My Hike up Mount Kinabalu

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

At the beginning of our Australian winter break, I decided to visit my family friends residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They are the first long-lasting friendships I made as a child. Imagine my excitement when I found out I would be coming to hike the tallest mountain in South-East Asia – Mount Kinabalu.

(I should probably note, that in the months leading up I trained my legs like a mad man, especially as I do not hike often... or at all).

The hike itself... was totally amazing!

Mt Kinabalu is a mountain standing at a height of 4092m, located on the island of Borneo (not actually a country). Borneo is part of Sabah, one of Malaysia's states. Very tropical, hot, and humid. Unlike Kuala Lumpur, the air is a lot clearer from pollution (once out of the congested city) and therefore allows for more air movement and less humidity.

Our adventuring from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, took approximately 2 hours by air, during which I was heavily entertained by the clouds. Upon arrival, we caught a cab to a hotel and were in bed early in preparation for the next day. The rest of our hiking group were arriving the next day and being collected from the hotel in a shuttle, before stopping at the airport to collect the rest of the group and their suitcases.

We were given an hour break to roam a local shopping centre for some lunch, a bathroom break and some bubble tea; after which we hurried back to the bus and strapped in for a 2-hour drive to the base of the mountain. Here we experienced another overnight stay in adorable little huts and attended a dinner briefing of the do's and don’ts of hiking Mt Kinabalu.

The next morning was a blur. It was a chilly rise at 5:40 am to pack everything away, get the shuttle bus down to the dining hall for a second briefing, and check our suitcases for safekeeping. It's been nearly a year and I still recall the adrenaline rush.

After breakfast we were all packed into a shuttle bus and sent to the gates; the final shuttle destination before beginning the hike at 9 am.

It was a 6 km hike to the rest house (Laban Rata), where we would stay overnight - continuing our hike at 2 am the next day. While the start of the hike was very hot and humid, I couldn't comprehend why I'd worn hiking tights and a t-shirt. I would surely be fine in shorts?


Might I also add, while 6km does not seem a lot, it was 6km of ascending up some INSANELY steep staircases...when we were lucky.

In some areas, there were no stairs, just very steep patches of land and rock. By the time we had reached Laban Rata at 2:30 pm, it was very foggy, and I was freezing in my own sweat (we were literally up in the clouds, my Skeggs playlist turned out ironically convenient).

At this point, 3205m into the sky, I'd drank litres of water, gone absolutely pale and had the worst headache I've ever experienced. Settling into our room and changing into some warm clothes upon arrival was the best choice made. I managed to fit in a nap before our dinner at 4:30 pm, waking up an hour early and coming down for some food.

At this point, my headache had gotten worse and I only managed to get 2 bites of food in, before going to the bathroom and letting altitude sickness bring it all back up. I didn’t eat anything until the next morning and electrolyte water became my best friend!

Altitude sickness is not fun and therefore I fell asleep at 5 pm, ready for a 1 am breakfast and the ascent to the peak.

We began at 2:50 am that next morning, with 5 layers of tops and 4 layers of pants. Breathing through a balaclava, a head torch as the only illumination we started up what turned into 3 kilometres of walking, 1.8km of which was on icy, slippery stairs!

Once we climbed enough to be away from the rest house, the sights were unforgettable. The pitch-black sky was filled with millions of stars and we were able to look down on the city, see the cloud of light pollution and even look down on a thunderstorm far away. It was mesmerising!

Once we'd reached the 7.5km mark, the stairs stopped and the steep, flat rocky rise began. It was one of the most challenging things I've ever done, but it was worth it. By 6 am the sun began rising from below the grey, cold, clouds and adjacent mountain. It flooded in full of colours, pinks, reds, yellows, oranges. Beautiful. Looking down on the clouds is something I will never forget.

Once I'd reached the peak I was in even more awe. It was unbelievably beautiful, a sight I will never move on from.

Then came the descent...

I will honestly say, walking down staircases for kilometres on end is worse than climbing stairs. Thankfully, we got a chance to rest for 2 hours at Laban Rata, the rest house. Grab some refreshments, strip down into more tropical, climate-friendly hiking gear before continuing down. The last 6km of the descent to the base of the mountain took 3 hours.

Hiking a mountain is the last thing I imagined I'd do at 16 years old, it was insanely physically challenging, but I would do it countless times again. It is the best memory I have to this day!

Mount Kinabalu – you were a true gem to encounter - Thank you!


Written by Yulia Lotoskaya

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