Mountain and Me: Mt Kinabalu

The Mountain: At 4,095 masl, Mt Kinabalu is regarded as the highest mountain in Malaysia and one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia. It is also one of the most sought-after beginner-level alpine hikes in the region, and is open to a limited number of hikers per day all year round. The first leg of the ascent consists of 6 kilometers through a forest trail mostly built with wooden stairs and hand rails – a feat that must never be underestimated because of the steep change in altitude. Hikers who do not prepare for the long leg work may feel a mile more exhausted upon reaching the 3rd hour of the ascent. Since the first part of the climb typically takes almost all parts of the day with sunlight, hikers stay overnight at heated rest houses at Kilometer 6 before heading off to the summit. The last two kilometers to the top are lined with ropes for support and to guide hikers during the night. The thin air coupled with a consistent slope can definitely slow down even the fastest and strongest hikers, but the views of the sunrise and the sea of clouds washing through the mountain’s rocky crevasses are the ultimate reward for two days of knee-breaking ascent. After that tough and breath-taking experience, descending will be a fun glide back through the rocky sections of the trail, and then down the 6 km staircase jungle.

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Me: I summitted Mt Kinabalu on February, with 5 hours of ascent time from Timpohon Gate (base) to Laban Rata (rest house), and around 2 hours from Laban Rata to Low’s Peak. I joined a hiking tour organized by Trail Adventours, booked the cheapest Air Asia flight from Manila to Kota Kinabalu, and started the hike in the morning of Feb 27. I took it slow during the first leg of the hike (targeting 45 minutes per kilometer) to avoid exhausting myself too early. The slope at the last 2 kilometers to the summit was expected, but the thinness of the air seemed to push everyone back. Plus, there were sections that really required the use of ropes, and since I haven’t had much experience with ropes and rappelling, the ropes were an added challenge. I felt like a zombie just following the ropes for almost two hours. I reached the summit at around 5:15 a.m., the 4th to summit in our group of 20. Sadly, I wasn’t able to take a decent picture of that moment because the crowd was already moving up and the summit was only a few meters wide, so I had to go back about a hundred meters down. I waited for the sun to completely show up before bringing my camera out again, and turns out the view was even more beautiful from the lower point of the rock section.

Before the climb, I thought the descent would be the harder part because of the toll of the slopes on the knees. Turns out it was actually easier for me. Also, I guess using a trekking pole down the 6-km jungle made it easy for me to speed up my pace. I felt great after finishing after only 5 hours from the summit, over an hour earlier than expected, which meant I was still on time for the buffet dinner at Balsam Restaurant at the base, which was actually my only motivation for getting down from the mountain as fast as I could. đŸ˜€

Mt Kinabalu is the highest mountain I’ve climbed yet and definitely one for the books. Summitting this mountain is actually one of my major hiking goals this 2017. I’m really happy to have completed this hike, and I’m excited for the next and even tougher international hikes I’ll be doing this year and in the following years!

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