Kinabalu via Timpohon Day 2 - Low's Peak

Kinabalu Day 2 - Part 1 : The Ascent
Kinabalu Day 2 - Part 2 : The Summit
Kinabalu Day 2 - Part 3 : The Descent

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The Ascent

No matter how early one goes to bed, one can never get enough sleep in Laban Rata (elevation : 3272m). 'Supper', which is a simple and light meal of bread, rice or noodles, is served at 02:00, and the hike to the summit starts in darkness not too long after. I joined a long procession of hikers that were armed with headlamps and bundled in jackets, that made their way up the trail, all of them eager to make the 1.5 kilometres to 'Sayat Sayat Hut' (elevation : 3668m) before the 05:00 cut-off time. The trail was relatively narrow, with scarcely two being able to hike abreast. The slow trudging of the sleepy hikers caused bottlenecks to form, and all we could do was to watch our footing in the narrow cone that was created by the light from our headlamps, and to just shuffle on and fill each space that opened up right in front of us.

The foliage eventually gave way to barren rocks, and as I looked back, the long train of hikers and the light from their headlamps brought back memories of the Poon Hill hike that I had done earlier in the year. The stars were out and would have been brilliant if not for the blazing light from the full moon above us. The constellation Orion was almost at the zenith and the three stars that made up the Winter Triangle lay right next to it. One of those stars, the red supergiant Betelgeuse, is the ninth-brightest star in the sky, but would be the brightest if only we could perceive all the wavelengths of radiation. Lightning flashed in the distance over the town of Kundasang behind us, and those who noticed began to hope that the skies would remain clear... at least until sunrise.Summit push n the darkness

Summit push n the darkness

A thick white rope that was laid out on the rocky slopes eventually took the place of the stairwell. It disappeared into the inky darkness, yet we continued to follow it, with some hikers occasionally holding on to it for some extra support. The rope was also tied to strung-out anchor points which greatly assisted our ascent on the sections of the rock that were near vertical. The sea of clouds behind us could be seen due to the ambient light from the full moon, and the fact that we were relentlessly ascending gave me the impression that the clouds were 'settling' onto the ground beneath them.

Approximately 750 metres along, the trail veered to the left and we began to head west towards the dim lights of 'Sayat Sayat Hut' (elevation : 3668m) in the distance. The moon now lay right in front of us and it slowly crept towards the horizon as we made our way forward, and in my sleepy stupor, I began to entertain impossible notions of trying to 'beat it' to the summit.

The Sunrise

Despite the slow pace of the hiker train, we reached the Sayat Sayat checkpoint (elevation : 3668m) after an hour and a half of walking, which was well before the 05:00 cut-off. Our permits were checked once again here, and our names were ticked off from the list. The expansive granite plateau lay right in front of us, which would take an hour or two to cross depending on one's pace. After a while, the sky began to lighten and the inky darkness began to melt away, and the sharp shape of South Peak (elevation : 3921m), which was the same iconic peak that can be seen on the back of MYR1 & MYR100 notes, could be seen piercing the sky to our left; and the stubby towers of Donkey Ear's Peak (elevation : 4048m) could be seen on our right.

The trail began to veer right to head northwards instead, and as it did the pyramid-shape of Low's Peak (elevation : 4095m) made its appearance in the distance ahead of us. There was no rush whatsoever to reach the summit, and since the weather was absolutely perfect and it was not too cold, we took our sweet time to appreciate the breath-taking yet eerie moonscape that surrounded us. As the sun rose and its light fell upon the mountain, the bleak grey of the rocky tips of the peaks morphed into a golden yellow, and transformed them right in front of our very eyes.

The early morning sun

The early morning sun lighting up South Peak (elevation : 3921m) on the left and St. John's Peak (elevation : 4091m) on the right

The early morning sun

St. John's Peak (elevation : 4091m) on the left and Low's Peak (elevation : 4095m) on the right

Next : Part 2 - The Summit

The Summit

The sun had now risen and the entire plateau was now illuminated. Dark lines and strands of dykes and sills could be seen running through the granite below our feet--the last remnants of a time where magma still flowed through the fractures in these rocks--and the lit peaks cast reflections off the pools of water that were scattered around the plateau. Peering over towards the north revealed views of Low's Gully, which was a 1800m-deep chasm that is widely considered to be one of the least explored and most inhospitable places on earth. The 16-kilometre-long gully separates the mountain into two branches, or arms, that form the Eastern and Western Plateaus.

The early morning sun

The early morning sun

Peering down towards Low's Gully

The early morning sun

The early morning sun rising over Donkey Ear's Peak (elevation : 4048m) on the left;
South Peak (elevation : 3921m) is in the middle of the frame, and St. John's Peak (elevation : 4091m) is on the right

The stunted shapes of sporadic plants like mountain trachymenes (Trachymene saniculifolia) and rough-leaved rhododendrons (Rhododendron ericoides) could also be seen poking out of gaps in the boulders that were adjacent to the trail--the elevation having decreased their stature to diminutive shrubs.

alpine shrubs

Left: Mountain trachymene flowers (Trachymene saniculifolia) with St. John's Peak (elevation : 4091m) in the background;
Right: Rough-leaved rhododendron flowers (Rhododendron ericoides)

Eventually the trail veered right towards Low's Peak (elevation : 4095m), which was just a hundred metres or so away from there. As we approached the summit, it became a little crowded as hikers jostled around looking for a position next to the elevation marker in order to capture their 'peak-bagging' photos. A fence had also been erected around the summit in order to prevent fatal accidents on the crumbly sheer slopes just a few metres beyond.

This is the climax for most hikers, the culmination of all their efforts--something that they have 'conquered'--and is where most people feel as if there is just nothing left to do but to begin the long descent back down. Others, who do not chase peaks but rather seek out the wilderness because of their love for nature, do not necessarily see this point as a 'conquest' in their journey, but rather another place to cherish on the great tapestry that is nature.

Panorama from the summit

Panorama from the summit, facing east

Next : Part 3 - The Descent

The Descent

We spent so much time on the summit and the upper plateau that we were one of the last groups to begin our descent. The views during the descent were quite interesting as it was the first time we were seeing them, having previously gone through that same section in the pitch darkness. It took us 1.5 hours to descend back down to 'Sayat Sayat Hut' (elevation : 3668m) since we were taking our time. We made sure to sign out here as doing so entitled us to the coloured Mount Kinabalu climbing certificate (which we would later have to purchase at the Kinabalu Park at the exorbitant price of MYR10). The black and white alternative however, is normally reserved for those who do not reach the summit.

The Descent

The Descent

It took us an hour or so to descend to Laban Rata (elevation : 3272m), where we had a quick breakfast before we repacked our bags and checked out of the rooms. We didn't depart immediately however, but instead sat around a table in the dining hall for a long rest of about an hour or so. Once everyone was ready, we tightened our shoes and adjusted the straps of our backpacks, before beginning the six-kilometre hike back down to Kinabalu Park.

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Download file: Mount Kinabalu Timpohon - Day 2.gpx

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