Mount Kinabalu

malaysia

There’s no better climb in Southeast Asia for amateur climbers, and women climbers than Mount Kinabalu.

Kinabalu combines a physical challenge with incredible natural beauty and surreal alpine landscapes. But it also offers accessibility, safety, and a (relatively) comfortable basecamp. Just be careful on the way down.

Country
malaysia
Height
4,095m (13,436ft)
Climbing Height
2,200m (starting from Timpohon Gate point)
Rank
  • #1 in Malaysia
  • #22 in South East Asia

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Natural Form and History

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - History

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Geological history

Mount Kinabalu was formed from granodiorite, pushed up from the earth's crust and hardened about 10 million years ago (it is still being pushed up by 5mm every year). About 100,000 years ago, the mountain was covered with sheets of ice and glaciers that flowed down its slopes, scouring its surface and creating the 1,800-metre deep Low's Gully (named after Hugh Low) on its north side.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Modern climbing history

Modern climbing history of Mount Kinabalu dates to 1851 when British colonial administrator Hugh Low decided to ascertain the mountain’s height by scaling it. Even though Low could not scale the peak, in 1888 the highest point of Mount Kinabalu was finally reached and named as Low’s Peak. The Kinabalu National Park was established in 1964, and later designated as a natural World Heritage.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Current popularity as a climbing destination

Today, it is one of the most popular summits in South East Asia and is marketed as a highly accessible tourist attraction. More than 20,000 people of all ages and with little or no experience visit every year to climb the mountain.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Overview of the Trail

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Overall Assessment

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Summary of trail accessibility

Mount Kinabalu is perhaps one of the most accessible 4,000+m summit for amateur climbers in the world. It does not require any specialized mountain climbing skills or technical equipment. Most climbers of average fitness will be able to comfortably navigate at least the first part of the trail (until the summit), and with some prior training and determination should also be able to complete the 2nd part (summit block).

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Trail options

Number of options
2
Summary

There are 2 trail options with different starting points, meeting about two kilometres before the base camp at Laban Rata.

The Timpohon trail is more popular of the two, offering a relatively straightforward upward climb along a well-marked path with signposts marking each half-kilometre.

The Mesilau trail is the more difficult of the two, being steep and greasy especially during the wet season. Its starting point is higher, but the trail crosses a ridge, making the distance slightly longer and more angular. As a result, it requires expert guidance to navigate.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Most popular trail

Timpohon trail

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Standard itinerary

Number of days
2
Summary

The most popular climbing trail starts at the Timpohon Gate in Kinabalu park. On day 1 climbers cover 9km over 5-8 hours to arrive at the Laban Rata base camp for the night. Day 2 starts early with a 2:00 wake-up, so climbers can get to the summit before sunrise. After spending about 30 minutes – 1 hours at the summit, climbers walk down all the way, arriving back at the starting point in the afternoon.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Day 1

06:00:  Pick-up from hotel in Kota Kinabalu city, and transfer to the Kinabalu Park headquarters. On average, this is a 2-hour journey. Breakfast and packed lunch for the day provided at the headquarters.

09:00:  Introduction to the guide, who will arrange the necessary registrations, and apply for the climbers’ ID tags (which are to be worn all day).

09:30:  Transfer to the starting point – Timpohon Gate, from where the hike begins. Most climbers are able to complete the 9km climb to the base camp in 5-8 hours.

03:30:  Arrive at the Laban Rata base camp. Check-in, and get the keys to the room for overnight stay.

05:00:  Buffet dinner and overnight rest.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Day 2

02:00:  Wake up for an early supper, and start climbing towards the summit. Most climbers try and get to the peak before sunrise (around 06:00, depending on time of the year).

07:00:  Star climbing down back to the base camp for a late breakfast and check out.

08:00:  Trek down to Timpohon Gate and transfer back to the Kinabalu Park headquarters. The climb down takes an average of 4-6 hours.

14:00:  Get lunch, and transfer back to the hotel or the airport in Kota Kinabalu City.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Climbing Difficulty

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Terrain

Number of distinct sections
2
Summary

The climbing terrain is composed of 2 distinct sections: the pre-summit block on day 1 runs mainly through tropical forest, whereas the summit block on day 2 is mostly over rock and has minimal vegetation.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Pre-summit block
All of the pre-summit block runs mainly through forest, and requires the climbers to step over stones and roots along a well-marked and broad path. The trek passes through different vegetation zones, from oak and chestnut for the first few hours, to mossy and eventually to alpine-type bushes in the last 1-2 kilometers. It is also in this last part of this section that climbers may need to scramble at times, holding on natural support features like branches for support. There are signposts marking each half-kilometer along the entire trail, making it easier to navigate.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Summit block
Most of this part is over smooth rock faces, with an average angle of about 15–20 degrees inclination. The initial 700 meters begins with steep stairs and few steps here and there. The next 2 km to the summit is over sturdy granite rock surfaces, and includes a 700 meter stretch of slippery, steep rock and a sheer drop on one side. There are no safety barriers or walls in this section to prevent any fall. So climbers should use their upper body strength to hold on to the provided guide rope at all times.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Weather

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Overview of climate

Mount Kinabalu experiences a varied range of climates. In the lower reaches, the climate is tropical, generally with afternoon showers, and temperatures of 20-25°C. At the summit, the weather can become very cold and at times freezing. Temperatures on the summit range from 3-12 °C from June to September, and −4-8 °C from December to January. In the colder months, sometimes frost, ice or even snow can be experienced at the summit.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Best time to climb

Between March and August is the best time to climb Mount Kinabalu because of the dry season. But there may still be unpredictable showers because of the tropical rainforests through which the trail passes. The weather in the morning is generally better than the latter part of the day. Climbing on full moon days is easier as it helps to illuminate the white rope that marks out the climbing path in the dark morning of the second day.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Common weather challenges

Rain:  Hikers must be mentally prepared to hike in the rain at all times of the year, although in rare cases summit attempts will be forbidden if the rain is very heavy. For most hikers, the biggest nuance due to rain will be wet and slippery paths (hiking poles and gloves for extra grip can help), and soaked clothes or back-packs (making it important that you bring rain ponchos and waterproof bag covers). Rest stops along the terrain on the first day offer covered shelters to stop if the rain gets heavy.

Wind:  Winds pick up speed in the upper altitudes, and are the strongest in the early hours of the morning on the second day. Climbers must hold on to Wind-breakers and scarves come in handy in these times, especially if they can be taken off and worn around the waist when the sun comes up.”

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Safety tips

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Climbing safety

Altitude:  Climbers should climb slowly and steadily instead of hurrying through the path so they can accustom themselves with the conditions as they go up. This is especially important in the higher altitudes where the air is dry and thin.

Fatigue and pain:  Bringing along muscular ache relief cream and knee/ankle supports can help make the climb up easier. On the way down, especially on the flat rock in the summit block, it is advisable to walk slowly without locking your knees.

Slips and falls:  On the summit trail, climbers are advised to follow the guide and stay close to the guide ropes. If a climber loses sight of the rope when it is dark, he/she should blow a whistle or shout. Since the thin air and the echo of the mountain might dampen the voice, it is better to have a climbing partner or follow a group to ensure help is at hand.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Personal safety

The Kinabalu hike is popular and in most sections climbers will find fellow climbers or guides who are willing to help. While the risk of crime or theft is negligible, it is still advisable to not to leave expensive personal belongings such as cameras and passports unattended.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Safety for women travelers

Many solo women travelers do the climb on a regular basis. No special precautions beyond any that one may observe elsewhere in Malaysia are necessary.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Recommended equipment

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Footwear
  • Waterproof hiking boots. Be sure to use a well-worn pair that you are comfortable with rather than a new pair that may cause unexpected blisters or pain.
  • Hiking socks
  • Flip-flops / sandals (optional): for the base-camp night stay
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Clothing
  • Lightweight waterproof clothing
  • Waterproof windbreaker
  • Scarf:  for protection against cold and wind
  • Gloves:  for protection against cold, rain, and to facilitate holding on the guide ropes
  • Warm cap:  for protection against cold
  • Warm inner clothing (optional)
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Bags
  • Waterproof backpack
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Weather protection
  • Rain coat / poncho
  • Waterproof cover for backpack
  • Waterproof cover for camera
  • Sunscreen lotion
  • Sun glasses
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Climbing support
  • Hiking poles (optional)
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Navigation tools
  • Headlamps
  • Flashlight (optional)
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Medical equipment
  • Basic first-aid kid, for cuts and bruises
  • Medicines for altitude sickness, headache
  • Insect repellent
  • Knee/ankle supports
  • Muscle-ache relief creams / sprays
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Food
  • Drinking water
  • High-calorie dry food items – chocolates, energy bars, etc.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Hygene sanitation
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toilet paper
  • Wet and dry tissues
  • Toothpaste + toothbrush
  • Personal toiletries
  • Disposable plastic bags for waste collection
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Connectivity
  • Mobile phone(s)
  • Portable battery charger
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Documents
  • Passport (and other IDs): for registration and emergencies

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Support facilities

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Resting stops and facilities

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Rest stops

There are 6 rest stops on the first section of the trail: Pondok Kandis (1,981m), Pondok Ubah (2,095m), Pondok Lowii (2,286m), Layang-Layang (2,702m), Pondok Villosa (2,690m), Pondok Paka (3,080m). The summit block on day 2 does not have any rest stops. These rest stops offer sheltered areas with seating benches, that are suitable to catch your breath along the way, wait out periods of heavy rain, stop and eat your lunch, and get climbing tips from fellow climbers going in the other direction.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Base camp

Most climbers spend the night before the summit at the base camp at Laban Rata, located between 3,230 and 3,323 meters above sea level. There are a number of accomodation options with different price points, suitable for climbers with different preferences. Since the number of rooms is limited however, climbers must make prior reservations for accommodation as it is not possible to stay overnight on the mountain except in designated sleeping reservations. Camping is not permitted.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Guides and porters

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Do you need a guide?

Sabah Park safety regulations make it necessary for climbers to engage a licensed mountain guide from the local Mountain Guide Association. Each mountain guide can take up to 5 climbers on a trip. It is advisable to book a guide before arriving for the climb.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - How to find a guide?

A number of tour operators market their services online at competitive prices. With a little bit of research, it is easy to find a reliable guide to suit your specific preferences.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Tips while working with guides
  • known to the guide if appropriate how you heard about them and offer to write a review if you like the experience. This might give them the extra incentive to be attentive to your needs.
  • To reduce costs, look to join groups and share their guide. Some tour operators may also provide discounts on guides during certain months for climbers.
  • Check if the guide can speak good English before you start, so they can engage with you along the journey.
  • Ask for the guide’s ID proof before beginning the trek.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Porters

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Do you need a porter?

Porters are not required for most climbers. This is primarily due to the quality of facilities at the base camp, which makes it unnecessary to carry up heavier or bulkier items such as tents or sleeping bags.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - How to find a porter?

If required, porters can be arranged directly from tour operators or guides.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Tips while working with porters

For climbers that only wish to carry essential items needed during the trek, porters can help carry other belongings that are not needed during the hike and walk non-stop to Laban Rata, before waiting for the climbers to arrive.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Food & water

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - At the start of the hike

There is a restaurant at the Park entrance gate which offers a filling breakfast before the start of the hike on day 1. This is included in the tour fee for most tour operators.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - During the hike, along the trail

Natural drinking water is available at rest stops, fed by pipes coming down from natural sources in the mountain heights. This allows climbers to carry smaller bottles that can be refilled at rest stops. Most tour operators will offer packed lunches to be consumed along the way, consisting of a sandwich, egg, local snack, fruit and a bottle of 500ml mineral water. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options are generally available, although for any dietary restrictions climbers are advised to check beforehand. Climbers may also wish to carry some high-calorie dry food items such as chocolates and energy bars along for extra nutrition.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - During the hike, at base camp

The base camp at Laban Rata has a restaurant that offers hot, cooked food, both for dinner at the end of day 1, and breakfast in the morning on day 2. These meals are also generally included in the tour fee. Meals and other food items can also be purchased, although these will be more expensive compared to prices at nearby towns since the raw materials have to be carried by porters regularly.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Network connectivity

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Phone and data (3G) connectivity

There are multiple networks offering phone and data (3G) connectivity along the climbing trail, including the base camp and the summit, although the signal may drop in some parts along the climb.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Accessibility

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Getting there

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Nearest airport
The nearest airport is in the city of Kota Kinabalu, with regular connecting flights from most major cities in East and South East Asia.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - From the airport to the starting point

There are multiple options to get to the starting point of the climb in Kinabalu Park, ranging from public buses and minivans, private taxis, rental cars if you want to drive yourself, or pre-arranged transport through your tour operator. Depending on the transport and traffic, it can take 2-3 hours to cover the 88 km distance from the Kota Kinabalu airport (or shorter if coming from the city) to Mount Kinabalu Park.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Climbing permits

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Is a permit needed?
Yes, climbing permits are required beforehand due to the limited number of beds at the mountain huts. Only 130 permits are issued each day.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - How to get a permit?

Most tour operators will help to get a permit at the time of booking your tour.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - Special Tips

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - For amateur climbers

Walking trails:  For those less included to undertake the trek to the summit, there are a few walking trails around the park entrance. Guided tours may be available, but it is advisable to research beforehand since the quality and experience may vary across trails and even guides.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu Malaysia - For advanced climbers

Climb in 1 day:  For adventurous climbers, there is an option to ascend the summit and down in a single day. The one-day climb strictly requires a guide, and climbers need to arrange for a special permission from the park ranger at the park office. The one-day climb is more weather dependent than the two-day option and there are specific rules and regulations regarding set time limits for each stage of the climb. The climber must meet these limits or risk being asked to turn around (half hour of relaxation at each interval is allowed by some guides). The one-day climb generally begins from 7.30 a.m. in the morning and the climber is required to descend down by 5.30 p.m. in the evening, before the Timpohon gates are closed.