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How to Climb Mt. Kinabalu in One Day

The secret is out. You CAN climb Mt. Kinabalu in one day. It’s something definitely not advertised by the tour agencies and not openly talked about within the national park and World Heritage Site itself. Why? Money. To climb Mt. Kinabalu in one day is significantly cheaper than paying for an overnight stay at Laban Rata Guesthouse and most likely another night’s stay at the base of the mountain with the Sutera Harbour company, which convienetly arranges most 2-day guided treks up the mountain.

Here’s the catch, to climb Kinabalu in one day you do technically need two days at the park as you need to arrange your one day climb the day before before the park closes for the evening. To do so, is amazingly simple. When you arrive at Mt. Kinabalu National Park enter through the main gate and proceed to the park office, which is located to the right of the entrance just past the Sutera lodge reception and behind the convenience store.

At the office inform them you would like to arrange a one-day climb. We previously read that a manager will have to evaluate your fitness level and preparedness, but we were simply given forms to fill out and a waiver to sign acknowledging the difficulty and danger of attempting the climb in a single day. Your costs will be totaled, and you’ll be told to arrive in the morning when the park opens at 7am to meet your guide, who is arranged by the park service. Make sure you have ample cash to pay the morning of the climb as there is not an ATM anywhere near the park – only in a neighboring town 15 kilometers away.

Meet your guide the morning of the climb in the same office before walking into a neighboring building to pay for transport, basically a taxi, to the Timpohon Gate sitting at 1,866.4 meters above sea level. The summit trail, which leaves from the Timpohon gate, is the main route taken by most climbers to reach the top. Reaching the summit in a single day means you have to adhear to the guidelines and timetable set forth by the park. One-day climbers must reach the Laban Rata guest house or 6.5 kilometers by 10:00am, and they’re required to check in at Lowe’s peak (the summit) by 1:00pm. If your guide doesn’t believe you will be able to reach the milestones in a timely manner, you will turned back. During our climb, the only other party attempting the one-day summit – an older gentleman – was told at the 4 kilometer mark that he was not able to keep pace and could only continue on to Laban Rata or turn around. Imagine the disappointment in trying but falling short of the summit.

To climb Kinabalu in one day does take a certain level of fitness, but you don’t need mountaineering experience or specialized equipment. However, solid and sturdy technical hiking boots are a must as is water proof rain gear. The trail is well maintained and consists of thousands of man-made, worn wooden stairs as well as giant boulders, which create natural steps upward. If you think 8.4 kilometers doesn’t sound like a lot, you’re right – it’s not. However, it’s the thinning air, the high altitude, the grueling and extremely difficult climb and often times the weather that make the less than 10 kilometers a true challenge.

Most people even considering the one day climb are most likely searching for information on how hard it truly is. It’s hard. But, it’s doable. Keep in mind it’s sheer willpower that will force you to the top, although your body will be ready to give up. My husband and I, both worked out on a regular basis, but traveled for three months before reaching Kinabalu and during that time, our excersize was minimal. With that being said, we made it to the top and back, but to be honest I cried at the bottom, and wound up losing a bruised toenail. While it was a huge feat for us to conquer in one day, we could have easily done it in two. If you have the time, and the money, my advice is to opt for the two day climb so you can actually enjoy your time on the mountain.

THE COST:

Permit: 100 Ringgit per person

Guide: 128 Ringgit

Insurance: 7 Ringgit each

Transportation to Timpohon Gate: 33 Ringgit

Total: 375 Ringgit or $125.00 US dollars

THE TRAIL:

Setting out from the Timphon Gate the clay-colored path rolls gently through thick vegetation, even curving slightly downhill at points. Within one kilometer of the start, you’ll pass Carson waterfall, a beautiful cascade of water off a small cliff alongside the pathway. Your adrenaline is pumping and your excitement grows as you set out, making this an extremely easy start. For two kilometers the trail continues upward, for the most part genteelly, with minimal steps. However, the gravel pathway quickly gives way to an endless line of staircases guaranteed to make your legs scream and have you wishing you spent some time on the stair master at the gym prior to your trip. When they’re aren’t stairs, there are huge boulders and loose rocks you must clamor over to catapult yourself upward. It’s relentless. There are no breaks. If you’re trying to keep pace with the time requirements set forth, you will forego any sort of decent rest and continue upward – chugging water as your go. Laban Rata Rest house is located 6.5 kilometers up the trail – if you’ve reached it to this point in time, you’ll have fifteen to 20 minutes to relax and eat (they do serve food here). The climb from Laban Rata to the peak begins with more stairs alongside grey granite boulders. If you’re a novice or inexperienced climber, you’ll definitely begin to feel the altitude here. Just past Laban Rata, the stairs eventually disappear and are replaced with a rope that leads you across a very narrow passage along steep, granite cliffs. Once you’ve scaled sideways, the climb up the rock continues. You’ll pass through an abandoned checkpoint and continue upward toward the summit. The rock flattens out ever so slightly before catapulting you into a very short, steep climb to the top.

The way down is the same, but with tired legs and often an afternoon thunderstorm, it’s downright brutal.

WHAT TO BRING:

2 liters of water per person

Chocolate bar or chocolate chews/candy to keep your blood sugar levels up

Granola bars or trail mix (something easy to eat while actively climbing)

Nuts

Lunch (we packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we made after picking up everything at a store in Kota Kinabalu the day before)

Technical, water proof hiking boots

Water proof jacket and pants

Backpack

Poncho (to cover your backpacks or cameras, etc.)

Hiking Poles (very good for sturdying yourself, especially on the way down)

WHERE TO STAY:

Sultera Lodges has a number of options within the park including everything from high-end hotel rooms and villas to dorm-style hostels (keep in mind they run a monopoly so no matter what options you choose the rates are inflated)

There are several guest houses just outside the park, but they are very basic. If you don’t mind roughing it Bayou hometay is located just down the road to the right. The conditions are deplorable, but the owner is very kind and even offered to drive us 15 kilometers into town to use the ATM (which happened to be out of money!) Luckily, we bought her KFC on a credit card as partial payment!

A massive luxury resort is currently under construction just down the road to the left of Mt. Kinabalu National Park, but judging on their progress it will most likely be years before it’s open.

WHERE TO EAT:

There is a restaurant across from the office, transportation office, Sultera reception and convenience store just down the hill, but again it’s expensive by all Malaysian standards. Outside of the park you will find a small restaurant just across from the entrance located alongside the main parking lot. The food is cheap and it’s good.