At 13,435 feet this is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and West Papua and the tenth highest mountain in South East Asia – not the highest as some claim (that is the subject of my post “Highest Mountain in SE Asia”).
Nevertheless Kinabalu is a magnificent mountain and a “Mecca” or “Holy Grail” (pick your denomination) for climbers in this part of the world. Low’s Peak, the highest summit of the mountain, can be climbed quite easily and there is no need for mountaineering equipment. You do however require to be reasonably fit and have a stubborn streak (the mental bit is usually half the battle). We met a few walkers on the way who clearly were having difficulties and would not have reached the top.
I had seen this mountain on several occasions previously on various trips to Sabah and vowed that one day that I would return to climb it. In May 2009 I finally did so with my good friend The Thrifty Traveller. Incidentally the latter has made an interesting comparison of our respective climbs of Kinabalu, Gunung Rinjani and Fansipan and this can be read by clicking on the following link:
The Kinabalu National Park itself is excellently managed and, in my view, sets the gold standard that could be followed for other analogous mountain parks across Asia. The Malaysians can be very proud of their achievement in this regard.
Below is one of the rest stops to be found on the trail.
The first part of the hike is through rain forest but with height gradually the growth becomes more alpine in nature as above. Often the mountain is clearly visible in the mornings but come midday the clouds will invariably roll in. On the hike you will generally break through cloud level about half way up and from then on the views become spectacular.
The most impressive feature of the mountain, to be found as you near the final section of the massif, is its naked granite rock surface and its serried rank of craggy pinnacles all peculiarly shaped by gigantic and long melted ancient glaciers. The surface gives a superb grip and, until you reach the final summit pinnacle of Low’s Peak, the gradient comfortable. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking!
From this vantage if you were to shift your gaze to the right you will have the iconic vista of the Kinabalu massif and the peak most photographed; the South Peak. There is such a beautiful symmetry to this particular pinnacle it is hard to take a poor photograph.
It is wonderful walking over this terrain even notwithstanding that by this stage I was beginning to feel the effects of altitude sickness with the onset of nausea and limbs turning to lead.
In geological terms Kinabalu is a young mountain – only 30 million years old. You would be forgiven for thinking that is actually old but when compared with the Scottish Highlands, some of which were formed 3,000 million years ago, you will probably agree it is very young.
Now I would agree with The Thrifty Traveller’s analysis that of the three South East Asian mountains we have ascended recently, Mount Kinabalu, whilst the highest, was the easiest climb. However it is an extremely gruelling walk down. I was truly hobbled for the next two days. Anyone you see walking around Kota Kinabalu with a somewhat stiff and strange gait is likely to have recently completed the climb. The surface is hard and unforgiving on joints and bones.
Well, and with apologies to Messrs Sherriff and Burgess, that is the “Journey’s End” and “Time for a Tiger” .