A Decade of Mount Kinabalu: A Love Affair (Part 1 of 4)

I must confess.  I am having an affair.  In fact I have been having an affair for the past ten years.  In fact, most of my close friends already know about this affair, it is no secret to them.  Her beauty and charm has me mesmerized, always wanting to go back for more.  This year marks my 10 years anniversary with her.  She is none other than Mount Kinabalu.

My group this year consisted of a mix of people from various professional industries.  But we all shared one thing in common: a strong determination.  It is with that which fueled us for the months of hiking and exercising to get into shape prior to the climb.

Our climb was in December of 2013,  a month where climbers would usually avoid since its the rainy season, but that also meant easier opportunity to place a booking (the accommodation at the midway point of the climb can only accommodate up to a certain number of climbers per day, which makes it near to impossible to place a booking during peak seasons).  Also, the majority of my climb has always been in December and I have never had any issues on with the rain.  In fact, there was only two occasions where there was rainfall, but nothing a raincoat can’t take on.

The few days before the climb, it has been raining heavily and reports from all over the world says that it is the most wettest and cold year ever.  Nevertheless, this did not deter us from proceeding with our climb with ‘itchy hands and legs’ and an eager heart.

The cosy rock
That’s all of us (except me) sitting in the cozy living room of Rock Hostel in Kinabalu Park. Comes complete with a common kitchen area, bathroom and a living area with a fireplace for those cold nights!

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The buffet dinner served by Balsam Restaurant in Kinabalu Park is simply mouth watering.  This is our chance to eat-all-we-want without worrying (too much) about our calorie intake, knowing full well we will be burning it all off the next day.

The hostel is the cheapest accommodation available at Kinabalu Park. Each hostel room is equipped with 2 bunk beds capable of accommodating 4 persons. The head light is something new this year.

As routine each time I wake up in the morning of the climb would always be to check the weather outside.  Miraculously, from a rainy few days before this comes the most perfect weather we could ever ask for.  Perfect white clouds against the blue filled the skies.  Immediately I broke protocol and woke the rest of the group from their slumber to enjoy this magnificent view of my love affair.  Turns out that the rest of them was already awake!  Everyone was excited as the day of the climb was finally upon them.

Perfect Weather
Perfect weather for our climb, my 10th anniversary of love affair.
Good to go
Eric (more commonly known as Mr. Baker) gives the thumbs up and is ready for the greatest adventure of his life yet.
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But first, before the climb, we need to feed our starving bodies. The buffet breakfast was just as mouth watering as the dinner before. This time we had a cook who prepared fresh customized omelets for everyone.

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Picture (left): The bags that are to be carried by the porters are weighed.  Pictures (right): The starting point of the climb is at Timpohon Gate, which is around 15 minutes van ride from the HQ.

Bursting with excitement... and other stuff
The starting point of the climb: Timpohon Gate. Thanis is bursting with excitement! Little did he realize, his B.O. is getting to Wendy and Shawn. Eric and Jan probably has greater resistance.
The Descent?!?
Believe it or not, the first few steps upon embarking on the climb is… going downwards! Don’t let these easy steps fool you though, for the next 8 hours, it is non-stop up up up and up babeh.
The Ascent
Right after the downwards steps, plain flat ground with a bit of ascending here and there greets your our path.
As we progressed further, the path introduces steps carved out from the ground and some wooden steps are installed for the steeper areas.
Up Up and away
Up and up we go, minutes passed and hours passed. The steps up seems unending. My advice would be to keep your mind off the steps. Talk to your buddies around you. Even if reaching the peak is the main objective, don’t forget that you are walking in a UNESCO World Heritage site where there are many things to see around you.
I love sunbeams
Occasionally, every now and then the sunbeam will make its way into the trail, ushering us into its beauty.
The root of it all
Further into the trail, around 3 hours has passed, and the steps gets less smooth with big tree roots going across the path. Some sections of the path made out of stones rather than soil.
The giant forest
The ferns that are normally small in size are now gigantic, with its leaves big enough to act as an umbrella so shelter us from the direct sunlight.
Be careful
Slowly the steps carved out from soil are replaced with steps made out from rock and if you are not careful, you might slip and twist and ankle from some of the loose stones.
Tiny ferns grows thick making them the surrounding looks as if they have been covered with green carpet, almost totally covering the old fallen branches they grow on.
Nature's Toilet
If you look hard enough, you will find recent activities of worms in the area. The picture shows very fresh and wet feces left by a forest worm. I’m thinking the size of the worm must be gigantic to be able to produce that much feces.


Within around 3 hours from the start of the climb, we reached Layang-Layang hut.  This is the biggest rest area compared to the other huts along the way.  This is usually where most people would stop to have a bite at their packed-lunch from the cafeteria.  Another advise is to be friendly!  Talk to strangers!  After all, everyone of them are also struggling to make their way to the top.   Everyone comes from very different background and this is a chance to listen to some very interesting stories.  We met some a very jolly group of Australians who even took pictures with us!

A turning point
From there onwards, the trail after the Layang-Layang rest point gets much harder. Clearly carved out steps are no more, now replaced it just natural rock trails. The temperature at this point is much cooler and you will notice that the air is also considerably thinner.
Alpine forest
The surrounding trees (what tress?) and plants are very different here. The tall skyscraping trees are now replaced with short stunted alpine like plants with small leaves.
The ropes are there to help
This very flat (but steep) ground gives us a good opportunity for a group picture! Some parts of the trail are more difficult as they are without steps, just ropes along the sides so that you can use them to pull yourself up.
Give way!
But that does not stop the porters to go pass us like a breeze. Seen in the picture is a porter carrying a huge panel what looks like a gypsum board. The board is so big that we had trouble giving way to him!
Amazing agility
The trail is very rugged and at some points very narrow. I cannot imagine how the porter have gotten this far without falling or losing his balance.
Common Flowers
The Euphrasia flowers are common around these altitudes. They are easy to spot whenever you stop for a break.
Hide and Seek
Another group picture at another flat area. The plants are even shorter here. The different mountain peaks with the help of the clouds plays a hide-and-seek game with us.

The hidden forest

Out of nowhere, as if you have stumbled upon another hidden world, the trail leads into a green forest.  Which is bizarre because at this altitude and temperature, the tropical rainforest tall trees and green plants should not be able to grow here.    To many, this is a very discouraging and demoralizing experience as it makes a first time climber feel as if he is back to where he started.  To me, this is a sight that I most welcome for it means that Laban Rata (the halfway point accommodation where we will spend the night) is just beyond this greenery.

Plenty of greens
Big boulders litters the whole trail in this ‘green’ section. The air is dense here, not surprising since there are so much large plants around to provide plenty of oxygen.
Laban Rata
Alas, after approximately 7 hours of climbing, we reached Laban Rata. While my group members were happy that they have finally step foot on the postcard worthy plateau, I began to feel worried seeing the rain clouds that are forming among the mountain top.

Nevertheless, the happiness and joy of my group mates easily overwhelmed the wary.  Once in Laban Rata, I finally get to experience again the usual once-a-year love-hate bath in really icy cold waters .  And I really mean icy cold.  Imagine a bathroom floor that pains the soles all the way into the bones of the feet even before turning on the water.  Yes, its seriously that cold.

Before long, dinner was served and we all had more than enough.  (I’ve always believed that any warm food always taste good at altitude in that temperature).  After settling our stomachs, it was time for us to rest and sleep (for those who can).  Some people have trouble sleeping as the body is still trying to adjust to the environment and is still trying to settle down.  But I would say most people would be too excited for 1 am where the adventure and final journey will begin and as for me ….. united again with my love affair at last!

Click here to continue to The Love Affair Part 2!

2 thoughts on “A Decade of Mount Kinabalu: A Love Affair (Part 1 of 4)

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