Mount Kinabalu Climb

Walk the Torq at Mt. Kinabalu

The 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Kota Kinabalu on the 5th of June 2015 not only damaged the roads and other structures in the city but also claimed the lives of hikers including the young students from Singapore and their guides due to rock avalanche.

It also puts four tourists in the spotlight when their photos viewed 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.

Aki Nabalu
Low’s Gully as background. Gunong Kinabalu’s name was derived from Kadazan-Dusun tribe’s words, “Aki Nabalu” which means ‘Revered Place of the Dead‘.

Seeing a shared photo of a hiker face down with blood spilled at the metal rungs in the via ferrata trail tainted the good memory of our climb two years ago. My heart crumbled upon seeing the photos of unconscious climbers on what ought to be a safe and controlled climbing environment.

Since 2007, Mt. Kinabalu is considered a major attraction, not just in Malaysia but also internationally being the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s highest via ferrata trail on a steep terrain.

One has to take a short training in the Pendant Hut around 4pm the day before summiting Low’s Peak to experience the via ferrata trail. The enthusiastic trainer, Valerian Joannes, who discussed to us the basics of the Mountain Torq activity was sadly among the fatalities.

Below, I am sharing a good memory of our Walk the Torq moments at this grand mountain. Thank you for the unforgettable experience.

Walk the Torq at Mount Kinabalu
Hands off the Wall. Photo by Tiki Allado.

Via Ferrata Climb Package

Our 2013 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 2 days & 1 night 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 climb peak 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. We were joined by two Taiwanese mother and daughter.

One of our hiking buddies was not satisfied with our packed lunch because it was only sandwich with a banana, drumstick chicken and a hard boiled egg. There was no rice of which we were 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 KK.

You can never conquer a mountain. You can only conquer yourself.
The view from Laban Rata terrace during twilight.

My Preparation

Mountains are my source of inspiration. It motivates me to stay fit so I can enjoy the trail, the experience, the rewarding view at the top despite the arduous steep terrains and other obstacles such the muddy grounds, slippery boulders, the breathlessness at the higher altitude and the cold weather.

I prepared for our Mt. Kinabalu climb by running thrice a week in the evenings starting two months before the climb. Also, I did cut off 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 climb.

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 had a light rainshower 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, we passed Carson Falls. At the Pondok Ubah, where we had lunch, we saw mountain squirrels and the carnivorous pitcher plants.

The terrain has different vegetation zones starting from lowland tropical rainforest to montane forest, ultrabasic rock, granite boulders and sub-alpine at the summit.

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After lunch and a short rest, we resume climbing with light rainshower. 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.
  • Hydrate well. Take sips even if you don’t feel thirsty 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 the 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 Valerian. [But sadly, Valerian left this earth during the tragic 2015 quake while trying to rescue students under his guideship with fellow ferrata trainer Ricky, but they too were not saved from the falling rocks.]

An hour after the training, we had a superb dinner at Laban Rata restaurant. Then later that evening, we prepared our packs and gears for the coming 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.

When we step out of the lodge, it was cold and dark as expected. We secured our headlamps and saw a traffic on the way up. Looking up from Pendant Hut, the hikers were beaming like a series of Christmas lights. There were too many people who started climbing up the mountain before the break of dawn to get to the summit sooner than the sun.

When the traffic cleared, we were 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.

Sunrise at Low's Peak. Photo by Tiki Allado.
Sunrise at Low’s Peak. Photo by Tiki Allado.

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At the granite plateau summit awaits a spectacular view of verdant mountain ranges. We had 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 was the most interesting, but unfortunately one of the ears was destroyed by the last earthquake.

We didn’t stay long after our photo session at the summit marker because it was crowded at the peak and freezing cold if you don’t move around. We hurried down to start with the descent via ferrata. We were the first group for the Walk the Torq that day.

This morning the world looks sharp-edged and brilliant, like after a heart attack, every detail adrenalin-scoured. – Jill Frayne
St. Johns Peak. Mount Kinabalu
St. Johns Peak at the background. Mt. Kinabalu, Sabah.

Descent via Ferrata

Back to the Ranger Station, we put on safety harnesses and helmets and started to descend via ferrata. 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!

Once we were back in Pendant Hut, we had a bread toast meal with different spread options for lunch like what we had for breakfast at Pendant Hut. After filling our tummies to give our bodies fuel to continue downhill, we took a quick 10-min rest and started going down with our large backpacks.

Shortly after, two of my friends were way ahead, both were 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 were 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 plants in the surroundings that I missed on the way up. It was surprisingly engaging—hiking alone with the cool air.

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Walk the Torq Itinerary

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)
0920 Ended WALK THE TORQ
1115 TD back to Timpohon Gate
1405 TA back to Timpohon Gate

You might also like reading: Backpacking Kota Kinabalu



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