For those who planned to climb Mount Kinabalu, I would advised a 4days 3nights trip in Kinabalu. If you don’t have enough time, you can also do it in 3days 2 nights, but it will be a very rushed and tiring trip.
A night at Kundasang
From Kota Kinabalu, you need to transfer to Kundasang area which located 2hours drive from KK town. You can arrange a transfer with you travel agent, or take a bus from KK town, or you can even drive yourself to Kundasang. At Kinabalu Park, you can leave you car there as there is plenty car parking space provided for climbers who came by themselves. You can stay a night in numerous guesthouse and hotels within the Kundasang area or you can even stay in the lodges inside the Kinabalu Park itself. Have a good rest before you start your jourbey the next day.
The Climbing day (Kinabalu Park – Laban Rata)
After having breakfast at your guesthouse and check-out, you have to identify yourself at the Kinabalu Park Headquater. Normally a personal guides will be assigned to you if your come in a group and they can even be your porter for a small additional fee. After all documentation procedure done, you will be taken by bus to the Timpohon Gate where the 6km journey began to Laban Rata.
The first 1-2 km of hike was a very pleasant one. You will see the Carson waterfall within 100-200m from the starting point and one would think, oh what a pleasant and pretty hike this would be! In fact, I must say, it was a VERY pretty climb with plenty flora and fauna that varied significantly at the different altitudes. Some parts of the trail were so surreal – it looked like a set out of “Lost”. The rest of the trail in between, is having to climb way too many steps, rocky paths and staring down rock formations, trying to decide the best footing to take. Don’t worry about water and toilets as there’s few rest area along the way that complete with toilets and fresh water to refill your water supply. You also would be bumping into people coming down from Laban Rata, having (hopefully) successfully scaled the peak of Mount Kinabalu earlier that morning. Many would be making their way down with walking sticks, hoping to reduce the ache on their knees.
The last 2 km before reaching Laban Rata was especially beautiful – the path of rocks was lined by Bonzai-like trees on both sides and what seemed like a Chinese Kungfu movie was actually the hardest bit of the 1st part of the journey. All in all, I found the trail to be a very scenic one, despite hearsay that the other longer route, the Mesilau route which was 2 km longer was a much prettier and more pleasant way. But no thank you to an extra 2km to an already super long climb! I’d rather reach the top sooner than later!
With good timing and albeit the many pit stops for re-energizing, re-hydrating or for a short breather, you can made it to Laban Rata within 5 hours! But a normal first timer climber normally will required 6 to 8 hours to reach here. After having quick break, you can collect your room keys at the reception. There is actually few dorms located at Laban Rata area, with the easiest will be staying at Laban Rata Resthouse because it is just above the reception and restaurant area. And there is also Gunting Lagadan which was located another 100m away from Laban Rata Resthouse, a blessing in disguise because that meant 100m less of a hike to the summit early the next morning! Oh ya, dinner will be served starting at 6pm at the restaurant at the Laban Rata Resthouse.
For me, staying at the dorm was an adventure on its own. There were 4 bunk beds to a dorm and in pure dormitory style – they gave you the basics, minus the hot water showers which are obviously a pure necessity at 10 degrees C weather. You can have a nap for awhile and woke up early considering your 2:30am start climb to the summit.
Climbing to the peak
You will need to awake by 1:30am that morning and our journey to the summit began at 2:30am. It was pitched black and everyone had headlamps on, forming a trail of lights all the way up to the summit. The first km from Laban Rata to the summit was all steps and rocks with bonsai trees on your both sides. You will climb and climb and at this point, you will begin to feel tired with cold weather will started to slow your movement. Once you reached the Sayat-Sayat, you need to register yourself and you can have a quick rest or you can used the toilet as it was the last rest area on your climb. The guides with also determine whether you are fit to continue the climb based on your time reaching the checkpoint for safety reason.
After Sayat-Sayat, there is no more bonsai trees and rocks surface all the way up. And then there comes a part where you hold on to a big white rope, cling on to your life and climb up a narrow path of steep, large rocks. This part, for me, was the hardest and scariest, especially when you can’t see more than 2m ahead of you and dont know what lies on the edge of the cliff. About 100-200m of this and thankfully the rest of the journey to the summit was mostly flat rock. Imagine this – you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s pitched black. You look up and see a million stars. To your left, you see a faint outline of the mountain ridge. You look back and you’ll find a trail of moving lights (from the hikers making their way up). It was cold and the air was thin. The entire experience was the most surreal feeling ever! It was as though we had landed on the moon!
The last 200m was really a tough climb, challenging your body, physically and mentally. At this point, you can already see the peak but the thin air makes you very tired and you will tend to stop almost every 10 steps.. well, maybe not all but it really does to me. But once you reached the peak, everything will feel worth it. The view from the top was very beautiful.. no words can express it.
Descending down from the peak to Laban Rata
You need to descend down after the sunrise and you are not allowed to stay at the peak for long time, as the sun can be very harmful to us. The journey down was an exciting one for me. There were some parts from the summit back to Laban Rata that were really scary – the parts where you hold on to the rope and inch your way up by the cliff in the dark seemed 10 times scarier when you could actually see the edge of the cliff and how far you’d fall if you fell. At this moment, a good grip from your shoes really helps a lot for your journey down the slippery rock. That’s why i would highly recommend to wear the cheap “adidas kampung” for climbing mount kinabalu. No need to buy those expensive climbing shoes that will cost you hundreds of dolars, just enough with rm8 local adidas kampung that you can find easily at the local stores. This shoes also widely used by the local porter and even the local guides, and I’ve worn it every time I climb mount Kinabalu.
However the view was very beautiful. If the weather is good, you can even see the Kundasang area from the top. And don’t forget to snap some awesome pictures of some of the peaks along the way down.
From Laban Rata to Kinabalu Park
Once you reached Laban Rata, your will have a quick breakfast, packed your bags and headed down for national park. The hike down was an unexpectedly arduous and seemingly endless one. You will walked and walked and walked and walked. You will passed trails that didn’t even look familiar, trails that you didn’t even think climbed on the way up, which obviously is impossible. Everything from the day before seemed to be a blur and the hike definitely seemed more pleasant than the descend. Perhaps it was the adrenalin rush, the thrill, the excitement that made it all so easy to get to the top. The way back down was certainly no joke on the knees and thighs.