Mount Kinabalu is situated in the East Malaysia state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, and is the highest peak (4,095m) in Sabah’s Crocker Range. The mountain is sacred to locals. They consider that spirits of their ancestors inhabit the top of the mountain. Many of the mountain‘s early explorers reported that their Kadazandusun guides performed religious ceremonies upon reaching the summit.
For this reason, utmost respect is demanded and climbers must refrain from screaming, shouting, or cursing at it. Public nudity is not only regarded as highly provocative on the mountain, but it is also an offence in Malaysia and will result in arrest.
Mt. Kinabalu is known to be one of the most accessible mountains in the world. No expert mountain climbing skills are required to ascend it. Anyone with an adequate level of fitness and the willpower to push through discomfort and fatigue (and possible adverse weather conditions) can climb to the summit of the mountain.
The majority of the climbers take 2 days to the peak. The eight-kilometre climb generally starts from the Timpohon Gate near park center base (1800m), with an overnight stay at one of the guest houses at Laban Rata (3,273m).
The final attack on the peak takes place in the early hours of the second day (most start to climb at 2:30AM) in order to catch the sunrise at the top. By mid-morning the mist begins to roll in, obscuring the breath-taking views.
For the more adventurous and physically and mentally fit, there is also an option to climb to the top of the mountain and down in one day.
How to get to Mount Kinabalu
Most tourists to the mountain arrive on private buses with tour groups, but there are a few public bus routes that travel from the bus station at Kota Kinabalu to the island’s east coast.
Self-drive is another option with car hire readily available at Kota Kinabalu airport. Driving is an easy option for those accustomed to driving on the left-hand side and gives the possibility to stop for pictures on the route.
For the more adventurous travellers, the trip can be done on a hired motorbike. Bear in mind that there will be no petrol stations on the mountain road (the final 40 or so km of the trip), and you should ensure you have enough fuel for the journey to the mountain and back.
Flora and fauna
The mountain and its surroundings are among the most valuable biological sites in the world, with 326 species of birds, between 5,000 and 6,000 species of plants, and more than 100 mammalian species identified. The plants in this area have high levels of endemism (species which are restricted to a specific geographic region and are not found anywhere else in the world).
Mount Kinabalu’s amazing biodiversity in plant life is due to a combination of several unique factors:
- the fact that the mountain covers an extensive climatic range from near sea level to freezing ground conditions near the summit;
- the jagged terrain and diversity of soils and rocks;
- the high levels of rainfall (averaging about 2,700 millimetres in a year at park HQ);
- its setting in one of the richest plant regions of the world (the tropical biogeographical region known as western Malaysia, which comprises the Malay Peninsula, the island of Sumatra, and the island of Borneo);
- the climatic instability caused by times of glaciation and catastrophic droughts which result in evolution and speciation.
The climate experienced in Kinabalu Park and at Mount Kinabalu depends on the altitude you are at. In the lower reaches, the climate is mostly tropical, marked by afternoon showers. Temperatures at the summit can go to freezing.
The Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon is held annually with the 23 km trail running from Kinabalu Park to Layang Layang, and some advanced runners complete this route in under 2 hours and 40 minutes.
The first European to climb Mt. Kinabalu was Sir Hugh Low, who made the ascent from Tuaran in 1851.
You can also visit a small one-room museum with interpretive displays and signs, which is worth a look to read about the flora and fauna of Mt. Kinabalu Park as well as the other Parks in Sabah.
All visitors must stay in approved lodgings within the park and at Laban Rata. No camping is allowed on the mountain.
When booking, make sure you clarify whether the park entrance fee (RM15), climbing insurance (RM7), climbing permit (RM100), and mountain guide (RM150) are included in your package or whether they’ll be payable at the park on arrival, as these costs are mandatory.
Due to the fact that Mt. Kinabalu is a popular destination, visitors who wish to climb it are advised to make reservations 6 months in advance. The number of climbers is limited to 135pax daily.