Scaling Mt. Kinabalu & Exploring Sandakan

(29/11/2011 – 05/12/2011)

A.  Scaling Mt. Kinabalu

A.1 Introduction

This is my second attempt to scale Mt. Kinabalu. The first was in early April 2000 when I went there alone as part of my training for trekking to Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was a normal 2D 1N trek to Low’s Peak from Kinabalu National Park and I managed to complete this maiden expedition with no problem.

This time around, after more than a decade of mountain trekking all over the world with my trekking friends, we decided to make another attempt to scale Mt. Kinabalu and to include the latest rock climbing adventure in Mountain Torq’s Via Ferrata.

We also planned to explored parts of Sandakan after our Mt Kinabalu expedition.

For this expedition, the four trekkers are as follows:  Kenny Lim, Larry Logue, me and KC Cheah.

Mt. Kinabalu is the tallest mountain (4,095m) in South East Asia and is situated in Kinabalu National Park in the State of Sabah. The Park, established in 1964 and covering an area of 754 sq km, is Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Normally, climbers would take two days to ascend and decent Mt. Kinabalu, starting from Timpohon Gate or Mesilau Gate near Kinabalu Park Headquarters with an overnight stay in one of the guest houses in Laban Rata. The track from Timpohon Gate (1,866m) to Low’s Peak (4,095m) is about 8km long and to the Guest House in Laban Rata (3273m) is about 5.5km. Climbers normally would commence their ascent to the summit early the next morning to reach Low’s peak in time to watch the magnificent sunrise before returning to Laban Rata for breakfast. They then descend the mountain and generally reach the Park’ Headquarters by mid afternoon. 

Mt. Kinabalu Trail Map

A.2  The Climb – Timohon Gate to Laban Rata

We intended to ascend from Timpohon Gate, about 5km west of Kinabalu Park Headquarters and descend to Mesailau Nature Resort, located east of Park’s headquarters.

We arrived at Kota Kinabalu in the late afternoon on 29 Oct and had an overnight stay in Hotel Eden 54. After an early breakfast in the hotel, we were picked up from the hotel at before 7am. We arrived at Mt. Kinabalu Park at about 8.30am. After registration and assignment of a guide, we started the climb from Timpohan Gate at about 9am.

Initially, the trail went downhill for the first few hundred meters through dense temperate rainforest until we reached Carson’s Fall. From there on, the track began to wind upwards. The first four kilometers of the track was quite moderate, where in many sections sets of wooden and stone stairs were built into many sections of the trail. The rainforest canopy was quite dense providing shade all along the way.

Along the trail there were rest huts at almost every kilometer. We stopped at these huts for a short break and had a sip of our water. Though there was a supply of mountain water at these huts, we did not use it to refill our drinking bottles. At Layang-Layang rest-hut we took a break for lunch.

The trail from Layang-layang rest-hut to Laban Rata was far more taxing and required some scrambling up some very uneven sections of the track which had been carved into the mountain. The terrain changed dramatically and gone are the ferns and rainforest trees. The climb was steep and in parts required the trekkers to use their hands on the ground as the track took sharp uphill turns.

We arrived at Laban Rata at about 2pm and I was feeling quite good, though a bit tired. Our accommodation at Laban Rata had four bunk beds in the room on the first floor. The two seniors (Larry and I) were given the opportunity to have the two bottom bunk beds which were comfortable and warm. I felt cold and did not take a shower except to clean my face with a cold wet tower. The dining room on the ground floor was a pleasant place to unwind. Tea and coffee were available for free and buffet dinner, with four or five Malaysian and Western dishes, was available from early evening.

A.3  The Climb – Raban Rata To Low’ Peak and back

Climbers who want to see the sunrise at the summit would have to set off between 2 and 2.30am. The first breakfast would be available at the restaurant from about 1.30 to 3.00am and the second breakfast from 7.30 to 10am.

As we would be staying in Laban Rata for another night to do the Via Ferrata the next day, and were not keen to see the sunrise, we did not have to get up for the early breakfast. We decided that either Larry or I would get up early to pack our breakfast from the restaurant to bring back to our room for our consumption at about 6.00am as we had decided to commence our ascent to Low’s Peak before 7.00am. But by about 1.30am, we were all awoken by climbers walking along the corridor beside our room. So we all got out of our bunk beds early and joined the other climbers for breakfast at about 2.30am. We went back to our beds immediately after the early breakfast but I was not able to have a wink of sleep.

We were all up by about 6am and soon we commenced our ascent. The initial section of the trail was on wooden staircases built on steep rocky inclines. They were wet and slippery.

After about two hours of unrelentingly steep climb mainly on stairs, we finally reached Sayat-Sayat Hut (3,668m), the highest shelter on the mountain and also the checkpoint for access to the summit.  Soon after the Sayat-Sayat Hut, we emerged onto a rocky plateau that marked the end of the tree line and the beginning of the open rock face.

The white rope on steep rocky inclines began here and we needed to literally pull ourselves up parts of the rock face which was an exhilarating experience for me.

The views of the valleys below were simply breathtaking.

Before we reached the summit, the views in all directions were superb – St John’s Peak, the Donkey’s Ears and the South Peak.

Low's Peak

I reached the summit at about 10.30am after more than four hours of trekking. My pace all the way from Laban Rata was maintained in such a speed that I would not have to stop because of breathlessness and I could actually be in “perpetual motion”, like a wind-up grandfather clock!


A.4  The Descent

After a short break and a bite of sandwich at Low’s Peak, the sky suddenly went dark and a drizzle started falling. The three of us (Larry, KC and I as Kenny was well ahead of us) started our descent without further ado. Soon after we started our descent, it rained cats and dogs!

The ground was wet and slippery. While abseiling down a steep rock face, I slipped and fell twice. In my first fall, the back of my head hit a protruding stone and in the second fall, one side of my bum landed on a stone and I lay down flat on my back for a while for the pain on my bum to subside. Luckily on both occasions my right hand still held on to the rope tightly.

It was a treacherous descent and with sore knees and weary legs, I slowly and gingerly inched my way down the wet and slippery slopes. Luckily, as I was the slowest of the four trekkers, the Guide stayed closed to me. He advised me where to walk and showed me how to approach some of the more dangerous steep sections.

Descending down the series of staircases after Sayat-Sayat was more difficult this time as they were generally wet and my muscles were quite fatigued and my bum still hurt!

I arrived at Laban Rata rest house at about 2pm with my whole body soaked to the skin though I had my raincoat on all the way. After a quick dry-cleaning and a change of clothing I joined my friends at the restaurant for a quick lunch. I felt quite tired and unwell. It was definitely a combination of severe fatigue, dehydration and depleted energy.

We were to go to a briefing at 3.30pm for next day’s Mt Torq’s Via Ferrata rock climbing expedition. But with sore legs and knees and pain in my bum, I decided to forego the next morning’s program so that I could have enough rest to prepare for the trip down the mountain to Kinabalu Park Headquarters the next day.

Early the next morning, Kenny, KC and Larry were to leave Laban Rata for Mt Torq. I was alone in the room packing for the descent when suddenly Larry came back and told me that he too had given up the Mt Torq’s climb because of sore legs and knees!

Both Kenny and KC did the Mt Torq’s climb successfully and returned to Laban Rata before 9am.

We started our descent by about 9.30am. However, my sore legs and knees limited my progress all the way down and I finally arrived at Timpohon Gate just before 2pm, more than four hours since leaving Laban Rata! That ended my second attempt to Mt Kinabalu.

For the record, below are the photo and certificate of my first attempt to Mt Kinabalu in 05/04/20.



back to Home Pg                                               Pg 1                                                 Go to Pg 2 2008