Mt Kinabalu Climb
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What you should know
The closest main transport hub to Mt Kinabalu is Kota Kinabalu Airport. Kota Kinabalu Park (where the climb starts) is another 2 hours' drive from the main city center of Kota Kinabalu town. The providers will pick you up from your hotel in Kota Kinabalu town.
The Sabah State Park assigns the official guide who will accompany you up Mt Kinabalu, so the guide is not provided by the provider you choose to book through. But it's a good idea to book a local company to do all the logistical work such as obtaining permits, booking accommodation and arranging transportation as it will save you the headache of doing it on your own.
Mount Kinabalu has a relatively easy hiking route to the summit as you may be able to tell from the photos. To summit, you only need to be healthy and reasonably fit enough for a sustained uphill walk. You do not need to have rock climbing skills.
The trail is basically comprised of approx. 50% steps and 50% rocky terrain, including:
- 380 flights of steps the first day (climbing a total of 6km in one day)
- 180 flights of steps the second day (early morning)
- 380 + 180 = 560 flights of steps down on second day to reach the base of the hike
If you choose to do the via ferrata options (i.e. either Walk the Torq or Low's Peak), you will need to be a little fitter – even though the absolute distances for the via ferrata activities aren’t long, they do take some time which means that you may be more tired on the way down.
If you have flexibility in your timings, we would recommend the months of October and March as they are less busy (relatively!). We would try to avoid the monsoon season which takes place from November to February each year, as this could make the trail quite muddy and some trips may be cancelled if the rain gets too heavy. However if you are not fussed about a wetter hike, monsoon season could be a good time to get permits! For those who are looking to travel in July or August, do try to book your slots earlier as these months tend to be very busy with holidaying families, which makes obtaining a last minute pass very unlikely.
2 days or 3 days depending on the option picked.
If you're deciding between providers, the main difference between the providers is that they are assigned a different number of permits. If you are booking at the last minute, it may be that some of the providers you would like to go with have sold out their permits, and you may need to go with another provider.
If you are deciding between options, there are three main options for you to choose from: Regular Descent, Walk the Torq (via ferrata) and Low's Peak (via ferrata). The key thing to note is that all three options take the same route up and down the mountain. The ONLY difference is that the via ferrata options allow for an additional activity on the side of the mountain after the summit climb. After the via ferrata activity, climbers will take the same way down the mountain as they would have, if they had done the Regular Descent option.
The via ferrata options are challenging activities that allow you to see a different side of the mountain, and some truly incredible views. We would recommended the via ferrata options for those who are fitter (because the additional activity necessarily means a delayed return to the base of the mountain and will require more stamina), and for larger groups (as it is easier to get permits for the via ferrata options).
It is important to note that even if you have booked a via ferrata option, you can always opt on the day not to do the additional activity, and just head back down the mountain as you would for the Regular Descent. So we have many people who have booked the via ferrata options as they weren't able to obtain permits for the Regular Descent, and have opted not to do the via ferrata activity.
Walk the Torq
Walk the Torq is the more mild via ferrata. The highest point of the Walk the Torq activity is at 3,520m above sea level and the 2 highlights of this activity are the 6m Monkey Rope Bridge and the 10m hanging ladder. The length of route is 380m and the activity will take on average 2 hours (i.e. so you will arrive at the base of Mt Kinabalu 2 hours after those who have opted to do the Regular Descent). This is suitable for beginner climbers.
Low’s Peak is the more challenging via ferrata. The highlights of this activity are: the world’s highest suspension bridge at 3,600m above sea level and one of the world’s highest Nepalese bridges at 3,580m above sea level. The activity will take 4-6 hours (i.e. so you will arrive at the base of Mt Kinabalu 4-6 hours after those who have opted to do the Regular Descent). This gives the best of all worlds as it connects to the Walk the Torq circuit! This is suitable for intermediate to advanced climbers.
Kota Kinabalu is a great town with a lot going on at any given point in time. If you're a fan of wandering about colourful night markets, check out the seafood at the Sinsuran Night Market which is frequented by many West Malaysians because of the relatively low prices of the seafood in Kota Kinabalu, or the Filipino Market (close to Le Meridien hotel) which bursts into life each evening and has everything from cooked food to handicraft.
Kota Kinabalu has also been voted to have some of the best sunsets in the world (we can attest to that!) so, come sunset, do head down to the waterfront to see the colours and shapes in the sky shift and change. When we were there, the sunset lingered and changed from pink to purple to a flaming orange.
Finally, the food! Kota Kinabalu has incredibly yummy food if you know where to go. A couple of our favourites are: the sticky chicken wings at Fatt Kee Coffee Shop (Ang's Hotel, Beach Street) and the dry bak kut teh at Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh (at Jalan Pantai) - they're within a minute's walk of each other so if you're hungry, you can try both! Some other places we like: Jothy Curry House for the banana roti, Keng Wan Hing for the fresh red bean bun and Grabbing Hands if you are craving a juicy burger to reward yourself after the climb.
The Mt. Kinabalu climb is a very popular destination for many locals and travellers that has been limited to 135 climbers every day. It can get booked up quickly, so we would recommend that you plan at least 3-6 months in advance.
In case of bad weather, the summit to the peak or via ferrata descent can be cancelled although ascent to Palabanrata Base Camp will most likely occur regardless of rain or high wind.
From the magazine
The many hidden treasures beneath the rough façade of Kota Kinabalu town
Best Food to Try in Kota Kinabalu (II): Cafes and Night Markets Edition
6 Incredible Adventures Near Kota Kinabalu
Top 5 Places to Catch the Sunset in Kota Kinabalu
Best Food to Try in Kota Kinabalu: Sago Worms?