely Planet Shoestring Guides by China Williams and et al
Not much; sketch maps in guidebooks.
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Feburary to March
High annual rainfall, especially in the afternoons. Humid cloud forest lower down and harsh bare rock higher up: come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather at any time and cold nights.
October to January is the wettest time.
Most people fly in/out if Kota Kinabalu. Buses go from Kota Kinabula to the mountain. Many people come by rented car- not a difficult drive, or hire a taxi.
Permits are needed to do this walk. They can be obtained from the Park Headquarters, where you will also pick up a guide. Expedition organisers should arrange these.
See “Walk Summary” above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Altitude: can affect some; potentially fatal. It is hard to acclimatize appropriately, so come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.
- Mountain weather: rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year. It is very cold early in the mornings. Come prepared.
- Heat, humidity and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights. Slippery rock when wet.
- Harmful animals of all shapes and sizes, including snakes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
- This is remote country: help may be hard to get if things go wrong. It is easy to get totally lost if cloud descends on top. Take great care.
- Health risks: you will not get medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
Guides are compulsory. Guides are assigned at the Park Headquarters, and you can hire porters as well. Some people join organised expeditions.
Expedition organisers include:
On the mountain, Laban Rata Resthouse is the normal place to stay. It is comfortable, dormitories or rooms available. Check the current position about booking. Laban Rata serves food, so you only need to carry water and snacks for the route.
There is a variety of accommodation around the Park Headquarters. You can do this expedition in two days from Kota Kinabula, or stay a day or two longer on the mountain.
In Kota Kinabula, stay in the Tamjung Ara (comfortable) or the excellent Rasa Ria an hour outside.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- www.wikipedia.org: as usual, a good starting place.
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
Pleasant and interesting walks in the area of the Park Headquarters.
Diving off Kota Kinabula
Orang Utan Sanctuary near Sandakan on the east coast.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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