Sabah | Sarawak | Malaysia
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Mount Kinabalu is the most dramatic feature in Sabah and the tallest peak between the Himalayas & the New Guinea. Towering at 4,095 metres (13,435 feet), Mount Kinabalu exerts a magical quality that is both indescribable and unbelievable. The granite peaks are constantly veiled in wisps of clouds which sometimes resemble a graceful woman peeping coyly from behind the veil. At times during a clear day, the summit reveals a distinct glacier carved pinnacles, rising from the smooth granite dome, exuberating tranquility and peacefulness.
The mountain itself represents one of the world’s youngest batholiths: an old magna chamber that was forced through the earth’s crust. Though young, it is the central focus of Kinabalu Park and the legends of the KadasanDusun people, Sabah’s largest ethnic group. The KadasanDunsun believe that the mountain is the sacred resting ground of the spirits of their ancestors.
There are many folklores and fables that tell stories of how Kinabalu got its name. The local KadazanDusun people believe that the word is derived from "Aki Nabalu", which translates into "revered place of the dead". The mysterious KadazanDusun tribe believes that spirits dwell on the mountain top. According to another popular folklore, the name Kinabalu actually meant "Cina Balu". "Cina Balu" translates into "chinese widow". Legend tells a story of a Chinese prince who ascends from the mountain in search of a huge pearl guarded by a ferocious dragon. He married a Kadazan woman upon his successful conquest, whom he soon abandoned for return to China. His heartbroken wife wandered into the mountains to mourn whereby eventually she turned into stone.
On the rainforest-clad island of Borneo lies Kinabalu Park, Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO. Kinabalu Park was established in 1964 to protect Mount Kinabalu and its plant and animal life. The biggest attraction in Kinabalu Park would be Mount Kinabalu, one of the world’s most prominent mountains, and the Mount Kinabalu Botanical Garden. Kinabalu Park is a scenic 2-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. The Park covers an area of 754 square kilometers (291 square mile), has four climatic zones and also one of the richest collections of flora and fauna in the world.
The gateway to the mountain is the Kinabalu Park Headquarters, situated 1,563 metres on its southern boundary. A variety of accommodation, restaurants and an exhibition centre are available here. This is also where visitors pay the entrance fee to the park and register if they are a climber. Visitors can explore the Mountain Garden on their own or join the park’s naturalist on a guided walk along the many trails available.
Ascending Mount kinabalu requires no specialized mountain climbing skills but it pays to be fit. Locals begin climbing the mountain from the age of three. The trail to the highest peak winds along the southern side of the mountain. It is an 8.5 kilometre (5.25 miles) trek to the top. For most people, from a 9 month-old baby (carried by father) to an 83 years-old New Zealander, the journey takes two days. However, champion mountain runners at the annual Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon, proclaimed the “toughest mountain race in the world”, have been known to complete the run up and down the mountain in less than 3 hours!
The terrain stretches upward from lowland rain forest to montane forest, cloud forest and sub alpine meadow, before finally reaching a crown of bare granite. Only at Mount Kinabalu can you eat breakfast in a lowland rainforest, lunch in a cloud forest, and enjoy dinner in a subalpine meadow!
The trail winds up a steep staircase of gnarled tree-roots to a mossy world of drifting clouds and orchird-draped trees, where where pitcher plants and rhododendrons abound. There are several shelters (or Pondok). The first is Kandis Shelter at 1,981.7 m, where on a clear day, a view of the road that links Kota Kinabalu city to the Park can be seen.
The second is Ubah Shelter at 2,081.4 m, the area where one of Borneo’s most unusual pitcher plants grows – the Nepenthes lowii, so do remember to look out for these oddly-shaped plants with containers. The mossy forest continues on past the Sabah Telecoms Station at Komborongoh, (2,252.2 m). Interestingly, ‘Komborongoh’ is a type of plant used to ward off evil spirits during traditional ceremonies and rituals by locals.
The third is Lowii Shelter. The trail continues up the mossy forest of mixed bamboos and tree ferns. More rhododendrons are seen. At 2,518 m is the fourth shelter, Mempening Shelter has wild begonias growing nearby. You can stop at these shelters to observe the squirrels, tree shrews and birds that seem so unafraid of climbers. Soon after the Layang-Layang TV station, you will emerge to an open exposed ridge at Layang-Layang (previously known as Carson’s Camp).
From Layang Layang, the journey upwards passes the fifth shelter, Villosa Shelter, at 2,690 m, which is situated at the top of an open rocky patch and soon the forest becomes even more stunted. Superb view can be seen of Mt. Kinabalu towering above you as you follow the trail upwards. As you climb higher, you will pass a forest of bent and twisted silvery-grey trunks with peeling bark.
At the top of this open area at 3,050 m, a small track leads off to a helipad on the right where you can catch a magnificent view of the Summit Plateau. Further on, you will come upon the sixth shelter, Paka Shelter, at 3,080 m. Look around for Paka Cave, which is sited on the edge of a small stream, and it is nothing more than a large overhanging rock where the first explorers slept.
The thinning air makes it harder to breathe. Finally, the various accommodations for overnight stop are reached. The accommodations include Waras Hut, Panar Laban Hut, Gungting Lagadan Hut, Pendant Hut and Laban Rata resthouse. You will break the journey and spend the night in one of these huts, which offer climbers hostel accommodation and a restaurant for hot meals before they resume their climb to the peak.
Panar Laban - ‘the place of sacrifice' - was where Sir Hugh Low and his local guides performed a ritual sacrifice to appease the ancestral souls for their 'disturbance' to the spirit world and to seek safe passage. This same sacrifice is still performed each year and when there is a major expedition or event on the mountain.
After a short night’s rest, you will need to be ready by about 2:00 am in the early morning in order to catch the sunrise at the peak. It takes about 3 hours depending on fitness level to reach the peak and there are ladders and ropes to help you over the steeper terrain. In the dark, you can see the beams of torch lights as the procession of climbers trudge higher and higher. Along the trail to the summit, marvel at the incredible mountain backdrop of teeth and fangs, rugged landscape of cliff, gorge, gulley, plateau and precipice and whatever you name it, the mountain has it!
An hour from Panar Laban, you’ll see the Sayat-Sayat Hut (3,668m), this is the highest shelter on the mountain. Your permit will be checked once again at this Sayat-Sayat Checkpoint for access to the summit and to ensure you will get your coloured climber certificate at the end of the climb. From here, you will walk across bare granite slabs that stretch endlessly ahead, in an eerie moonscape of stone.
At 4,095.2m above sea level and in the freezing darkness, you reach your final destination – the summit of Mount Kinabalu. In an almost sacred manner, the dawn of a new day unfolds gloriously before you. It is a guaranteed awesome and magical moment of your life! From this vantage point, you’ll see a dramatic drop more than 1,000m down, this is Low’s Gully.
It can be very cold with strong wind at the summit. Hence, climbers are advised to descend as soon as possible. You may be lucky to have good mountain condition and able to stay longer. It is however advisable to descent before the swirling clouds could obstruct visibility. It takes about 2 hours to descent to Panalaban Base Camp and after you check out of your accommodation, it takes another 4 – 5 hours to descent to Timpohon Gate. The slowest descent record from Panar Laban to Timpohon Gate is 12 hours!
Kinabalu Park accommodation offers a variety of options to suit all budgets ranging from super luxurious private chalets to comfortable dormitories and suites.
Chalets and suites are equipped with excellent amenities and locally crafted, rustic furniture. Guests can relax in peaceful, picturesque surroundings or snuggle up beside the fireplace on cooler nights.
Visit Mount Kinabalu Botanical Garden (Mountain Garden) One of the biggest attractions at Kinabalu Park, this 5-acre Garden is an excellent showcase of the diverse plant-life on the mountain, as flora from all over the Park has been replanted here. Many of these plants are not only lovely to look upon, but have medicinal value too, as proven by the local Dusun community.
Follow any of the numerous and interesting nature trails within Kinabalu Park and discover rare and endemic plants today! Follow Park Naturalists or our guide as they take you on a guided trail walks and educate you on the various wonders.
The trail starts from Kinabalu Balsam Restaurant located at the Park Headquarters. The trail leads to Silau-Silau but does not cross until the Liwagu junction. Follow the Liwagu upstream before reaching the Power Station road near Timpohon Gate. It is a steep, narrow and varied trail through a ridge forest, cool stream valley, rattan palms and Liwagu.
Follow the river from its source below Kiau Gap which junctions with the Liwagu River near the overhanging rock of Liwagu Cave. The trail is linked with other trails at various points, including Bukit Burung, Bukit Tupai and Kiau view.
Start from the road, cross the Silau-Silau stream and trail, then proceed up the ridge side to Bukit Burung shelter for a spectacular view of the Park Headquarters, Lower Liwagu Valley and Mount Kinabalu. Attractions include easy access to a hill forest, cool stream valleys and dry ridge tops.
From the arch at the park entrance, proceed along a wide undulating ridge trail. Finish just after the 1.5 km mark along the Power Station Road opposite the entrance to Silau-Silau Trail. Attractions include scenic views of the west coast and an assortment of local tree species.
Take the loop road below the staff quarters near the Conservation Centre. The trail reaches shelter at a ridge top above the main Ranau Highway. Obtain spectacular views of Bundu Tuhan village and southern mountains including Malaysia’s second highest peak, Mount Trusmadi (2,642 metres). Follow the ridge down to Liwagu Trail.
A broad well graded trail offering refreshing views. The Pandanus Trail opened in September 1999 for the World Mountain Trophy Race, starting near the car park of the Park Headquarters administration building joining the Kiau View Trail at ridge crest.
A fairly steep trail takes hikers through a journey along a winding road around Bukit Ular from the top of Power Station Road and finally emerging just behind the Power Station. Attempt a challenging 30-minute detour from the top of Bukit Ular for excellent views of a waterfall and mountain.
Start half way up Power Station Road, trek down the ridge through dense oak chestnut forest to Bukit Tupai and Silau-Silau stream. Good view of Park Headquarters and Liwagu Valley.
From Multi-purpose Hall, cross Silau-Silau stream and trail, going straight up to ridge crest and Bukit Tupai Shelter. Splendid view of Park Headquarters and tree canopy area. On clear days, breathtaking view of Mount Kinabalu. Ridge crest links to Mempening and Bukit Burung Trail.
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