Kota Kinabalu: A Practical Guide to Climbing Mount Kinabalu

By Rintsje Bosch

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Kota Kinabalu: A Practical Guide to Climbing Mount Kinabalu
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Kota Kinabalu is the highest peak in Borneo, an island in south-east Asia, shared by 3 countries: Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. Mount Kinabalu is situated in Sabah, on the Malaysian side of the Island, and is the highest mountain in Malaysia. Climbing Mount Kinabalu is one of the biggest adventures you can embark on while visiting Malaysia!

Mount Kinabalu is situated within the Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site according to UNESCO. This area is among the most important biological sites in the world thanks to its rich and diverse flora and fauna, and is home to famous species such as the gigantic Rafflesia and orangutans. Climbing Mount Kinabalu is a unique experience, but it doesn't have to end at Low’s Peak. Once you reach the top, you can choose to do the Via Ferrata experience, in which you will be climbing on a vertical wall with the aid of a steel cable secured to the rock. Are you brave enough to Walk the Torq?

What are my options for climbing Mount Kinabalu?

When looking for a climb on Mount Kinabalu, you can opt to go with the classic, 2-day climb to the summit and then go back down or you can choose to combine your trek with some other activity. Mount Kinabalu and Borneo have a wide range of options to spice up your Kota Kinabalu trek. There are several combinations when it comes to climbing Mount Kinabalu. If you like going up the mountain and then taking a well-deserved rest, then a good option for you would be to combine your Kota Kinabalu trek with a relaxing bath at the Poring Hotsprings.

For those adventurous trekkers, the climb to the top can be combined with a white-river rafting expedition or, if you prefer hights and adrenaline, you can add one of the breathtaking Via Ferrata trails to your climb.

What are my options for climbing Mount Kinabalu?

Via Ferrata on Mount Kinabalu, what is it?

Mount Kinabalu has the world’s highest Via Ferrata or ‘iron road’ in Italian. This road starts at 3,200 meters / 10,500 feetand ends at 3,776 meters /12,390 feet above sea level. The Via Ferrata is a mountain pathway that consists of a series of rails, cables, and bridges that lead you from the starting point to the end, walking next to the rock’s face. Kinabalu has 2 routes: Walk the Torq and Low’s Peak Circuit, the latter being more physically demanding. However, no climbing experience is required for any of the two. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this unique experience, the views from the Via Ferrata are breathtaking!

Via Ferrata on Mount Kinabalu, what is it?

What does a typical trek to the summit of Mount Kinabalu look like?

When it comes to climbing Mount Kota Kinabalu there are several options. The classic trek to the top takes 2 days. Here is the 2-day climbing itinerary offered by Mount Kinabalu Tours, one of our trusted local partners in Borneo:

What is the best season to go hiking on Mount Kinabalu?

Luckily for those planning on trekking in Malasia, you can pretty much visit Sabah at any time of year. Bear in mind that June to September can be hot. For those interested in climbing Mount Kinabalu, however, we recommend doing it during the dry season, in March and April, when you have higher chances of a clearer view. Anyhow, rain can occur at any time of the year. The least recommended months are November and December because of the monsoon season.

Although the summit can be attempted at any time of the year, if the weather does not permit, Sabah Parks Authority will close the gate to the summit for safety reasons.

What is the best season to go hiking on Mount Kinabalu?

How fit do I need to be to climb Kota Kinabalu?

Is the trek to the top of Mount Kinabalu difficult? Am I fit enough to make it to the top? Well, the truth is that it depends on the trekker, always. The climb to the summit is not a hard climb, but it is by no means a walk in the park. Let's not forget that Mount Kinabalu is 4,095 meters / 13,435 feet high, so altitude is a factor that must be taken into account. Take it easy from the first steps, save your energy, don't rush, and most importantly: listen to your body. With all that being said, if you are relatively fit, you do sport every week and keep in shape, you should be able to reach the top without any problems.

How fit do I need to be to climb Kota Kinabalu?

How does the permit system for Kota Kinabalu work?

As the number of tourists wanting to climb Mount Kinabalu have increased over the recent years, to obtain the climbing permit is one of the more important things. You will not be able to climb the mountain if you do not have a climbing permit. 185 climb permits are the maximum daily limit issued per day by Sabah Parks for climbing Mount Kinabalu. Moreover, Sabah Parks issued a mandatory requirement that a fixed number of permits be reserved for the people of the State and Country: 10 permits for Sabahans only, 25 permits for Malaysians only, and 150 permits for Malaysian and/or International trekkers.

The price of the permits also changes depending on the nationality of the trekkers. The permit for the locals costs MYR 50,- (EUR 11,-/USD 12,-) for adults and MYR 30,- (EUR 7,-/USD 8,-) for children under 16 years old. The permit for international trekkers costs MYR 200,- (EUR 43,-/USD 48,-) for adults and MYR 80,- (EUR 18,-/USD 19,-) for trekkers under 16.

Not sure yet or want to discuss your plans for the Mount Kinabalu (Borneo) with one of our trekking experts? Get in touch today and turn your dreams into memories!

What should I pack for my Kota Kinabalu climb?

No matter where you are going, if you are going trekking, you need to be prepared. Our local partner, Mount Kinabalu Tours, prepared a recommended packing list for you to take into account when packing for your adventure:

  • Suitable walking shoes and sandals
  • Warm clothing & a windbreaker
  • Raincoat
  • Change of clothes
  • Drinking water, high energy food (chocolates, raisins, nuts, glucose)
  • First aid kit
  • Basic toiletries
  • Binoculars
  • Camera for unforgettable moments
  • Gloves
  • Headlight

What should I pack for my Kota Kinabalu climb?

Should I tip the guide after the hike?

Tipping is not common practice in Malaysia and most people won’t expect it. However, it would be much appreciated by your guides. There is no fixed sum that you should follow, but for good service, tipping around MYR 25-30 (EUR 5-6) per day for your guide would be about right. You could give a bit more if you are a larger group, they will appreciate it.

Should I tip the guide after the hike?

How much does climbing Kota Kinabalu cost?

The treks for Mount Kinabalu range from EUR 300,- / USD 332,- to EUR 850,- / USD 942,- per person. As you can see, there are options for every taste. The prices vary depending on the number of days and on the activities that the trek includes. The classic 2-day hike includes transfers, accommodation, the meals during the trek, the permits, and the guide. The hikes might also include one of the Via Ferrata trails, a white-river rafting adventure or a relaxing bath at Poring Hotsprings.

How To Identify and Prevent AMS On The Mount Kinabalu (Borneo)?

It's essential to understand that altitude sickness can affect anyone, regardless of age, fitness level, or previous high-altitude experience. These days there are several tools to monitor your health at altitude. A widely-used (analog) method is the Lake Louise score card. It ticks the altitude symptoms while keeping the severity in mind. It’s a common tool used by guides. Nowadays, most trekking and mountain guides bring a blood oxygen saturation meter, which also measures the heart rate. These are key indicators whether a person adapts to altitude well or not. AMS can occur when trekking the Mount Kinabalu (Borneo). Below you can find everything you need to know about altitude sickness.

  • Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

    Altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a health condition that occurs when someone is exposed to low levels of oxygen at higher altitudes. AMS is a serious condition and as the name suggests acute. It needs to be dealt with immediately, as it is potentially life-threatening. Most people will experience some mild symptoms of altitude sickness. It’s important to be aware of these symptoms and act before symptoms become more severe. Below we break down the different forms of AMS and how you can reduce the risk of getting it.

    AMS symptoms

    It is key to know how to identify altitude illness. You may experience the following symptoms due to the jump in altitude: headache, lack of appetite, breathing difficulties, insomnia, nausea and vomiting. The intensity and severity of these symptoms may increase with altitude and an overall feeling of fatigue will take all your joy away. This may further deteriorate to one of these life-threatening conditions.

    High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE): HAPE is a condition in which fluid accumulates in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, a persistent cough, chest tightness, and an increased heart rate. It can be a life-threatening condition and requires immediate descent to lower altitudes and, in severe cases, medical treatment.

    High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE): HACE is a more serious condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain. Symptoms may include severe headaches, confusion, loss of coordination, and altered mental status. HACE is also a medical emergency and requires immediate descent and medical attention. Below 7 ways of minimizing the risk of AMS:

    • 1. Gradual Ascent

      One of the most effective ways to prevent AMS is to ascend gradually. When traveling to high altitudes, try to take several days to acclimatize before going higher. This allows your body to adapt to the reduced oxygen levels. All our treks in Nepal keep sufficient acclimatization into account.

    • 2. Stay Hydrated

      Dehydration can increase the risk of AMS, so drink plenty of fluids. Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, as they can contribute to dehydration.

    • 3. Diet

      Consume a balanced diet with adequate carbohydrates and avoid heavy, fatty meals. Carbohydrates can help your body utilize oxygen more efficiently at high altitudes.

    • 4. Medication

      Some individuals may consider taking medication, such as acetazolamide (Diamox), to help prevent AMS. Consult with a healthcare professional before using any medication, and be aware of potential side effects.

    • 5. Rest

      Ensure you get enough sleep and rest during your ascent. Fatigue can increase the risk of AMS.

    • 6. Avoid Overexertion

      Pace yourself and avoid overexertion. Listen to your body, and if you experience symptoms of AMS, rest or descend to a lower altitude.

    • 7. Descend if Symptoms Persist

      If you experience symptoms of AMS, such as headache, nausea, dizziness, or difficulty breathing, it's crucial to descend to a lower altitude. Symptoms should not be ignored or dismissed.

Where Can I Book the Mount Kinabalu (Borneo)?

At Bookatrekking.com you can book this trek and many others. Our guided options come with experts on the ground, and offer you a convenient, stress-free, safe, and educational way to explore the outdoors. Find our offers here. Our easy-to-use platform allows you to browse and compare different trekking options and find the perfect fit for your interests, abilities, and budget.

If you have any questions about a specific trek or need help choosing the right one for you, our team of trekking experts is here to assist you. Simply reach out to us and we will be happy to provide you with personalized recommendations and advice to help you plan the trekking adventure of a lifetime.

Is this not your cup of tea and are you looking for other epic adventures? Check out one of our blog posts:

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