When I Climbed Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia

Published 31 May 2017

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

No sooner had we arrived in Kota Kinabalu than Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia, cried out to us. I was travelling in Borneo with my boyfriend David, an avid climber, and we quickly made up our minds to tackle the 4,095m peak before we left the island.

Mount Kinabalu from Kinabalu National Park

Our first view of Mount Kinabalu from Kinabalu National Park image: Angela Griffin

Kinabalu National Park

We spent the night prior to our climb in Kinabalu National Park, which gave us a little bit of time to adjust to the altitude and cool temperatures, before awaking at 5am ready and raring to go. After breakfast, we picked up our climbing permits and met our guide. At this point we had a choice – take the bus to the start of the trail, or walk 2.5 miles uphill. For some strange reason we chose to walk, which took an hour and exhausted us before we had even started.

The first kilometre

We finally started the climb proper, and I immediately felt that it wasn’t as tough as I had been led to believe. It wasn’t too steep, and the cool air made for comfortable trekking conditions. We had covered the first kilometre (out of nine) after just 20 minutes, leading us both to think that we would be at our overnight stop by midday.

Angela on Mount Kinabalu

Angela at the 1km checkpoint image: Angela Griffin

Kilometres two to three

But it wasn’t to be. We had started too quickly and by the time we were halfway through the second kilometre we were exhausted and sweating profusely. The slopes got steeper and rockier the further we climbed, with more and more obstacles to step over. By kilometre three we had slowed considerably.

Laban Rata Resthouse, Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

Laban Rata Resthouse

Overnight on the mountain

Soon the trees began to thin and the pathways became steeper. The last kilometre of the day seemed to take forever. I ran very low on sugar and needed to stop for a KitKat but, eventually, after just over four hours’ walking 6km straight uphill, we reached Laban Rata Resthouse, our stop for the night.

Misty forest

The mist comes in image: Angela Griffin


We had some lunch and then checked into our room. We had been told that we would have a comfortable room with a heater but it turned out we had a half-built hut with no door, no heater and an outside toilet. We were at 3,270m halfway up a mountain, and by now it was misty, pouring with rain and the temperature can't have been much over 3°C. We were going to freeze! So I marched off to the office to tell them exactly what I thought, and amazingly they said we could move to a lovely indoor heated room for no extra charge. Hurrah! So we spent the afternoon having a much-needed nap in our lovely warm room as the temperature outside plummeted and the rain got heavier. We had an early dinner in the lodge canteen and went to bed early, ready for our summit trek the next morning.

David at the ropes, Mount Kinabalu

David at the ropes image: Angela Griffin

An early start

After being rudely awoken at 2.15am, we wrapped up in as many layers as we could, which came straight off as soon as we started walking again. I ran out of water at the 7km checkpoint and had to refill my bottle in a stream, but the water was deliciously cool and fresh. By now there were no trees at all; just sheer rock faces criss-crossed with ropes that we used to haul ourselves up. As it was still well before sunrise, it was pitch black and we were exhausted from the day before, and so it took all my strength to get up the mountainside.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

On the ropes image: Angela Griffin

Kilometre eight

After the ropes there was a slightly-less-steep section that allowed us to relax slightly and look at the stars twinkling above. Even so, by the time we reached the 8km mark it was hard to motivate myself to walk any further – the summit was still far above us and we couldn’t even see it in the darkness.

David and Angela at the summit of Mount Kinabalu

David and Angela at the summit of Mount Kinabalu image: Angela Griffin

David and I encouraged each other to keep going and stopped frequently for water and chocolate. The last 100m was by far the worst - it was very steep, over huge boulders, and it was so cold I thought my fingers would drop off.

View from the top of Mount Kinabalu

What a view! image: Angela Griffin

The summit

But finally, at about 5.30am, we reached the summit, 4,095m above sea level. We just had time to take a few photos before the sun rose and revealed the entirety of Borneo spread below us. We could see all the way to the sea, the forest stretched out for miles. There were all sorts of jagged peaks around us with clouds seemingly poured into the valleys; it was spectacular.

Angela at the top of Mount Kinabalu

Angela looking grey at the summit image: Angela Griffin

The descent

At the peak, I soon began to feel dizzy; whether this was due to exertion, lack of sugar or altitude I am not sure. My face turned grey and David got worried about me, so we started the long walk back down to Laban Rata. It was easier walking down than walking up, but it was still very tiring. Thankfully, the sun came up and warmed us, and we had a great view the whole way down.

Descending Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

David on the descent image: Angela Griffin

Once we arrived in Laban Rata I was feeling invigorated again, so we gorged on baked beans, toast, eggs, pancakes, cereal, more toast, jam, more beans, and lots of orange juice, all much deserved of course!

Summit views, Mount Kinabalu

Summit views image: Angela Griffin

As we forced ourselves out of our chairs to descend the last section, the heavens opened, flooding the pathways and soaking us to the skin. After about 3km of walking through muddy water, my legs gave up and I found it impossible to bend them. I had to force myself down the slopes, which was very hard work. But at last, we arrived at the bottom. My legs felt like jelly and we could both barely walk. We were absolutely exhausted. That was without a doubt the hardest physical thing I had ever done.

But was it worth it? Of course it was.

Climb Mount Kinabalu with one of Round the World Experts' Borneo Holidays.

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