Mount Kinabalu Climbing Guide 

Guide and Tips for Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Articles about Sabah Vacation


Climbing Mount Kinabalu which is the tallest mountain on the Borneo Island is one of the major attractions to tourist during their Sabah Vacation. At a height of 13,435 feet (4,095 meters) above sea level, this is also the tallest mountain in Malaysia. It is perhaps the tenth tallest mountain in Southeast Asia and the twentieth highest in Asia. This mountain gets its name from the Kadazan-Dusun words called "Aki Nabalu" which means "a place for the deceased souls". This mountain is regarded as a sacred place to the Kadazan-Dusun people as they believe that the spirits of their deceased ancestors dwell at the top of the mountain.

Mount Kinabalu is located in the Kinabalu National Park, which have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its abundance of flora and fauna. Many of these plants and animals are unique and endemic to this area only, such as the various species of carnivorous plant (or pitcher plant), wild orchid and many other species of birds and mammals. As such, when climbing the mountain, take your time to enjoy and observed the surrounding wildlife and the changes in the climate from the lowland dipterocarp forest, to the coniferous forest, to the alpine meadow plants and finally to the stunted bushes at the top due to the near freezing temperature.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu is often described as an "easy" thing to accomplish. This is because most of the climbing can be done without the aid of specific mountaineering equipment or climbing gear except when nearing the summit. "Easy" is however a relative term as climbers still needs to be in good physical health and condition to conquer the mountain. Climbers should not underestimate the challenge and difficulty in climbing up Mount Kinabalu as the climb is still physically challenging and depending on the weather condition it can sometimes be very dangerous especially during bad weather. For those who are physically very fit, climbing the mountain can be completed within a day as it is not a very high mountain.

However, for most climbers, climbing the mountain will normally be done in two days with the final ascent and descending done on the second day. Although you can climb to the mountain summit and down within one day, it is not advisable to do this as you need to be physically very fit and have some mountaineering experience to be able to do this. Another reason for a two-day climb is to give your body sufficient time to adapt to the high altitude condition. This is to prevent you from encountering altitude sickness or to minimize its severity. A two day climb will also give climber the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular sun rise view at the peak of the mountain.

For those who have decided to climb Mount Kinabalu, there are two different locations you can choose to start your climb. The first starting point is from the Timpohon Gate, which is also the preferred choice among climbers as this is an easier trail to hike or climb. The second starting point is from the Mesilau trail. Climbing from this point will present you with a tougher and more challenging trail. Both of these trails will bring climbers to Laban Rata. The time taken to reach Laban Rata is about 3-5 hours depending on the climber’s fitness level. At Laban Rata, which is about 10,730 feet or 3,270 m above sea level, climbers will take an early night rest in a rest house here before continue climbing to the peak in the early morning.

From Laban Rata, climbers will need to start the climb by about 2.30 am (or 0230 hrs) so that they can reach the summit before sunrise. The climb up to the peak is the most difficult and dangerous part of climbing Mount Kinabalu as climbers need to depend on ropes for the ascent or descent during certain stretches which have smooth and steep rock surfaces. The wind near the summit area is also quite strong, which added an additional risk to climbers. The peak, named Low's Peak can be reach before sunrise so that climbers will be able to enjoy the breathtaking sunrise view from the summit. Coming down from the mountain, however is very much easier and faster. Climbers will be able to reach their starting point (i.e. The Timpohon Gate) by mid-afternoon with a brief stop at Laban Rata for breakfast. For first time climbers, remember to get your souvenir certificate to certify that you have conquered Borneo tallest mountain when coming down.

For those who want more climbing adventures and thrills, a visit to Mount Kinabalu Via Ferrata which is also known as Mountain Torq Via Ferrata is a must. (Via Ferrata is an Italian word which means "iron road"). This is the first "Via Ferrata" in Asia and is also the world's highest iron bridge or road, with its highest point at 11,548 feet (3,520m) above sea level. This iron bridge or trail is made from iron rungs and rails, which is secure by cables and is bolted to the North side of Mount Kinabalu. These trails will give climbers the opportunity to walk or climb on the difficult and dangerous to reach but scenic areas of Mount Kinabalu which are normally only accessible by the more experienced rock climbers and mountaineers. Enjoy the thrill and view on Asia's first Via Ferrata with a few exciting routes to choose from depending on your time, climbing skills and experience. Other activities that are available here are sports climbing, alpine rock climbing, rappelling or abseiling and basic mountain experience.
Note: To enjoy this iron bridge during your climb, prior arrangement should be made so that you can visit it after your descent from the summit. For more information, contact the local travel agent or visit their website at

Finally, after coming down from the mountain, take some time to visit Poring Hot Spring which is about 24 miles (39km) from Mount Kinabalu. There are several open-air pool-like bath tubs and an indoor Jacuzzi for you to soak your body in the sulfur rich hot water to soothe your aching and tired muscles after the climb.

Some Tips and Guide When Climbing Mount Kinabalu during your Sabah, Borneo Vacation:

  1. Altitude sickness is a possibility here. Even though it is not the tallest mountain in Asia, it is still high enough where the air is quite thin especially when near the peak. Most climbers will experience some altitude sickness symptom such as elevated heart rate, breathlessness or dizziness when nearing the peak. The best way to deal with altitude sickness is to climb slowly and steadily so that your body can get used to the thin air as you climb higher. Although mild symptom can be relieved by taking paracetamol or aspirin with lots of water, those with a more serious cases will have no choice but to return back to the lower altitude especially if you feel nausea.

  2. Always remember that climbing a mountain is a dangerous sport and you should always think about your own safety. Climbing Mount Kinabalu during your Sabah, Borneo vacation can be dangerous especially when it is raining as the trail can get very slippery. The mountain top will often be shrouded by mist or fog which causes visibility to be very low and dangerous, as you might fall off a cliff. Always follow your guide instructions and do not stray from the main group and follow the marked path.

  3. The temperature when climbing the mountain can vary from a cool and comfortable 68-77°F (20-25°C) at the starting point to near freezing condition near the summit depending on the season and weather condition. Strong wind near the summit will also cause the coldness to "seep" into your clothing. To protect yourself from the extreme cold condition, it is important that you bring some warm clothing, gloves, hat, extra dry clothing, and windproof gear in a waterproof bag.

  4. Some of the climbing will be done very early in the morning when it is still dark. As such, bring a torch light or flashlight or better still a headlamp so that you don't need to hold it. This will helps to light up the white rope that marks out the climbing path. Remember also to bring a pair of gloves to protect your hands not only from the coldness but also from injury when pulling yourself up the ropes in certain path near the summit.

  5. If you intend to visit Mount Kinabalu Via Ferrata (or Mountain Torq Via Ferrata) for more climbing and mountain activities and adventures after the climb, you should make prior arrangement first so that you can go there during your descend from the mountain on the second day of hiking.

  6. Climbing Mount Kinabalu during your Sabah, Borneo Vacation is a strenuous exercise and will put a serious strain on your muscle and joints. To relieve the ache, bring some muscular ache relief cream along with you. Also to protect your knee and ankle from injury, use knee or ankle supports during the climb.

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