This month I had the opportunity to visit Borneo, the third largest island in the world. It is divided into three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Along with Annie, Alexis, Paul, Richard and Blue, I made my way around the Malaysian state Sabah, located on the northern portion of the island. We spent a little less than 2 weeks on the island, but we were able to climb the highest mountain in SE Asia, see a plethora of wildlife in its natural habitat along the Kinabatangan River, visit Orangutan and Proboscis Monkey Sanctuaries, go white water rafting, camp in the jungle and relax on a beach off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. This entry is dedicated to the hike up Mt.Kinabalu, but there is much more to share about Borneo so more entries will hopefully be on the way in a timely fashion!
So Mount Kinabalu. This is what I knew about it before we started the 2 day 1 night hike. It’s the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, it’s the 20th highest mountain in the world, the summit reaches 4,095 meters, anyone in decent physical condition can climb, it gets cold at the top, some people get altitude sickness. I also knew that maybe five years ago the hike would be no big deal, but now I am older and out of shape so I was a bit worried. However, I wasn’t worried enough to get my butt into gear and train for the hike like I should have. In proper procrastination mode, I waited until the week before vacation to start going to the gym where I walked with the tredmill on an incline for an hour a day. Unless you are in decent shape, that is not enough. It’s enough to get you up the mountain, but not without your fair share of pain and turmoil.
But let’s start at the beginning. Day 1. We spent the night before at an adorable hostel down the road from Kinabalu National Park, so all we had to do was roll out of bed at 6:30am and walk ten minutes to the Park Headquarters. By the time we found our guide, sorted out paperwork, collected our lunches, and arrived at Timpohon Gate (the start of the hike), it was about 9am. I was extremely nervous all morning, but it did calm my nerves to see a rather large group of 60+ year old Asian tourists also doing the hike. When we got to Timpohon Gate our guide, Azuwan, informed us of the route we’d be following. The first day we’d climb about 6km and then spend the night at Laban Rata Guesthouse located at 3,270 meters. We’d then wake up at 2am the next morning and finish the last 2.6km in order to make it to the summit by sunrise. I knew I would be the slowest one in my group, so I planned to go at my own pace and I would eventually make it to the top.
The first day was basically what I expected. 6km is not far, but I’d say about 75-80% of it is climbing up stairs so unless you are in good shape, it’s no walk in the park. Even after the first 2km I could feel my legs burning, and my cardio is pretty weak so I needed to rest every couple hundred meters to catch my breath. But I made it to the rest stop by about 1:30pm, which is making pretty decent time. We rested during the afternoon and then around 5pm went to the dining hall at Laban Rata to restore our energy with an all you can eat dinner buffet. After a couple plates of food and a few games of cards, we retired to our room and were in bed with lights out by about 7:30pm. Even though I was exhausted, I found it really hard to sleep and spent most of the night tossing and turning. By the time I actually fell asleep, our alarm clock was going off and it was time to finish the hike. While I had a pretty good idea of what day 1 was going to be like, I had no clue what was in store for the last 2.6 km.
It was a pretty strange sensation waking up that early and heading to the dining hall with a couple hundred other people who are also half asleep and bundled up in coats, hats, scarves and gloves. After a couple slices of toast we headed off for the final part of the hike. There are no lights along the path so you absolutely need your own flashlight to see where you are going. It’s also so dark that it’s impossible to see where the path is taking you. All you can see is the light from the people ahead of you and the light from the people behind you. The last 2.6km were definitely the hardest part of the hike for me. I was tired, my legs were already sore, altitude sickness started to kick in and it was really cold. Technically, it’s also the most difficult part of the hike because there are several parts where it’s so steep that you needed to hoist yourself up with a rope. Luckily, Blue stayed back with me and was there encouraging me to keep going even though every part of my body wanted me to stop and turn around.
In hindsight, me being so slow was actually kind of a good thing. We started hiking at 2:30am and made it to the summit at 6:30am, just as the sun was rising. It’s fortunate we didn’t get there much sooner because once you reach the top you just have to wait for the sun to rise and once you stop moving it gets real cold real fast. Blue and I met Paul, Annie and Alexis at the summit to snap a few photos and then immediately headed back down the mountain because we were freezing. Walking down those 2.6km was probably the best part of the hike. On our way up we weren’t able to see anything around us so it was really amazing to see everything come into view on our way down. The views were truly spectacular and made all of the pain going up the mountain totally worth it.
We reached Laban Rata again at around 8:30am and filled up on a breakfast buffet before making our final descent. Cardio wise, going down was no big deal. But my legs were already aching from the day before and walking down stairs puts a lot more pressure on your legs than walking up does. However, even with sore legs and weak knees, walking down proved to be infinitely times easier for me than going up. It’s crazy to think that porters and guides hike the mountain every single day. I don’t know how they do it!
For the next few days it was extremely difficult for all of us to walk up and down stairs, but that is no reason to not hike Mt.Kinabalu. If you are thinking of visiting Borneo and hiking the mountain, feel free to ask me any questions. Anyone traveling around Borneo should make an effort to do it! Maybe these pictures will make you want to!
Mt.Kinabalu Summit Trail
Stairs, stairs and more stairs to climb.
Laban Rata Guesthouse
Sunrise at the summit of Mt.Kinabalu - amazing!
Blue and I at the summit
View of Sabah from the top of the mountain.
View of the summit from the last checkpoint - about 1.6 meters away from the top.
Rapelling down the mountain. These parts were actually super dangerous and I can't believe we did all of it in pitch black on the way up!
Finished! Picture with our (my) guide, Azuwan.