It’s the most famous mountain in Southeast Asia. It is at an entry level to a hiker’s first 4000m, plus as an added bonus, the promise of a glorious sunrise at the summit. Standing at an imposing 4095m on the Crocker Ranger of Sabah, East Malaysia, whether the mountain intimidates or calls you on gently, Aki Nabalu remains one of the top climbing locations for hikers in this region and around the world.
Having first climbed the mountain in 2013 – the memories of coming down the mountain with cramps still makes me shudder – I did not entertain any thoughts of returning to climb Mt Kinabalu until a Facebook conversation with a local Sabahan climber. We spoke about the plight of the local mountain guides who were the unsung heroes of the 2015 June earthquake and I was inspired.
I decided to take on the mighty mountain once again.
My intentions of this article are to help, in my bit part anyway, to restore the confidence of hikers who are still unsure about climbing the mountain after the 2015 earthquake while sharing info about using the new route to the summit. Being able to help the local guides in meeting their livelihood is simply an added perk of the adventure.
You can of course, climb the mountain by engaging a tour agency (just Google) where they will take care of your itinerary… or you can follow my step-by-step guide where you can self-arrange your trip at fraction of the price.
1. Find a climb date with a cheap air rates – but don’t book first!
Check your calendar and write down a few probable dates you can make the trip and then compare these dates with the price that the airlines are offering. Look for dates well in advance of your actual trip if you can. I was lucky enough to be able to book for my January climb in Dec for $90 with a return flight through AirAsia. If you are just looking to conquer the summit with no intentions of visiting other parts of Sabah, then a 4D/3N date will suffice so you can overlap it through the weekend to save on your leave.
2. Check if the daily limits for climb permits has been filled.
Since the summit trail is reopened to the public as of Dec 2015 after a 6 month restoration of the facilities and construction of a new route due to the earthquake damage, daily permits have been limited to 100 climbers – down from 200 previously.
Book through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (SSL), the management company of accommodation, including the Laban Rata rest house, in Mt Kinabalu Park. Their website currently shows “Under Construction” and I was told that they do not accept online booking. I have read that some had success booking with them thru email. Here is their contact info:
Tel: +6088 487466 Fax: +6088487566
Address: B-9-G Siganture Office, KK Times Square, 88100 Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Business Hours: 9am-6pm (Mon-Fri), 9am-4pm (Sat), close on Sun & Public Holiday
I did my booking through my local Sabahan friend who went down to the office and confirmed my spot immediately. The process is pretty straightforward without much hassle: no emails and no waiting. If you’d like to have such arrangement made through a trustworthy local, do feel free to PM me through TravelledPaths’ Facebook page and I will be glad to make the connection on your behalf – though I am not liable for anything beyond the introduction! Book at least a month in advance for a better chance of securing the permits.
3. Book Your Air Tickets and Hotel
Got your climbing permit and accommodation sorted out? Now it’s time to go ahead and book your tickets! At the same time, book your hotel stay in Kota Kinabalu town for Day 1 and the Day after the climb.
I chose to book my hotel room at Dreamtel, a budget hotel in town, and it turned out to be a great decision due to its strategic location. It is just minutes of walking distance to the famous food street and carnival centre at Gaya Street.
Another plus point is that the bus terminal, which provides shuttle service to the airport as well as Kinabalu Park, is situated right in front of the hotel. Think less travelling and more sleep time!
Price: Standard deluxe twin sharing $50. There are also cheaper options.
4. Check into hotel / Explore
Check out Gaya Street for some nice local food and last minute shopping of rations- chocolate and biscuits. Most shops close here by 9pm, but there is a 7-11 convenience store situated just right below the hotel should you decide not to walk the distance.
5. Final check and Let’s Go!
Have your breakfast in the buffet style spread at the hotel. The food is reasonable for the price you are paying. Check out their local tea and coffee which I personally think it more aromatic than the Nescafe coffee served.
Not bad by budget hotel standards!
Check out of your hotel. Dreamtel offers complimentary baggage deposit servicewhere you can leave your items not required for the trip with them – at no cost. Step out to the driveway where you will find bus kiosks offering transport services to various locations in Sabah. Look out for the one that says K. Kinabalu – Kinabalu Park – Ranau.
The shuttle van service is first-come/first-served and the van will not depart until the full capacity of 12 -15 passengers is met. The fare for each person is 20RM each way. The journey takes approximately 1.5hrs and it will bring you directly to the Kinabalu Park entrance.
Once there, you will complete your registration for your stay at Laban Rata with the SSL office and pay for your permit and insurance. It is compulsory to have your passport or ID present when performing these transactions. Please also note that only cash is acceptable here as there is no credit card facility.
A packed lunch box with biscuits, banana, 1 hard boiled egg, and a bottle of water will be issued to you.
Please refer to the table for the new climbing rates effective 1st January 2016. You can also download a copy of the full breakdown here.
It is also compulsory to hire a mountain guide on the Timpohon – Peak – Timpohon route. The amount payable is 230RM for 1 mountain guide, although you can share this cost with 4 other adult climbers. Keep a look out other solo travellers so you all can share the cost.
Porter service is also available. I was quite determined to train and hike up with my 12 kg load, at least up to Laban Rata rest house at 3270m where climbers will usually stay for a few hours before waking up at 2am to approach the summit trail to view the sunrise at the top.
All set? Not quite ready yet!
There is still a 7km distance from the park entrance to the Timpohon Gate trail head. Want to take a warm up hike on the smooth tarmac? Be my guest. We opted to take the transportation service which cost 17RM each way. Wise I would say.
Once you are at Timpohon gate, show your name tag that was issued to you during registration and you are all set to go!
The Climb (A Pictorial Journey)Group pic near Timpohon Gate (Trail head ) Markers set at every 500m mark to cheer you on (or discourage – glass half empty or half full). The distance to Laban Rata is 6km. Rest huts at every 1km mark where you can freshen yourself at the toilet with water and at the same time, discover more about the history and pick up additional knowledge geographical, flora, and fauna facts about the park. For most of the journey, you will be hiking under the cool of the jungle shade. You will see more open views upon getting past the 4km mark. Reaching Laban Rata (3270m) where you get to have your meals. Enjoy the sea of clouds view and interact with other climbers. Take a walk around the surrounding area and you’ll find some observances put up after the earthquake. You can even visit the old trail where you can see the damage caused by the disaster near Gunting Lagadan hut. You must be accompanied by a park ranger for this. My guide Din told me when the trail was closed after the earthquake, each mountain guide was given 6000RM as assistance. This came from the government, as well as various donation parties. Before the earthquake, he was leading guests 2 -3 times a week up Mt. Kinabalu. Since the re-opening of the trail in Dec, we were his third guests. A moment to ponder over the scenes I just saw and the words Din told me, in the company of a beautiful sunset from Laban Rata. A new trail called the Ranau Trail has been put in place by Sabah Parks since the Timpohon trail was reopened, the Mesilau Trail remains closed. The new trail is approximately 100m longer than the old trail and more physically demanding. There are well defined secure wooden plank steps that take climbers from Laban Rata up to Sayat Sayat hut, before connecting to the summit trail to Low’s Peak at 4095m. The views are more picturesque, but you wont be able to see it until you are on your way down from the summit. The sunrise at the top of Borneo never fails to impress the climbers who made it to the top,
making all the hardwork, tears, and sweat all worthwhile.#noteverest Carrying a note of well wishes from our reader @vijay1008uk,
we hope to pass on positive vibes from the top of Mt Kinabalu unto the rest of Sabah. Donkey Ears no more Looking up at Tengku Abdul Rahman Peak
Changes happen all of the time for each of us. Sometimes we like to say things like, “When one door closes, another door will open.” It is always difficult to come to the end of a familiar journey, yet there is always excitement that can be found about the new adventure that is yet to come.
Climbing Mt. Kinabalu is something that just a few months ago I would have probably laughed at. I would have told a somewhat funny story about my experiences in 2013 and then we would have likely commiserated about the earthquake and the damage it caused. That would have been the extent of any conversation about this mountain.
Yet as I reflect back on the experience, Mt. Kinabalu has opened a majestic door after it closed one that so many travellers enjoyed. Maybe we can’t change the entire world by ourselves, but collectively we can all make positive decisions, offer assistance when needed, or simply have the courage to embark on an untravelled path to see what may be waiting at journey’s end.
Every footstep we take is an opportunity. Whether we climb mountains, explore valleys, or just take the nature trail that is down the street from our home, we have a chance to embrace Mother Nature in our own unique way.
If Mt. Kinabalu is calling you, then trust me: heed that call. It will have a profound impact on what doors you choose to open in the future.
There is no better time to return to Mt Kinabalu than now before more visitors start coming back. With careful planning, you can even plan for your trip without the frills. Here’s a breakdown of my total cost (all quoted in SGD)
Air tickets SG – KK – SG: $90
Hotel at Dreamtel (for Day 1 arrival and Day of descend): $55 per person (twin sharing)
Entrance Fee: $5
Climbing Permit and insurance: $70
Mountain Guide fee: $15 per person (to be shared among 5)
Laban Rata Rest House: $266
All transportation: $30
Not inclusive: Meals in Kota Kinabalu and guide tip – remember to give a good one… these heroes truly deserve it!
Climb Highlights (On Youtube)
Our other stories on Mount Kinabalu
1. I climbed a mountain called Kinabalu (Sabah, Malaysia)
2. Jennifer Zhang – The Girl Next Door meets Mount Kinabalu
3. Grace Tan – Me, an adventurous girl?