Mount Kinabalu

Kinabalu Day 1 : Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata
Kinabalu Day 2 : Laban Rata to Low's Peak
Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu (elevation : 4095 m) is the highest mountain in Malaysia (both by prominence as well as sheer elevation), and is also the highest mountain between the Himalayas and the island of New Guinea. Based on topographic prominence, Mount Kinabalu also happens to be the 20th highest mountain in the world, but only the second highest mountain in South-East Asia behind Puncak Jaya (elevation : 4884 m), also known as Carstensz Pyramid, in Indonesia. When one discounts the prominence and looks only at elevation, however, there are a number of mountains that are taller in both Myanmar and Indonesia--the most notable of these being Hkakabo Razi (elevation : 5881 m) in Myanmar.

Mount Kinabalu is basically a massive granite intrusion (or a pluton to be precise) that was formed when magma solidified underground before being thrust upwards through the Earth's crust by tectonic movements millions of years ago. Approximately 100,000 years ago, this granite intrusion was completely covered by glaciers. As the glaciers flowed down the mountain's sides, they scoured the granite surface below and left smooth slopes that were surrounded by craggy spires in their wake. The glaciers also created the 1800 metres-deep Low's Gully, which is considered one of the least explored and most inhospitable places on earth. The gully begins with a sheer drop down the northern slopes of Low's Peak (elevation : 4095 m), the highest point of Mount Kinabalu.

Hovering your cursor over the image above will show you the names
of the peaks as seen from Kinabalu Park. The glacial landforms and
structures that adorn the top of the mountain are quite evident

The massive structure of Mount Kinabalu seems to erupt suddenly from the lowlands that surround the peak, and as such, its distinct shape can be seen dominating the horizon from as far away as Kota Kinabalu , which is the capital of the state of Sabah some 50-kilometres or so away. This gives the mountain a huge altitudinal range, from 152 to 4095 metres, which naturally means a wide range of different biomes--from broadleaf rainforests at its base to montane alpine meadows on its peak. Even though the peak of the mountain is almost completely devoid of vegetation, the montane ecoregions that surround the slabs of granite have an incredible diversity of flora. This is due to the wide climatic range, the high levels of rainfall, and the fact that Mount Kinabalu is located in one of the richest plant regions in the world--Malesia, which comprises of the Malay Peninsula, and the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The relatively sudden switches between periods of glaciation and periods of droughts in the past have also given the area high rates of speciation.

Some surveys estimate that Kinabalu Park has up to 6000 plant species, which happens to be more than all the species of Europe and North America (excluding Mexico) combined. The montane ecoregions also contain the largest concentration of wild orchids on Earth, with more than 800 species, as well as the richest concentration of pitcher plants in the world, with four of the thirteen Nepenthes species found there being endemic to Kinabalu. As such, Mount Kinabalu is considered on of the world's most important biological sites, and has been given UNESCO World Heritage status accordingly.

The Hike via Timpohon Gate

There used to be two one-day climbing options, one of which was a one-day hike but since the end of 2015 the permit has been suspended due to safety issues. The other option is the Kinabalu Climbathon (which I participated in back in 2011), which has now become a biennial event and will next be held in 2019. The normal hike however, begins from Timpohon Gate (elevation : 1866 m) and usually takes two days. You start off, after staying the night at Kinabalu Park, by ascending to Laban Rata (elevation : 3272 m) from Timpohon on the first day, and to the summit from Laban Rata around 02:30 on the second day. From the summit, you then descend all the way back to Timpohon Gate on the same day.

If you are a slow hiker, please be aware that there is a cut-off time of 05:00 at Sayat-Sayat Hut (elevation : 3668 m), and if you do not reach there by that time and are only staying one night in Laban Rata, they will tell you to turn back. The reason for the cut-off is to ensure that you are able to reach the summit and make it back to Laban Rata for breakfast before the check-out time, which is at 10:30. There is a MYR100 fine for every room for each hour after the check-out time. There is also an overtime charge for the mountain guides for groups that fail to make it back to Timpohon Gate before 16:30. Fortunately, there is an option where you can stay two nights in Laban Rata instead. This will give you the option of leaving later for the summit push if you wish to get some decent rest, as the 05:00 cut-off at Sayat-Sayat Hut does not apply to those who are staying two nights in Laban Rata. This is because they will only begin the hike back down to Timpohon Gate the next day after the summit push.

The most important thing that you need to both understand and remember is that this hike takes place at high altitudes. Ascending from near sea level to more than 3000 metres raises the risk of altitude sickness to moderate levels. Please ensure that you ascend slowly to allow yourself enough time to acclimatise, and consider taking Acetazolamide as a prophylactic since studies show that the medication is approximately 75% effective in preventing AMS in those who rapidly ascend to altitudes of 3000 to 4500 metres (Wilderness Medicine, 6th Edition - Paul S. Auerbach). Also be sure to remember the mountaineering maxim, "climb high, sleep low", and the rule of not exceeding an elevation gain of 500 metres a day when above 3000 metres. Rushing things could very well ruin your trip.

The price for the Mount Kinabalu summit hike is unfortunately quite exorbitant. The permits, which cost MYR50 per person for Malaysians and MYR200 per person for foreigners (MYR30/80 for those under 18 years of age), are only granted to hikers who will be staying at the mountain huts at Laban Rata (elevation : 3272 m). As such, one's total expenditure will skyrocket once the accommodation and food costs are included. There are also a limited number of places at the mountain huts, so bookings need to be made very early on in order to secure one of the 130 daily slots. Local mountain guides are also made mandatory for all the hikes to the summit. The rates are now MYR230 for each guide, with each guide being limited to five climbers who are sixteen years and above, or two climbers who are below sixteen years old.

With that being said, here is a quick disclaimer:

This hike is one of four entries on this website (out of more than a hundred) that required the use of a guide. I personally am a big advocate of independent travel and self-guided hiking that does not require guides or porters. My reasoning is as follows (in no particular order):

Less costly: Aside from the cost of permits, self-guided hiking has no guide expenses that need to be covered, and hikers also have full control over the cost of their meals. Guide expenses tend to normally be shared out amongst the group, which means that the larger the group, the less each hiker will have to pay.

Less environmental impact: Without the burden of guide expenses, group sizes can be kept much lower. Small groups tend to be far more mobile and significantly reduce their impact to trails and campsites. Large groups also have a profound impact on other groups that are sharing the trail. I personally feel that groups of more than 4 or 5 people tend to be too large. Read up on Leave No Trace (LNT) principles for more info.

More independence: Self-guided hiking requires hikers to be knowledgeable in multiple skills--navigation and route-finding, survival techniques, and wilderness medical skills just to name a few. It requires a level of fitness that allows hikers to be fully independent and to be able to carry all the gear that they will need without requiring the services of porters. Hikers that are unprepared should simply not be allowed on the trails. The trails are currently overloaded with hikers who should not be there in the first place.

High customisability: One of the best things about independent travel is researching the location prior to the trip. This inevitably means that you will know far more about the area that is traveled through compared to someone who just goes in blindly expecting the guide to handle everything. You get full control over the planning of the route as well as developing contingency plans in situations such as inclement weather or medical emergencies. You also get to determine your own pace and can choose to stop if you need a moment of peaceful reflection. Who wouldn't want to enjoy nature on their own terms?

Before we go on, please jot down the numbers that are listed below. If you do see any suspicious behaviour when out hiking, encounter things like traps and snares, or even see protected animals or their parts that are sold as either collectibles, pets, or for (so-called) medicine, then please do not hesitate to contact the wildlife crime hotline. Be sure to try and document it as best you can with photos or video without putting yourself in danger, and take note of the details: descriptions of those who are involved, as well as when and where it took place.

"The Wildlife Crime Hotline, managed by the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT), provides YOU an avenue to report offences involving endangered wildlife in Malaysia. We protect the identity of all informants, only key info of the reports are forwarded to the authorities."

Wildlife Crime Hotline019 356 4194

Emergency Numbers
Kinabalu Park Counter 088-889095

Park Manager 019-862 0707 / 088-889888

Protection & Enforcement 019-956 0884 / 088-888627

Mountain Rescue 014-874 3000 / 019-802 4110

Wildlife Crime Hotline 019-356 4194

Difficulty Rating : 4.8 / 10.0 (Class 6 - Fairly Challenging)
*Click here to learn more about the difficulty rating.

**Please bear in mind that this rating is for those who do not employ the services of porters. A lighter load reduces the difficulty levels significantly and becomes more pronounced with high-altitude hikes. The rating for 'duration' has also been reduced from a six to a four as this hike does not require one to bring things like tents, sleeping bags, or food. As such, your backpack should be fairly light even if porters are not used.

Interactive Location Map

Continue on to the entries for each day by clicking on their respective sections on the map below (if the map does not work for any reason, you may also find the links at the top of this page).

Laban Rata

Elevation profile for the entire route

For those who also have a Suunto GPS device, the GPX file for each
segment can be found at the end of each day's entry. The entire
route can also be downloaded here (right click and save link as).

Next : Day 1 - Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata

Mountains of Malaysia

Malaysia Overview