Considering whether to climb Mount Kinabalu whilst traveling Sabah, Borneo?
Wondering how challenging is the Mount Kinabalu Climb and how fit you need to be. You do not need to be super fit to climb Mount Kinabalu but you do need to be in good physical condition.
Mount Kinabalu Summit Climb
Climbing Mt. Kinabalu is a tough physical challenge but not a technical climb as such. The average climber ascends from the starting point of Timpohon Gate within Kinabalu Park to Panalaban (aka Laban Rata), located a.s.l 3,333m in approximatley 4 – 6 hours. Our good friend Ravi Tharumalingam two time Mt Everest submitter recommends taking your time and aiming for a minimum 6 hour ascent time to reduce the effects of altitude sickness which can effect some people at this elevation.
Unrelenting large, seemingly endless rock steps form the well trodden path. The route is 99% uphill and the secret to a successfully climb is to take it slowly, unless you’re competing in the annual Kinabalu Climbathon, climbing Mt. Kinabalu is not a competition.
Rest huts are located along the route at 1KM intervals, equipped with squat toilets and untreated water they provide a seating area and an opportunity to discuss with other climbers the climbing experience.
The benefits of packing light for your Mt. Kinabalu climb becomes evident soon after you start your climb when everything starts to feel 10kg heavier than when you packed. Refer to our Preparation & FAQ page for a suggested packing list. Porters are available and can be requested upon booking, extra fees apply.
Clouds will begin to close in and more often than not it will begin raining around 12 noon and usually disperse around 5pm just in time for sunset.
Once you arrive at the Panalaban plateau you will find your basic accommodation. There are three huts to accommodate climbers, Laban Rata Resthouse, Pendant Hut and Lamaing Hut. All provide dormitory accommodation. Laban Rata & Pendant Hut also have private rooms available. If the weather has heated the water its slightly warmer than freezing cold, but don’t expect any luxuries at the overnight rest stop.
Temperatures at Laban Rata are 6 – 10°C at night, plummeting further to 2°C at the summit with wind chill sometimes subtracting yet another few degrees from that.
The summit ascent starts at 2.30am and this is when a good torchlight is required. The final ascent from Laban Rata passing through the final check point in the dark is gruelling, steep slopes and some ropes to assist pave the route. If it’s a clear night, do take a moment to enjoy the night sky, with no light pollution its breathtaking.
Most people take around 2-3 hours to reach Mount Kinabalu’s summit from the Panalaban plateau, the objective is to arrive just before sunrise. If your ascent the day prior was quick then your guide may suggest you begin later than 2:30 am to avoid a long wait at the summit. The views at the top are spectacular. It can be extremely cold up there, especially since you may be sweating from the physical excursion then waiting in surrounding temperatures of 2°C for the sun to rise so make sure you take dry warm clothes. Due to the mountains close proximity to the equator Mt Kinabalu is not snow capped, so the mountains granite surface is visible year round. Take a moment to appreciate the mountains beauty, you might even see hardcore paragliders going for an alternative descent.
Once sunrise is over and you have absorbed enough of the views then its time to begin the descent. If you are climbing with the optional Via Ferrata activities then you will descend via a different route which will involve ropes & bridges, if you are descending via the standard route, you will follow the same route as the ascent. Irrespective your decent from Panalaban follows the same route as the ascent.
The descent, including breakfast at Laban Rata, will take 5 – 9 hours depending on your pace. People often report the descent being more challenging than the ascent due to the unrelenting use of your knee joints and pressure on your shins & surrounding muscles. Our advice is to take your time and enjoy the entire experience.
Once you reach Timpohon Gate (the starting & ending point) our guide will show you where to find the park shuttle bus which will bring you 5.5km down the windy roads back to the Balsam Cafe where you will meet our team to bring you back to Kota Kinabalu, unless you wish to remain another night at Kinabalu Park or Poring Hot Springs in the various lodges available.
How should i prepare to climb Mt Kinabalu
• A good amount of outdoor cardiovascular exercise (power walking, cycling, running, mountain biking etc) and getting out for long days in the hills whenever possible is great preparation for your climb.
• We recommend all climbers take cardiovascular sports at least twice a week, with each session being a minimum of 2 hours in duration at a medium intensity.
• Fitness training should begin 2-3 months leading up to your trip, this way you should be well prepared.