Malaysia: Sabah

Day 1 - Conquer Mount Kinabalu: Above The Clouds

Saturday, January 17, 2015

It has been a long while that I was keep thinking about climbing again one of the tallest mountain in Borneo before I had ended up my final year study life in Sabah Malaysia. Eventually, I had decided to join again my classmate’s organised climbing tour to Mount Kinabalu on Sunday, 26th of November 2006

This time was my third climb to conquer Mount Kinabalu. My climbing group existed in total of 40 peoples. Some were already experienced same like me, as for others was it the first climb. I did not climb many giant mountains like this before but Mount Kinabalu was always close to my heart. Even though it was my third climb but each experience was always different through joining with different groups of people.

Mount Kinabalu (4,095 meter height) is situated in the vicinity of Kinabalu National Park in which conserves one of the richest assemblages of biological diversity and spectacular natural landscapes in tropical Southeast Asia. Each year, thousands of tourists visit Kinabalu National Park and most come with the intention of climbing Mount Kinabalu. It is deemed as one of the easiest peak to conquer in the world because no special skills and equipments are needed. However, the ascending trail is physically tough and it takes a minimum of two days to reach the peak.

Mount Kinabalu Summit, “Low's Peak” (4,095m), here we go!

There are currently two trails one can follow to get to the top of Mount Kinabalu which are the Mesilau Trail and the Summit Trail (also known as Timpohon Trail). The Timpohon Trail is a shorter, more-travelled route that starts from Kinabalu Park headquarter. The Kinabalu Park headquarter will provide buses for climbers at RM 5 ringgit each that will bring you to Timpohon Gate, which is the start of the Summit Trail. There are seven sheltered hut in every 1 km along the trail before reaching Laban Rata base camp. 

The Mesilau trail is 2 km longer route that start at the Mesilau Nature Resort, which is 15 km past the Kinabalu Park headquarter. The trail involves trekking through the Mesilau Nature Park on the Mesilau plateau. 

 Mount Kinabalu climbing route map, Timpohon and Mesilau Gates.

We had decided to start our climb from Mesilau because the scenery was more beautiful than the Timpohon trail. The drive to Mesilau was already beautiful with all the mountains, the wide views and the nature of forest, waterfall, flowers and trees. We could even saw Mount Kinabalu, but the summit was hidden in the clouds. This had made the mountain even more mysterious. 

A hidden mountain in the cloud made it more mysterious. 

Green Pine Trees, full of them is “fragrance” along the road side to Mesilau Nature Resort.

Everyone sat in the minibus with different thoughts and excitement, the feeling of the unknown and the feeling of am I ready or not. After two and half hours journey, we were finally arrived at Mesilau Nature Resort at about 9:30 am. You already could felt the difference in temperature, it was much colder. The Mesilau Nature Resort has a beautiful surrounding area full of nature. We even saw some monkeys jumping from tree to tree.

Beautiful yellow honey flowers are growing randomly across the green field in Mesilau Nature Resort.

Day 1 - Ascent To Base Camp, Laban Rata (3,272 m)

My climbing day began at the Mesilau Nature Resort, where my teammate and I registered for the climb. On that day, we saw nearly up to hundred climbers milling around the park office near the gate, where they were nervously anticipated the climb ahead. 

 A memorable group photo was taken in Mesilau Nature Resort. Can you spot me?

We were issued with permits after paying for our guide fee, insurance and climbing fee. The permit, which was individually printed with your name, your day of departure and your ID number, must be carried with you on the trail for the duration of the climb. Besides, your permit is absolutely important to reserve a room for you at Laban Rata, a rest house place located at 3,272 metres above sea level, about two-thirds of the way up to the summit, offering climbers warm lodgings and hot meals before and after climbing to the summit of Low Peak. Please keep it well and don’t climb all the way up only to find that there is no room reserved for you.

Bear in mind that climb permit must be displayed at all time when climbing.

Once our formalities have been completed, we proceeded to meet up with mountain guide in front of the Mesilau trail. He would inform you about the trail, rules and safety regulations. He told us that we could walk at our own speed and that he would stay with the one who was walking behind. 

You will be advised not to climb the mountain if your body is unfit for the above sickness.

At 10.30 am, we set off with our own climb and it was considered a bit delayed to start climbing due to briefing stuff.   

Our starting point from here: Mesilau trail. 

Day 1 - The Beginning Stage 

Initially, the track was headed downhill for the first few hundred metres through some magnificent temperate rainforest. Just keep walking at your right pace and enjoy it with some beautiful forest and lush scenery. 

The rainforest canopy is quite dense, giving climbers plenty of protection from the sun. 

Water is plentiful at many checkpoints along the well established trail.

There were all sorts of flora and fauna along the way so keep your eyes open. A waterfall on the left of the track was a highlight of the first kilometre, but the track soon began winding upwards and soon after this checkpoint, it was getting hard on me. The path was starting with many ascent stairs to walk up and they were no real stairs, for one I had to take very big steps, meanwhile the other exists of rocks and sands.

Colourful wildflowers (flora) and common treeshrew (fauna) on the ground!

A far sight of waterfall was falling from the gash where this point showed the first kilometer walk.

One of the most appealing aspects of the trail was the regular appearance of rest huts at every 600 metres distance for a well earned drink and a chance to watch tiny mountain and squirrels scavenged for crumbs.

 Rolling mountains of dense jungle under a vibrant blue sky blanketed with fluffy white clouds was a wondrous site.

Squirrel is trying to “steal your food”.

Each of the sheltered hut had a supply of fresh mountain water to refill your drink bottle. The water was untreated and you might drink the water from the tap at your own risk. To avoid any upset, it was probably safer to use some water purification tablets or to bring along your own drinking bottle. We could only took no longer than 5 minutes rest at every sheltered hut because once your body got cool down, you would use more energy to rebuild your momentum again.

Sheltered hut equipped with toilet facility at every 600 m along Mesilau Trail.

Day 1 - Layang-Layang Checkpoint

After 4km hike, we reached Layang-Layang checkpoint where a junction connecting with the Timpohon trail. From that point on, all climbers hiked the same trail. Most climbers opted to take a break here for lunch, rested for about 20 minutes to half an hour. At this stage you would probably began to encounter some of the climbers descending from the previous day's expedition. Most of them seemed in good spirits, but obviously weary.

This was somewhere you could start to see the mist, the winds were strong and rocks were wet. The track was started to getting steep, rough and uneven so I had one eye on my feet and one on the landscape. This was about 2.3 km elevation above sea level. Trekking further up from this junction, you would get higher and higher level and the path would gradually be even more precipitous.

After Layang-Layang checkpoint, a steep, rough and uneven ground surface can be seen everywhere.   

Day 1 - Alpine Environment

Just past the 5 km mark, the track finally cleared the thicker forest growth of the mountain and emerged on to a rocky plateau for the first time. It was quite an awe-inspiring feeling to be more than 2.5 km up, even though the view was often obscured by heavy and precipitous clouds.   

Heavy and precipitous clouds awaited you ahead along the path to Laban Rata.

As the track elevation approached 3,000 m, the terrain changed dramatically. The alpine and floral growth was markedly different to the rainforest below. Gone were the tree ferns and rainforest giants, replaced by more scrubby trees barely of any leaves, about two to three feet height and hard rocky ground with high clay content. It was quite a sight for any climbers not familiar with the alpine environment.

Hard rocky pathway, it is containing high clay content. 

The quiet alpine environment while walking would make you felt one with the nature and you could just empty your mind. I did spot some wild pitcher plant next to track up near Laban Rata, but that was the highlight for any budding botanists! 

The environment changed drastically from tropical rain forest to altitude high shrubbery and stunted vegetation.

Famous tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes), produced attractive colours, sugary liquid secretion and even sweet scents to attract and kill their prey. 

Day 1 - The Last Climb

The last 200 meters up to Laban Rata, our stop for the night, became quite a slog as the oxygen level was rare. Some climbers began experiencing the first effects of physical exertion at this altitude. It was much harder to gain your breath, and some might start suffering from a slight headache.  

The wooden staircase at 200m below Laban Rata was leading us to rest house.

Not much grows on mountain, as generally the terrain is rocky, but the air is often pure.

I started to feel heavier on my breathing due to low oxygen level in the thin air. I was anxious that if I continued to suffer any altitude sickness symptoms, it would stop my chances of reaching the summit. So, I was started to slow down my pace and walked steady. 

Distant harsh mountains are composed of granite, covered with thorny shrubs and alpine trees. 

Day 1 - Rest and Dinner

Sooner and later, I arrived at Laban Rata base camp at about 5:30 pm, having my set off from Mesilau gate at 10:30 am. I spent almost 7 hours in total to complete my first day hiking. The dining room at Laban Rata was quite a pleasant place to unwind from the walk. Tea and coffee were available, as well as a range of soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, chocolate and snacks. There were also a 'post office' where climbers could write and sent postcards from high altitude! Foods, drinks and snacks were more expensive than you would expect to pay here, but keep in mind that all the supplies at Laban Rata had to be carried up by porters. 

Dinner was available from the early evening onwards and it served with buffet-style as well as Malaysian and Western dishes were offered. My hunger could not stop me to order food from here after expending too much energy during the day. I was trying to eat the food as much as possible to build up my energy, prepared for the next morning climb to the summit.

 Finish point: Laban Rata lodging house, a rest for our first night.

Half an hour after I arrived, the rain set in for a couple of minutes and several group of soggy climbers staggered into the dining room from 6 pm onwards! Some climbers arrived well after 6:30 pm, when the light started to fade. It was hard physically to climb the track after dark. Don't allow yourself to be caught in the dark, because the weather was wet and cold, with 500 m to walk before you reach Laban Rata. Soon after my dinner, I was waiting to view the spectacular sunset from our dining room’s balcony place. My group chatted with a few other climbers after dinner and drank plenty of the freshly brewed local tea, before headed to bed at about 7 pm.

A wefie photo was taken with one of my teammate in Laban Rata dining room's balcony place.

Sunset view in Laban Rata made your effort a worthwhile!

Please continue to read my next blog and check out my shared experience on climbing Mount Kinabalu in Second Day.

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