I have been wanting to climb and conquer the summit of Mount Kinabalu for quite some time. As a matter of fact, this is my third attempt to conquer the highest summit in Malaysia. First attempt was in 2011 via Mesilau Trail and failed miserably (we reached Laban Rata at night around 10 pm) and the second attempt was in 2012 (managed to climbed till Sayat-Sayat Check Point and it started to rain heavily and all climbing activity was cancelled due to safety reasons). That was 7 years ago (and all this while I thought it was 5 😂).
Then on June 05th 2015, an earthquake struck Ranau with a magnitude of 6.0, damaged most of the trails to the summit and claimed several lives. For few months the trails have been closed temporarily for rehabilitation and repairs and on December 2015, the Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister announced that the trails were fully reopened with new alternative routes to the summit.
In 2018, I received a message from a friend that climbing slots in 2019 for Sabahan are opened for bookings. Without any hesitation, I contacted some of my friends and persuaded them to join me. Before the dateline is up, I managed to convince seven people to join and experience this adventure.
The drive from Kota Kinabalu (KK) to Kinabalu Park (KNP) takes 2 hours, so some of us have decided to drive up to Kundasang one day earlier before the climb and stay one night at the hotel nearby Kinabalu Park. This helps us to get an early rest without having to wake up early in the morning, drive all the way up from KK and do the climbing on the same day.
01st June 2019
At 7 am, the gang and I meet up at Kinabalu Park Headquarter for registration. After filled up an indemnity form, made payment for our climbing permit, guides, return transportation from the park to Timpohon Gate (starting point), and insurance, we were given our ID tag which we need to wears it all the time.
Mount Kinabalu as my backdrop.
At Timpohon Gate.
After a short briefing from our guide, we started our journey to Laban Rata from Timpohon Gate which takes approximately 5 to 6 hours covering 6 kilometers. Along the way, there are 6 rest stops available for climbers to refill their water and comfort stations.
A group photo at Carlson's Waterfall.
The first and second kilometres seems easy and we took our time to enjoy the scenery but once we passed the second rest stop, it was all hell. The trails are getting harder and challenging and it really tested our level of fitness (not to mention our mental exhaustion). Struggled, I manage to reach at the base camp around 3 pm. The weather temperature at Laban Rata is quite cold (probably less than 10°C) when I arrived and to make it even worse, my friend challenged me to take a bath (unfortunately there is no water heater and I can guarantee you the water is cold as ice), which I did!
Mountain porter carrying cooking gas tank cylinder from Timpohon to Laban Rata.
After having our buffet dinner at 4:30 pm, all of us headed to our dorm and get an early rest for the next day. Unfortunately for me, I've got a fever and headache that night and probably won't make it for the next day climb. After taking some medicines, I try to get some sleep and hoping the fever will go away.
02nd June 2019
Woke up at 1 am and I'm getting ready for the summit. Another 2.72 kilometres to beat! No sign of fever although I am still experiencing a slight headache.
Supper was provided before climbers begin to ascend and although all of us are excited, deep inside our heart we are extremely nervous and worried whether we can make it or not. None of us talked about the summit or what will happen, we just eat and prepare ourselves for the worst.
Had supper before continue our journey to Low's Peak.
Exactly at 2:45 am, all climbers started their journey to the summit. Somehow, less than 500 metres from the base camp, I've started to experience breathing difficulty and fever. My pace is getting slower and I often stopped and try to catch my breath. All of my friends are ahead of me and I let them proceed without me as I do not want to cause any delay for them. A guide was there to accompany me (and another climber who was experiencing altitude sickness himself), advised me to take small steps and do not overdo it.
I took his advice, focused on my walk without looking back and somehow, I did not realize I had left them behind. I got separated from my mountain guide! When I turned my back, I realized I was all alone, walking towards to Sayat-Sayat Check Point without any signs of other climbers and it was pitch black. Some of them probably already reached at Sayat-Sayat and the rest of them, probably, still far behind me. I stopped, look around. It was my first time being alone in an unfamiliar place. I thought for a second, maybe I should wait for my guide and my friend but what if they've decided to return back to the base camp? Furthermore, I need to reach Sayat-Sayat before 5:30 am otherwise they will not allow any climbers to continue as per the Sabah Park’s regulation.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I finally make a decision to proceed and took the risk. Thankfully, I managed to reach Sayat-Sayat safely around 5 am, showed my ID tag, checked in and continue my journey to the summit.
The trail after Sayat-Sayat is even more challenging for me. It requires not only my energy but my mental strength too. The trails are getting harder and most of the time I need to rely on ropes due to 20 degrees inclination trails. It’s getting steeper and slippery. I was scared. There's a lot 'what if' questions popping in my head. I tried to have a peek what’s behind me and it was completely dark. There were so many times my mind told me to quit and even at one point I cried because I am not ready to give up. I kept telling myself 'just a little bit more' and 'don't disappoint myself' and with small self-encouragement, I found myself walking again. With a little bit of help from my trusted headlight, I hold onto the ropes and praying that I will reach the summit without falling. Who knows where I might end up at if I fall in that alienated area. The wind started to blow stronger and that's all I can hear on my way up to the summit. The temperature dropped massively and I could feel the cold on my face. The air is getting thinner and I'm battling physical, mentally and emotionally.
When I tried to comfort and pushed myself for not quitting, all of sudden I saw silhouettes of people far ahead. Finally, the sun is up and that's when I know I'm almost there. Few hundreds of kilometres to go before I reached at where they are and I continued my walk at a slower pace without looking what's up there. Less than 5 minutes walking, I realized all of the climbers started climbing, again. My hopes shattered into a million pieces. I thought that is the summit and I was wrong. Apparently, I still need to climb to reach the Low's Peak.
I got so mad at myself. Thinking why I should go on further when I can just sit down at the rock waiting for them. I was extremely exhausted and I am ready to quit. I sat down, looking at them and said to myself, 'it's okay. I don't have to climb anymore and I can stop this suffering. Yes, even though it is not Low's Peak, I am already here'.
I started to cry again. I hate this feeling of being a failure but seriously my body just can't take it anymore. I look at them, envied. How can I explain to my son that his mommy is a failure? It was then a brother came down from Low's Peak, saw me sitting and by looking at my face, he knew that I was done for the day. 'Just a little bit more. You can do it'. He said. I looked at him and found some encouragement. I pulled myself up and continued. ‘Few meters and ropes to climb. I can do this’. It was then I saw some familiar faces at the top and all of sudden my climbing spirits were lifted. Suddenly that few steps to the top seems easy and how glad I was to see them again. I reached at Low's Peak approximately 7 am with a smile on my face. It was true. From high up on the summit, I can finally take a moment to rest and enjoyed the panoramic view. That spectacular view is exactly what I’ve always pictured and I knew that will stay with me forever.
As we slowly descend back to Laban Rata, I came across my guide (who were supposed to look after me). Apparently, he accompanied my friend up to Sayat-Sayat, leave him there to rest and continued his journey to find me. I told him all about my journey and how I managed to walked all alone in the dark without no one besides me. I knew he felt guilty for leaving me but I assured him that he did the right move for taking care of my sick friend. What matter most is that both of us are safe.
Some important notes when you've decided to climb up Mount Kinabalu.
• Don't underestimate the weather. It can be really cold at the summit and sometimes it can reach 5°C at the peak. A proper attire and balaclava mask (or scarf) is essential to protect your face from the cold wind.
• Bring some food for your journey. A packed lunch (sandwich and a hard-boiled egg) is provided but I can assure you it will not enough.
• You can refill your water at every rest stop but bear in mind is from the tap.
• Don't over packed. Just bring the necessary clothing, shoes and other stuff. You can hire a porter to carry your backpack and you will need a small backpack to carry your own water, raincoat, medicines and food.
Our porters getting ready to help us with our backpacks
• Good gloves to prevent from rope burn and cold.
• A good hiking shoes.
• Cash, just in case you need to purchase hot drinks or food at the base camp.
• Lip balm to prevent from your lips cracking.
And lastly, determination.
This climbing trip is sure not easy and you will definitely feel the pain even before you leave the mountain but it was all worth it.
At the end of the day, it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.