Conquering Mt Kinabalu

(It was sad to hear about the earthquake that hit Mt Kinabalu recently. We had the opportunity to make the climb a few months back, and this article is written in the hope that Mt Kinabalu comes back soon as the great tour adventure that it is for all to enjoy. To our neighbors in Borneo, our prayers are with you, guys.)

It all started out as a joke. Me and my colleagues were sitting in the office early one night getting ready to call it a day when Ken blurts out: “Air Asia’s got a special promo here for Kota Kinabalu, guys. Anyone interested?” So I ask: “What’s to see there?” I figured that, with my wife’s birthday coming up, I might as well gift her with a unique surprise.

Mt Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia.

So Ken’s on his computer immediately googling places to see, and things to do in Kota. He’s now reciting air fare rates, then the who-what-when-where of places, activities, native delicacies, etc. The guy’s a walking travelogue, having ventured as an international salesman before joining us at Habitat. And a savvy salesman he is too, fleecing me of my credit card and lining me up for a trip to Kota Kinabalu and a death-defying climb up the picturesque Mt Kinabalu, the highest mountain in all of Southeast Asia.

Yep – long story short – a month later, me and my wife Wit, with friends Sharon and Louie, are climbing up Mt Kinabalu. And the sweet-talking Ken is nowhere, having begged off at the last minute due to some circumstances at home. I’m dragging my feet and cursing Ken for setting me up for this hurt-a-minute climb to eternity. I’m sweating like hell, I’m tired, I’m dirty, I’m thirsty and I’m almost sixty! What the…..! Shit, this wasn’t supposed to be a sexagenarian’s idea of a fun vacation.

The trails going up to Mt Kinabalu. We took the Timpohon route. (courtesy of

Imagine this. You take on a 6 to 8 hour hike, depends on how strong and fast you are. And that’s for the first day alone. Through trails that get steeper and steeper.  Each corner you conquer brings you to a longer and more challenging upward trail. The heat and the grime irritate your skin. The rocks and the trees are added hurdles. And the insects molest you as well.

Meeting the many challenges of trekking Mt Kinabalu.

Later, the cold sets in as you get to higher ground. The sweating stops, and your wet shirt gets cold. You take a stop to change shirts. Actually, you take a hundred or so short stops cuz you’re tired and feel like quitting. But you have wonderful friends who keep encouraging you on. Besides, you have no choice except to continue climbing in order to reach the base camp in Laban Rata. Where you are afforded a warm dinner, and a cramped but cozy cot to take a few hours rest. It is a short heavensent respite that soothes your pains and strains.

The Donkey's Ears at the background.
At Laban Rata, with Sharon and Louie. The Donkey’s Ears at the background. The left one was cut in half by the earthquake.

And then you wake up at 2 am for the final climb to the top to watch the glorious sunrise. You are literally out of breath when you reach the top. But the view…  Simply breathtaking! The feeling…  Simply indescribable.

The view from the top.
The view from the top. (courtesy of

And then you realize you’ve only finished the first half of the journey. The trickier part is the trip down the mountain. Which takes all of one back-breaking, knee-jarring, ankle-twisting day again.

Going down was a different challenge.

And if you’re lucky, a gash, a nick, or a prized wound you can proudly show off as evidence of your journey to Mt Kinabalu.

But it was all worth it. Every bit of it. The aches and pains. The slips and slides. The worries, the weary bones. At the end of the day, it is always the difficult times that you enjoy reminiscing the most. There may be many spectacular views around the globe, but the difficult climb makes this experience so much closer to the heart.

You should try it. C’mon, take a vote for your adventurous side this time; and make the trip before your legs, your heart and your stamina make it more difficult for you.

Oh, and thanks to Sharon and Louie, for the loads of pep-talk and the encouragement during the hard climb. And to Ken, thank you for the exercise, and the extraordinary experience! Well worth it, my friend! Now, go do it yourself, wilya?

(Pics courtesy of,,,,,,,, cbholganza)


  1. Sheila and I are planning to make beautiful Mt. Kinabalu our first international climb. We hope that it would be open to climbers sometime next year after that tragic earthquake.

    Karen, itinerary, contact, and budget please? Pretty, pretty please? Hehehe!

    Liked by 1 person

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