On top of Borneo
|My heart is pounding like a jackhammer, my lungs working at 120% of their capacity to draw every molecule of oxygen from the thin air. My legs feel like they’re made from lead and spaghetti, and every step is a struggle. Nevertheless, I manage to take just one more. And one more. Until I can turn around and enjoy the most fabulous sunrise from the top of Mt. Kinabalu, the very roof of Borneo.
One of the main attractions of Sabah is the towering Mount Kinabalu. Not only is this impressive mountain the highest in South-East Asia, it is also known as one of the easiest 4000m-plus mountains in the world.Mt Kinabalu isn’t really the kind of mountain you climb. Hiking is the word you’re looking for. The summit can be reached without any climbing experience or specialized gear. All you need is a waterproof jacket, a warm sweater and a pair of decent running/hiking shoes. You will also need lots of stamina and willpower, as you will be hiking through rocky terrain and climbing innumerable flights of stairs through increasingly thin air. Being in decent shape doesn’t hurt either.
To avoid altitude sickness, a real threat anywhere above 2500m, it is wise to split the ascent into two days. Most climbers start out from the park headquarters (1800m above sea level) around 10am, hike the first 6.5 kilometers to the Laban Rata guest house (approximately 3600m above sea level) and spend the night here before struggling to the top at 2 am. next morning. Getting up this early is not really necessary in order get to the summit and back to the park headquarters before sunset, but because nobody wants to miss the wonderful experience of sunrise at Lowe’s peak, most climbers start at this time.
Even though going down is a lot easier on the heart and lungs than going up, the descent is not to be underestimated. First of all, you go all the way down to the park in one stretch. No rest for the weary! Second, descending almost 2500 meters in 4 hours is hell on the knees! Go slowly, descend in huge turns on the high slopes and walk stairs backwards or sideways from time to time in order to take some weight of your knees. And remember: it is no shame to lean on the handrails!
Mt Kinabalu is located in Kinabalu Park, less than two hours drive from KK. For climbing the peak itself, a guide is mandatory. Guides can be hired at the Park Headquarters, or through one of Sabahs numerous tour operators. Since the Laban Rata guest house has a limited number of beds, you should book the trip, or at least a bunk at the guest house well in advance!