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Review: Mount Kinabalu Climb

Written by Sophie

Recently I climbed the tallest mountain in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu.  It is something I have wanted to do for a while.  As a family we have always done a lot of walking and a few years ago a group of us did the UK Three Peak Challenge (in 22 hours!), so it’s always been something I’ve enjoyed…and luckily Ian (my boyfriend) agreed to do it with me.

I would definitely recommend the trip we did, so I wanted to do a review for anyone else thinking of doing it (and hopefully these tips will help anyone doing a 2 day 1 night trek/climb anywhere in the world).

Day 1:

We landed in Kota Kinabalu late on the Friday night and checked into a basic hotel not too far from the national park (The Klagan Hotel).  We got given a packed breakfast and were picked up from the hotel at 6.15am (nb. breakfast option not good if you can’t eat gluten-free – they misheard my “no noodles or soy sauce” and gave me fried noodles covered in soy sauce with a side of pastries).  As it was such an early start, we prepared everything the night before; we laid out the clothes we would wear and we packed extra clothing and snacks for the climb as well as a few bits for the retreat we would be staying in after our climb.

The company we went through is called Amazing Borneo Tours (http://www.amazing-borneo.com/mount-kinabalu/2d1n-mount-kinabalu-climb-package-budget-abk-mk201.html) and they were great!  When we arrived at the information centre in the park they gave us all of our pre-ordered equipment (a walking stick and poncho), guided us to the area where we could store our bags for the rest of our holiday (and did not want to carry up the mountain).  They then gave us our packed lunch (I got lucky with fried rice as a gluten-free option) and introduced us to our guide!

Looking happy before we set off!

IMG_4331We set off up the mountain at around 9am.  The first couple of kilometres weren’t too bad. There was a balance between steep and flat(ter) areas that meant our legs could get used to it gradually.  They also had shelters every kilometre with toilets and water, which meant you could have a sit down and catch your breath regularly.

This is me looking very shiny with about 1km to go!IMG_4344.We encountered some light rain on our way up, but overall the temperature was manageable. I kept my coat on for most of it, with a thin top underneath as I kept getting cold when we stopped.  After 3 and a half hours (which included about 3-4 stops, including a lunch stop) we made it to the lodge!!

IMG_8468We got there before a lot of other climbers so claimed the good bunks in the dorm (you can have a private room but it’s more pricey and you only end up being in there for a few hours anyway). We tried to have showers but it was FREEZING so just ‘refreshed’ using our supply of wet wipes. We changed into our clean warmer wear, which we would sleep in and wear up the mountain the next day.

We went down and sat in the canteen area in the lodge, we had no access to internet and hadn’t brought any books because we didn’t want the extra weight, so chatted away drinking plenty of coffee to keep us awake until dinner was served.  It was a good chance to get used to the altitude (at 3092 metres above sea level) and also rehydrate.  They served a decent buffet dinner (from 4pm-7pm), a range of curries, rice, noodles, fruit and some strange looking deserts.

Looking very happy whilst waiting for our dinner in the canteen..IMG_4352At 6pm most people headed to their dorms to get ready for bed and then lights went out at 7pm.  To be honest….I slept terribly. I was full of adrenalin, coffee and food and never go to bed that early, plus I knew I had to wake up at 2am so I think my body just couldn’t relax.  There were also 14 of us in the dorm and someone arrived late, which was a big disturbance.  The beds were also quite creaky (as I guess that far up the mountain, new furniture isn’t a priority), which didn’t help with the noise levels. Having said that, I managed to sleep eventually and felt fine when I woke up, so it didn’t hinder my experience in any way.

Day 2

Someone’s alarm went off at 2am (don’t rely on the staff to wake you up) so everyone rolled out of their bunks.  We had slept in the same clothes that we were going to wear as base layers on the walk, so just had to top up our outfit with the previous days’ clothes so that we could keep warm whilst it was still dark.  We were lucky enough to avoid the downpour of rain the previous day, so our clothes had dried out, but I would advise anyone else doing it to take a third set just in case.

We went down to the canteen where people were meeting their guides and setting off.  Our guide told us to wait until about 3.15am as we were quite speedy on the first half and he didn’t want us to get stuck in queues, as the path up to the summit is quite narrow at first.

The views on the way up were absolutely amazing….the whole sky was full of stars!!  We’d never seen anything like it.  It was amazing to see how high up we were, way above the clouds.  As we went up and overtook people, we could look back at the tiny trail of lights from the head torches that everyone was wearing, it felt very magical.IMG_4380I didn’t manage to get a photo whilst it was still dark, but this is just as the sunrise and you can see the trail of torches.

IMG_8469The terrain was completely different from the walk up to the lodge, we were even climbing rocks and using ropes to pull ourselves up.  In the dark, it felt like the side of the mountain was quite sheer, which was a bit scary but also gave us an adrenaline rush and motivation to hold onto those ropes!

We reached the last 100m to the summit before sunrise, so waited in a little shelter but got cold quite quickly so insisted on going up earlier, deciding to watch the sunrise on our way down.  It also meant that there were fewer people so we could take our ‘summit photo’ and head down without having to wait in a queue.  It took us just under 3 hours to reach the summit.

Here’s our summit photo – very attractive red noses from the cold!IMG_4390I was really glad that we didn’t wait and wouldn’t recommend stopping at all as the temperature at that altitude, plus the wind can feel bitterly cold.  The view from the summit was still beautiful as we could see the light beginning to come through the clouds, and the sunrise on the way down was still absolutely stunning.

IMG_8465It was a fairly challenging climb, our legs quickly adjusted to walking again, but as it’s so high up, we did have to take parts of the ascent quite slowly because of the altitude.  Some people had actually stopped and were sitting down to readjust but luckily we didn’t need to do this.  If you’ve suffered from altitude sickness in the past I would definitely advise taking medication.  I also think that because we were quite tired and spaced out, we were on autopilot going up so weren’t as aware of the time it took us.

The journey back to the lodge was great (once we had warmed up!), the views were spectacular and we really did feel a big sense of achievement…  It took us nearly as long to get back down because we were being careful of the icy areas and took time to take some photos.


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We reached the lodge at around 9am and had some breakfast. They had a larger selection, compared with what was available at 2am (just noodles and fried rice), so we had some eggs and rice and got ready for the final leg of the climb.  Our next destination was Shangri La, Rasa Ria resort so we were very keen to get down to the bottom.  Having this ahead of us really was the best motivation!  Whenever we felt tired, achy or just wanted to sit down it was so nice to know that ‘this time tomorrow we would be sitting by the beach with a nice cocktail and some delicious food’.

View from the lodge just before we started the last leg…

IMG_4402It took us a similar amount of time to come down the lower leg of the climb as it did up, around 3 hours!  It was a lot harder coming down than we had anticipated, because your knees start to hurt and our legs felt like jelly because they’d been doing so much!

We reached the bottom about 1pm, skipped the lunch buffet (couldn’t face more rice and curry) and Amazing Borneo tours were kind enough to take us straight to the hotel rather than having to wait for their other guests on the tour.

The End

We had an amazing two days hobbling around the Shangri La, especially as it was also Ian’s birthday.  The beach was beautiful, and Borneo is generally a very lush and beautiful part of the world. If you get the chance I would definitely stay on.

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My recommendations on what you should take:

Clothes:
I would suggest taking 3 layers for both top and bottom as you’ll need at least 2 on the night part of the trip so I wore my day outfit twice, but if it had rained then I wouldn’t have had enough layers for the night walk..  It was also a bit chilly at the lodge so it was nice to put on clean and dry clothes straight away.  If I did it again my list would look like this:
  • 3x leggings (1 for day, 2 for night)
  • 2 x t-shirt/vest tops (one for day and one to wear as base layer for night walk as you may get hot on your way back down after sunrise)
  • 3/4 x socks (I wore 2 during day to stop blistering and then a new base sock and a thicker sock over for the night walk)
  • 2/3 x underwear (I had 2 sports bras and 3 pairs of knickers)
  • Jacket – light, waterproof and windproof
  • Poncho – if it rains, it’s good to just chuck this over you and your backpack so you don’t have to worry about your stuff getting wet
  • Hat (which covers your ears)
  • Gloves – you’ll need these to keep your hands warm and also need these for holding onto the ropes (I bought some cheap ones and actually ruined them on the ropes, they were ripped by the time I finished the night walk)
  • Neck warmer/scarf (really helps to have something to wrap around your face as it gets quite icy further up
  • Head torch (essential!!)
  • Walking stick (we bought these through Amazing Borneo and was really useful, especially if your knees are hurting on the way down.  We just had one each but some people have two.)
General tips/other things to bring:
  • Snacks – you’ll definitely want chocolate and sweets on the way up,  but also things that sustain you like protein bars and flapjacks…your energy needs replenishing a lot especially nearer the end so just make sure you have supplies.  I bought some sweets and had them when I needed a little boost and protein bars for when we stopped and had a rest.  You can buy stuff at the lodge but it’s a bit more expensive.
  • Water – they have water stations (and toilets) all the way up to the lodge, although I didn’t refill my bottle at all (had one of those 1.5L evian bottles).  It is quite expensive to buy the water at the lodge but they do have hot water for free so I replenished with this, and then refilled my evian bottle before I went to bed….it actually ended up acting as a hot water bottle that way and then was a bit cooler by the time I needed to use it again on the climb.
  • Sleeping in the dorm – as you’re sharing with so many people there is a lot of disruption when you’re trying to sleep – lights, noisy beds etc. So I would suggest bringing an eye mask and ear plugs!
  • Meals – they will give you a packed lunch for your way up.  For once in my life, my gluten thing paid off and I had fried rice which was much nicer than Ian’s crappy little sandwich so just a tip in case you’d prefer that.  Our guide carried ours for us because we had no room!  The food at the lodge is decent enough for dinner. The breakfasts are basically fried rice, noodles, eggs, beans and fried bread but do the job so it’s fine!  We didn’t have the buffet lunch at the end as we were so desperate to get to our nice hotel, so can’t comment on what this is like, although I have seen reviews which say it’s decent enough.
  • Showering at the lodge – the shower is cold!!  So we used wet wipes.  You kind of have to accept that you will be a bit gross for those few days.
  • Sweating – be prepared you will sweat LOADS and actually even if you don’t get caught in rain, your clothes will be wet  enough to make you want to change.
  • Keep moving on the walk at night – don’t stop for too long whilst it’s still dark, it gets extremely cold. It’s ok if you keep moving but it took ages for my hands and feet to warm up again
  • Sunrise – the sunrise is amazing and a lot of people time getting to the peak in time to see it.  My advice here is that the peak is a tiny ledge that everyone waits to have a photo on….we got there just before sunrise, had our peak photo, beat the crowds and saw the beautiful sunrise on our way back down which was jut as good!
  • Sleep in your clothes for the next day – everyone is in a bit of a half asleep daze when they wake up at 2am and it’s so much easier to just get up and get straight out if you can!
  • Tissues – your nose will run a lot so bring packets of tissues. You will need them for the toilets as well.
  • First Aid – I took lots of painkillers (Asprin, Paracetamol and Ibuprofen) with me and just took them as a preventative really but you will know what your body might need.  I would also suggest Compeed/blister plasters, especially if you haven’t had a chance to wear-in your shoes.
  • Altitude – I have never been affected by this but a lot of people were. I even felt quite dizzy and queasy at points. Just be prepared in case you think you might be prone to getting it.  It really is very high up there.
  • Stretch – whatever you do don’t forget to stretch!  I got so excited at the end and was so sleepy I totally forgot and it took me a week before I could walk straight!