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Climbing Mount Kinabalu in One Day – Sabah, Malaysia

Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in the Malay Archipelago. It stands 4095m tall and because it is a doable climb it is a major tourist destination. Each day over 100 climbers start at the Timpohon Gates and then rest at the overpriced shack Laban Rata Resthouse about 2 hours from the top. At around 2 am they are awaken by their guides to climb to the summit and catch the sunrise at 4095m, a much slower climb at night.

Mount Kinabalu was our first stop on our tour of Borneo and when I began planning the climb I couldn’t believe the prices that the Laban Rata Resthouse was pulling out of its (dare I say) ass. Jonathan and I are somewhat careful with money and spending over 100 dollars each to sleep for 3 hours on the floor seemed like a waste of my hard earned cash. There had to be another option.

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Was there another place to sleep at the base camp? No there wasn’t, Laban Rata Resthouse had a monopoly on prison-like accommodations.  I completely understand that building those houses was a huge pain at 3270m, however I also have a ‘suspicion’ that the Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, which owns the lodges at the base and the resthouse at 3270m, charges a premium because the climbers don’t have a choice but pay the ridiculous price. They make you stay one night at their base lodge and one night on the mountain. Rip off!

On my quest to find an alternative I came across a sentence in the Lonely Planet guide that said you could do the climb in one day. That sentence was followed up by a paragraph of warning and various reasons why you shouldn’t do it one day. I don’t know what it said because I was too elated to find out that you could do the climb in one day and not pay the evil monopolist of Sutera Sanctuary Lodge. So how did it all go down…

The Sting

We arrived at the Mount Kinabalu administrative office in the early morning to sign up for the climb the next day and immediately we were given the runaround. “Oh, you need to go see Mr. Peninsus and ask for his permission as we already reached the daily limit of 4 single-day hikers for tomorrow,” said an admin staff lady. I was crushed, I was so worried that we wouldn’t be able to do it the next day. We were pressed for time since we were heading to Sipadan for diving which requires bookings be done months in advance.  We left the admin office seeking the mythical Mr.Peninsus and did not find him. With pleading eyes we returned and asked to be put on the wait list. She gave us a look-over and gave us paperwork to fill out. “Please be here at 7am to meet your guide.” What about Mr. Peninsus?! “I’ll talk to him,” replied the admin lady with a smile. I guess we’re going on a 20km hike tomorrow!

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Up there before noon? Better get moving!

The Climb

Jonathan felt that a 8.7km hike up to the peak wouldn’t be enough so he tricked me into doing the longest park hike after we filled out the paperwork. No big deal for him as he was high on two 7 Eleven slurpees he had in Kota Kinabalu the previous day. Unfortunately the only sightings on that hike were a couple cute birds and one leech between Jonathan’s toes. We met our guide, Marius, at 7am the next day and proceeded to the Timpohon Gates in a taxi. Leaving two other day hikers in the dust, our mission now was to catch up to the other two day hikers that left about 20 minutes earlier than us. We overtook those girls in the first 2km of the climb up.

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The first 4km of the climb were a breeze, it was steady and it was sweaty. Our guide said that we were keeping a good pace and that we should try to limit our stops so we could make it to the peak by noon. As soon as Marius uttered those words, I entered the “Natalia Boost Mode” or as Jon called me that day “Mountain Goat”.  Just 2km before the Laban Rata base camp it got difficult. My vision became weird, my legs were slowing down and I couldn’t wait for a quick break and some food. Our breakfast consisted of toast and tea, we couldn’t get a packed lunch as the kitchen didn’t open until 7am.

We reached Laban Rata just before 10am and devoured a small bag of dried mangoes and cookies. 10 minutes was all we could afford before we pushed on. Shortly after Laban Rata the vegetation became sparser and then completely disappeared to reveal the famous smooth granite dome. There were no ridges and absolutely no grip. The clouds began to roll in and we knew we had to step on it.

As we came over a bend we saw a big group of slow pokes making their way to the top. Who are these people? The two day climbers leave the summit at 7am latest. It turned out to be the Sultan and his posse. They were doing the climb in THREE days. We passed the slowpokes and we made it to the summit at…wait for it…11:35am!! Amazing! We climbed Mount Kinabalu in just over 4 hours. Marius told us he recently climbed with a couple who took 7 hours just to reach the base camp. Woah…

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I was so impressed and so incredibly satisfied with what we’ve done and how we pulled it off. Even Mr. Peninsus couldn’t stop us.

The Descent

We gloated in our victory for about 20 minutes until the clouds became serious and poured rain. The smooth rocky surface made the descent cumbersome. I slipped at least 3 times in the first 30 minutes of the descent. The two girls that we passed earlier only made it to Laban Rata and unfortunately they had to head down without reaching the top. The weather closed in fast and before we had a chance to blink it began pouring. My clothes were completely soaked and I really began to feel the climb in my knees. Marius pointed out giant pitcher plants, which besides a 3-foot long worm and a few brown frogs on the side of the trail, was the only exciting flora and fauna that we saw that day. Because we got to the base at around 4pm all the taxis had already left and unfortunately we had to hoof it an extra 25 minutes to our hotel room.

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The Aftermath

The climb and descent of Mount Kinabalu took us eight hours. It was exhilarating and I have absolutely no regrets in doing it in one day. I do recommend to complete the climb in one day but please do it only if you are ready to go on a four hour stair master. You have to be fit and have decent endurance. Jonathan and I had just finished cycling 700km across Korea and had Korean mountains to train on so I feel we were reasonably prepared for the climb. Also, be ready for some pain. My body was in pain for about a week afterwards. Also, I’m not entirely convinced that the water that is offered on the mountains is safe to drink (even though the guide said so) as we got food poisoning the next night. Word of advice, don’t drink the mountain water, bring more snacks than dried mangoes and be nice to the administrative staff.

 

 

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'42 Responses to “Climbing Mount Kinabalu in One Day – Sabah, Malaysia”'
  1. You guys are machines! There is no way I could ever hike with you mountain goats. :P

    • Natalia says:

      As lame as this may sound, it’s all in the mindset. I actually beat Jonathan to the top by 5 minutes and he’s definitely fitter than me.

  2. Suzy says:

    Four hours up seems pretty quick! You guys are like mountain goats. It’s unfortunate that the lodge charges so much but it’s good that you avoided it.
    Suzy recently posted…Suzy Stumbles Over Travel: Week of April 1, 2013My Profile

    • Natalia says:

      It is! Malay nationals get special rates for the climb itself, but they have to pay the same lodge fees. It’s unfair and it makes the mountain accessible only to those with money.

  3. [...] climbing Mount Kinabalu we had no choice but to drink water that was in giant cisterns along the trail. That water and [...]

  4. One of our (very energetic) friends did this, he did say it was an incredible experience. I’m not sure I’d be willing to do the same but I admire anyone who does!

  5. Glenn says:

    You forgot to mention how much was the guide?
    I am heading there at the end of June and hope to climb it in one day.
    There’s no way I’m staying at that expensive lodge.
    But I really do want to climb this mountain.
    Thanks for writing about your trip.

    • Natalia says:

      I honestly don’t remember how much the guide cost. Everything came to just over 100 dollars per person to do the climb I think.

      • Nadia says:

        Hi there,
        Do you have the number or email of the guide or company that arranged the climb for you?

        • Natalia says:

          No I don’t because we organized it ourselves by showing up at the office. Also, the park provides a guide for you. You cannot make the climb without a guide.

          • Nadia says:

            Ok cool, I’ll probably do the same then. I heard about some special permit for those attempting a 1-day hike. Should I just wing it and try at the office itself or actually apply for this in advance? I’m gunning to reach the summit by sunrise. I wonder if that is doable, since most of the climbers tend to reach the summit by early afternoon.

  6. I did it in one day as well but I wouldn’t say the first 4km were a “breeze”! That said, I had not conditioned at all to do it, so it was a big challenge for me. I was hiking with someone who was also told only 4 hikers could get a one-day permit per day. That was, until I showed up with him the morning of asking for a permit. They gave me one, no questions asked. About 9 of us did it in one day that day. Go figure!
    Kristin Addis recently posted…The Highest I’ve Ever BeenMy Profile

  7. Jazzie says:

    Thanks for this:-) I’m going to do it in a day it would drive me mad doing a slow trip and wasting money to sleep somewhere for three hours. Thanks for the great story as well.

  8. Tiana Kai says:

    What a cool climb, lucky you guys made it to the top. I hiked about two peaks and one was a no-go due to weather. The terrain looks so unreal, the view must have been incredible.
    Tiana Kai recently posted…Calcio Storico in Florence, a death matchMy Profile

  9. tobi says:

    Hey guys, i went up 3 days ago. Made the climb in 4h20m. Leaving at 8:05 am and returned at 5:15 pm. This definetely was a hell of a climb. I am very impressed by your speed, especially back in the rain. Didn’t meet that mr. Peninsus as well by the way, but had him on the phone the day before. Water was ok for me. Dranks lots of it and am pretty fine, expect the pain in the legs of course. Tommorow sipadan diving starts. Greetings, tobi

  10. Tom says:

    Hi Natalia, thanks so much for posting this information. My wife and I are planning to visit Sabah in August and we were in the same boat as you… thanks for the information and your story, it’s inspired us to have a go at the mtn in one day also instead of the $300-$400 each package deals. Fingers crossed for permits, a willing guide and good weather! Thanks again!
    Tom recently posted…Horangsan MountainMy Profile

  11. Lauren says:

    Thanks for this!
    My BF and I just got home from Borneo and your information really helped us.
    We were researching the 2 day climb but accommodation was full and we were desperate to find another way. Then we came across your sight. The information was great and definitely helpful. It was our first ever climb and we made it in 5 hours. It was pretty tough! Not bad for 2 weeks of preparation! We ended up emailing the park directly and getting the permit that way.
    Thanks again!

    • Natalia says:

      That is so great to hear! I’m glad that the people are doing the climb in one day. It is an adventure on its own.

    • Enrique Paz says:

      Hi there Lauren! I´m planning to visit Borneo in March 2014 basically for diving Sipadan, but I want too to climb the Mount Kinabalu. Since this will be a long journey trough some countries of Asia I´m short on time and can´t afford a two days climb (plus Laban Rata is total rip off). You said you arranged your permits via mail, So do you know the official website of Park Kinabalu or the mail where i can get the permits. Can you tell more about getting to Park Kinabalu do you have to stay near the PArk the day before or you can get a taxi or anything early from KK lets say 5 am so you can get there 7 am.
      Thanks!

      • Natalia says:

        You will need to stay near the park the day before you do the one day climb. You need to register for the one day climb at least one day before you actually do it. The one day climb will start around 7am and it takes at least 2 hours to get to the Park from KK. There are a lot of good and cheap options for lodging just 10 minutes walk away form the park entrance.

    • Waqas says:

      Hi Lauren,

      Can you please tell which email address or website you used to contact park directly and get the permit?

      Thanks a bunch :-)

    • Emily A. says:

      Hello Lauren,

      Great info. Would like to do the same can you give us the email address of the park so we can inquire for a day pass by there?

      Thanks so much,
      Emily

  12. Caitlin says:

    Hi there! Yours has so far been the most uplifting and positive of the reports I’ve read on Mt Kinabalua, thanks for the good read! I was wondering if you simply ‘turned up’ at the national park and found a guide that way or if you looked in advance. It seems I’m going to out of pocket by a lot if I book in advance, but Im scared of turning up and not being able to get up the mountain in one day after all that! Thanks! Caitlin

  13. Enrique Paz says:

    Very useful post Natalia, I´m planning myself doing the one day climb in March 2014 (basically I´m short one time and can´t affor 300 or more dollars for the two days climb). Can you tell me more about the transportations in and out the Park. Can I stay in KK and reach Kinabalu Park that same day if I get a bus, taxi to the Park?

    • Natalia says:

      Your motel will help you organize getting a taxi for the early morning climb. Once you register and meet your guide for the day you will then pay for a taxi to the start of the trail.

      You need to get to the Park the day before and register for a one day climb. Get there early morning.

  14. […] it tough. I live to see another day, and if I can do it anyone can do it! I was inspired by this cool blog we heard of from Alyssa, and it inspired me that we could try to do the climb in one […]

  15. lee says:

    just wondering how did you book your guide/tour for the one day mt kk climb with? $100 is cheap!! im very interested in doing the one day climb in mid december!

  16. Omar says:

    Great story, well done and thanks for sharing! Im planning on doing the 1 day hike this December. Is it possible to stay just the 1 night at the park and do the hike the next day and get back to KK the same night?

    • Natalia says:

      You definitely can. You will be very tired and your climb will be over after 4pm most likely. I recommend getting a place nearby but you will still be able to grab transport back to KK. Just wait by the park entrance and someone is bound to pick you up.

  17. […] Once we got onto loose volcanic rocks and sand, my body was about to give up. Unlike the climb up Mount Kinabalu, where I beat Jonathan all the way to the top, I was in complete shambles in comparison to him. So […]

  18. Chris says:

    I was wondering what the elevation gain is for this hike. I read somewhere that it is 2300 meters, which is like 7500 feet, which would be nearly impossible to do in 4 hours!

    Thanks,

    • Bryce says:

      “Although it is possible to climb to the top and back in less than four hours, most climbers take two days, with an overnight break at Laban Rata (3,272.7m above sea level). The final attack on the peak takes place in the early hours of the second day (most begin at 2:30AM) in order to catch the sunrise at the top. By mid-morning the mist begins to roll in, obscuring the breath-taking views.”

      “You are expected to ascend 2200 metres over the course of less than two days.”

      so easy a 3 year old could do it!

      http://wikitravel.org/en/Mount_Kinabalu

      • Natalia says:

        It is definitely possible. Every year there’s a race up the mountain and the fastest time up and down was 2 hours and 50 minutes, but you have to be in Olympic shape.

  19. […] adventure in Malaysian Borneo.  There would be endless possibilities for excitement – Kota Kinabalu (the highest mountain in South East Asia), Sipadan (considered the best diving in the world), […]

  20. Wayne says:

    Most of my friend are top athlete and professional sport players also feel this trekking is tough but i think u guys didn’t climb n going down hill with knee support/guard. It’s gonna put a lot pressure n injure ur knee muscle. I am planning to climb this and i am local Malaysian. Feel free to give more safety guides on this

  21. Lina says:

    Hey guys – this post was a huge help to us when we were prepping for our climb a few months ago. Many thanks!

    Ended up doing it successfully in one day. The amazingly painful experience is here: http://erohisms.com/trekking-mt-kinabalu-in-one-day-its-all-relative/

  22. Jumon says:

    Hi Natalia,

    I am going to Kota kinabalu on 6th October.

    It seems so expensive climbing Mount kinabalu.

    Do you think i just can go to HQ of Mount kinabalu on 7th October morning and trekking in one day. Do you think they will give me permission to do that.?

    Can you please suggest me a plan.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Natalia says:

      I think you should be fine. You would need to go there a day before your one day hike to organize it. You can’t do it the morning of.

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