My wife and I travelled to Eastern Malaysia in mid-August in hopes doing some scuba diving, finding orangutans, going on river cruises, and climbing Mt. Kinabalu. Before leaving Korea for our trip, we researched for hours on the web and found it was best to climb it in two days. “Ok” I thought, no biggy. So I looked into getting a reservation at Laban Rata, but only found accomodations through tour groups, and the prices seemed quite high. So I dug deeper, and found the company itself that owns the lodging. After contacting them directly I learned they were all booked for the dates we had available. To be honest, it was a bit frustrating… everything we were finding directed us to climb Kinabalu in two days, not one. On the first day you’d climb to Laban Rata, about 6km up the trail, resting for dinner and a short sleep before climbing to the summit in the cold, dark hours before the sunrise. The prices to do this were astronomical, in my opinion. After all, this was a National Park, and I was a bit confused why a private company seemed to have a monopoly in the lodging options in the park. Also, Laban Rata was all booked! No vacancy. Keep in mind, I was emailing/calling 2-3 months ahead of time. Kinabalu is a popular spot, and clearly we came into the game a little late! I wasn’t going to try to change the system, I simply wanted some answers on whether or not we could hike in one day, just by ourselves (no tour group), and that particular information was difficult to find. I eventually found enough info to point us in the right direction, and I’m happy to report that we completed Kinabalu in one day, more details of that is located here. The goal of this post is to lay out what we did to hike Kinabalu in one day. Hopefully, it can help others who are currently experiencing headaches over trying to plan their trip to Kinabalu. If that is you… don’t worry, it’s really quite simple.
Arrive at Kinabalu Park HQ early in the morning the day before you plan to climb Kinabalu. I’d suggest staying somewhere close to the park, within walking distance. We stayed at Kinabalu Mt. Lodge. It was a great accomodation and only about 1.5km from the park. There’s a few other options near the park, so shop around if you wish, but I’d recommend Kinabalu Mt. Lodge. The park opens at 7:00am, so I suggest arriving before 8:000am for sure. You’ll need to impress the staff and Park Ranger, Mr. Dikin, so he may grant you permission to climb in one day. There’s rumors floating around that they have only ‘X’ amount of permits per day, but I’m not sure about this. The day we climbed, there was only one other gentleman from Japan doing the one-day climb, and us. The day before that, our guide Johny informed us there was five groups attempting the one-day journey. So who knows? All I know is that if you want a shot, arrive the day before and apply early. The desk workers will send you to speak with Mr. Dikin. After a five minute conversation about hiking, the process, the weather, etc., he will call the desk workers and give them go-ahead. Then you can fill out paper work. Bring your passport, they will make a copy. No need for cash on this day, you’ll pay for everything tomorrow when (if) you hike. All this took less than one hour, so we fumbled through the tiny gift shop, grabbed more information, and went to Poring Hot Springs for the day.
It’s also important to purchase food for your upcoming hike. Take more than you think you’lll need. There’s drinkable water at many spots during the climb, so one or two med-sized water bottles would be sufficient. Purchasing food the morning of the hike may be difficult, the gift shop doesn’t open till 8:00am and the restaurant across from Park HQ doesn’t get rolling till 7:00am, either. We did, however, manage to purchase ‘to-go’ lunches from the restaurant. It was a sandwhich, some chicken, apple, egg and water for 15MYR. If you prefer this, arrange it the day before and you can pick it up at 6:45am before your hike. For snacks, try the gift shop at Park HQ, or the restaurant across the street from Park HQ also has snacks/drinks available.
A note about clothes: if you’re expecting it to be warm, think again. Pack extra layers, for sure. I love to travel light, so I did the hike in shorts and a light jacket and was borderline miserable near the summit. Definitely bring pants, light thermal layer, and rain gear. It will probably rain on you, so be prepared. Thin hat and gloves would be recommended, too.
It’s Game Time:
Get to Park HQ by 7:00am at the latest. Because you filled out the paperwork the day before, you’ll almost be ready to rock n’ roll. They’ll hand you a badge with your name, and you’ll pay for the climb. Here’s what is mandatory:
Park Entrance 15MYR, Climbing Permit 100MYR, Insurance 7MYR, Guide 128MYR
We went to Poring Hot Springs the day before, and they allowed us to use our Park Entrance for that again (not normal, but it saved us 30MYR so that was nice!). For one-day climbs, you can only have one or two people per guide, and a guide is mandatory. No need to arrange a guide earlier, they will have one arranged for you, ready to climb with you. You will also want to arrange a shuttle from Park HQ to Timpohon Gate, which is 5.5km away and that’s where the climbing begins. The shuttle is 16.50MYR round-trip per person, arranged the day you climb. We didn’t have to wait at all. The second after we paid, we were speeding up the mountain. Lastly, we stored a large backpack of ours at the lodge right there by Park HQ. It’s 24/7 service and they held our stuff for 10MYR for the day. It was worth it!
So, for two people, the total cost was 415MYR. For one person approximately 266.50MYR
No filter: It’s really tough. I was humbled by the difficulty. My wife and I hike in Korea a lot, are pretty active, and this climb was an endurance challenge, that’s for sure. Between Park HQ and Laban Rata there are seven rest areas, and we stopped at each one for approximately five minutes to catch our breath, eat and drink. Then we carried on. We were never rushed by our guide, but we felt a sense of urgency to get to Laban Rata ASAP. I thought we made good time, and it took us exactly three hours from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata. We started the climb at 7:40am after arriving at Park HQ at 7:05am. We weren’t flying up the mountain, but we only rested at the designated rest areas. We reached the summit at 12:50pm, and took just under four hours to return back down to Timpohon Gate.
The biggest variable outside physical fitness and the time restrictions you have to climb is definitely the weather. Kinabalu is notorious for afternoon showers. The day before we climbed, it rained cats and dogs. All day. They said we wouldn’t have started climbing if it were raining like that. We were very fortunate to have a window of decent weather on our day. If your schedule allows, give yourself a 2-3 day flexible schedule to climb Kinabalu in one day. That way if you get a rainout, you can try the next day if the weather is more cooperative. We gambled, put all our chips on Tuesday August 13, and got lucky. Many other people aren’t so lucky though, and the weather is a reminder that as much as we want to control the climb, sometimes you just gotta plan for it to be nasty outside, and you may get disappointed. That’s a risk you’ll have to be willing to take the morning of your climb. If the skies are clear, the views are majestic and glorious. If it’s cloudy, the views are basically non-existent, but the challenege of the climb and being in the presence of the UNESCO World Heritage site to observe nature still makes it worthwhile.
We came from Kota Kinabalu (KK) where we took at taxi at 5:00pm for 75MYR. Normally it’s more expensive I think, so either plan on waiting for people to share a taxi with to reduce costs, or leave KK earlier to ride the bus headed to Sandakan and get off at Kinabalu Park. Kinabalu Park is about two from KK, but if you get a
race car taxi driver like ours, you’ll make it in 1hr40min. The bus/taxi area in near the KK city center, just ask around and you’ll get pointed in the right direction. Double-check rates with the driver before hopping in a taxi or bus, just to be sure you know the agreed-upon price. Hint: it’s negotiable.
All buses can/will stop at Kinabalu Park, but this part can be tricky. They’ll only stop if they see you. So when you’re leaving the park, place yourself on the side of the road where you are headed (Park HQ side for Sandakan, opposite side by the restaurant if you’re headed back to KK) and wait for the bus. There’s a bus schedule posted at the restaurant, but I don’t trust that any more. My suggestion is simply to be on alert, and if a huge bus comes by, wave it down and ask the driver if they’ll take you to your next destination. Taxis tend to be fairly expensive, especially for short trips, so buses are the way to go to. We wanted to go to Sandakan and the posted bus times were 3:30pm or the last bus at 8:30pm. Apparently no other options. We finished climbing Kinabalu by 5:00pm, ate dinner, and were prepared to wait until 8:30pm for the bus to Sandakan. NOPE! The bus showed up at 6:00pm much to our surprise. So, be alert and ready to go, you never know when that bus will come around the corner, screaming down the hill. It won’t stop unless you make yourself visible, and you definitely won’t want to miss it!
If you’re planning a trip to Mt. Kinabalu and have any questions, please let me know! I’d be happy to help you out any way I can.
Enjoy the journey.