It’s funny how one adventure changed from “I’ve never thought of doing it” to “I would love to do it again”. That is how amazing hiking Mount Kinabalu is. Not just Mount Kinabalu, but now I wish to hike other mountains to be on top with the historical places like Machu Picchu. But let’s start with Mount Kinabalu.
Mount Kinabalu is located in Sabah, Malaysia. The tallest mountain in Malaysia which stands around 4095 meters above the sea level. It’s pretty amazing and pretty easy compared to many famous trails like Kilimanjaro or Machu Picchu.
Commonly, people will just go online and search for the agents that provide you with everything you need starting from Kota Kinabalu (nearest city with airport). But it’s generally more expensive, but if money is not an issue for you, it’s totally recommended as it provides everything you need. But if you’d prefer to do it on budget, read on.
It’s always recommended that you book early, but it’s ok if you like a little challenge and book it on the same day you want to hike. There is always the story about people cancelling their booking last minute, but it’s better be safe than sorry. I was one of the lucky ones to get a booking on the same day I want to hike, but again, better book early.
The one most important thing you need before hiking is an accommodation in Laban Rata. Sutera Sanctuary Lodge is one of the best options which provide both accommodation and food for the whole journey. If you are lucky, you might get the accommodation with 5 meals (4 of them are buffet) for only Rm. 250. Send them an email and they will give you a quote. It’s always recommended that you book early on to avoid any disappointment.
If you didn’t get the one from Sutera Sanctuary Lodge, don’t worry, yo have other options. You can go to the park directly and book for a bed from there. The Park reception usually have a range of accommodation as low as RM 100 per night. But it was just for the bed, you would need to buy your food package from Sutera Sanctuary Lodge (which also has an office in the park entrance)
Before the Hike Day
I would recommend you to stay near the Park entrance before the hike day instead of Kota Kinabalu. There are a couple of rest houses around with great view and cool weather. So, pack up your stuff one day before the hike and take a bus from KK to Kundasang/Renau. You can get the bus from Merdeka Station that cost you around RM 15-20. Remember to tell them to stop you at Kinabalu Park.
Items you should bring
– warm clothes, but not too many because you need to travel light. Also dry clothes for changing because you will sweat a lot. And being cold in a sweaty clothes is not good.
– Lots of water. Water is scarce and expensive up there, especially during the dry season.
– Hats, mask, gloves, socks.
– Walking stick (good to have)
– Snacks that packs lots of good calories.
– Good pair of hiking shoes, ones that are not slippery when wet.
– Sandals (good to have) when coming back down.
– Long pants.
– Few layers of jackets.
– Torch light.
Checking in for the hike
As I’ve mentioned before, the single most important thing you need is the accommodation in Laban Rata. Once you’ve secure your bed/room, you are all set for the hike. So, book your bed early and be worry free. But if you didn’t have your booking prior entering the park, now is the time for you to pray hard and cross your fingers.
If you already have a booking, enter the park and start checking in, If you book from Sutera Sanctuary Lodge, they have a reception office just right after the main gate. Remember that entrance fee to the park is RM 3 for Malaysian and cost you RM 15 if you’re non-Malaysian.
If you don’t have a booking, head straight to the main reception area, ask around on where to book for a room in Laban Rata and you will be fine. If they say they have some, you’re good to go.
Remember to bring a lot of cash. ATM or Credit Card machines are rare up there.
Once accommodation is done, make sure you buy the food vouchers. Head straight to Sutera Sanctuary Lodge and buy the food vouchers from them. It costs Rm 130 for 3 buffets in Laban Rata Restaurant (Dinner, Supper before summit hike and Breakfast after summit hike).
You would also need a guide. They charge Rm 150/guide. But you can share it with other hikers.
You should also already have your permit by now, get them from the park reception counter. It costs Rm 30 for Malaysian or Rm 100 for Non-Malaysian. You will also need to buy the insurance for Rm 10. Once paid, you will be given a hiking tag that you should wear around your neck.
Lastly, you will need to take a bus from the Park entrance to the Trail gate. It costs Rm 34/group of hikers.
So by now, you should have spent around Rm 450. It’s much cheaper compared to booking from Agent, but you will need to do the extra works yourself. And remember that you can share some of the costs like guide and transport with other hikers to save more.
Start of the hike
After registrations, you would take the bus from the park to the main entrance. It will take you around 5 minutes to reach the trail gate. You will then register and need to show them your hiking tag.
For the first hike, you may wear less because it’s not too cold yet. The hike to Laban Rata is 6 Km long and take 6 hours in average (including resting). There will be 6 to 7 huts in between for you to rest. They also have toilets in each of the huts.
The path is full of stairs like path. It started with woody/soft ground where it get rockier the more you hike. But it’s generally easy but tiring. There is no much climbing needed and it’s generally safe for the entire 6 Km.
But one thing to be remembered that the air get thinner the more you hike. Try to get a good pace where you have enough breath in and breath out. Try to get the rhythm consistence and take it slowly.
Also make sure to drink a lot of water and eat to restore your energy. When you are resting, try not to sit. It will become harder for your legs to start again after a sit.
Reaching Laban Rata
After 6 hours of non-stop hikes, you should reach Laban Rata, where all the rest-houses reside. Your guide will bring you to the receptionists and check you in to your hut. Depending on your time of arrival, you might want to head straight to the restaurant for your big meal. The Buffet normally starts around 4pm but you would want to be there early as it will be a long queue.
If you have some extra time, you should take a quick nap. Or just go around and take pictures. The view from up there is majestic. Bring your book out and start reading or something like that.
Eat as much as you can. You will need them for the next day hike. But try to get to bed as early as possible because you need to start your next hike 2.30am in the next morning. It’s important to have a good rest.
The Summit Hike
The supper buffet starts at 2am. Get yourself ready and be at the restaurant before 2am. After supper, get ready your torch and wear as warm as possible. It get very cold out there, around 5 degree Celsius and windy.
Next, you will be hiking in the dark for another 3 hours or so. The trail is rocky but they have ropes all over which makes it quite easy to follow. But again, the oxygen is getting even thinner and hopefully you get enough sleep the other night so you don’t fall asleep halfway through.
Look up, if the sky is clear, you might see the Milky Way.
If you get to the summit before sunrise, try to eat something again. It is very cold and windy up there you don’t want to stay still. But once the sun is up, the warm will fill the air, it will feel better.
Back to Laban Rata
Once you got to the top and took some pictures of yourself on the top, it’s time to get back down. The descending will feel much easier than going up. But it might be just an illusion. Your legs will start to get weaker and your toes will start to pain from banging into the front of your shoes.
Now that the sky is brighter, the rocky surrounding made up of good views. Everywhere you look will be spectacular. Don’t forget to pause and enjoy the view.
Another challenge is that now you can see in the morning light. You will realise that the path is pretty steep and some of them are scary. But again, try to stick to the ropes and you should be fine.
Once reaching Laban Rata, it’s time to eat again. Eat as much as you can.
It’s also recommended to book another night in Laban Rata so you can rest more. It’s a spectacular view up there and it will be enjoyable to just sit at the edge and read a book or talk to your friends for another night. But if you’re not staying for another night, it’s time to pack and get ready for another 6km walk down.
If you bring along a pair of sandals, ones that have a good grip around your feet but is open in the front, it’s time to put them on. going downhill is painful for your toes when they are covered in shoes.
Back Down to Kinabalu Park Entrance
It generally take less time to go down than to go up. It took around 4.5 hours for me to get back to the entrance. Same tips, try not to sit when resting and drink lot’s of water.
Once you get to the trail gate, there will be another bus that take you back to the park entrance area. If you did get to the summit, now is the time for you to pay RM 10 for the certificate.
If you book from Sutera Sanctuary lodge, you may now proceed to the restaurant and enjoy another buffet lunch. If you didn’t buy from Sutera Sanctuary Lodge, you still can enjoy buffet lunch by paying Rm 36/pax.
And that is the end. You may choose to spend another night in Kinabalu Park areas or you can choose to go back to KK to enjoy the warmer weather. Hope you find this useful.