The Mountain - all 4095m of it

Kundasang Travel Blog

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Mount Kinabalu
7.00am and once more into the minivan my friends - the high road beckons. Along for the ride were Craig and Ai from Melbourne, Ai's brother Guang, and the lovely Stine and Sarah from Denmark. After a couple of hours of getting to know my mountain buddies I just felt very old - why is the whole world younger than me now?? Park headquarters sits just off the main KK to Sandakan road and we happily milled about taking pics as passes and permits were sorted for the trail ahead. Around the HQ were a bunch of other buildings and some very nice looking gardens - there's apparently stuff to do here even if you're not climbing all the way up so do take a look.

We had a guide, but he did so in name only - there was one trail and one trail only.
The dreaded steps
Ironically, at 4.30am the following morning at the only point where the route ahead was momentarily confused, then of course the guide was nowhere to be found. From Park HQ a short van ride took us to the start of the trek at Timpohon Gate where our passes were each checked against a printed list - you'd have to be creative if you wanted to buck the system here.

The trail is a broad path which starts by climbing through thick forest, passing an attractive waterfall early on, with wood-reinforced steps easing our passage on the steep parts. Damp but firm underfoot, it was a steady and pleasant trudge, passing the time by chatting or guessing the nationality of those who you overtook or overtook you by their clothing or rucksack brands (Osprey - USA; Macpac - NZ; Montbell - Japan!!).
The Danes (for me it's about 4 generations back I think)
I glimpsed what I think was a small pitcher plant off to one side through the trees, but with the steady human traffic this wouldn't be a day for wildlife spotting - though the sense of being deep in rainforest was fantastically atmospheric. With rest stops and benches every half KM or so, and places to take on water, it's a very civilized ramble on the first day.

Once past the edge of the forest, it didn't seem that long before we reached Laban Rata. As is common round here, clouds had built up steadily through the day so, although the hill above was still visible, it was very English and grey, and much cooler than further down the hill. Our home for the night wasn't Laban Rata, but the smaller and newer Pendant Hut which sat on a rockslab a hundred metres away.
Sarah and Stine in our dorm
This was a cosy little place with tea, coffee and toast waiting for us and a comfy dormitory of bunk beds upstairs through a 90% size doorway which I almost fractured a cheekbone on when I forgot to duck - the kind of mistake you only make once. After a quick briefing it was simply a matter of relaxing and waiting for night to fall around and, as the mountain darkened around us we clambered back down the rock slab to dinner in the busy canteen at Laban Rata - the queues were long but the food plentiful and perfectly OK and I spent a pleasant hour chatting to other climbers - lots of very lucky Aussie schoolkids (I would have killed to do this at their age) - but many other nations and ages present as well.

By 8pm it was lights out and heads down. As always on these nights, I got very little sleep - far too excited about what lay ahead, so was perfectly OK about the stupidly early start and the hurried breakfast which followed.
Just follow the rope...
I think we started on our climb around 2.30am - walking away from the hut it wasn't that cold, just a matter of watching your footing on the steps in the darkness around you.

Eventually the scrub gave way to bare rock and a final checkpoint had to be negotiated with passes ready for inspection before the path pretty much disappeared and we were hauling ourselves up the rope which crossed the open slabs of smooth rock. Below us a continuous line of bobbing headtorches stretched a kilometre or so into the blackness - Kinabalu was clearly a popular hill. For the final couple of hundred vertical metres there's a lot more rocks and boulders around, which heightens the tension as the final summit, Low's Peak, comes into fuzzy view in the pre-dawn semi-light.
Summit - 5.34am!


By now, some of those we passed were reduced to slo-mo zombie-like plodding and I saw a teenage Australian girl vomiting on the side of the trail, but I don't think anyone turned around - take it steady and a really nice peak can go in the bag for everyone. St John's Peak, a few hundred metres West is only 5m lower than the summit, but looked like a full roped climb and if that had been the top, the mountain would have been a very different proposition.

The final hundred metres or so up Low's Peak is a fun scramble through the boulders and, before we knew it, the tatty wooden sign was upon us, a metre beyond which a cliff fell away into the black void of Low's Gully. After posing for the obligatory pics, it was time to huddle up and wait for the sun.
Me, happy to be headed down
We were perhaps 20 minutes early for the fireworks but wouldn't have wanted to stay there any longer than that - the speed at which you get cold once you stand still is shocking, even if the temperature never dropped as far as freezing and the breeze was light. Once the reds and oranges had given way to true daylight we started to clamber down the summit nub with the whole plateau revealed in the daylight, falling away below us and then curving back up up to the exquisitely beautiful South Peak - a real sense of the total grandeur of the mountain.

Back down at the Sayat Sayat hut at 3700m, our group broke away from those plodding back down the path to take on a roped Via Ferrata descent down one of the steeper slabs. It was fun, but the addition of second safety rope to the already safe Petzl Scorpio VF harnesses made the experience a little disjointed and not really worth the extra cost.
Stine warms up
Returning to the hut, another breakfast and a nice mug of instant coffee were very welcome, before we packed and started down the path.

This was where Kinabalu has a sting in the tail. All we had to do was walk 6km down a hill right? Wrong - what we had to do was climb down about a MILLION steps. I've never gone DOWN a hill so slowly in my life, and as the odd cloudburst made the forest properly jungle-like - it became pretty slippery underfoot. Other people I know who have done the hill say the same - even the strongest set of knees (not mine!) never forget Mount K - days later I would still be climbing down sets of 2 or 3 steps like an old man - death grip on the handrail and shuffling both feet onto each step before tackling the next!

As the afternoon went on we steadily counted off the kilometer markers, still taking it all in and enjoying the day, but looking forward to the end now.
Good fun
Back at the Timpohon Gate, a vacationing Malay family took one look at my wet, tired and shambolic appearance and propmptly got the camera out - a cautionary tale of what happens if you're stupid enough to walk up "The Mountain". A welcome packed lunch awaited us in the van, and a cheesy but quite cool certificate was presented to us back at HQ. And that was it - from here my hill buddies would be heading West, but for me it would be East to Sandakan, the Orangutans and the beach.
Mezmerized says:
Thankyou Christian, very nice, doesn't sound too bad after all :-)
Posted on: Feb 24, 2010
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Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu
The dreaded steps
The dreaded steps
The Danes (for me its about 4 gen…
The Danes (for me it's about 4 ge…
Sarah and Stine in our dorm
Sarah and Stine in our dorm
Just follow the rope...
Just follow the rope...
Summit - 5.34am!
Summit - 5.34am!
Me, happy to be headed down
Me, happy to be headed down
Stine warms up
Stine warms up
Good fun
Good fun
Looking back to the summit
Looking back to the summit
My trek buddies - Guang, Craig, Ai…
My trek buddies - Guang, Craig, A…
Off we go...
Off we go...
Craig and Ai - engaged!!
Craig and Ai - engaged!!
The forest clears
The forest clears
Into the scrubland
Into the scrubland
Laban Rata Hut
Laban Rata Hut
Our home - Pendant hut
Our home - Pendant hut
Limited disabled access
Limited disabled access
Looking down
Looking down
Night falls
Night falls
2.30am!!
2.30am!!
Headtorches below
Headtorches below
Out of focus, sorry!
Out of focus, sorry!
Very, very cold!
Very, very cold!
Nice sunrise...
Nice sunrise...
South Peak comes into view
South Peak comes into view
Should have taken my headtorch off…
Should have taken my headtorch of…
St Johns Peak - 4090m
St John's Peak - 4090m
Craig got a bit excited at his fir…
Craig got a bit excited at his fi…
South Peak sooo pretty...
South Peak sooo pretty...
One of the trusty route markers
One of the trusty route markers
Donkey ears - the ugly sub peak
Donkey ears - the ugly sub peak
James, Via Ferrata Guide, above th…
James, Via Ferrata Guide, above t…
Time to rope up
Time to rope up
Down we go
Down we go
Careful...
Careful...
Looking back
Looking back
Finished!!!!
Finished!!!!
663 km (412 miles) traveled
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photo by: ted332