With its dramatic crags, plentiful flora and fauna and mist-whipped peaks, Mount Kinabalu was right at the top of my list of things to see in Malaysia. Climbing it was the ultimate end goal and, in a nutshell, it did not disappoint. Having read various reviews in advance, the hike seemed pretty doable with a moderate level of fitness, so I was totally game for the challenge.
In hindsight there a few things I wish I’d known before heading up the mountain, so here are 7 tips for you to take into consideration before getting your hike on!
1. Backup water is a very good idea
I sweat a lot, and I mean A LOT, so I did take 4 litres of water for the hike up to Laban Rata (the Mountain lodge rest spot 3/4 of the way up), but I had finished this well before I’d arrived. There was water to buy at Laban Rata; however, it's pretty expensive (it has to be carried up the mountain every day), and in some cases it can run out. No one wants to be stuck up the mountain without water so grab an extra litre, don’t guzzle it down and listen to the next point as well…
2. NEVER wear waxed cotton
Being the absolute plonker that I am, I started the hike in my finest Rwandan waxed cotton kitenge shirt, and I honestly don’t think I’ve sweated so much in my life – it was pretty much like wearing a bin bag. Don’t do it. I looked like a prat and I definitely wasted water by sweating an unnecessary amount (maybe worth it for the photo though…?!). Within an hour it was off and I was sweating into another t-shirt that I had vowed to keep dry, and I was then left with nothing dry for the summit. Silly. I’d recommend donning head to toe quick-dry sports gear!
3. Stopping for longer than 5 minutes gives you serious chills
This should be obvious, but when you’re panting and sweating profusely you tend to forget that if you stop you’ll get seriously cold. Somehow I completely missed this out in all the posts that I’d read, and I assumed that because it's tropical jungle for most the way up, I'd stay pretty warm. False!
4. You can buy gear in Kota Kinabalu (or rent it from the Kinabalu Parks)
Instead of being a stingy traveller and thinking I could brave the cold, I really should have bought another sweater for the summit. It gets seriously chilly! Hiking gear isn’t that expensive in Kota Kinabalu, and it’ll probably be cheaper than renting it when you get to the park. As a backup, guides will suggest head torches, walking sticks etc, and if they do, they’re not trying to rip you off. They genuinely do help, and you definitely need a head torch!
5. It gets hectic at the summit!
Everyday there are 100-150 climbers hiking up Kinabalu and you all come to a point at the top. This isn’t something I’d taken into account so I was a bit frustrated with the massive crowd queuing to reach the summit. For me, it ruined the vibe slightly; however, I found a spot, stayed put, and managed to convince my guide to let us stay at the top a little longer than everyone else. Sunrise is awesome, an experience that is only bettered by being at the top of the mountain alone. My guide and I had 15 minutes of the summit to ourselves and it was sheer bliss.
6. Everything is carried up the mountain
This wouldn’t really have impacted how I approached the hike, but it is something that I didn’t consider. The mountain lodges do have a helipad but that is rarely ever used. Every item of food, rubbish and building material is carried by hand. I have serious respect to the porters and guides who have to slog everything up and down the mountain.