Mount Kinabalu is accessed, normally, from Kota Kinabalu and you are required to go with a tour company who will organise accommodation and a guide. It’s not too cheap and you have to really want to climb it otherwise I suspect you might regret the cost.
The day started quite early since the national park is a two hours away and there is a bit of admin to do at the park HQ. You’re taken to the gates where you show your permit and you are away.
I was assigned a guide along with another guy who was in my group. However, I walked faster than him and I’d told my guide I had experience hiking and he seemed happy to leave me to it. The plan was to ascend about 1400 metres to the high camp with its rest houses and does this on a good, but constantly climbing path – particularly the last couple of kilometres.
I was feeling fresh and stretched my legs going past some people who go to start a bit earlier and soon it was just me and passing the odd porter (always amaze me with their giant loads – they are paid by the kg normally) here and there. There wasn’t much to see as you are in the forest for the majority of the climb and so I listened to music and enjoyed the exercise and the mountain air.
Eventually the woods give way to shrubs and, if it wasn’t so misty, probably some views. I got to a clearing below the rest house and thought I would wait for the guide and the other climber. I took the opportunity to “reset” my wet clothes on some rocks in the sun and did a spot of reading. It was all quite relaxing, but I didn’t count of waiting for two and a half hours! I saw the guide first and then noticed he was carrying two packs. Thali had started to suffer from altitude sickness and it had been an ordeal for him to get to up. He was clearly pleased to have done so and got on his knees to thank Allah for giving him the strength to do so. I spent the afternoon drinking tea and coffee chatting to Thali who is hoping to open his own coffee house in KL roasting his own beans.
Around five or so we were served a buffet and then then rested until leaving at around three in the morning. I didn’t get much in the way of sleep – the early bedtime plus the altitude stopped that. However, come three I was itching to go and was pleased when I could finally walk. The first 15 minutes or so was spent getting past people who appeared to not be having much fun! However, I was soon at the front and getting to climb in the moonlight was awesome. The mud became bare granite which, whilst Granite is grippy, must be a bit dicey in the wet. There is a rope for safety the entire way and there are sections where you have to haul yourself up and, without the rope, would be scrambles for sure.
As I got higher the slope became much more gradual – I looked about and couldn’t see fellow climbers only a storm off to my left illuminating the sky whilst above me were the moon and stars. The final summit push is a rocky climb through boulders and then the summit with it’s dangerous drop (fenced off) and sign. I ended up waiting 45 minutes for other people to arrive and realised I’d probably set off a touch early. It was cold and I didn’t have a true thermal layer so I was feeling it. I chose to walk down with an English guy and his guide and we sheltered waiting for the sun to come up. It was breathtaking when it finally appeared on the horizon – illuminating a sea of cloud with mountain summits for boats.
The walk down was fairly steady – you stop for breakfast first and then go down the way you came up and then a transfer back to KK. I had a good time and if you enjoy mountains then definitely include it in your trip.