As I stood in Kinabalu National Park headquarters and waited for my dad to register us for our trek, I noticed something. A sign was hung up on the wall, advertising medals that a person could buy after completing the climb up the mountain. The sign clearly stated “for successful climbers only.” I almost laughed at this, because really, how hard could it be? Although Mount Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s tallest peak, I’d read it was considered one of the easiest peaks to climb in the world. We weren’t dealing with mount Everest here. I felt fairly confident that my family and I would conquer this two day trek without even breaking a sweat.
Of course, it was only after the hike that I realized how very wrong I had been.
But before I jump to the end, I should probably backtrack to the beginning of our adventure. The day before our big hike, we headed up to the base of the mountain and checked into the place we were staying for the night. J Residence was a cozy hotel nestled 300 meters away from the Kinabalu National Park entrance, where we would go the next day to start our journey up the mountain. The air was cooler up there, and for the first time since I landed in Asia, I pulled on a sweater.
After we settled in, my family and I headed to park headquarters to register. Although registering the day of the hike is acceptable, we thought we would deal with the paper work beforehand to avoid the rush in the morning. There are lots of fees to pay, such as the RM15 park entrance fee, a climbing permit of RM100 (RM40 for children), and climbing insurance (a flat rate of RM7). Of course, we also needed to hire a guide. Since we had a group of six, a guide cost RM100. For smaller groups, the fee for a guide is RM85.
We also had to check in at the Mountain Torq office, since my family and I had decided to take the via ferrata on the way down from the summit. The via ferrata, or “iron road” in English, is a series of tightrope bridges and narrow walkways secured by thick metal cables. The “Low’s Peak Circuit” is four to five hours of intense rock climbing, and is so challenging there’s a minimum age of 16 years old. Others who are less daring can tackle the “Walk the Torq,” which is a two to three hour climb with an easier route. Of course, we chose the “Low’s Peak Circuit,” because two hours of rock climbing didn’t sound awful enough.
Since we booked with Mountain Torq, our overnight stay in the Pendant Hut was included in the price of the via ferrata. Our itinerary seemed simple enough; at 8:30 am we were to begin our hike. We needed to arrive at the Pendant Hut before 3 pm to attended the mandatory via ferrata briefing. Dinner was served at 6:30 PM, and bedtime was 8 PM. Seems a bit early, right? Well, early bedtime is necessary when your wake up call is 2 AM, and by 2:45 you’re meant to be out the door to reach the summit by sunrise. We were meant to hike to the summit, take some pictures, and be down at the via ferrata starting point by 7:30 AM. Assuming we would take around four to five hours to complete the via ferrata, we were meant to have a quick lunch at the Pendant hut before starting our last six hour hike down the mountain.
Looking back now, it seems odd I didn’t clue into just how difficult it was going to be. But as we embarked on the first part of the journey, I couldn’t help but feel super confident and positive.
By the time we reached Pendant Hut, the confidence and positive attitude I once possessed had shattered. Or, perhaps those feelings had been washed away by the tropical storm that had rained down on us the WHOLE SIX HOURS we hiked. At some points, it felt like we were hiking up a river. I was soaked, and not used to being so cold in Asia. The hut had no heating, and I downed three cups of tea to try and warm myself.
The dinner was surprisingly good, considering all the food needs to be carried up the mountain by workers. There was lots of variety, and as I snuggled in my sleeping bag at 8 PM, I felt grateful that I’d eaten a good meal. I was going to need the energy.
At 2 AM, I dragged myself out of bed and bundled up for the second phase of the hike. Covered head to toe in warm clothes, we set off with our flashlights in hand. We wrapped our feet in plastic bags to prevent our soggy shoes from soaking our socks. There’s nothing quite like wrapping your feet in plastic; it’s a very humbling experience.
It was cloudy on the summit, so unfortunately we didn’t get to see the sunrise. Yet despite the poor view, it was hard to feel disappointed. I mean, not many people tackle a four hour hike before 6 AM. As we stood frozen beside the wooden sign that marked our success, we all wore tired, but proud grins.
The feeling of satisfaction wore off pretty quick once we remembered we had to get down the mountain. But the via ferrata ended up being the best part of the experience. I wish I could say I wasn’t nervous, but as I clung to the cables and scooted down the vertical rock, I had to bite my lip to stop it from shaking. There was white mist all around us, and when I looked down I couldn’t see the ground. Luckily it cleared up after an hour or so, and the rest of the view was breathtaking.
The most painful part of the whole experience was definitely the hike down. I’d forgotten that I’d worn two layers of socks to keep my feet warm, and as we walked my feet ached like they were stuck in a vice. I couldn’t figure out why my shoes had suddenly gotten too small, and once I finally figured it out we were almost done. So perhaps my view of the last bit of our journey is tainted by my throbbing feet, but my guess is the rest of the gang wasn’t having a picnic either.
My final words on Mount Kinabalu; It’s a must do if you love complaining about things, because really, have you heard of anything worse than a 2 AM wake up call? But seriously, it was a great experience, and worth the sore legs and aching feet. One thing is for certain; if that is the easiest peak to climb in the world, I have a great amount of respect for anyone who climbs other mountains, because clearly they are freaks of nature.
For more information on Mount Kinabalu visit:
and to book your Via Ferrata go to: