Published: Aug 05, 2018

Best Tips to Know Before Climbing Kinabalu

A clear and refreshing view from the peak of Mount Kinabalu.

A massive granite stone soaring upwards into the sky surrounded by lush green forests below it, Mount Kinabalu is certainly one of Borneo’s wonders. At the height of 4,095 metres, it is one of the highest peak in Southeast Asia and many people climbs the mountain every year. One of top things to do in Sabah would be to climb the Mount Kinabalu, and it is definitely not an easy feat too. For those who intend to conquer the grandeur mountain, they must be well prepared both physically and mentally to be able to prevail and reach the summit of Mount Kinabalu. Nonetheless, it is one of the more accessible and taller mountains in the world.

In order to climb the mountain, you do not need to have any climbing experience beforehand, special climbing equipment or mountaineering skills as a prerequisite. Any novice climber with the adequate fitness level will be able to climb to the peak of Mount Kinabalu. Although the trail is dominated by inclined and steep paths, in addition to the summit trail’s steep and rocky surface which can be slippery due to rainfall, the experienced guides and systematic guiding ropes will help you to reach the peak successfully.

The view at the top of the mountain will be worth each and every step you take to climb it as you stand on the highest point of the island of Borneo. As the climb will not be a walk in the park, it is crucial that climbers fully prepare themselves in order to avoid the disappointment of not having to reach the peak of the Mount Kinabalu. There are several climbing Mount Kinabalu tips to take note of that will be shared in this article. You wouldn’t want to climb the Mount Kinabalu unprepared as it is quite costly. There are some Mount Kinabalu preparation to be done before you go on the exciting climbing journey.

The trail is surrounded by lush green tropical forests with a chance to spot some wildlifes and rare floras.

How to climb Mount Kinabalu?

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. Every day, there are only 135 climbing permits issued per day by the Sabah Parks who manages the operations of Kinabalu National Park. Thus, if you do not make your booking before reaching Kinabalu Park, there might be a high chance that you might not be able to climb because there are no availability of booking permit. So it is important to manage all your bookings beforehand including accommodation and transports. The climbing permit for those 18 years old and above are RM200 for foreigners and RM50 for Malaysian while for those below 18 years old are RM80 for foreigners and RM30 for Malaysians.

The Timpohon Gate is the starting and ending point for the Mount Kinabalu expedition. (Image Credit: Flickr//j.zen)

Furthermore, it is suggested that you do booking at least 6 months before you climb to make sure of your spot on the climb. The earlier you book, the higher the chances that you will be able to get the climbing permit. You can book your climb either directly through the Mount Kinabalu management or tour operators. There are many tour operators that offers the climbing package that is all-inclusive that consists of accommodations, transports, meals and etc. If you want a hassle-free trip, booking with the tour operators which settles everything for you is the best way. If you decided to book directly from the management, you will have to find your own accommodation on the night before the climb and transport to reach Kinabalu Park which can be quite a trouble but it will be manageable. Nevertheless, remember to plan out your trip schedule and keep in mind that the Timpohon Gate starting point has a close off timing at 10.30 am. You will not be allowed to do the climb if you are late.

The steep and rocky slope towards the peak of Mount Kinabalu.

Mount Kinabalu Preparation

Other than the booking that was emphasized, it is also important to prepare yourself in terms of what to bring for the climb. Although the mountain does not require any special mountaineering equipment or skills to be climbed, there are certain things that are necessary to ensure your safety throughout the climb. As the height of the summit is around 4000 metres, the high altitude means that the temperature can get very low. During your stay at the base camp below the summit, the temperature at night can get below zero degree. Thus, it is important to bring warm clothes, a cap o beanie, gloves, socks and jackets to keep yourself warm. Raincoat or poncho is also necessary as mountain climates in tropical forest are very prone to rainy weather. The raincoats can keep you dry and also rain covers for your backpack to keep your stuff dry.

Moreover, a sturdy hiking or walking shoe with good grip is also important as most of the trails are dominated by steep and inclining paths. It is important to have shoes with good grip and durable to support your climb especially at the summit trail where the terrain is rocky, slippery and steep. Other things are water to keep yourself hydrated, extra clothes to change, energy bars, headlamp for the summit trail before dawn and many more.

The trail will be covered with mists during colder days. (Image Credit: Flickr//

Climbing Training

As climbing the Mount Kinabalu is no easy feat, fitness seems to be one of the crucial aspect in order to be able to reach the top. It is said that although the mountain is not technically difficult to climb, but it is physically challenging because of the steep inclination. The climb can be done by anyone who has a reasonable fitness level. If you are doing exercises or sports on a weekly basis, it is very likely that you are going to make it to the top. The climb consists around 15 hours of hiking in total depending on your fitness level. Thus, having a fit body will definitely help your way up and reach the summit.

In spite of that, it will not hurt to do some extra training to avoid any bitter disappointment. A few weeks prior to your climb, walk around a park or your neighbourhood for around an hour at least twice a week will help you. As the day approaches, start walking in roads that have inclination and steeper to let your legs familiarise to the similar steep terrain in Mount Kinabalu. If you are worried about your fitness level and not exercising regularly, fret not as it is not too late to prepare yourself. You can do the same as above but start earlier around 6 months before you go for your climb and do it regularly. You should be fine and ready when you the time comes.

Some climbers resting at the Sayat-Sayat Check Point before the final charge towards the peak of Mount Kinabalu. (Image Credit: Flickr//Zhi Min Choo)

High Altitude Sickness

As the climb to the summit of Mount Kinabalu practically brings you to elevate to 4000 metres and above in one day, altitude sickness might affect some of the climbers. Altitude sickness can be serious or light depending on different people, some are just minor headache or dizzy. Serious ones can be vomiting, shortness of breath and might be cause death. There are a few ways in overcoming altitude sickness. One of them is to stay a night at the area near Kinabalu Park to acclimatize yourself to the high altitude.

You can also prevent altitude sickness by climbing the mountain at a steady pace and do not rush yourself. During the climb, stop by at the shelters to have a brief rest will also help you but remember do not stop too long as it will get more tiring for you to continue the climb. If you are affected by the altitude sickness heavily, please inform your guide immediately and if you do not recover, you might need to abandon your climb.

The Poring Hot Springs is the favorite place for climbers after their Mount Kinabalu challenge.

Post-climb Recovery

The trail towards the summit of Mount Kinabalu is tough but achievable for most of the people. Steep inclining trails, rocky and slippery surfaces and uneven paths can make it difficult. Not to forget when you descent the steep trail back to Timpohon Gate where your legs will certainly take some beating. It is very likely that you will feel very lethargic and tired after the climb accompanied by the sore and aching muscles. It is recommended that you take a trip to the Poring Hot Spring not far away from Kinabalu Park to dip yourself in the warm bath that will relax your body and mind. Many climbers do so and it is definitely soothing.

The peak of Mount Kinabalu will let you admire the beautiful sunrise in a different perspective. (Image Credit: Flickr//Jacob Bang)

Some other useful tips are:

  • Climb during the dry season (February – April)
  • Bring enough clothing
  • Wear clothing that are comfortable for trekking
  • Denim jeans are not recommended
  • Keep yourself dry
  • Stay close to your mountain guide
  • Follow your guide’s instruction as they are experienced climbers
  • Do not leave the trail
  • Be extra careful during rainy weather
  • Walking pole can help a lot during the climb and descent
  • Try to keep your backpack light
  • Cover your nose and mouth with scarf in windy condition on high ground
  • Do not eat too much before your climb
  • Walk sideway of zig zag while you descent to reduce joint pains
  • Bring a whistle in case of emergency (Blow to gain attraction)
  • Inform your guides immediately if you are injured or suffering from any sickness


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