Climbing Mt Kinabalu (on a budget)

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If you’re heading to Borneo, then climbing Mt Kinabalu is a must! You don’t need to be a skilled hiker or mountaineer to achieve this climb – just determined, equipped and ready for an adventure.

Booking the climb

You can book the climb through tour agencies, but the cheapest way to secure a spot is actually to book directly through the park and accommodation service itself. If you opt for this, you will need to do the following things:

  • Contact Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, to reserve a bed for one night. You will need to spend the night at Laban Rata. They provide you with a packed lunch, dinner, pre-summit snack, post-summit breakfast and lunch at the bottom (RM 540.00).
  • Purchase a climbing permit + insurance. This can also be done through Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, when you book your overnight stay (RM 107.00).
  • Pay an entrance fee to get into the park. This can be done on arrival. You will need to pay for two days (RM 15.00).
  • Pick up and pay for a guide. This is compulsory, and can be done at the base of the mountain, before you start. You don’t need to organise this in advance (roughly RM 50.00 each, depending on how many you are in a group. A guide to yourself costs RM 143.00).

Total cost: RM 712.00 (other agencies will charge up to RM 2,000.00, excluding guide fees).

What to bring

Hiking boots are ideal, but if you are like me and don’t want to carry heavy boots with you because you aren’t planning to do all that many hikes, then don’t worry. I actually did the climb in regular trainers, because the track is clear and well formed, and not too slippery. Just be careful if this is the case though. The other inexpensive option is to grab a pair of “kampung Adidas”, which are basically like studded trainers made entirely out of plastic, a favourite amongst locals who regularly climb the mountain!

Bring loads of warm clothes, because it can be ice cold at the summit before the sun comes up. Extra snacks for the road also go down well. Take a camera, of course! There are showers there to use, but I would advise against bringing a towel and excessive toiletries, because you want your backpack to be as light as possible. And everyone stinks, you won’t be the odd one out. Bring a torch (or even better, a head torch), otherwise summiting before sunrise is an impossible task. Also recommended is a waterproof jacket, first aid supplies, a large drink bottle, spare socks and sunscreen.

DSCN0616 (1)Day 1

Arrive nice and early at the park, where you will pay your park entrance fee, and deposit your backpack or suitcase at the base. Here you can arrange for a guide to accompany you to the top. As a solo traveler, I didn’t want to have a guide completely to myself, so I kept my eyes peeled for other (solo) travelers to share a guide with. A lovely young couple actually approached me first, so we split the guide fee and did hike together. They were the loveliest people, we had a similar pace, and it was great to have other companions to share the adventure with!

When you’re all ready to go, you’ll want to grab a taxi to take you to the start of the hike. This only requires a small fee, and will save you a lot of time and energy. You will then have to present your climbing permit at the base, and off you go!

The hike up on the first day is hard work – although the distance isn’t too long, it’s a steep climb. Take your time though, there’s no need to race up to the top. Once you’re there, there’s not a lot to do anyway. After a buffet dinner and watching the sunset, I headed to bed pretty early to get some rest before our 2am wake up to make the final ascent.

DSCN0624 (1)Day 2

After tossing and turning all night (well, half a night), 2am came around way too fast for me! The excitement of making the ascent gives you enough energy to get up and going though. After a quick supper, the climb continues with your guide. This is where the head torch or torch comes in extremely useful. The climb gets a lot steeper, but there are ropes in place for assistance where needed.

Like the previous day, don’t race up to the summit, because it’s an unenjoyably freezing cold wait up the top for the sun to rise. Your guide will make sure you get there in time, so don’t panic. We made the mistake of going up too fast, and it was freeeezing!

It becomes clear pretty quickly that all that energy was worth it however when the sun starts to rise! This is honestly one of the most spectacular views that I’ve ever encountered – sitting above the clouds, with the green forest peeking through from below. Soo worth it!

The descent is nice and cruisey, but try and stay focused on the path. If you loose concentration, accidents can happen. Making it down to the bottom is a relief, and the lunch provided at the end is such a nice reward! My tour group and I treated our selves to a (seriously painful) Malaysian massage back in Kota Kinabalu afterwards, and a nice meal. After that, you will sleep like a stone, I swear!

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