Hiking Kinabalu Mountain in Kota Kinabalu was one of the most rewarding and challenging hikes I have ever done. Am I glad I did it? Heck yes! Would I recommend it? Absolutely. By learning how to prepare and what to expect, your experience will be that much more enjoyable.
I have wanted to climb Kinabalu Mountain for a long time. My first attempt was about four years ago when I first moved to Malaysia. It was high on my list of things to do! I knew it would be tough but I didn’t care – I was chasing that feeling of making it to the summit at sunrise. My friend was killed in a car accident back in Canada and I was forced to fly back to Canada days prior to our scheduled climb. I still made it back to Malaysia in time for the trip but mentally and physically I was not in the greatest shape to climb. So, I postponed it for another time. I was able to get a partial refund and still made the trip to Kota Kinabalu but relaxed, did some discover scuba dives and ate lots of great food!
HOW TO PREPARE:
I am fairly active and consider myself to be in relatively good shape and do a lot of functional training in the gym. Hiking and running trails are something I really enjoy so I didn’t specifically prepare for Kinabalu Mountain except to increase my running outdoors on uneven terrain. However, depending on where your fitness level is you may want to consider some training. In my mind, preparing for Kinabalu Mountain encompasses the physical and the practical. Physically you need to get yourself in shape and practically you need to think about what you are going to pack and bring with you.
- HIKING: Try a few hikes that will help you with climbing uphill. Mount Kinabalu is, at times, a steep incline and you will want to have done incline walking before attempting this sort of climb.
- ELEVATED HIKING: The best hiking you can do are ones that require steep elevation. Remember that Kinabalu Mountain is 13,435′ and will challenge you physically and mentally. There is also a small chance that you could get altitude sickness so the more you can get used to high elevations the better.
- RUNNING: Running is generally great exercise. Try running 2-3 times per week in the month leading up to your hike. This will help your cardio abilities and your general fitness. Running for high intensity will get those lungs ready for Kinabalu Mountain.
- ISOLATED EXERCISES: In addition to hiking and running, I would also throw in some isolated conditioning to help build muscles. Try doing some sets of 10 squats, lunges and ice skaters for 10minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible). This means that you do 10 squats, 10 lunges and 10 ice skaters for as many rounds as you can until 10 minutes is up.
- STRETCHING: You will want to make sure that you are nice and stretched before you begin the climb. Your calves and hamstrings will be taking a beating. You want them nice and flexible to prevent cramping, soreness the day after and unnecessary tightening.
- PACKING: Packing is one of the most important things to think about in the weeks leading up to your climb. There are lots of suggested itineraries out there of what you should bring and you can certainly use them as a guide. Pack light but pack enough to last you for your trip.
- ALTITUDE SICKNESS: You will hear a lot of information about altitude sickness. We were a group of 4 and none of us got altitude sickness. 2 of us took altitude sickness tablets and 2 did not. The two of us that did take them noticed some significant side effects. The most notable being tingling in our fingertips and toes. This was enough for us to stop taking the tablets the day before the climb and we had no issues. It really strikes different people at different times. Know your body and make a judgment call but don’t feel that taking the tablets are a requirement. Overall, on the day we climbed, I only saw 2 or 3 people turning around on the 2nd morning because they were really ill.
- TRANSPORTATION: More than likely you will be flying into Kota Kinabalu airport and you will either be arriving the day before you begin your climb or earlier if you plan to do some other activities prior to the climb. I would recommend flying in the day before and staying overnight at one of the lodges available at Kinabalu National Park. This is how your trip will more than likely be organized through your tour operator or if you book directly with Sutera Harbour Resorts. The best option on a budget for you to get from Kota Kinabalu to the National Park depends on where you coming directly from. If you are coming from the airport then you can take a bus directly to the park. From the airport, you will want to be getting off at Padang Merdeka. The shuttle bus costs 5rm for adults and departs from Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. If you are coming from the city center then your best bet is to attempt to book an Uber. Often times, Uber will want to change their mind when they find out where you are going but we were lucky and the price was about a third of what the normal taxies were charging. There are buses from KK City Centre and you will about 25rm for the 2-hour journey.
FOOD: WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT?
Climbing Kinabalu Mountain is a lot of fun and a rewarding experience that you will never forget. The landscape is amazing and changes with the elevation which I found really interesting. The climb itself is challenging but you are given lots of time to make the initial 6km from the base to Laban Rata. The accommodation is basic but sufficient and you will more than likely go to bed after dinner since you have a very early morning. Since the climb is physically demanding, you will want to be prepared with the right nutrition. Think lots of carbs before your climb and healthy fats and sugars during the climb. You will want to keep yourself well hydrated and ensure you have proper recovery after the first day and the final descent to the bottom on the second day.
At best, the food provided is average and you should definitely bring your own snacks. The dinner was quite varied and definitely filling since you will be very hungry after the first day. The breakfast was the downfall on the 2nd day which was very basic consisting of some strange-looking fried eggs, toast and some noodles. The coffee is local coffee and very gritty so if you like your Starbucks make sure you bring a packaged one to use with the hot water. As for snacks, my favorite snacks for a long hike like this one are Almond M&Ms!
5 TIPS I WISH SOMEONE HAD GIVEN ME:
The mountain is cold.
The temperatures at the top of the mountain are considerably colder than I anticipated. When you start the climb at the National Park entrance, you will only need shorts and a T-shirt or long sleeve shirt. As you climb toward Laban Rata guest house it will get progressively colder. You will want to have long hiking pants and layers for your upper body available in your bag to pull out. When you wake up the following morning at 2:30am, you will undoubtedly need to dress for the very cold weather. The temperature at the top of Kinabalu Mountain on Low’s Peak can go below freezing by a few degrees. I didn’t have the correct gloves to cover my hands and it lessened the experience because I couldn’t wait to descend and enjoy the warmer temperature as the sun rose.
Yes, you will need a lot of things and your most important things to pack are your clothes. You will also a porter who can carry things but I prefer having everything I needed on my back and leaving the things that I didn’t need at the Kinabalu National Park headquarters office. They will store your stuff and you can collect it once you have descended. Even if you can’t pack everything in your bag, your porter will be able to bring up the rest for you. If you are a small group, you can each take your own small bag on your back and have 1 bag that the porter can carry.
Everything is expensive.
The trip itself is not the cheapest hike you will ever do. Sutera Harbour Resorts has a monopoly on the mountain with the only guest house, Laban Rata, for you to stay in. There are budget-friendlier ways of doing it than we did but I will leave that up to your own research. You can either go with a tour company that may be a bit higher priced or you can go directly with Sutera Harbour Resorts (which is what we did). They bundle the entire trip up in one price which was 1,209rm ($283usd) each. This included a room at the Kinabalu National Park and 2 beds at the Laban Rata resort (Mountain hotel after climbing for Day 1), and 7 meals.
Some of these things are options (climbing certificate, locker fee to store bags and the transportation to the start of the climb) but they add a lot of conveniences. Also, some of the above are split between your group (guide, transportation) but be prepared to have cash and start dishing it out before you start the climb!
In addition to the above costs, everything outside of your meals at Laban Rata costs money and it is not cheap! If I can remember correctly, a bag of tea is about $3usd and its a tea bag with hot water. Everything is brought up by human labour and carried on the backs of hundreds of people. You will certainly appreciate the work that goes into keeping a hotel running 6km up a mountain but I was still disappointed with how expensive everything was, including a cup of hot water!
Kinabalu Mountain is challenging.
It is challenging, as I said earlier, but very rewarding. It rained for most of the hike on the first day up to Laban Rata. This made the initial climb really difficult and mentally challenging because all you wanted to do was reach the guesth house.. The rain made it miserable and the cold temperature was only made worse from the blowing rain in the face. Be sure to bring a light raincoat, or by one from the little store at the entrance and make sure your hiking bag has a covering that will protect it from the rain. The raincoat and bag covering will be the best money you spend, especially in rainy season.
You will be very sore for days after.
I spent about 15 minutes stretching the morning of the hike but it wasn’t enough. Nothing could have prepared me for how sore my quads and hamstrings would be in the following days. The descent was the most challenging part of the climb and you are doing the entire 9km after the early rise to the top. The quads were on fire 2 days after the hike and made climbing stairs really tough. One of the best ways to avoid muscle soreness and cramping/tightness is to stretch properly and ensure good nutrition and hydration throughout.
Other Articles You May Enjoy:
- Climbing Mt. Kinabalu on a Budget by Notes of Nomads
- 7 Things You Need to Do Before Hiking Mount Kinabalu by Kaodim blog (great ideas for training)
- 10 Tips for Climbing Mount Kinabalu by The Travel Hack
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