Gunung Kinabalu

This mountain is on of the highest in south east Asia with its 4095m. If you are looking for a challenge with technical difficulty, this is not the climb for you. The path up to the summit is very easy and clear. The only difficulty comes in the form of altitude meters. A walk in the park for any experienced mountaineer. Despite the easy to follow trail and low technical difficulty you are required to hire a guide to be able to pass the gates at the beginning of the trail. The climb might set you back between 400 and 1800 Ringgit depending who you ask, how much time you have and how flexible you are. This includes the entrance permit to the park, the guide, one night in Laban Rata, the resting point, and 3 meals. Sometimes it also includes extra nights in a hotel outside of the park.

If you want to climb the mountain last minute without a booking in advance go to the Jungle Jack hostel, just outside the entrance of the park in the direction of Kota Kinabalu. Uncle Jack will probably get you a spot in the next few days. If you want to book in advance it is better to go to an other company.

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Climbing together

My two day climb started around 9am. Our climbing group consisting of Alan, my fellow volunteer at Jungle Jack and Mian, a girl from KL on holiday. Uncle Jack drove us to the park where we met our guide, Rino, and had to sign a paper stating that the national park is not responsible in case of an accident or natural disaster and that you know the risks. We where joined by Logan, a Canadian guy who was wondering around the office, asking people if there was a spot in their climbing group. Of course Uncle Jack jumped on the opportunity to get another last minute climber on the mountain. Later, on the way up we where joined by Shai from Australia who was climbing alone with his guide because his sister had fallen sick. This was our little group of crazies for the climb.

When everything was settled we got back in the van and drove to the second gate that separates the route to the mountaintop from the rest of the National park. An other signature and we could begin with our ascend which actually starts with a descend.

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Every day about 75 climbers start the hike to the base camp, this means that there are 150 people on the trail every day. This heavy foot traffic is obvious when you look at the deeply hollowed out trail. On the steep parts steps are installed for your convenience. We started out as one of the last groups.

I was ready to climb this mountain and did not have a lot off patience with the slower members off my group. I chose my natural pace and started walking without stopping until lunch. By the halfway point I had passed most climbers that had started that morning and was trailing the porters with their heavy loads. One of them told me that he walks up this mountain with a load of about 25 kg to 40 kg five days a week. They tie whatever they have to carry up on a piece of plywood strapped to there back. Many of them where carrying boxes and bags with food and building materials, some carried luggage of people (beats me why you need a giant backpack for two days and one night). One of the porters I saw on my way down was bringing up a giant ladder.

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Porters of Gunung Kinabalu

Around 11 o’clock I found myself a big rock with a view, sat down and ate my packed lunch. In Jungle Jack wonderful Bibi and Anna make sure there is freshly baked bread every day. I also had two hard boiled eggs to snack on. Hungry I was not going to be. After lunch I started the last part of the climb to Laban Rata, the place where everyone stays for the night before climbing to the peak. I arrived a little bit after 12. The place was very empty as almost all the climbers where either still walking up or already had started their descend.

The view from this “base camp” as I like to call it, is stunning. Luckely we had a clear two days for our climb. Laban Rata is at an altitude of 3272m so you are above the tropical clouds covering the rain forest in the surroundings.

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Slowly people started to arrive and we got settled in our hostel room, a dorm with at least 24 beds, maybe more. Crowded but comfortable. Dinner in Laban Rata was not bad either, a buffet with an array of Asian and Western dishes. After we filled our empty bellies we enjoyed the beautiful sunset. This sunset alone is enough to justify the climb up.

When it was completely dark we went back for some banter in the dining room before going to bed early. Our climb the next day would be starting at 2:30 am.

We where suddenly awakened by the guides at 1:30 am, time to get ready to see the summit but first a hearty breakfast buffet which included a whole lot of weak coffee for me. We decided to leave as one of the last groups at around 2:45. In the pitch black and with all our warm clothes on we left for the three hour trek. For me this started out with passing almost everyone again. It is just so much less enjoyable you can not walk in your own pace and have to stop every few minutes because the path is just so full of people. Soon I got ahead of the big mass and could enjoy the quiet and rugged nature of the mountain. The moon was shining so bright there was no real need for a torch. Below I could see the line of flickering lights of the other people climbing up. Again all the more technical difficult parts of the trek were bridged by steps. More to the top there were ropes to guide you up the steeper parts, no chance of getting lost. I crossed big slaps of volcanic rock with the outline of the iconic Donkey Ears against the light of the moon. With the earthquake last year one of them has sadly broken of.

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On the last part Alan caught up with me and we reached the peak together to find only a British guy and his guide who had gotten there as the first ones of the day. It was only 4:45 am and the air around us was still pitch black and damned cold. The exhilaration of reaching the highest point in many miles around and the beautiful quietness of the mountain made this into a very special moment. We had the chance to take our time at the tiny highest point of Low’s Peak before the masses came and the guides would rush every one to take a picture and then move on for the next people.

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As our muscles cooled down we hid between the rocks waiting for sunrise. Slowly more and more people filled the slightly less windy gaps, trying to keep warm. After about an hour and a half we were rewarded with the first warming sun rays crawling over the horizon. Our surroundings became clearer and clearer and revealed a stunning view. Not at all a bad way to start your day.

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We started heading down as some people were still walking up but we needed to get our blood streaming again after a very cold two hours near the summit. Our now lit path looked so different from when we walked it in the dark, you don’t feel like you are taking the same route down as you are met with stunning views around every corner. It took us about two hours getting back to Laban Rata, taking our time and enjoying the magnificent nature around us. Back in base camp we indulged on the second breakfast buffet of the day. Then we set out for the last part of our journey, the way back to the gate. Walking down is always hard on the knees but the views made up for that. After 3 hours of descending I arrived back in Jungle Jack and so his climb had come to an end.

Many operators will throw in a visit to the Poring Hotsprings and the Rafflesia flower, the entrance is free if you can show your climbing pass of that day.

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