If you’re around South-East Asia, you like nature, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, challenge, and you’re in good physical condition, then I do recommend that you go for climbing the 4000+ meters of Mt Kinabalu. Here is some very valuable advice from someone who’s done it in the worst possible conditions and learned from it for next time.
The ascent is done in 2 steps. You register the first morning at the base of the mount, already at about 1000 meters above sea level actually. After you’ve cleared the paperwork and got a guide, your first objective is to climb to the half-way guest house called “Leban Rata”. That’s DAY 1. Then you’ll go super-early the day after at 2 a.m. all the way up to the top to be there before sunrise (~ 5:45 ish).
First of all, book it much in advance. Not that the mount can’t carry the weight of numerous visitors but the number of dorms is the limiting factor.
I recommend that you check out the cheap flying dates AND the available dates for Mt Kinabalu before you order both.
WHEN TO GO & THE IMPACT OF RAIN
Outside the raining season DEFINITELY ! The dry season in Sabah is April/September, even then it’s not dry all the time. So don’t be a fool, go ONLY during that period.
IMPORTANT : If your objective in reaching the top is strictly to enjoy a marvelous sunrise as it was for me, do not finish the ascent if you’re guide asks you if you still wanna go because it’s (or going to be) rainy and foggy. It would be no fun at all. I insist, I know there’s a big time and money investment, but in my experience rain, wind and fog totally kill the fun part of doing this. So now I’d rather be wise, get on with it, and try my luck another time. Having a plan B in KK in case it’s rainy is probably a great idea too. This being said, if you’re there for pure challenge, well then go, you’ll have it all the more.
Getting to KK : Air Asia Airport, from SG : Air Asia, Tiger Airways, or Jetstar (Kuching)
Going from KK to the mountain : 15RM, KK bus interchange
Staying in KK : Book on hostelworld.com
Trick : On your way back, don’t wait like everyone for an official bus : There are mini-vans bringing people from the city every now and then. They’ll be happy to take people back for a small fee. Just walk outside a few minutes to reach the main road and catch one there.
BOOKING FOR Mt KINABALU
STEP 1 : Book a bed at the dorms + access to the mount
Call “Sutera Sanctuary Lodges”
COST : ~500 RM / pax (about 100 Euros total)
HOWEVER : Do take food and water for the first ascent because the sandwich they give you is really not filling.
Food at the guest house is unlimited, it’s not the best food I had but it’s still okay and filling.
STEP 2 : Book a Guide at Sabah Parks
You MUST have one, it’s obligatory.
It’s better to make a very large group since the guide is not very useful until Leban Rata, in practice there is no real group as in you’d have to stick together. So you can stick with your boyfriend or girlfriend or stay alone or with only your friends…
80RM to 100+ RM total per guide, depending on size of group (limited to ~10). It’s like a taxi, the more people the cheaper.
STEP 3 (optional) : Pay someone to carry your heavy stuff
The carriers are paid 3RM/Kg to climb food/gas to Leban Rata
For tourists : 5RM/KG
Time to go up
If you are young and in normal healthy condition : 5/6 hours to go from the base to Leban Rata, halfway to the top. Then 3/4 hours to go to the top from Leban Rata.
Count 4 to 6 to go down from the very top. I recommend taking as much time as you can while going down, i.e. resting, because that is the most straining part.
Optimising time, reducing pain
I experimented different ways to ascend and descend faster and with less pain:
In both cases chatting helps a lot to keep the mind busy, providing that you get good breathing.
While going up, I felt making much less effort by combining rapid bouts of climbing with frequent rests, rather that walking slowly all the way. It can be fun if you do that in a group, and it’s great workout.
While going down, I realised that it’s in fact MUCH less straining and painful to run down rather than walk down step by step or stair by stair is also, of course much faster. Do it only if you feel agile as you may hurt yourself seriously if you make a wrong step.
Random important info
Take as little weight as possible.
Take cashew nuts to play with squirrels.
Obligatorily a damn good head lamp. They will NOT lend you one, believe me. I took none and luckily our guide was the sweetest man on hearth and gave me his and walked in darkness cause he knows the place. Believe me, you won’t see ANYTHING if you don’t have one. and not much if it’s a bad-quality one. To avoid any of that frustration and say “Damn I should have…” then invest in very powerful one and make sure to have spare battery.
Ideally ankle-high hiking shoes because they reduce ankle pain, otherwise non-slippery sports shoes.
Ideally, some sort of equipment to clip yourself to the safety cord just in case you make a clumsy step.
Ideally, a hiking stick.
Keep in mind temperature badly drops as you go up, and if you’re unlucky like I’ve been you’ll have tons of rain too…in the dry season. So be ready to face that.
Something to fully cover your head and ears
Rain protection : This is VERY important, winds are strong and the rain and humidity if they occur will make it a very unpleasant time if you go without appropriate protection. Don’t buy those cheap 5$ disposable raincoats. Having had an awful time with rain there I would make sure I can cover 100% of my body with a good full-body 100% waterproof rain coat.
100% waterproof gloves
A warm winter jacket
1 pair of spare shoes + 2 spare outfits : in case you come back all wet and frozen.
AFTER Mt KINABALU
Sleep, good hydration and nutrition are very important at all times, and definitely will help your fast recovery.
Going down the hill will produce eccentric exercise on your legs (eccentric = when your muscles lengthen under weight, typically running downhill or going down stairs) and that is responsible for immense muscle soreness after the descent. I insist, immense soreness. So, for the week after your ascent, cancel any sport training or event that will require your body to function normally…maybe you’ll be too sore.
I did some research to cure that painful state so here’s the very best I found from that long and passionate research :
- IBUPROFENE is what will kill your pain. It’s an efficient antalgic that work better than anything with paracetamol (Panadol).
- Aspirin and Arnica increase blood flow therefore undo the soreness
- Massages help circulation
- Couldn’t find anything truely reliable about the effect of stretching on muscle soreness for this type of effort, not even in medical scientific journals.