Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah state and renowned as a modern gateway to Malaysian Borneo. The city lies nicely against a backdrop of the lush greenery tropical hills and facing luminescent emerald green waters of the South China Sea. Kota Kinabalu is an exciting city of contrasts due to a combination of ethnic group diversity. The city's wilderness has largely remained till this day, with over 50 percent of the land still dense in tropical rainforests estimated over 125 million years old. A tropical paradise known for its abundant fresh seafood, friendly people and endless stretches of white sandy beaches.
Adventurers head to Kota Kinabalu to climb one of the most popular mountains to climb in Asia - Mount Kinabalu. Standing at 4095 meters high, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia and the fifth highest in Southeast Asia and offers some of the most amazing sunrise views to be found.
Mount Kinabalu is situated in the Kinabalu Park - Malaysia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park was established in 1964 to protect the mountain, its plants and wildlife.
As fitness buffs, we decided to challenge ourselves and climb Mount Kinabalu. It was the first mountain climb for us, and needless to say, we were excited but scared at the same time. We did not want to get there only to be hit with altitude sickness and won't be able to reach the summit.
Preparing for the climb
We trained hard just to prepare ourselves for the hike. Luckily, Hong Kong has a lot of trails to do. We hiked The Twins every week just to prepare our legs for the climb. On top of that, we went running, did steps at the gym, and even practised yoga to help us with our breathing.
We researched and watched videos of what past climbers did. There are two trails that lead to the peak (Low's Peak) - the popular Timpohon Trail or the more challenging but scenic Mesilau Trail. We decided to go for the Timpohon Trail, a 2-day hike with an overnight at Laban Rata, halfway up the mountain.
Kota Kinbalau is only a 3 hours plane flight from Hong Kong. And with different carriers offering direct flights, it's really convenient to get to. We arrived in the afternoon, and decided to just relax and rest in preparation for the strenuous 2 days coming ahead.
Day one of the trek started bright and early. We were picked up at the hotel for an hour and a half drive to Kinabalu Park headquarters where we met our guide and collected our supplies for the days' hiking including a lunch box which consisted of a fruit and sandwich.
The hiking on day one was 6km of hiking involving mostly steps, with lots of breaks along the way. The first part of the climb wasn't too challenging but the heat and humidity will make you want to stop at every stop point to rest. It's a good idea to bring some electrolyte tablets to add into your water. Energy bars and gel also came in handy - not only are they light (did not weigh us down) but they also provided us the essential nutrition we needed to keep going for miles.
It was fascinating to watch the landscape change from dense rainforest ferns, to scrubby bushes, to rocky plateaus. Steps got steeper, the air got thinner as we ascended.
Reaching the pit stop
In the early afternoon we reached our overnight stop at about 3,200m. It is here that most start to feel the effects of the altitude. As some of us signed up for the Via Ferrata the following day, we headed to the "briefing session" at Pendant Hut, which was just a few steps away. Via Ferrata is a protected climbing route where steel cable runs along the route and climbers can climb the steep face of the mountain. Definitely an experience not for the faint-hearted.
After the briefing session, a shower, hearty meal and an early night were in order at Laban Rata.
Wake up call the next day was at 2am. After getting your gears ready and a quick bite, your guide will get you moving. The 2km stretch to the summit on day 2 is definitely the most challenging part of the hike. We started in pitch darkness, with headlamps to guide us, and took off up wooden staircases.
After the staircases, we moved onto the rock face. At points, we had to pull ourselves up with ropes and walk through very steep steps in darkness. Although pretty challenging, looking up and down the mountain and seeing everyone's headtorches twinkling in the dark was a great sight.
This part is incredibly slow going - the altitude and steep gradient of the rock meant we were taking breaks every few steps.
After a last push, clambering over rocks we made it to Low's Peak, the summit, just in time for sunrise. Watching the day dawn from above the clouds was a breathtaking experience and absolutely worth the hard work to get there. Try to be ahead of the main groups to guarantee yourself a rock to sit on at the top and a photo opportunity at the famous Mount Kinabalu sign. After a quick photo stop at the top and just relishing that amazing feeling of conquering Mount Kinabalu, we headed back down the mountain. On the way down, you will see the famous Kinabalu South Peak.
Traversing the world's highest via ferrata
We couldn't stay at the top for a long time as we had to be at the Via Ferrata meeting point at a certain time to join the other climbers doing the Via Ferrata. When we finally got strapped on, we headed to a different site to start our thrilling adventure. We signed up for the "Walk the Torq" - a 2-hour climb offering dramatic views of the mountain and its surrounding while being securely fastened to the side of the mountain.
After the session, we walked back to Laban Rata for a well-earned breakfast then started our descent. While a lot quicker than going up, going down comes with its own challenges - our legs were tired and our joints sore, the impact of trudging down the steep steps was not particularly enjoyable. It started to rain and that even made it more difficult as we had to be careful not to slip, yet had to walk faster to avoid the steps getting too muddy.
After the two-day climb, we stayed at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort, which was a bit farther to the city center. The luxurious resort was a welcome change from the dormitory accommodation of Laban Rata - set on a wide stretch of beautiful beach, with world class facilities and a beautiful day spa, this was the perfect place to recuperate from our adventure.
We woke up the next day with sore legs. Walking was painful and we struggled walking up and down the stairs. We ended up staying at the resort beach the entire day resting and celebrating with rounds of cocktails.
This was definitely one of the most challenging experiences we've had in our lives, but it was without a doubt the most rewarding experience. You can finally tell people that you've conquered a mountain.
By Kathryn Gardner