The basic accommodation at Laban Rata does at least mean you aren’t tempted to linger in bed! We were up at 1:30am and dressed, ready to tackle the summit of Mount Kinabalu. We’d slept in our clothes (no heating) but added clean socks, thermals and a long sleeved top and hoody to our outfits.
At 2:45 we were up on the trail, following the steady line of bobbing headlamps up into the darkness. By 2:55am, we’d shredded our thick hoodies – climbing is still sweaty business even at that hour!
More steps, and up to the checkpoint. They really do check you have your permit, just on the off chance you’ve managed a night climb to this height.
After the checkpoint Mount Kinabalu is sheer rock face. We scrabbled across the bare rock for the last km or so. Mostly this wasn’t difficult, but in the pitch black it is hard to assess the gradient and path ahead which made us extra cautious. Some sections were so steep you had no choice but to drag yourself up the ropes provided. Every so often you’d look up, and see a small but slow moving line of lamps, inching up towards the top.
Nearly there. We scrambled and crawled the final 200m or so, encouraged on by ever-watchful Lei and feeling every one of the 4,095 metres we’d climbed in the last 19 hours.
We were a few metres from the top when golden sun burst into the edge of the sky. We had made it right on time, which had to be a first for me.
We posed for the obligatory knackered-but-triumphant photo on the peak, and sat briefly watching the final headlamps bob their way up the mountain.
The very summit of Mount Kinabalu is surprisingly small, and what with seventy five or so climbers all getting to the peak at the same time it quickly became a little crowded! We moved a few metres down to allow new arrivals their moment at the top and watched the sun rise across Borneo, bathing the tree canopies below – which spread as far as the eye could see – in a golden light. It was magnificent.
We started the long walk down. The path was steep but, rejuvenated by our achievement and able to see better, we moved more confidently. As Craig cheerfully remarked
On the way up, I was worried about falling off the mountain. Now I can see I’d just break my legs horribly. But I wouldn’t die. That’s much more reassuring”
Alas, the sheer rock with the ropes was still waiting for us to return. We had to freestyle abseil (no safety ropes here!) for 20 metres or so which is a massive Thing for both of us. Lei was brilliant, but we were both a bit shaky when we hit the ground again!
Back down the steps we went again, reaching Laban Rata in quick time. We grabbed some breakfast and were on our way again by 9:30am. Heading down the trail was easier, and we moved at a far quicker pace despite Craig’s knee being in agonising pain.
We arrived down at the bottom after an exhausting 4 hour walk. The invigorating downhill bit at the start was of course the final section now. And it was uphill this time. I cannot tell you how painful the last staircase up to the entry gate was.
We collected our “summit certificates” (to be proudly displayed in our future downstairs loo) and thanked Lei heartily. Not only had he been our guide but our porter, photographer and eyes on the mountain and he had been brilliant.
We grabbed our final lunch at the Park HQ (well, Craig did – I couldn’t eat a thing) and headed out to grab a bus to Sepilok, which would be the next bit of our adventure.
Tips for climbing Mount Kinabalu
1. Book in advance, or build flexibility into your itinerary. You can book accommodation directly with Laban Rata (they have an office in KK) but aren’t easy to contact via email. I tried.
2. You don’t need special equipment for climbing, but sensible packing will make the climb more pleasant. You will need decent shoes with good grip, thin gloves (for rope gripping) a warm jumper and a head torch. Layers are the way to go clothing wise. I brought old, lightweight thermals which I discarded after the climb, but leggings and vests would probably work too.
3. We were lucky with the weather, so didn’t really need our change of clothes but would have been glad of them if we’d been out much later or hit by rain. Ditto towel.
4. Tour companies claim Mount Kinabalu can be climbed by anyone of “reasonable fitness” which I think is rather blasé. It is a quick, strenuous climb and, although it doesn’t need any climbing know-how, you need to be strong enough to pull yourself up a rope. Anyone with dodgy knees or hips might want to think twice, or at least bring adequate supports.
5. Leading on from above, I think the safety aspects are a bit underplayed. Our climb was reasonable weather, but I saw a photo of some climbers on the peak wading through what looked like a river, which looked semi suicidal. I would not want to climb that peak in anything other than clear weather. Apparently March is a good time to climb but, this being a mountain and all, the weather is unpredictable.
6. Climbing sticks can be hired from the mountain base and, particularly on the way down, would have been great and we wished we had hired a pair!
7. The day after you will need to REST, so book accommodation within easy reach. I (and a couple of others I met) seemed to suffer some kind of delayed mountain sickness after the climb, so don’t dive into your next activity without some kind of break.
**Update for 2015: there appears to be a shiny new website for Mount Kinabalu, which includes dates with availability. This can be found here**