I sit at the riverside (or waterfront as they call it here) In Kuching, Sarawak as I write this. To walk even short distances hurts, but not as much as when I have to walk some stairs. I walk like a duck, and it must look funny to see me walk up some stairs, even if it is just a step or two. I should be in good condition for my age, but to climb the Mt Kinabalu is the hardest thing I have ever done, except for maybe a winter skiing trip in rough weather quite a few years ago. I have had almost two days rest now, but today is even worse than yesterday. I was thinking of going to one of the National Parks here today, but I just have to wait another day and take it easy.
But I guess you don't want to hear me complain but rather hear about the experience and see the pics. Mt Kinabalu is the highest mountain in South-east Asia and a lot of the tourists coming to Sabah decides to go there. And no one of those I talked to had any idea about how hard it was, including myself. Even if I complain a bit now, I will highly recommend the trip up there if you are prepared for hard work and follow some of my advices. Let us take them first.
I wondered before I left Norway if I should bring my hiking boots for this trip to Mt Kinabalu or if I should bring some lighter trekking shoes. I chose hiking boots. Even if you see people with all kind of shoes, jogging shoes, trekking shoes, hiking boots, sandals and even slippers (and the guides with all from jogging shoes to converse shoes and crocs), I would not have been without my hiking shoes if I was to do it again. You can do it in trekking shoes but the extra support for the ankles you get from Hiking boots will certainly help you, especially when you descend.
If you want to sleep better than in an unheated dormitory (it was about 12 centigrades at the resting point) or you are more than 1-2 persons, you should book your accommodation at least a couple of months ahead. You then get a package of accommodation, a packed lunch at the starting point, dinner at Laban Rata (rest point), a meal before the night walk to the top, a meal at Laban Rata when you come back from the summit and a lunch at the starting point. The meals at Laban Rata and starting point is buffets and is fairly good. The packed lunch is.... well, food. You will be hungry enough to eat it when you have climbed from some hours, but if your eggs are cooked like mine was I would suggest you use a straw to eat them.
The distance to Laban Rata is about 6.5 km and it is 2 more km to the summit, but don't count the km, cause you will feel like you are not moving. Rather count the altitude metres and make each 100 metres or so your next goal. You start from about 1900 mas, Laban Rata is about 3250 m and the summit at 4095 m. The trail goes through the rainforrest all the way up to Laban Rata, before it opens a little bit more and it is more or less just the last km you walk in mountain landscape that can remind you a bit about northern Europe.
If you think the first 200 altitude metres are hard, I can tell you... it gets worse, and it gets even worse. This is the steepest trail I have ever walked or climbed except for over short distances. Take it easy, easy... you will need all the guts and strength you have as you slowly ascend and reach Laban Rata.
I met Bert from Belgium at the starting point and we decided to share a guide (they won't let you in the park without a guide, but it is mostly for safety reasons I guess, cause you don't need him to find the way). We started at 10.15 am and we arrived at Laban Rata 3.30 pm. The sun were shining as we started, and the weather was fair for the first hours. The last two hours we walked in heavy rain, and got soaked before we reached Laban Rata. They serve dinner there between 5 and 7 pm, our dormitory was 5 minutes walk higher up at Gunting Lagadan, and I can tell you.. after a day like that it is a torture even to walk that distance (also a steep distance).
I went to sleep at 7.30 pm, woke up at 1.30 am, took some breakfast or night meal if you wish, packed some warm clothes, water and camera, put on my head light (rather bring a head light than a torch, you will need both your hands) and at 3 am we started on our way up the 2 km and 800 altitude metres to the summit. The steepest part here is from Laban Rata or Gunting Lagadan and up to about 3800 m. Then comes an easier part (but your legs will probably not feel it very easy though) and then steep again the last 15-20 minutes before you reach the top.
It was just fantastic to walk that part in the starlight and the little bit of moonlight. It was very, very special to see the formations of the mountain, the peaks as dark shadows in the starlight, and the beautiful view, it was so clear we could see both the surrounding villages, Kota Kinabalu and the ocean outside. Just spectacular. And it should be even more spectacular.
At 5.20 am I reached the top, still dark, and we sat there and waited for about 40 minutes for the sunrise. And that was really spectacular. An amazing feeling to watch how the dark shadow-like formations turned into peaks and summits we could see clearer and clearer. At a time I felt I could see the whole of South-east Asia, but at least we saw a lot of Borneo and the South China Sea. Just an incredible feeling to be blessed with this weather after all the hard work.
It got time to walk back. It was a little bit scary to see the places we had been climbing up in the dark. A part of it would be impossible to climb without a rope ( there was a rope all the way from where the bare mountain started and to the top, both for showing the way and as a help for climbing). We were back at Laban Rata about 8 am and started the descending to the starting point at 9.15 am. The last one and a half hour it started to rain heavy again and the last hour our knees was so shaky that it was almost impossible to walk normally, but we finally got down a little before 1 pm.
Just a little further advice to those who feel inspired to take the same trip. Even if you buy a package (which means only accommodation and meals, entrance fees and guide you have to pay in addition directly to the park administration and can only be paid in cash) you still need to get from Kota Kinabalu and to the park. You can either take a taxi (the park administration can provide for you) or take a bus, which means a mini-bus. Don't ask the company that sold you the package about how to get there. I asked and they said the buses started to go at 8 am in the morning and it would take 3 hours which would have forced me to go up the day before cause I had to be there at 11 am at latest. They start to go at around 7 am, will drive as soon as they are filled up, and it takes less then 2 hours to get there. And if you communicate with the company by mail just ask one question per mail, because they obviously just answer one per mail, and they decide for them selves which one of your question they will answer.
Finally... was it worth it? And will I do it again? Let us say that the view from the top and from the last part was worth the struggle to get there... but right now I say been there, done that!