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Trip Report rkkwan's trip to top of Mt. Kinabalu, Sabah, May 2011

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What?

I am not really an outdoor person, and have rarely hiked. Last time I actually did some semi-serious hiking was at Zion and Bryce 1.5 years ago. And nothing like a 2-day 2,300m/7,500ft hike to a 4,095m/13,435ft mountain top. But my gf was planning to do it with some of her really outdoor buddies, and I was invited. I said "yes".

Before I go further, here's the album of the whole 9-day Sabah trip. Right now, I have uploaded the Kota Kinabalu portion. Will post the mountain climbing portion shortly, with the happy days at the Gayana Eco Resort later.

http://rkkwan.zenfolio.com/sabah0511

Three albums are dedicated to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park just outside KK, and one for the trip down Klias River to see the proboscis monkeys in the wild.

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    Preparations

    I bought a few things in the months leading to this hike:

    - Canon S95. Won't be able to take my 7D and heavy lens(es) to the top, so I used this trip as an excuse to get a S95.

    - LOWA Renegade GTX. Awesome Gore-Tex boots that are very comfortable, and of course water-proof.

    - Black Diamond Ultra-Distance hiking poles. Super light and easy to carry (from US to Hong Kong to Sabah). Can't be happier.

    Other purchases include light hiking gloves, Black Diamond headlamp (for the early morning hike to the top), Mountain Wolf backpack raincover, hiking socks, mini towels, etc. Also used this occasion to get a nice Gore-Tex light jacket from North Face, as well as a water-proof hiking pants and baseball cap from REI.

    Stuff I already had include a low-tech Hi-Tec backpack, as well as a SIGG water bottle.

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    Fitness and High altitude

    Altitude sickness wasn't the utmost concern of mine. I had been to quite a few high places - including three weeks in Tibet last summer. Highest place to overnight was at the Everest Base Camp just over 5,000m/16,400ft, and highest mountain pass reached by car was over 5,400m/17,700ft all without problem. Of course, hiking up to 4,000m is a different matter, so I actually started taking the Diamox I brought to Tibet (and back) 2 days before the climb.

    Fitness was THE issue. I started swimming and biking a bit more during the past few months, and have lost a bit of weight. But I was (and am) still about 5kg/10lb heavier than I would love myself to be. I had bypass surgery done in Dec 2008. Some of my friends and relatives did worry about that, but my heart had been fine post-op, and my doctors have placed no restriction of what activity I can do.

    I think most importantly, I didn't see this climb to the top as something I MUST do. It's a just an opportunity to do it with my GF and friend; so if I felt I couldn't do it, I'd have no problem stopping and turning back.

    Itinerary

    There were 6 of us total going from Hong Kong to Sabah. My GF and I, another couple with their baby, and a friend of theirs. Two of them had already summited Mt. Kinabalu, and of course the baby wouldn't be, so there were only 3 of us climbing.

    Sat, May 21 - Hong Kong to Kota Kinabalu on AirAsia in the evening. Stay at North Borneo Cabin 3 nights.
    Sun, May 22 and Mon, May 23 - KK, Lok Kawi Wildlife Park & Klias River.
    Tue, May 24 - KK to Mt. Kinabalu Park HQ, stay in Summit Lodge.
    Wed, May 25 - 6km/3.7mi hike from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata Resthouse.
    Thur, May 26 - 2.7km/1.7mi hike from Laban Rata to summit; return to Park HQ and return to KK. Stay at North Borneo Inn.
    Fri, May 27 and Sat, May 28 - Gayana Eco Resort on Gaya Island for two nights.
    Sun, May 29 - AirAsia back to Hong Kong in late afternoon.

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    Hong Kong to Kota Kinabalu on AirAsia

    First time flying AK. Their A320s are new, but pitch is tight at 29". Okay for a 2.5 hour flight, in general. Food and drinks are for purchase only, and one can pre-order your food online prior. Probably because this flight is at dinner time, quite a few passengers have ordered theirs. Entrees are around 15RM (Malaysian Ringgit. 1US$ = 3RM; 1RM = 2.6HKD).

    AK uses Terminal 2 in HKG for check-in. First time for me, though I had gone through the immigration/security at T2 previously. Stupid that one has to switch from one train to another for the outer gates HKG for those checked-in at SkyPier or T2.

    At Kota Kinabalu (BKI), AK is the only airline that uses T2, the low-cost terminal similar to a bus station. Stairs only and no jetway. Immigration line for non-Malaysians are fairly long, and Sabah had already started taking fingerprints for visitors, ahead of the June 1 implementation date for western Malaysia.

    Even though Sabah is a state of Malaysia, they maintain border control for even flights from western Malaysia or Sarawak.

    May 21 to May 23, Kota Kinabalu

    Taxis to/from BKI are flat-fee. 30RM for regular cab, 42RM for a 7-seater van. The airport taxis are silver in color, unlike the red ones in the city, though one can take a regular cab from city to airport for the same flat rate.

    We stayed at the North Borneo Cabin, a hostel on Gaya Street directly across from the Jesselton Hotel and right above Yu Kee (佑記), a very popular eatery for Bak kut teh (肉骨茶). More about that later. Since there were 5 adults in our group, North Borneo gave us a whole room for 6 (with 3 bunk beds). Basic accommodations with shared bath, but there is A/C in our room, free wi-fi with one computer in the common area. Breakfast included, but very simple bread and jam and coffee - I'd rather eat at one of the places downstairs. Most importantly, it's very inexpensive at 23RM per person per night. Almost free.

    Gaya Street is the main street in the old center of KK, and location of the Sunday Market in the morning. We'd find out soon enough as moving noise and loud music started early the very next morning after our arrival. They sell dry goods, fruits and vegetables, as well as some ready-to-eat items all together. Fairly interesting. And Gaya Street itself is lined with many inexpensive eateries - Malaysian, Western and Chinese cafes, bak kut teh places, along with various noodle shops. On the night of arrival, I had a late supper of Dim Sum (3RM a steamer) along with iced coffee (also 3RM) at Fook Yuen Cafe (富源). Go figure.

    Our itinerary in KK is extremely leisurely. On May 22nd, we hired a 9-seater van to go to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park; and later the Aquarium and Marine Musuem at the University Malaysia Sabah (UMS). They charge us 200RM. Lok Kawi (20RM/non-Malaysian) is pretty interesting, as you can see from my pictures. Two of us already rode an elephant for 2 short circuits (5RM/person). The Aquarium is fairly small but still not bad. 5RM each.

    Other times, we were mostly wandering around looking for food. KK has waterfront, but otherwise a fairly non-descript city with lots of guesthouses and hostels. I think it is great for vacationers from Hong Kong as there are many business run by Chinese; with Mandarin and Cantonese spoken by many there.

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    Here are some direct links to albums:

    Orangutan "Mowgli" with special appearance by yours truly at Lok Kawi:
    http://rkkwan.zenfolio.com/mowgli0511

    Proboscis monkeys (Big nose/long nose monkeys) at Lok Kawi:
    http://rkkwan.zenfolio.com/proboscis0511

    Other animals at Lok Kawi:
    http://rkkwan.zenfolio.com/lokkawi0511

    Other KK pictures, including our AirAsia flights, the Aquarium and various food stuff:
    http://rkkwan.zenfolio.com/kotakinabalu0511

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    Sorry for slow update. Kind of busy over the weekend.

    Food around Kota Kinabalu

    Here are some of the eateries we've been to around KK, centered mostly on Gaya St downstairs from our hostel.

    Kedai Kopi Fuk Yuen 富源 on Gaya Street next to Old Town White Coffee.
    Coffee shop that's open late. Mixed of Chinese, Malaysian and western stuff. We had Chinese dim sum and iced coffee around midnight. 3RM (US$1) for an iced coffee, or 3RM for a little steamer of dim sum.

    Kedai Kopi Wan Wan 旺旺 in Duta Industrial Estate
    Our driver took us here after visiting the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. It is out in the SE suburb of KK. Very popular for its fish noodles. Opens only 6:30a to 2:30p. 5 of us had 5 different types of noodles. 37.5RM (US13) total!

    Suang Tian Seafood Restaurant 雙天 in Sedco Food Court
    We had been looking forward to it. For the 5 of us, here's what we had:
    - Tiger Prawns in cream sauce. Seems to be the signature dish, though later on another Chinese guide told us they taste even better fried in ginger and scallions. 40RM (US$13) each. Each of us had one.
    - Crab fried with ginger and scallions. 10RM per 100gram. Our is 800g, so 80RM (US$27).
    - Steamed grouper. 7RM/100gram. Ours is 800g, so 56RM (US$19). Their sauce is a bit heavier and saltier than our normal Hong Kong taste.
    - Boiled babylon shells. 25RM/kg. Quite meaty and very good deal.
    Along with drinks and other vegetables and rice, it comes to RM481.5 or US$160 for the 5 of us. If we had the same in Hong Kong, it'd cost at least 50% more.

    Wiya Nasi Ayam 味雅
    Famous for what Chinese called Hainan chicken rice 海南雞飯, this place is about 2 blocks from Gaya St closer to the harbor and the Hyatt. Very tasty chicken, and the rice is cooked with oil. A bit too greasy for me for breakfast. 44RM (US$15) for the 5 of us.

    More in next post.

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    Kedai Kopi Melanian 金沙園
    A gentlemen on the street recommended this to us while we were looking for Wiya Chicken. This noodle place sells pork meat noodles one block from Gaya St. Malaysia is a Muslim country, so many eateries don't prepare pork, while there are specialty Chinese cafes and restaurants that do, and this is one of them. And you can have noodles with pork meat, heart, liver, intestine, or a combination of above. 28RM (US$9) for 5 of us for a light lunch.

    Fong Ip Cafe 馮業
    On a corner shop on Gaya St, comfortable place where we had breakfast. They have mostly Malay and western stuff, and we really enjoyed their kaya toast (咖央多). Kaya is a coconut egg jam.

    Syarikat Yu Kee 佑記
    Probably the most famous and popular eatery on Gaya Street, it sits right downstairs from our hostel. Open only from 4p to 11p (or when they sold out), their plastic tables and chairs took up all the sidewalks every evening. It sells one type of food only - Bak Kut Teh (肉骨茶). You can look it up on Wiki, but basically it's a pork broth with various medicinal herbs in it. You can order it with various type of pork parts, and it is eaten with rice and some tofu. They also give you a strong Chinese tea to go with it. There are several restaurants that sell these, but this one seem to be the most popular. About 70RM (US$23) for dinner for 5.

    Keng Wan Hing 瓊萬興
    Two stores down from Yu Kee on Gaya is this Chinese place for pastries. They also sell fish ball noodles, which I had, but their best things are their pastries - both baked ones as well as steamed buns.

    KFC
    There seem to be one at every corner in Kota Kinabalu, and a guide told us they're really better than KFC elsewhere in the world. We had that for lunch at KK T2, since there were nothing else interesting to eat there anyways. They're good, but I'm not sure if I'll say they're really better than KFC elsewhere.

    Other food stuff
    There are two drinks that I seem to consume in huge amount while in KK. One is iced tangerine water (桔仔冰) - It has very tiny green tangerines in it, as well as a few pickled plum. Another is the "pulled" milk tea. Similar to milk tea in Hong Kong, but they pour the tea back and forth at great heights between two glass to get a froth.

    We had durian popsicles a few times, and my friends even bought several boxes from the airport to bring back to Hong Kong. The best brand (and the one sold at BKI) is Taluwang 美味. Under 2RM (US$0.7) each.

    We visited a company show room of Beryl's chocolate outside KK. Their beans are from Ghana, as I don't think they grow cocoa in Sabah. Their chocolate is pretty good, and they are quite innovative - with products like durian chocolate, spicy chocolate and potato chips covered in chocolate, etc.

    ---

    Well, enough of KK. The hiking of Mt. Kinabalu next...

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    Mount Kinabalu
    Cost and booking

    It is a 2-day hike from the Mount Kinabalu National Park HQ to Low's Peak, the summit. One has to spend a night at Laban Rata, about 2/3 up, and then continue early next morning. One has to arrange for accommodations and climbing permit, as Malaysia limit the number of climbers each day.

    All accommodations at Laban Rata are run by Sutera Resorts, except the Pendant Hut run by Mountain Torq. Mountain Torq is the company that "runs" the highest Via Ferrata in the world, and their hut is only for those who're doing the via ferrata. One of the 3 in our group was keen in doing the via ferrata, but my gf and I weren't sure. So, we booked through Sutera.

    When we inquire Sutera about the climb in early March, we could only get their 3-day/2-night package that also includes one night at the park HQ prior to the ascent instead of just the night in Laban Rata. I believe one has to book earlier for Laban Rata only. Anyways, the cost per person would be 728RM (US$243) for one night at the Rock Hostel in the Park HQ, one night at the Laban Rata resthouse, 7 meals (including one packed lunch), climbing permit and insurance.

    Other mandatory cost is 15RM per person entrance fee paid to the park, mountain guide 85RM shared among the three of us, and 33RM shared for roundtrip transportation between the Park HQ (at around 1,600m) and Timpohon Gate (1,866m), about 5km each way. And since all of us made it to the top, we exercised our option to purchase a certificate for 10RM each. So, that adds 64RM (US$21) each.

    Later on, the two other non-hikers in our group (they've already been to the top previously) and the baby decided to join us at the Park HQ, so we upgraded to the Peak Lodge for 665RM (US$222) extra with extra mattress and extra breakfast buffet. If booked separately, the Peak Lodge would cost 850RM (US$283). It has two rooms (two singles in one and a bunk bed in other).

    Final cost is the transportation between KK and the Park. When we inquire about a private van for all of us, we've gotten quotes of 200RM and 250RM. In the end, we went to the shared 9-person van stop in KK for the vans to Ranau (just beyond the park), and negotiated 180RM. On our way back, we paid 150RM for a 6-person minivan.

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    A very pleasant surprise at Park HQ

    A couple of days before we left KK for the park, we went to Sutera's office in KK to confirm our bookings and itinerary. I saw on the print out "Summit Lodge" instead of "Peak Lodge". When asked, the lady simply told us we'd been upgraded.

    Only when we arrived at the Park HQ at around 1pm on May 24, we realized the Summit Lodge is one of three "Premiere Lodges" there, and the rack rate of ours is 2,600RM (US$867) per night!!! Or about 3x the cost of the Peak Lodge. It's a nice chalet with two bedrooms, big sitting room, dining room, kitchen, and a fireplace!!! Very nicely appointed decorations and furniture. Too bad we didn't get to use the kitchen as our packages included meals already. Only thing it does not have is internet access, which is probably for the better.

    You can find pics of the Summit Lodge in my album linked to above.

    With such a nice chalet, we didn't do much except for a leisure stroll around the park HQ area. Didn't pay to visit the botanical garden. The included buffet dinner was a disappointment, however. Definitely not worth the RM60.5 (US$20) that we paid for our 5th person.

    After dinner, we called to have housekeeping come to light the fireplace. Well, even though my home in Houston has a fireplace (gas lit), we've never used it. But here in the cool mountain, it was awesome to sit around and play with one, especially for my friends from Hong Kong.

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    May 25, 2011

    We woke up and found a great view of the top of Mt. Kinabalu from the porch of our chalet. The mountain top is often covered in clouds, and we didn't see it at all the previous afternoon. We could also see the Laban Rata resthouse where we would spend the night. It looked tall up there, but at least it was visible, so I didn't feel as intimidated.

    The buffet breakfast was mediocre like dinner, and we picked up our packed lunch there - sandwiches, an apple and a bottle of water. After we paid for our guide and got our permit, we jumped on the park van to Timpohon Gate, about 5km away and 280m above the Park HQ.

    At Timpohon Gate (1,866m/6,122ft), our permit was checked, and there is a small store for last minute supply. We started our hike at 8:45a. What's weird is that the first 100m or so was downhill and passed by the Carson Falls. Gave one a false sense of enjoyment. But soon, it turned uphill, at a "quite tolerable" rate of just under 200m every km, and we were making decent progress. At 10:15, we made it to the Pondok Lowii shelter (2,267m/7,437ft). 2.2km distance in 1.5hr, but only went up 400m.

    From some of the pictures posted, you can see the trail is unpaved, just a mud path. No loose gravel at all, and not slippery for the first 4-5km on this dry day. Steps are often created by placing piece of wood horizontally to hold the earth, but they are uneven and most of the steps very tall. While I was concerned about my fitness level for climbing out, my gf was already worried about coming down those steps. We were very lucky that it didn't rain at all on this first day of ascent.

    I found my new LOWA Renegade boots very comfortable and protective. Most importantly, they have excellent grip. Gave me very good sense of security. The pair of Black Diamond Ultra-Distance carbon fiber poles are equally impressive. I had installed the carbon tips that come with the poles, and they never slipped on any surface. Since these poles were non-adjustable, I did have to grip lower for the ascent. Initially, I was planning to lend one pole to my gf, but she got a free piece of wooden stick from a hiker the previous afternoon. That's also very popular here.

    For every 750 to 1000m from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata, there is a rain shelter for one to rest, with toilet. Also, from all we've read and were told, water at each of these shelter. However, reality was a bit different. The water at the shelter is unfiltered, which is okay; but it is stored in some very large plastic tanks. Okay for washing faces and flushing toilet, but we did not see anybody drinking that water as it's questionable if there's gems or whatnot in those tanks. Fortunately, we had carried enough water to get to Laban Rata, so it wasn't a concern for us (at least not yet).

    At most of these huts/shelters, there's also one or two emergency stretcher stored under the roof. We were told emergency evacuation could be provided, at 350RM (US$117) per km. More about that later.

    Along the way, we also saw many local porters who carry supplies up to Laban Rata. I talked to one during lunch, and he told me he was carrying 42kg/93lb that day, and they were 3RM (US$1) per kg for the 6km/1,400m hike, so he'd make 126RM (US$42) that day. I figure that even with all that weight, they can make it up in under 5 hours, and down (with minimal trash) in 2 or so. Women as well, though I would assume they carry less. [If we had hired them to carry our stuff, it would cost us 80RM for each 10kg to Laban Rata and back.]

    The three of us often walked at slightly different pace and took different lengths of rest at the shelters. The guide (Billy, for us) would always be behind the last of us. But in reality, we hardly saw him on this day at all, since he could hike about twice as fast as us, he spent most of his time chatting with the porters or other guides at the shelters; waited for us to go about half-way to the next shelter, then he caught up with us before then. Seems pretty "useless" to us during this day, but of course that would change...

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    The steepness of the path gradually increases and our pace slowed, but I was still feeling okay with pretty steady pace and fairly short breaks (~5 min) at the shelters. I didn't feel any issue with my heart or my legs, but I had been panting soon after the start. The light jacket came off pretty soon as well, and I was simply wearing a t-shirt. I also didn't feel the altitude was affecting me much - meaning I would probably struggle all the same if hiking the same path at sea-level. The diamox I'd been taking for 2+ days might have helped, though I can't prove it.

    Even though the starting point was at 1,866m/6,122ft, it still felt like we were in a tropical forest (latitude of Mt. Kinabalu is at 6-degress N). And while the height of the trees and density gradually decrease, there really isn't much of a view from the path for the first 4-5km except for a few clearings. Not many flowering plants at this time of the year. Just very lush and green the whole way.

    At 10:45a (2 hours from start), we made it to the 3km mark (2,455m/8,054ft), and our lunch point called Layang Layang (~3.9km; 2,702m/8,865ft) at noon (3:15 from start). Having climbed 836m/2,743ft, I commented to my companions that if I had to turn around here, I would already be pretty proud of myself as I had never hike that much in my life. There is a small park staff dormitory at Layang Layang, which is also just below the junction of the main Summit Trail and the longer Mesilau Nature Trail. We would rest for about 20 minutes here during lunch.

    [Instead of hiking from Timpohon Gate, one can also take this longer and more scenic Mesilau Nature Trail. Cost of transportation is higher, and so is the guide fee; but those are trivial. While it may seem that the rate of ascent is much lower - 5.7km from 2,000m to 2,700m; compared to 3.9km from 1,866m to 2,700m - that path is actually much more arduous and time consuming. It is really NOT an alternative for the casual and novice hiker.

    This is a point that all of the guide books I've read have failed to emphasize. Which was why we were still considering it the night before our climb. But after talking to some people at the park HQ, we realized that it was really not an option for us, at least for going up; IF we felt really that great on the way down and wouldn't mind hiking for another 2 hours, then we could consider that at that time and discussed with our guide. That turned out to be totally unnecessary.

    In fact, for those who made it to the summit via the Mesilau Trail, there is a separate certificate one could purchase to tout that feat; AND the park authority actually charges one LESS MONEY for that certificate than the regular summit trail one.]

    The next 2km from Layang Layang to Laban Rata is much steeper and harder to hike, especially the last 550m from the last shelter. While the first 3.9km was covered in 3:15, the last 2km took as 2:15, and the last 550m took 45 minutes. The rate of climb during the last section was 192m in 550m, or 350m/km. Almost double the rate for the very first 2km. More stones than earth, and the steps very tall. Vegetation is down to very short trees and scrubs, but because of the mist, no view either.

    I was running on reserve now, but knowing that dinner and a bed awaited ahead, I felt energized and made it to Laban Rata in fairly good shape at 2:45p. Exactly 6 hours from our start at Timpohon Gate.

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    Great report! It is bringing all back to me. We did the ascent about 12 years ago with a group of friends, I can still recall the pain in my legs! Worse still was the humiliation of getting passed TWICE on the ascent by this tiny Malasian guy, once carrying what seemed to be a small refrigerator and later with a large sack of rice!

    Looking forward to hearing more

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    Laban Rata and Via Ferrata

    We checked in to the Laban Rata resthouse, and were assigned in a room with I believe 14 beds (7 bunks). Quite comfortable. Shared bath in the hallway, but no hot water that day. Dinner would be served from 4:30p, but my friends were still interested in doing the Via Ferrata the next day after summiting, so we headed up to the Pendant Hut for the 3:30p briefing.

    Boy, at this time my legs simply weren't responding at all. The short flight of stairs up to the Pendant Hut was torture, and immediately I decided I wouldn't be doing the via ferrata next day. Still the briefing was quite interesting, and my two companions both tried out the special carabiners and the procedure. There are two routes at this highest via ferrata in the world - the shorter one taking about 1-2 hour and the long one 4-5, usually. In the end, our outdoor friend decided to do the long one, while my gf and I passed. Not only did I not have much energy to spare, the required time also meant rushing to summit the next morning.

    Back at the resthouse, we had an early dinner as we would need to get up before 2a next morning. Food up here was surprisingly good - especially their fried noodles. In fact, food was better here than in the Park HQ. Go figure. We were also amazed that quite a few westerners were drinking beer - at >3,200m/10,700ft after a long day hike. But beer is expensive. Alcoholic drinks are pricey enough in Malaysia, but up here, a can cost 26RM or US$9. Not surprising as they had to be carried up.

    The cloud cleared quite a bit during dinner time, and we got a very nice view out the patio at the restaurant. You can see the pictures from my album.

    I skipped shower and went to bed soon after. Since I was so tired, I slept very well all the way till 1:30a despite the noise in the hallway (others in our room were quiet). My gf also slept well, but our friend didn't and he went out to look at stars sometime during the evening.

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    May 26, 2011 Early Morning to the Summit

    I had set the alarm at 1:30a, but by 1:15a or so, most people in our room were up and lights were turned on. At 2a, a "supper" was served, which was actually a breakfast, with eggs and bread, but also fried noodles. At 2:30a, most headed out to try to reach the summit before sunrise, which is at around 5:40a in May/June (and 20 minutes later in Dec).

    Our water bottles were refilled and I was feeling pretty good. The air was crisp - I estimated it to be about 4 to 5C or about 40F, so I put on my fleece as well as my light windbreaker. I had my hiking gloves on, and my gf bought a pair of cotton "workers' gloves" at the resthouse the night before. I also put on a hood and over it, my brand new very nice Black Diamond headlamp, which is more than adequate, as the path was lighted well by other hikers' headlamps. Outside we found Billy our guide and off we went.

    Laban Rata is just before the 6km mark, while the summit is at 8.7km. In 2.7km, we need to climb from 3272m to 4095m, for 823m/2,700ft. Unlike the previous day's climb, which was almost uniformly earth path/steps, it's more varied. First 700-800m were very tall steps not unlike the last km on the previous days, only here there are also stretches of built stairs (still very tall steps). Then all vegetation disappeared and we are now on bare granite. For about 200m, one side is a pretty steep cliff. Only one person can pass here at a time, holding on to a rope. For maybe about 50m, one really need to pull on the rope to climb up the granite.

    A little past this stretch is the Sayat-Sayat check-point where they check our climbing permit (and actually mark off from their list of climbers that day) at 3,668m/12,034ft. In only 1.1km, we would need to climb about 400m, the steepest stretch of the whole trail. And unlike the bottom 6km, here there is no more resting shelter besides the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint with unfiltered water. We would basically rest whenever needed.

    And rests I needed often. With this rate of climb right out of Laban Rata, I was really struggling, with heavy panting. While we started off in around mid-pack, I had to stop more often than most others, and soon we were falling further and further behind (though there were still a few slower than I was). And I kept doing calculations about when we might make it to the top at my rate as I was concerned our friend who's the avid hiker would miss the sunrise. [And he still had to do the long via ferrata]. Finally, he agreed to take off on his own first, and I felt better without that pressure.

    When we got to the scary part with the rope, my gf (who was just in front of me) started to struggle. While my problem was overall fitness, she is a little scared of those dangerous steps. Since our other friend had taken off, she was now the leader among us and was having a hard time. So, instead of trailing us, our guide Billy would go with her in front, leading her to the "safest" and easiest steps, and I would follow tightly. That helped greatly.

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    I have to say, this early stretch to the top was not very enjoyable for me. Not only was I struggling physically, but because of the reduced oxygen, and it was dark so nothing to see, and the time constraint to get to the top for the sunrise; mentally, I was struggling as well, starting to wonder why I agreed to come on this trip, etc... Fortunately, I did not once consider returning to Laban Rata, as I was still fine physically to go on. I did decide to forget about sunrise and the time. I would do it at my pace, not others, not the sun's.

    I had stowed my hiking poles at the ropes below Sayat-Sayat, while Billy would hold my gf's walking stick. At Sayat-Sayat, he just left her stick at the checkpoint, since it's useless for the top portion.

    From Sayat-Sayat at 7.1km to the 8.5km mark (200m before summit), we would be walking mostly on smooth, broad granite. You can see some of the pictures I took here on the way down, and also where most Mt. Kinabalu hiking pictures were taken. But it is still very steep, and a rope is still there (though mostly unused). I enjoyed this portion most for both uphill and down, as there are no tall steps. And since the "path" now is very very wide, I simply walked a long zig-zag route to decrease the steepness. And approaching dawn, we could start to see the outline of the peaks surrounding us, including the very recognizable Donkey Ears.

    When we started at Laban Rata at 2:30a, it was clear and crisp, and we could see the stars as well as the lights from the dwellings in the valleys 1,500m below. But closer to dawn and higher up, it started to get misty. When we talked to hikers who summited the previous day, they said they couldn't see sunrise as it was all misty, and it looked like that'd be the case this day as well. Yes, it is sour grapes, but that would mean we wouldn't miss much if we didn't make it to the top by 5:40a.

    At around 5a or so, and around the 8km mark, we could see the sharp Low's Peak for the very first time, and the path to its very top lit by the other hikers' headlamps. At the 8.5km mark, the path basically disappeared, with the last 200m all rock croppings. One simply climb around them and find the easiest route to go higher. It was around 5:40a at this time and very misty - we had to put raincovers on our backpacks - and the early summiters were coming down. We met our friend there.

    Finally, at around 5:50a, we made it to the top. About 3:20 since we left Laban Rata, and just missed the supposed sunrise by 10 minutes. Pictures at the sign were of course taken. This was the very first significant peak I have hiked up to. And it is just lower than Mauna Kea in Hawaii (4,205m/13,796ft), which I drove to the observatories on the top.

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    Summit down to Laban Rata

    Because it was cold and windy and misty at the summit, we came down soon after getting our pictures taken with the sign. There was nothing to see from there, as visibility was very poor. After the first 200m, the next 1.4km was clearly the most enjoyable portion of the whole journey for me. Just going down a broad slope, and I was taking quite a few pictures there. The cloud cleared a little bit, and we could see the other peaks around us, including Donkeys Ears (occasionally) and the very prominent South Peak - initially in front and below us, then above us to our right.

    I was feeling so comfortable I could actually chat with my gf a bit during this stretch, and she asked how I felt about the trip and summiting. I told her the truth, which is that while I felt very accomplished and proud of myself, I didn't really get that "high" I've heard and read about athletes achieving their goals - whether summiting a peak or finishing a marathon. I felt great, but not necessarily enough to do it again or to climb other peaks.

    Anyways, soon we came to the steepest point with the rope; one had to turn around and go down backwards, pulling the rope to hold the descent. I was actually enjoying it, while my gf probably hated this part the most. But our guide Billy was with her the whole time and we came down with no problem, and we were just about 1.1km away and 400m above Laban Rata.

    Then my problem really started. Coming down the tall steps, I started to breath heavily, sweating a lot and felt very tired. Even though I was using both my trekking poles and my knees weren't feeling that bad. I had to stop several times to rest, wipe my sweat and get a sip of water. Going down wasn't supposed to be this hard, I thought. And we still had 6km and 1,400m to descend this day. For the first time, I actually started to worry about my condition.

    Finally, we arrived back at Laban Rata at around 9a. An older Japanese couple was there to greet all of us. They came up with their friends, but the two of them would stay at Laban Rata and not attempt the summit. Quickly, we had breakfast (which was similar to the 2am supper), and then I went back to my bunk to take a nap. Everybody had to check out by 10:30a so that they could get the rooms ready for the next group of hikers.

    Now, about our friend who went for the via ferrata. Because he was the only one doing the long route that day, it was just him and the instructor from Mountain Torq. They moved quickly and finished it in about 3 hours (compared to the usual 4-5). And they got a lot of good pictures. In fact, he came back so quickly he managed to have the breakfast before they closed at 10:30a - which was almost unheard of.

    After my nap of about 40 minutes, I felt quite a bit better, though my whole body still felt pretty tired. Really not looking forward to the 6km to the bottom.

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    Laban Rata down to Timpohon Gate

    After getting all of stuff ready, refilled our water bottles, and did some stretching, we started heading down as a whole group at around 10:45a. Since it took us 6 hours climbing up the previous day, we figured we could get down in about 4 hours, in time for the included lunch at the Park HQ before heading back to Kota Kinabalu.

    Unfortunately, my pace just got slower and slower, even though the path was getting easier. In fact, my pace was barely faster than when we were coming up. It was hard to explain, as initially there wasn't a particular part of my body that was suffering that much. Simply, my whole body was tired, and I had to use a lot of energy on both my legs and both my arms (using the hiking poles) for each tall step I made going down.

    I soon had to make breaks at every 400 to 500m, and have to stretch at every shelter (around 1km apart) as I really worried I would get cramps. I was also sweating a lot, so I basically finished my water just past halfway and had to drink my gf's. And looking down all the tall steps and steep slopes, I really found it unbelievable that I could have hiked all the way to the summit. Couldn't believe it.

    Anyways, our friend would head down first, and he ended up waiting for us for a long time just before Timpohon. At around the 2.5km mark (3.5km done), we decided that my gf would also go ahead with her phone so she and our friend could call our non-climbing party at the Park HQ that we would be late, but still coming down. We dropped the idea about lunch. Now, all we hoped was I could make it down under my own power, and still had transportation back to KK before dark.

    To this date, none of us could really figure out what happened. I have two guesses, and probably both contributed to it. First, I was simply exhausted from the 6hr climb the previous day, and the 6hr roundtrip from Laban Rata to the summit earlier that morning. I basically used up all my energy to get to the top without enough reserve. Second, because I hardly hike and was overly concerned about my knees and the steps coming down; such that I used way more energy to hold my body for each step. Together, I was basically suffering from exhaustion. Only that I was rehydrating myself adequately, and stretching often enough I managed to keep going, though progressively slower.

    Also at around halfway, after being offered a few times, I finally agreed to let Billy carry my backpack for me. That certainly helped. Remember I mentioned that there are emergency stretchers at each shelter, and that evacuation can be provided at 350RM/km? I certainly didn't expect having to use them, but that option did cross the mind of both myself and my gf. If my legs had really cramped up, that might be necessary.

    Slowly, I made my way one step at a time, and found my gf and our friend at the last shelter waiting for me with just 800m to go. [Billy was with me basically the whole way.] It was already past 4, and since all who were going down were gone, while nobody would be climbing up this late, we were the only people on the trail. It'd have been pretty scary without our guide.

    But that wasn't the end of my struggle. Remember that when we first started on the trail on the previous day, the first 100m or so was downhill to the Carson Falls? Well, that'd mean I had to go up before getting to Timpohon Gate. By this time, my legs were gone, and the only way I could go up those last 20-30 steps was doing what cross-country skiers do going uphill - pulling with my arms on my hiking poles. It wasn't pretty, but I did manage to finish unassisted (except for my backpack)...

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    Aftermath

    Billy our guide called for transportation when I was finally approaching Timpohon Gate, and we we were back at the Park HQ in no time, greeted by our non-climbing friends and the baby. It was about 5p by then, as it's taken me almost 6 hours to come down, but transportation back to KK was not a problem. Lots of cars and vans there waiting for ANY return fare. My friends negotiated a 7-seat Toyota Van (similar to the airport taxi van) for 150RM, which was even less than our ride here 2 days prior.

    We went to the Park office to purchase our certificates (10RM each). They are very official about this, as the guide had to certify up at the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint near the top that we actually made it to the summit. And the certificate has serial number and name of the guide. And it was printed beautifully on high-quality paper. You can see the scan of mine in my album, already linked. We said good bye to Billy (whom I gave him a 20RM tip for carrying my backpack) and picked up my stored suitcase.

    On the way up to Laban Rata the previous day, we thought the mountain guide was useless. Well, he was definitely extremely useful for my gf and I for the second day. Earning just 85RM for two days' work (even if it's leisurely) is just a part-time job for Billy, who's a farmer from nearby villages. It is always amazing that while the foreign hikers like us would be wearing fancy hiking boots, etc, the locals simply wear the cheapest sneakers and they'd be hiking faster.

    I slept for most of the way back to KK, and we would stay at the North Borneo Cabin again, for one night. I recovered from the exhaustion, but now all three of us had very very sore legs. No problem walking on level ground, but the it was excruciating to climb the stairs up to the hostel (it's only on the 1st floor). And coming down was even worse. One step at a time, with our bodies turned. At the hostel, other travelers could tell immediately we just came back from the mountain, and would ask if we made it to the top, how was the sunrise, etc... One Australian girl there summited a few days before us, and commented that she couldn't walk for 2 days, but it started to get better after. That's what we would be looking forward to.

    Dinner that night was Bak Kut Teh at Yu Kee right downstairs. Least distance to travel. And good food.

    That concluded the Mt. Kinabalu part of our journey. To this day, I am still amazed that I actually made it to the top. And there are others who are amazed that I could make it, with my medical history. But seriously, without the picture and the certificate, I myself would have a hard time believing I made it to the top! Most importantly, I would like to thank my gf and her friends for inviting me (or at least allowing me to join them) for this trip. I know I would not have planned this myself. And to bear with me during my trouble on this 2nd day coming down the mountain.

    Next... Resting at the luxurious Gayana Eco Resort...

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    Wow, just catching up with this adventure now. Oxygen deprived blood at that height might have been the cause. When we "play" on Mauna Kea I can hardly breathe and sometimes develop a mean headache just driving down....not enough oxygen up there in the thin air is what everyone here tells me....

    Fantastic report though.... I feel tired just reading it. Don't think Kinabalu is on our list but am sure you just enticed some of the more active fodorites in the group to follow your trail. Waiting for the luxurious part.

    Aloha!

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    hawaiiantraveler - Thanks for reading. There were times when I felt I was having a little trouble with the altitude, like when I first arrived at Laban Rata on first day, after the 6-hour climb. But I don't think it had much effect on the coming-down part. I still think it's lack of fitness and lack of techniques. lol.

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    Rkkwan - Really enjoying reading your trip report. We just returned from Borneo recently and did not do the climb...I guess it was a judicious decision, as it sounds like it was more difficult than I had realized. Congrats to you for doing it!

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    Gayana Eco Resort May 27 to May 29

    There's probably no better place to rest for a few days near KK after climbing Mt. Kinabalu. Quiet, private, and minimal walking required once inside! Well, if you can look past the cost. Our over-the-water villas cost about RM1,350 (US$450) each per night. That is by a wide margin the most expensive accommodations I have spent, ever. And that's 30x the cost of the North Borneo Cabin we were staying at. But did I enjoy it? Of course!!!

    But let me state what this place is NOT, first. It is NOT a beach resort. It has a small stretch of beach, but with all clams and sea urchins not far from the shore, it is not for swimming. And the strip of beach is narrow, so they don't ever bother putting lounge chairs, etc there. It is also NOT a fun/game place - no banana boats, no parasailing, no water ski, that sort. And, from what our companions reported, it is also not that great for diving; for that I think one should go to Sipadan off the east coast of Sabah.

    So, what did we do that I so enjoyed the place? [BTW, it's a short 10-minute speedboat from the Jesselton Ferry Terminal in KK. They have a reception/lobby right on the pier.]

    Complimentary, except when I state the price:
    - Massage at their spa. It's the first time I went to a spa. Very relaxing. Nice view from the room. 90min for RM348 (US$116).
    - Watch the feeding of the cobia (locals call them kingfish) and the giant groupers.
    - Snorkel. The sea there is full of fishes and clams and sea anemones, etc; and some coral. We were literally staying right above a natural aquarium. Unbelievable.
    - Kayak into a mangrove. (Kayak is free, but going into mangrove requires a guide; 40RM/person for an hour). There's a healthy, growing mangrove just across the bay from our villa.
    - Visit the Marine Ecology Research Center - short film, touch tank, beautiful aquariums with all 8 species of the giant clams, and feeding a pair of sea turtles by ourselves.
    - Swim in the infinity pool.
    - Swim in the ocean with our friends' baby. The sea in this bay is very calm, very clear; but also with high salinity/buoyancy. Effortless to stay afloat.

    [Our friends with PADI licenses went for diving. They took them on a boat to the opposite side of the Gaya Island at the Bunga Raya Resort, an even more expensive sister property. They spent about 500RM (US$170) a person for half-day including park fees, etc. But as I mentioned, they found there's more to see by just snorkeling around our resort.]

    There are also some trails around the resort, including one across Gaya Island to Bunga Raya. Gaya Island is the biggest island in the Tundu Abdul Rahman National Park afterall. But we didn't do any, as first, we barely had enough time for the other stuff; and second, three of us could hardly walk!!! But I think it'd be fun to walk the trails.

    ---

    Food

    There are two restaurants in the resort - Macac, Western/Malaysian next to the pool, also where complimentary breakfast is served; Alu Alu, a Chinese seafood restaurant above the water. There's also a lounge where they serve complimentary drinks/beer and one daily cocktail from 6p to 7p.

    First evening, we had seafood at the Alu Alu. While it is of course more expensive than Suang Tian in the city, it is not unreasonable. Cost about 900RM (US$300) for the 5 of us; not only did we have lobsters, we also had a pricey steamed humpback grouper (老鼠斑). But we also had one of the most pleasant surprise - the simple boiled shrimps were the best tasting ones I can remember having, ever!

    Second evening, my gf and I celebrated my birthday at the Macac. The menu is mainly western, with plenty of seafood, and with a bit of an Asian twist. Decent and very reasonably priced. Two of us cost RM190 (US$64) with a cocktail. The mosquitoes did start to gather around me near the end of the meal, but the nice thing about a resort is that they simply delivered our complimentary fresh fruits to our villa.

    But I think most impressed me is their complimentary breakfast at the Macac. Besides a fairly nice self-service continental breakfast bar, each guest can also order a main course from about 10 choices. These are gourmet dishes, well created, well made. Though it can be slow. Those staying at the priciest villas with a large balcony can also have them delivered by boat.

    Pictures from the resort (not too many, as I was often just walking around in swimming trunks and a t-shirt:

    http://rkkwan.zenfolio.com/gayana0511

    ---

    So, that was our trip. We made it to the top of Mt. Kinabalu, we saw orangutan and proboscis monkeys and fireflies, we stayed at hostels and we stayed at luxury cabins, we had lots of good food - cheap and pricey. In short, an awesome trip (other than the 4.5-hr delay on AirAsia coming back from BKI to HKG). And I can start to walk again about 3 days after coming down from the mountain.

    Thanks for reading. Questions and comments very welcomed. And again, photos at:

    http://rkkwan.zenfolio.com/sabah0511

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