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Mount Kinabalu (Malay: Gunung Kinabalu) is located in Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site, in the Malaysian state of Sabah. It is the tallest mountain in Malaysia and on the island of Borneo, as well as one of the tallest in South East Asia, trailing Hkakabo Razi of Myanmar (5881 metres), Puncak Jaya (4884 metres) and Puncak Trikora (4750 metres) of Papua, Indonesia. Although within the territory of Indonesia, Puncak Jaya and Puncak Trikora are geographically located on the Australian continent.
The first recorded ascent was accomplished in 1851 by Hugh Low (later Sir) (1824–1905), a British colonial administrator and naturalist who led a scientific expedition together with 42 porters. It has been long documented that Low's peak, the summit, has an elevation of 4101 metres. However, a survey done in 1997 using satellite technology corrected it to be about six metres lower at 4095.2 metres.
Mount Kinabalu, known to be a highly accessible mountain, requires no mountaineering equipment or specialised skill to summit. Nevertheless, sufficient stamina is important for a successful ascent. The hike can be quite intense for many as the air gets thinner all the way up.
Every year in the month of August or September, the Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon is held. This race is reputedly "The World's Toughest Mountain Race." Participants are required to climb up to the summit and back down, a 21-kilometre course, in three hours. Originally started in 1987 as an All-Malaysian event with an intention to have a rapid rescue squad during bad weather when helicopters can't be used, it has since been opened to all the following year.
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The Kinabalu National Park opens at 7:00am and climbers start their climb once a group of four or more people is formed.
Kinabalu National Park Entrance Fee
Compulsory Guide (per guide, depending on the trail taken)
From Kota Kinabalu you can get a bus or taxi to the mountain base camp. A bus is a cheaper option, though you have to go there early in the morning to make it before 7:00am.
Most people made the climb over two days. There is a stop for the night at Laban Rata, 3273 metres above sea level. If you are in a hurry and really fit, you could make it to the top in just five hours, just like the two US Navy crews who did it in June 2007.
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It is advisable to leave the base camp as early as possible so that you could reach Laban Rata by 3:00pm, after which the weather on the mountain can turn wet and miserable, so have a raincoat with you. The initial part of the climb is very easy and the mountain seems to have a very low gradient, so the climb is not very steep - though certain sections are more challenging. There are rest huts every kilometre or so along the trail. Fresh mountain water is available at these huts for you to refill your bottle. If you're worried about the cleanliness of the mountain water, use water purification tablets.
Take it slow in the first half of your climb and conserve your energy. Halfway at Layang-Layang is where most people rest to have lunch. The second half of the climb to Laban Rata is more demanding, steeper, and more tiring. Overall from the basecamp to Laban Rata, it takes about four to six hours, depending on the speed of climbers in the group.
At Laban Rata, climbers take turns for their showers (another reason to arrive early), dine, and rest. At the restaurant, local and western dishes are served there, buffet-style. The prices of food and drinks are more expensive because all supplies have to be carried there by porters. The sky starts to get dark at about 6:00 to 6:30pm and climbers should head to bed shortly after that for the early rise on the next day.
The climb on the second day usually starts around 2:00 to 2:30am, so that you can reach the summit by sunrise. Climbers will wake up at about 1:30am to get ready, and light breakfast is served at the restaurant. Wear proper warm clothing as the weather from this point on is cold, and even colder at the summit. Once again, start slowly as fatigue from the previous day, high-altitude, and nausea can take its toll on climbers.
From Laban Rata, the gradient are steeper, with stairs forming much of the first section of the climb. After that, a guide rope emerges to help climbers pull themselves up the rocky surfaces of the mountain. About two hours away from Laban Rata is the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint where climbers are checked for their permits. The roped trail continues on an even steeper but flat terrain. This is the most demanding part of the climb, since they are markedly more steep than the rest. Some people may struggle with altitude sickness. Ensure you bring the appropriate medication if you suffer from this condition.
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It could take up to an hour and a half to get from Sayat-Sayat to Low's Peak, the summit. Again, take it easy, especially when you are reaching the summit. Once you are there, it will be about 5:30 to 6:00am, depending on your speed. While you take a short rest, admire the nature's creation. Get your camera ready and snap away the stunning scenery. The sun will rise at about 6:00am, giving you breathtaking views from 4095.2 metres above sea level, the highest point on Borneo island and in Malaysia.
There is a restaurant at Laban Rata which serves moderate tasteful food, but it is expensive because food has to be carried all the way up. A cheaper option is to bring your own food.
The climb is very tiring so bring water as well as juices and milk. You can also get tea and coffee from the restaurant.
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There is accommodation available at Laban Rata and has to be arranged separately. This can be done with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges.
The budget accommodation doesn't have central heating provided and the place is open and damp and can get chilly at night. The beds provided are not so cosy, but remember that you will only be sleeping till 2:00am (since the second day climb starts then).
The mid range lodges are heated, but they are expensive and generally hard to obtain during peak season.
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