Mount Kinabalu hiking tips, Borneo, Malaysia

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Hello All,
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Mount Kinabalu is a prominent mountain on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is located in the East Malaysian state of Sabah and is protected as Kinabalu Park, a World Heritage Site.
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Highest point
Elevation 4,096 m (13,438 ft)
Prominence 4,096 m (13,438 ft) 
Kinabalu is the highest peak in Borneo’s Crocker Range and is the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago as well as the highest mountain in Malaysia. Mount Kinabalu is also the 20th most prominent mountain in the world by topographic prominence.
Low’s Peak can be climbed quite easily by a person in good physical condition and there is no need for mountaineering equipment at any point on the main route. Other peaks along the massif, however, require rock climbing skills.

My husband loves hiking and he was looking forward top of the Mount Kinabalu at 4,095.2m. Before going for holidays I have spoken with my boss who hikes a lot, and he already tried the 2 days trip at Kota. He explained to me that this trip is not an easy one, and especially for someone like me & him who has problems with the knees not only going but especially going down is very challenging.
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Before volcano earthquake in Kota, there were organized 1 day trips to the top, but now all travel agents are making it in 2 days. I must say:
1. I am not big fun of hiking
2. I did it mainly in Poland and Norway, but I have never done before such difficult track as Mount Kinabalu, which we would name black one.
3. I am in a good physical condition, because I walk a lot, at least 2-3 times a week to/ from the office which is approx. 7 km
4. I do jogging on treadmill at least once a week, 1h
5. I swim once a week
6. In the past I trained professional horse riding -Eventing (jumping, cross, dressage)
However I have PCL knee injury The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is a ligament within the knee. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect bones. The PCL -similar to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – connects the thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone (tibia). Although it is larger and stronger than the ACL, the PCL can be torn. PCL often damage some of the other ligaments or cartilage in the knee, as well. In some cases, the ligament can also break loose a piece of underlying bone. Overall my orthopedic doctor had forbidden me to run, hike, ski, and perform any activity that may twist my knees like -tennis, badminton, squash. I still do some even not recommended by my orthopedic doctor which the best example is I decided to climb up to 4,096 m at Mount Kinabalu to accompany my family.
Today I can admit that I did not realize what challenge I am taking to climb up to 4,096 m. Before flying to Kota Kinabalu I tried to book the trip according to my boss suggestions, that there are usually limited number of places, especially when it comes to stay overnight in Laban Rata Resthouse at 3,272m. We arrived during Chinese New Year Eve and that was definitely not a very good period to book the trip as there was no available places to stay overnight. Finally our agent at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa after many attempts finally was able to find a place for 5 people but no guarantee we will stay in the same room and no heating. Since our friends had to leave (fly back to SH) on 13th we did not have choice and take what agency was offering.
The agents is providing the important notes for climbers on Mt. Kinabalu:
While climbing to Summit you need to make sure you carry the following:

Wear enough warm clothing
The temperature can be freezing at times so you need to bring extra change of clothing, warm clothing, wind breaker, long sleeves shirts, socks, gloves, headache tablets, sunblock, lip gloss, deep heat lotion /plasters/ insect repellent /mosquito oil/ binocular /waterproof bag for your camera and personal belongings, hat, mask, raincoat /toilet paper, good walking shoes with grips.

Here are what I think is necessary min., and I was lucky as the weather was nice, almost no rain and wind and low temperature only above 3,000m:
1. Good trekking shoes to me is must:
Buty Trekkingove
As explained above there was almost no rain, so the rocks and track was mostly dry, I have tracking shoes water proof Gore-tex I bought in Norway, and they are above the ankle, I am not able to imagine trying to climb on the rocks without having good shoes, to me it is half of success. You can see what type of shoes I was wearing here:
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Here you can see what type of shoes we all had. This is actually photo takes of all our group just before we started.
I like the brand COLUMBIA but others are good too. Columbia makes very light and water resistant. Especially the weight of shoes is important at the end of this tour when every step requires from you to use the remaining energy, which you can believe me not left much.

2. Gloves:
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Actually if you plan to climb above 3Km, you definitely will need the gloves, and not only because of temperature, but I would say mainly because you will hold rope and to me the thicker gloves the better are. I used ski gloves. You can see what type of gloves I was using and why they actually not only protects against the cold but as well facilitate the tour:
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I do not have comparison but mionce are leather and thick so protect against cold as well scratch when pulling the rope.
My friends just had regular wool gloves and they were fine too. It may depend from every person, but I think on the top is really cold and better to use ski gloves.

3. Water and water bottle
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The best is to have a plastic bottle, at each stop you can replenish water with the mountain spring water, but not treated at every stop, where you take rest. The rest stops are on average 700 -1000 m.
My daughter had bottle that she could splash and drink, you can use even more fancy like on the picture above.
This probably obvious to everyone that you will not survive without water but it is worth to know that instead of carrying a lot of bottles which brings additional weight, is better to have a bottle when you replenish at every stop.
You just take 0.5 litter for start and to me should be enough to reach the closest stop.

4. Raincoat:
Coat
It is necessary overall the best would be to have the type of rain & wind proof coat in one. I have such as well I bought in Norway but actually forgot to take, so I ended with 2 coats, one wind proof and the other raincoat, which I bought in Kota, since I forgot to take from home.
It cost me 170 RM, you can see here:
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Raincoat also slowdown the loss of body heat.
You will see on most of photos I am wearing T-shirt and sweating due to from climbing effort, but when you stop to take rest you feel cold and need to wear something warm, if on top of it rains (which is actually common in the mountain) you would need protection against the rain.

5. Torch light
Light
This is needed to light your way during the pre-dawn Climb to the top if you plan to go above 3,273m on the day two.
You can use regular torch light but I advise the head lamp like on the photo above, as you need often your both hands free to climb.
You start the tour from the rest house at 2:30am in the night and depends on speed you should reach the top before sunrise, to be able to make a photos and observe it. On top is completely dark so you are unable to see anything, even pictures are not clear without proper camera flash.
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The sunrise looks unbelievable and I had amazing view I hoped to be able to make a better photos:
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6. Energy Food
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Extra Chocolate, energy protein bars, glucose tablets, raisins, or other dried fruits, like mango, nuts.
I even took energy drink like red bull, but more important are energy protein bars, you do not eat whole but just take little bites when you feel weak, dizzy when basically you need to provide sugar quickly to your blood. I tested chocolate and I think the best snacks for such exhausting tour are:
– energy protein bar, like on photo
– dried fruits
– bananas & apples
It is better not to make your stomach full and force your body to loose energy to digest, this is why you take frequent bites but really small to replenish sugar, and dried fruits provides necessary vitamins and minerals.
My husband just survived the trip because of energy bars. Well I will wirte how much he suffered a bit later on. I was also eating chocolate and energy bars. I ate sandwich too, but I recommend with cheese due to amount of calcium there.
Do not eat at night big breakfast, I just had banana and the oatmeal plus tea.

7. Backpack
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I cannot imagine carrying all the stuff in plastic bag or even cross shoulder bag, the weight should be on your back as you climb. It helps to keep balance and you do not feel so much the weight while climbing. You do not need to take any blankets nor pillow as they rest house will have everything. We were afraid that if no heating will be cold in the night but the house kept warm well so no need to take any additional blankets, but you need warm clothes like additional jacket and good trousers I climbed with stretched jeans. But if rains I think water proof pants would be better. All this clothes you rather carry in your back pack as while climbing is very hot, you sweat like ion a gym.
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8. Painkillers
Panadol
My husband took Panadol, which is rather gentle for the stomach.
Panadol is used to treat mild to moderate pain (from headaches, menstrual periods, toothaches, backaches, osteoarthritis, or cold/flu aches and pains) and to reduce fever.
Why do you need Panadol, the biggest pain you will have muscle pain, the pain is so strong after 3 day of climbing that you may not be able to even stand, not even thinking about walk.

9. Pain relief cream
bengay
The biggest pain you will feel on day two, each person is different, my muscles are more prepared for climb rather then walk down the hill.
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I did not feel pain after climb up only on the second day and especially on third one. We started to climb on 10th and finished 11th, today is 17/02 and I still feel little pain in my legs. To walk it out I decided to walk to the office today almost 7km.
After coming back to the hotel I bought the salt and took bath, I advice Jacuzzi or massage. Later apply pain relief cream like bengay or other I used eucalyptus and menthol creams. So you cool down and warm up later.
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I did not sleep much and rest only 1h after going back from the top to the Resthouse in Laban Rata, but my friend she took a bit longer nap and she had already sore muscles on the second day and had to still do down with such pain.
Before this trip I tried to run on treadmill at least 2days before, but to be honest did not help much.
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To be very honest I have never had before such sore muscles in my life. This trip it completely demolishes my muscles. I had impression I
But unlike professional athletes, we don’t have a slew of high-tech equipment like hot tubs, cryotherapy chambers, or electric stimulation at our disposal to help relieve our aches and pains. There are some simple, inexpensive solutions you can try in the comfort of your home the next time you get a little ambitious at the gym but before such trip to see if it works.

Rehydrate
A general rule of thumb is to replace the amount of fluid you loose after workout prior to next work out. My husband often drinks beer, I tried that on the first day in the rest house and maybe this is why I had not felt so much pain as my friend on day two. You can drink water with some micro elements. The beer has some acidity that should help as well. Isotonic’s drinks can help too.
Massage
Already mentioned in combination with sea salt or aroma therapy bath may give amazing results. After apply pain relief cream.
Compression
The super tight shirts, shorts, tights and other form-fitting gear push blood thru veins, thereby helping you slow fatigue. It may enhance recovery, however it must be significant graded compression to actually work. To tell you the truth after climbing whole day the only what you think about is to eat something and go sleep. So who has time for compression, but if you have time after whole 2 days climb you should definitely try it at home or hotel.
Sleep
Of course, rest is cure for everything. Your body produces growth hormone and the level increases during the sleep. You may notice that after sleep you actually not able to get up from bed, that is what I have experience, my legs were stiff. I felt like I have stick and cannot actually stand up, every move made a huge pain. You need to keep moving with every step is a bit better as soon you sit or lay down, after few minutes is almost impossible to stand up.
Snack
Try to eat proteins within 30 min post -work out. 20 grams of high quality protein, like whey, every couple of hours. It is more important to have these smaller feedings, called protein pulsing, rather than a single large dose.

DO NOT CLIMB
if you are suffering from or have a history of the following ailments:
1. Heart Disease
2. Hypertension
3. Chronic Asthma
4. Peptic Ulcer
5. Severe Anemia
6. Diabetes
7. Epileptic Fits
8. Arthritis
9. Palpitation
10. Hepatitis (Jaundice)
11. Muscular Cramps
12. Obesity (Over Weight)
13. Any other sickness that may be triggered by severe cold, exertion and high altitude.
This list I got from travel agent.
How you can know you suffer of high altitude? You cannot. Actually many people discover that while climbing and that also happened to my husband, who reached only 2,273 suffering a lot. I had impression seeing his face being white green like corpse and sweating a lot that could not focus and had to take rest every few steps.
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I must add he had fever and took antibiotic which now we are not sure eif medications and fever did not cause his bad state.
However he told me he thought he will die and will not be able to move anymore, he even fell sleep for 20 minutes, good that he was not alone but with the guide and our daughter was accompanying him.
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Well on the beginning I kept the same speed as both of them but later did not want to stop so frequently as it is good to keep steady same speed if you manage, everyone should walk with their own speed.
So let me start from the beginning of the trip.
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We all five togheter with 2 guides started and were walking with same speed up to the third stop.
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My friend Justi and her daughter had more power so they speed up and went faster. My & my family were pretty slow, so 2 guides separated, one followed one family and the other stayed with us.
After half way I probably acclimatized and speed up so was able to reach them. At very begging I thought I am not going to make it, as it was so hard, so many steps, and the trek was not easy at all. I am not frequent climber and must say only was walking on normal easy treks in Norway, this one was very hard, almost not flat paths, either stairs, rocks almost all the time to climb up.
If you do not have good condition and do not exercise or walk it may be hard to walk this trek. My husband told me it must be for tourist so cannot be hard, he was wrong. Especially above 3,000m it is more difficult.
However 10 years old girl -Justi’s daughter climbed to 4,010 m, which is a huge achievement for such young girl.
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I was under strong impression of her, she has never complained and reached the top over 4K m, which does not happen often to 10 yo.
Even for my daughter 3,273 m was huge achievement, especially that she hates stairs, like me. I can climb by using the rope or on the rocks but stairs are so hard for me, as they are boring and on top of it harsh to my knees.
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I reached the Resthouse at Laban Rata first at 3:30pm and we started to climb about 10am. Some peoaple train marathons and run to the Rest house. I admire them, you need to actually be ‘Iron Man’.
On the beginning it was very hard, but more I warmed up and acclimatized was better. I live in Shanghai and here we have terrible pollution, so walking in the mounting and being able to breathe with so fresh air was great. The view was amazing and walking in the jungle was also fantastic experience.
After short night in Laban rata you must wake up at 2:30am to climb to the top and see sun rise.
The route to the top starts with a lot of stairs and my daughter resigned after 2, my husband told that she was crying that she wants to try again but she could not manage to continue this time in the night to the top. Believe it is very hard for 10 yo. This is why I admire the daughter of my friend, she was really brave to reach over 4000m.
On the way you need to climb using ropes and then the gloves are necessary as not to hurt your hand from cold as well rope. The guide can help you but mainly you must rely on your own strength. The amateur who never hiked and weak in sports may not be able to make it. So please do not suggest yourself that if 10 year old girl could do it I can do too.
You have one check point and mainly you climb up either on steps, rocks or by using the rope. There is one little flat section, but really mainly you need to prepare for climbing up.
I saw people on the way sitting on the rocks, stones or just standing and taking the rest, many of them just decided to go back either on the begging, in the middle or even close to the top. Sometimes it is difficult to even stand 50 more meters and they decide to go back.
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Let me say I made it to the Top. We were going 5 of us. 2 families. My husband and my daughter stayed in the hotel on the 3,272.7 m and my friend with her daughter managed to reach almost to the top at 4,010 m.
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On the beginning I really doubt I will be able to make it. I told to myself, if I can do it, I will be able to do anything, nothing can stop me.
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Such achievments gives you so much power and conbfidence in yoursefl and what really you can do in your life. After this there is no much things that can scare you.
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When you reach the point you feel like you can control your life you have power to overcome any obstacles and you can do everything.
After all that it is nice to look at certificate and keep as a prove along with great memories and experience you could gain during this amazing tour.
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After making to the top you see alot of peaople trying to make photos that shows on the board we were able to climb up to 4,095.7m.
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On the peak there is not much space and a lot of people are waiting to make a photos. It is really difficult to find enough space, fortunately for me not all made to the top and I found space to be able to make some pictures.
The view is amazing and being able to see sun rise, awesome! Unforgettable. Worth all these efforts, sweat, pain, even for such amateur hiker like me who never liked that, I must admit I experienced something spectacular, which you can see on the photos here:

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What people usually afraid or suffer from is the altitude sickness. My husband experienced that. For a while I also had impression I feel dizzy but after eating some energy bar and continue climbing it has gone away. However my husband experienced it very heavily, he looked for a while like he would loose his consciousness. The altitude sickness can be very danger.
Altitude sickness is due to a rapid ascent to higher altitudes due to the decreasing amount of oxygen (low PO2) that occurs at high altitudes.
There are three main types of altitude sickness, acute (mild) altitude or mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), and high-altitude cerebral edema.
The cause of altitude sickness is the decreasing amount of oxygen available as altitude increases.
Early symptoms of altitude sickness include:
– headaches,
– fatigue,
– insomnia.
Later symptoms include:
– shortness of breath, I have experienced that when I reached 4000 m, when have shortness of breath I start to yawn. Same happened to my friends daughter this is why they decided to discontinue after they exceeded 4000 m.
– extreme fatigue,
– respiratory failure,
– cerebral edema,
– coma, and
– death.
If you experience any of these it may be already too late. This is why is so important to discontinue if you feel really bad or early symptoms. Most people with self-curing acute mountain sickness do not need a follow-up with a health-care professional. However, those that develop high-altitude pulmonary edema and/or high-altitude cerebral edema may require more extensive follow-up with their doctors. Although many people with mild acute mountain sickness require no medical care, as symptoms worsen, emergency medicine physicians, hyperbaric chamber experts, neurologists, and critical care specialists may need to be consulted.
Altitude sickness is usually diagnosed by the patient’s clinical condition. Occasionally other tests such as chest x-ray, head CT and/or MRI scans are utilized. I think because my husband was sick in not good condition he could experience such early symptoms even at lower altitude.
Some people can use self-care or home remedies, such as simply descending to a lower altitude, to help reduce symptoms or cure altitude sickness.
Medical treatment for altitude sickness may include oxygen, hyperbaric treatment, and medicines such as acetazolamide (Diamox) and/or dexamethasone (Ocu-Dex) as well as over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications and antinausea medications. However, definitive treatment is for the patient to go to a lower altitude.
Prevention of altitude sickness is by acclimatizing the body to increasing altitude. This is why we stayed at 3273m over night. In the past there was one day trip but not anymore, probably because most of the people need that acclimatization even thou altitude is not very high.
Another prevention of acute mountain sickness is sometimes with acetazolamide medication.
Acute Altitude Sickness Symptoms
The symptoms of altitude sickness include:
A throbbing headache that usually gets worse during the night and when you wake up.
– Lack of appetite
– Feeling sick to your stomach. You may vomit.
– Feeling weak and tired. In severe cases, you do not have the energy to eat, dress yourself, or do anything.
– Waking up during the night and not sleeping well.
– Feeling dizzy.
I felt dizzy and also sick in my stomach for a while but this symptom gone after a while, and when I started to climb down, but who know how would I feel over 5,000 m. This is why nobody climbs to Mount Everest without any acclimatization first.
The prognosis for a person that gets altitude sickness depends on the severity of the sickness. Acute mountain sickness can usually resolve with no problems, but patients that develop high-altitude pulmonary edema and/or high-altitude cerebral edema have a more guarded prognosis. About 50% of individuals that develop coma with high-altitude cerebral edema die.
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After all I can say that climbing Mount Kinabalu can be a daunting task especially that picking a reputable and reliable tour operator can be even harder.
Initially I thought is better to take the travel agent from hotel and to avoid any problems on our trip we decided to book with an established operator in ShangriLa hotel at the end we tried to find other agents, but did not work out as the guy could not promises anything and confirm for 100%.
The gent I hired was Inno Travel & Tour Services Sdn Bhd (Sabah Holidays) I paid for 2 adults and 1 child close to 5,000 RM which is according to today rate about 1,185 USD. I asked how much guide gets for such tour and was told directly by the guide 200 RM (even not 50 USD), of course agent must pay for buses and tickets as well night + food (dinner & breakfast at Resthouse). We supposed to get discount as we were 5 taking the trip, we got small discount. The price I gave is after discount and including taxes.
I assumed that by paying a premium price, in return I would get a premium experience. After doing some research, there are some good deals , but Iat the time of Chinese New Year we did not have choice as the only agent could offer free places. I noticed little or no difference in way of service, food or lodging. Everyone eats at the same mountain resort, lodging may vary from one to another. Your mountain guide is arbitrarily assigned to you at the park and is not guaranteed to speak fluent English. One of our guide almost did not speak English but let us put this way what can you expect for $50. You can now imagine what are the margins of travel agents. Well if they have to pay lease in the hotel like Shangri-La I am not surprised.
What I recommend to everyone doing this climb, is to pick the tour operator with the most reasonable price. Some prices may include an extra meal at the end of your hike on the last day along with a certificate of accomplishment (like mine but if some of your participants are slow walking down you may not be able to get lunch so no point to pay for it), I think there are agents that can do without them.
I was explained it is impossible to do this climb/hike independently without a tour operator, however I have red that some people just took a taxi up to the park entrance and paid only for their permit, lodging, meals, and guide and were able to get up.
My manager advised me to book a tour prior to arrival in Kota. I have not done it as I was too busy before holidays with my work. Sometimes is worth to spend some time and do research not at lats minute.
While going down on second day, we were joking how much someone would have to pay me to go up on day 2 one more time. I told to my friend there is no such money I would like to do it one more time the same day, even thou I could make it, as did not feel my legs and was afraid I will not enough energy to go down.
I was joking that maybe the next day I could climb one more time for $100k :), but even if I decided to go my leg would refuse.
Now I can understand why people are dying in the mountain -severe pain, altitude sickness, exhaustion of the body, if adding to that not enough warm clothes, oxygen, food or water, you are definitely sentenced to death in the mountains.
My husband was taking the nap, if he was alone, he told me he would just stay as he could not continue, this is why you need a guide.
At the end I am proud myself I did it and do not regret I took this challenge :)

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Good luck to Everyone who decides to reach this Summit!

Coming next: About Kota Kinabalu, my experince

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