Since 2007, Mt. Kinabalu is a major attraction, not just in Malaysia but also internationally known for being the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and as the world’s highest via ferrata route. Something great for the thrill-seekers.
Hikers are required to take a short training at Pendant Hut (3,289 masl) around 3-4pm the day before summiting Low’s Peak (4095.2 masl) to experience the via ferrata (iron path)—a steep route with a series of metal rungs, cables, and bridges installed on mountain walls.
Mt. Kinabalu is not a difficult climb, but due to the elevation gain it can be fairly challenging.
2D1N Via Ferrata Climb Package
Our Mt. Kinabalu Climb was arranged by Mountain Trails Tours & Travel.
We had a stroke of luck to get slots for the via ferrata route even though we only booked for the regular 2D1N summit climb package. Adbul of Mountain Trails was responsive to our emails and provided all the necessary information.
With Mt. Kinabalu overnight climb, you will have to secure a slot for Laban Rata or Pendant Hut accommodation at least a month or two before the scheduled climb, especially during the climbing season from April to June. Unless you want to day-trek to the summit, which is a cheaper option, but with the required cut off time—you have to hike fast.
Our guide was Rahim, he kept reminding us to take shorter rest periods to make sure that we get on time to join the walk the torq activity.
If we missed the training at 4pm, we cannot take the via ferrata the next day. A Taiwanese mother and daughter joined us for the climb.
One of our hiking buddies was not satisfied with our packed lunch because it was just sandwich with a banana, drumstick chicken and a hard-boiled egg. There was no rice of which we’re used to in every Filipino meal. It was fine with me though because a heavy lunch might upset my stomach during a long hike.
The great thing was that, after our via ferrata training around 6pm, we had a fantastic buffet dinner at Laban Rata Restuarant—the best meal so far while staying in Kota Kinabalu.
Climbing steep mountains like Mt. Kinabalu is challenging yet rewarding. To fully enjoy the experience and the breathtaking view at the top, I got motivated to keep myself fit.
Running thrice a week in the evenings starting two months before the climb was one of the things I’ve done to prepare for our Mt. Kinabalu climb.
Also, I did cut off on my calorie intake by consuming more green veggies and fruits, and less meat. With that, I dropped 10 pounds. I felt lighter and stronger for the first time during a hike.
On our way up, it was very inspiring seeing a gray-haired man, approaching 70 years old judging from his looks, trudging with his trekking pole. I wish I can still trek mountains when I’m that old. He must have really taken good care of himself.
Ascent to Laban Rata
The trail starting from Timpohon Gate was quite friendly at first. It got gently steeper with many flights of stairs.
The stairs are helpful, but for me, it can sometimes make the way up more tedious because I have to control my steps or pacing. We experienced light rainshowers making the ground muddy and the wooden platform slippery.
There are rest stations or pondoks every 500m. Pondok Kandis has a wash area and portable water. Before reaching the first pondok, you will pass Carson Falls. At the Pondok Ubah, where we had lunch, mountain squirrels and carnivorous pitcher plants can be seen.
The terrain has different vegetation zones starting from lowland tropical rainforest to montane forest, to ultrabasic rock, to huge granite boulders, and sub-alpine at the summit.
After lunch and a short rest, we resume climbing with light rain shower. The lodge porters overtook us and they never look exhausted despite carrying baskets loaded with food and other supplies for Laban Rata restaurant.
Higher, the air got thinner that we caught ourselves panting. Some climbers may experience altitude sickness, and I’m glad I didn’t experience it at Kinabalu’s level. But to battle this, the trick is to:
- Ascend slower. Don’t go too fast and take shorter steps rather than strides.
- Stay hydrated. Take sips even if you don’t feel thirsty (but also don’t gulp) to replenish lost minerals from sweating as you’ll be losing body fluids than normal during intense activities like mountain hiking.
- Take deep and long breaths or do pursed-lip breathing to forcefully exhale and flush out excess CO2 from your lungs.
- Eat high-carb foods like pasta and bread a day or a meal before.
- Take Ibufropen (Advil) to combat lightheadedness. Acetazolamide (Diamox) is the drug of choice for acute mountain sickness, but is usually a prescription medicine. However, if it’s not that bad as you think – just go for over-the-counter ibufopen, it has less adverse effects.
The ascent got more challenging with huge slippery granite boulders. We reached Laban Rata around 3pm and attended the via ferrata training at Pendant Hut past 4pm.
It was a fun and interactive discussion by via ferrata trainer Valerian. He explained in detail the via ferrata route with some funny jokes in between, and showed us how to wear the gears and clip carabiners safely.
An hour after the training, we had a sumptuous dinner at Laban Rata restaurant.
Later that evening, we prepared our packs and gears for the summit ascent, and crawled to our respective Pendant Hut bunkbeds with thick comforters around 9pm.
Higher to Low’s Peak
Past 2am on the second day, we started the ascent to Low’s Peak from Pendant Hut bringing only our hydration bags. We left our large backpacks at the lodge.
Before leaving the lodge, I managed to take a quick cold shower no matter how chilling it was without hot water. The cold shower helped drive out sleepiness, it shocked my body awake and prepared me for the freezing temperature outside.
As we step out of the lodge, it was cold and dark as expected. There was a slow ‘traffic’ on the way up. Looking up from Pendant Hut, the hikers, each with headlamps, are beaming like a series of Christmas lights.
There are too many people who started hiking up the mountain before the break of dawn to get to the summit sooner than the sun.
When the traffic cleared, we’re almost near the ranger station, Sayat-sayat Check Point. By this time we had an adrenaline rush to run the trail because we want to catch the sunrise at Low’s Peak. Reaching the peak for a breathtaking sunrise is a tradition.
At the granite plateau summit awaits a spectacular view of verdant mountain ranges.
What an amazing time above the clouds. We enjoyed taking photos while waiting for our turn to have a group picture at Low’s Peak marker. South Peak, St. John’s Peak and the Rabbit Ears are the most interesting, but unfortunately, one of the ears was destroyed by the last earthquake.
After our photo session at the summit marker, we didn’t stay long at Low’s Peak because it was crowded and freezing cold if you don’t move around.
We hurried down to start with the descent via ferrata. We’re the first group for the Walk the Torq via ferrata activity that day.
This morning the world looks sharp-edged and brilliant, like after a heart attack, every detail adrenalin-scoured. – Jill Frayne
Descent via Ferrata
Back to the Ranger Station, we put on safety harnesses and helmets and started to descend via ferrata.
Before going down the via ferrata route, Mountain Torq guide Sabin gave a few reminders on clipping carabiners and how to descend properly. He didn’t accompany us throughout the via ferrata route but only guided us halfway+ after observing that we know what we are doing. Another Mountain Torq staff will meet you at the end of the route.
It was an exhilarating experience to simply trust the ropes while clipping carabiners and stepping on iron rungs to move forward down the steep mountain wall. This was the highlight of our Kinabalu trip. What an experience!
Upon reaching back Pendant Hut, we had a bread toast meal with different spread options for lunch like what we had for breakfast.
After filling our tummies to give our bodies fuel to continue downhill, we took a quick 15-minute rest and proceeded with the descent with our large backpacks.
Shortly, two of my friends are way ahead, both are very fast and was quickly out of sight. I also decided to take faster strides that I also can no longer see the next ones. Most of the time, I found myself hiking alone meeting very few hikers on their way up once in a while. The trail is easy to follow that there’s no way I can get lost.
It rained hard on the way down and going faster was helpful in keeping me from getting cold.
I descended faster ever than before. My knees are my Achilles’ heel, so a steep descending trail is a pain to me, but right at that moment, there was pleasure in the descending path. It allowed me to notice some wonderful plants in the surroundings that I missed on the way up. It was surprisingly engaging—hiking alone with the cool air.
Via ferrata guides died in Mt. Kinabalu 2015 earthquake
All of a sudden in early June 2015, a strong 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Kota Kinabalu, damaging not only the roads and other structures in the city, but also claimed the lives of many Mt. Kinabalu hikers due to rock avalanche.
Four tourists were put into the spotlight when their photos considered by many as unacceptable went viral. They stripped naked and urinated at the summit six days before the quake, and because of these acts, they were under public scrutiny.
The Sabah natives believed that this angered “Aki” the mountain protector, and such disrespect to the sacred mountain triggered the strongest earthquake in Malaysia since 1976.
Seeing a shared photo of a hiker face-down with blood spilled at the metal rungs in the via ferrata route is heartbreaking.
My heart crumbled when I read the news in Mountain Torq’s Facebook page that the enthusiastic trainer, Valerian Joannes, who discussed to us the basics of Mountain Torq’s via ferrata activity was sadly among the fatalities. He died while trying to rescue Singaporean students under his guideship with fellow via ferrata trainer Ricky. It was a very sad news, the young students and the guides themselves were not saved from falling rocks.
Mountain Torq, the via ferrata operator, has completely rebuilt the trail with a new route. With via ferrata, the descent from Sayat-Sayat Ranger Station to Pendant Hut is less taxing yet more thrilling. This unique and exciting adventure is something I can look back on with a smile. Thank you for the unforgettable Mt. Kinabalu experience.
Walk the Torq Itinerary (2D1N Mt. Kinabalu Via Ferrata)
Our actual itinerary c/o Tiki Allado.
0710 TD to Kinabalu Headquarters
0845 TA at Kinabalu Headquarters (~1,565 MASL)
0920 TD to Timpohon Gate
0935 TA at Timpohon Gate (~1,900 MASL)
0940 TD to Laban Rata
1530 TA at Laban Rata (~3301 MASL)
2000 Lights Off
0200 Woke up
0245 TD to Summit 0540 TA at Summit (~4095 MASL)
0640 TD back to Ranger Station for Walk the Torq
0715 TA at Ranger Station (Gear up for Walk the Torq’s Via Ferrata)
0740 Started Via Ferrata for Walk the Torq
0920 Ended Walk the Torq (Via Ferrata)
1115 TD back to Timpohon Gate
1405 TA back to Timpohon Gate