Mt. Kinabalu is one of the tallest peaks in Asia at 4,095 meters above sea level. It’s a two day climb that’s gonna test your limits, fears, inhibitions and even sanity. It’s a beautiful trail with each step leading you to Mt. Kinabalu’s out of this world view at the summit.
Mount Kinabalu is definitely a bucket list adventure especially for mountaineers. I got a chance to join Trail Adventours on their trek to Mount Kinabalu last May 2015. It’s a 4-day adventure with two of those day spent climbing 4,095 meters above sea level of Mount Kinabalu.
Trek Route and Elevation
Hike #1: Mesilau Trail to Laban Rata, 8.5 kilometers., Day 1
The total ascent of this trek is about 1300 meters of elevation and it’s mostly uphill except for a two kilometer descent to the waterfall on the 2nd kilometers. The lost two kilometers after the intersection at the Timpohan Trail. Last to kilometers to Laban Rata is pure uphill on technical routes.
Trek # 2, Laban Rata to Lows Peak, 2.5 kilometers, Day 2
The trek to Low’s Peak Summit which is mostly climbs with a total ascent of about 825 meters heading to the Summit, which is 4095.2 MASL (Meters Above Sea Level). The first 700 meters was on tough trail surfaces and shifts to the large granite formation of Mount Kinabalu which required some ropes to ascent. The trail goes on a hilly granite trail path going to the summit. The last 100 meters to the summit was a steep incline that required ropes to traverse.
Trek # 3 Laban Rata to Timpohan Gate, 8.5 kilometers
The last route is from Lows Peak Summit to Timpohan Gate covering about 2200 meters of elevation. It starts with a 2.5 kilometers descent from Lows Peak to Laban Rata and another 6 kilometers descent from Laban Rata to Timpohan Gate with the last 200 meters being a climb to the Gate.
The Group met at NAIA Terminal 3 since most would be taking the same Air Asia flight to Kota Kinabalu arriving about lunch time. We had our lunch before we took our 2 hours bus ride going to Mt. Kinabalu Park. Our home stay was at Mesilau Nature Resort. We segregated for the stuff we had to bring on the trek and the stuff we would love in the home stay. I got one set of clothes for day two hike, a poncho and two extra jackets. I cramped them up on my Oakley back pack (Mental note: I need to invest in a trek bag). The extra jackets was for layering as we can just add layers when we feel cold and pack it away when we feel warm.
The next day was for breakfast, briefing and preparing our stuff for the long trail. We were starting to warm up with each as a group. We had a last minute change in itinerary, which was to take the Mesilau Trail, which was longer by 2 kilometers compared to the Timpohan Gate. So we’ll get to experience both, we’ll ascend via the tougher Mesilau Trail and descend on the Timpohan Trail on the way back.
We had briefing at around 9 am before proceeding to the start of the trek. It starts with a climb along a combination of dirt tracks, wooden planks, rocky and stoney paths. It was my first time for me to use a trekking pole and funny how I was using it as a cane. Good thing Lester of Trail Adventours thought me later in the trail that it’s best to have it stretched out for maximum effect. It was a lung-busting start but this is just the start of the trail for all of us. The steps were wide apart so it took more effort for each step.
After the first kilometer of ascent, we met the rest of the group at the first shade. It had a view of the mountain from the bottom. The next two kilometers were descents and had two rest stops. The first stop, we played with squirrels as they were all around the place and the next stop, we had our lunch. The descent took the same time as the ascent but it just required less lung power so you can go longer without huffing and puffing. The steps were technical, uneven and took time to navigate. It was also tough on the knees but good thing the trekking pole was cushioning the landing. After lunch, the trail led to the river at the third kilometer.
After crossing the falls at kilometer 3, It was time to climb and this would be the longer climb. I paced with Cheena and her Dad Sir Boyet. The 2 kilometer climb felt endless and forever. It also had granite structures, big steps, sharp rocks, wooden planks, slippery steps, limestone formation, dirt tracks and practically all the surface there is. I let Cheena set the pace and we would rest after each big climb. Aside from the really tough terrain, the mossy forest was very scenic with the lush green backdrop and giant trees dwarfing you with the cold mist starting to sweep to your skin and cheeks while you are walking. It also rained towards the end of the climb so we switched to our Ponchos towards the 5th kilometers.
We rested a bit at the shelter in kilometer 5 to allow the rain to slow down a bit.. After a few hundred meters we were now on the ridge part of the mountain with a view of the top. And since it was raining, we were lucky enough to see a rainbow. I think only our group was able to see the rainbow as when we left, there was no more rainbow. We took time at the ridge because it was just scenic seeing the foggy panoramic mountain view and the rainbow.
We then proceeded with the trail and it started with a descent and then went on a rolling terrain. It was more relaxed at this part. We found a shelter around kilometer 5.5 and we had a few snacks there as well as had to wear our jackets as it was already getting cold approaching nightfall. We then proceeded to the route which then led us to the intersection of the Timpohan Trail.
At the intersection, the trail became a lot more technical with long stretches of rocky steps, boulders, dirt tracks and wooden planks. It felt forever and ever and ever (x 2,000). We’ve been walking for about an hour already and surprisingly, we were only able to cover just half a kilometer. Talk about forever. It was tougher on the next 500 meters as we shifted through a large granite structure. It felt like walking for hours without even moving a distance. It turns out that it’s harder to go on climbs like this with just a plain backpack since it would lack back support.
We took our restroom break with the second to the last stop with 1 kilometer to go before Laban Rata. We also had to use our headlamps by this time as it was dark already. It felt even longer now since it was dark and we took longer getting out of the trail. We had a few snacks with 500 meters to go and resumed groping in the dark until we reached Laban Rata at around 8 pm.
We had a quick dinner at Laban Rata and it was time to prepare for the next day. I switched to my day two clothes and tried to get a short sleep (which I didn’t) before the next hike at Dawn.
Laban Rata to the Lows Peak Summit
I barely had sleep before the 2 am wake up call for the next trek. My compression tights pale in comparison with most of the cold gear trekking pants of the rest. I am now scared that the cold will get to my legs so I just went on with the plan to keep on moving.
We started the trek at 3 am and it was straight ascent on technical trails. There was a queue at the start as everybody was also starting the climb at this time. It helped that we started a controlled pace to avoid altitude sickness which is common when you reach 3,000 meters of elevation. Though we started at the back, we were able to move forward when people was resting. I didn’t want to stop because it would be difficult to feel cold with just my compression.
Since Lester was in charge of the first group, he joined us on the trek. After 700 meters, the trail shifted to the large granite structure of Mt. Kinabalu. We had to navigate through ropes just to climb. At first, it felt difficult because you have to pull your body weight. It didn’t help too that it was dark and we had no idea how long the rope climbs were. We had a lot of stops here to rest and prepare for each major rope climb. It really helped that we had to carry heavy bags on day 1 as it made us stronger for this part. Lester was also a good guide as he had to tell us on where it would be easy to walk and when to use the ropes.
We’ve reached the checkpoint area at kilometer 7. The inclines were more tolerable at that point. The climb was still long though but Lester kept pushing us to have several walks before rests in order to reach the ridge area. So we went on with one push after the other and we were able to cover a lot of distance already. The area is also starting to brighten up already as you can now see the structures. It felt like another planet with you standing on one big granite structures with several formations around and a sea of clouds below you.
We were impressed by the structures and Lester went ahead of us. Cheena and I started to have a walk rest strategy walking 50 steps before resting again. One effort after another and we were at the top. We can see all the structures and the summit. We took a lot of photos in this area since the light was much friendlier already. Sir Boyet was also able to catch up with us. We shifted to a 30 steps effort before a rest and we were able to catch up with Lester who was at the foot of the Summit.
We took our rest and had a a few snacks since the summit was still crowded. After a while, we started to walk to the Summit. It felt easier at this point since we were well rested and we were so close to the summit. The last 100 meters to the summit was the tough part since you had to navigate through ropes and slopes. I went first and unlike the other trails, the summit had several options to climb. There are parts where it was better to use a rope and there were parts you can just walk through the granite structures. You just have to decide which is faster for you. I managed to go up to the top fast and part of the first group. Hello Lows Peak Summit!!!
The view from below the summit was already worth the trek but at the Summit you can see everything. It was humbling to be at this point as you get to see the magnificent views and you get to appreciate the journey that brought you here at this point. You’ve climbed the peak and you conquered yourself – your fears, limits and inhibitions as you’ve reached one of the highest peaks in Asia. I’m also proud on how I manage my energy and heart rate for this one.
Since we were the first to come up, we spent so much time at the summit. It also helped that we waited for people to clear up so we didn’t have to rush our time at the Summit.
We chilled at the granite structures below the summit. The good part was that it was already warm and we took out our other layers of clothing. Surprisingly, it felt comfortable lying on the granite structure. We took our time going down the summit to enjoy the views.
It was a long walk along the granite structures. It was easier than climbing it but it also tough on the knees too. It was good that we had our trekking pole with us to cushion each foot landing. We stayed at the checkpoint a bit to rest before we resumed our descent.
Upon seeing the rappel part this time. It felt shorter compared to when we were climbing it at the dark of dawn. We descended here fast and proceeded to the usual trail, which was tough on the knees and the quad. After a while, we’re now back to Laban Rata.
Laban Rata to Timpohan Gate
We fixed our stuff and ate our lunch and our group and went on with the trail after lunch. The first two kilometers of the trail was really tough and ended up spending so much time here because of the technical nature of the trail. You have to move from one large boulder after another.
The Timpohan Route was less scenic than the Mesilau trail so it was great that we did the Mesilau trail the first day. We tried to speed up in the last 4 kilometers taking advantage of easier parts of the trail. The last two kilometers was already dark so we had to use our headlamps. We just went on and on until we reached Timpohan Gate at the end of trail. About 200 meters into the gate, there is a small water falls and the trail ends on a climb.
We got two certificates for reaching the summit. The other one is by passing through the tougher Mesilau trail. We spent the remaining time at our hotel in Kota Kinabalu and had some hawker food at Dawn before leaving in the morning. I have to commend trail adventours for this one as they were really flexible in their itinerary to put premium on our own trail experience. It was also nice meeting new found friends and maybe we’ll bump into each other in the next mountain. Let’s see!