Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu has been on my bucket list for years and I decided that 2013 was the year to make it happen.
Located in Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, the mountain is roughly a two hour drive from tourist friendly Kota Kinabalu. At 4095m, the mighty granite peak is one of the highest in South East Asia and also one of the most accessible peaks of this altitude. It can be summited without specialist climbing gear or the snow you’ll experience in Nepal. Anyone with good fitness can take on this mountain but prepare to be challenged mentally and physically. An 8.7km hike from Timpohon Gate to the summit sounds easy, but climbing more than 2200m in altitude on a steep incline is definitely a challenge.
We set off along a rocky path that quickly climbs through the forest. My husband is a green thumb so we spend time searching out orchids, “pitcher” plants, honey flowers, and wild raspberries (a little tart for my tastebuds). Our English-speaking guide Sai shares stories about his village and life as a mountain guide.
The track is steep, rough and uneven so we have one eye on our feet and one on the landscape. Although the mountain air is cooler than in Kota Kinabalu, it’s still hot work. Regular shelters along the track are rest stops for a well earned drink and a chance to watch tiny mountain squirrels scavenge for crumbs.
The pace is slow but altitude sickness starts to kick in about 200m below Laban Rata, our stop for the night. I’ve been at altitude before but starting from sea level has increased the risk of getting ill – many people spend a night in the National Park acclimatising.
We arrive at our hut and find our cosy dorm, without heating or hot water, but aspirin, water, warmer clothes and a nap are all I need. The buffet and local food is a feast after a big day, and tastes better than expected given everything is walked in by porters. After a spectacular sunset, it’s bed and lights out by 7pm.