Many years back, I saw a postcard of the Mount Kinabalu with words imprinted, ‘I came. I saw. I conquered’. I visioned myself of standing on the peak and high above the clouds with a heart full of pride. What was once believed to be a mere childhood fantasy and a seemingly impossible task has finally been realized when I turn 25. What an adventure of a lifetime! Or at least a quarter of a lifetime.
With my loyal and reliable travel buddy, Sook, we made a booking with Amazing Borneo Tours three months ahead and we got everything finalized pretty quickly and efficiently. Everything was communicated via email and the instructions given are clear and straightforward. I would highly recommend anyone to reserve a spot with this tour agency if you have plans to go for the hike, just like us.
We took the 3D2N Mount Kinabalu Climb and Kinabalu Park Stay tour package (RM 1780.00 nett per person) since the budget package was sold out. You will need to provide a copy of your identity card or passport for permit application and it will take them a few days for processing. Meals, accommodation, transportation, climbing insurance, entrance fee, a mountain guide and other essentials are included in the package.
Day 1 : Kinabalu Park Hostel
On the first day, the driver picked us up at Warisan Square, the heart of Kota Kinabalu, around 1pm and it took approximately 1 -1.5 hours to reach Kinabalu Park. As per the itinerary, we had to make a stop at Pekan Nabalu for 20 minutes. In my honest opinion, it’s just a quaint little village in the middle of nowhere with nothing much to offer but generic touristy souvenirs. We got there around noon and it was like a ghost town.
I’m pretty disappointed at that moment because it’s sad to see that there are people still trying to make a living this way. Like come on, it’s already 2018! There must be someone who can come up with something more creative and innovative than ‘ I love Sabah’ key chains, magnets and t-shirts. We had to pay RM0.20 if you want to go to the toilet but that’s totally fine, considering that fact that it needs daily maintenance.
Thankfully, that did not dampen our excitement especially when we finally arrived at Kinabalu Park. The weather was crisp and refreshing. Far from the hustle and bustle of town and feeling the fresh cool breeze in what only pure nature can offer. We were greeted by the guide and was assigned to our rooms.
We got to our rooms using the shuttle service. It was written in the email that the room will be a dorm with a shared bathroom and toilet but it isn’t as bad as I imagined it would be. It was like a chalet with one large shared bathroom. I think we stayed at Rock Twin and not the Grace Hostel.
Here’s a map that I’ve got from the site.
I’m not sure but yeah, it was better than I expected. The bedrooms are equipped with very basic amenities; two single beds with a bath towel each and a dressing table.
They aren’t air-conditioned or installed with a fan but you wouldn’t be needing them because the simple, spacious room is airy enough and it gets colder especially when night falls.
Dinner starts at 6pm at the Balsam Buffet Restaurant. Surrounded by lush greenery, the rustic wooden furniture and brick walls enhances the cosy ambiance of the al fresco dining area with a romantic feel.
The buffet line serves a unique variety of international cuisine, a fusion of east and west, to suit your preferences. My personal favourite among the selection of dishes is the roasted lamb that has a savoury sweetness to its juicy tenderness.
Once we were done with dinner, Sook and I decided to walk back to our room instead of using the shuttle. After all, it was only a 5 minute walk away. We walked down the dimly lit roads accompanied by the sound of chirping crickets that break the silence of the night. We went to bed early, preparing ourselves for the long day ahead.
Day 2: Park HQ – Timpohon Gate – Panalaban Hut
We woke up at 6am, packaged our bags, left the comfort our bedrooms and had a quick breakfast at the restaurant before we start our hike to Panalaban. We were given takeaway lunch boxes as the hike is estimated to take roughly 5 to 6 hours (depending on your pace and stamina). There are trekking poles for rent at the Park HQ for only RM10 per stick. Somehow I had a feeling I might be a little under prepared for this (or are trekking poles for the weak?). For my own self-assurance, I rented one and all I can say is… hell yeah, I’m glad I did. You’ll see why later. We hopped on the shuttle and ascend to the starting point at Timpohon Gate.
Just 1km from Timpohon Gate in a mere 15 minute hike, you will be greeted by the spilling sounds of a tranquil waterfall, Carson Falls.
Surrounded by lush greenery and a cloudless blue sky, the weather is perfect for hiking. I love how the view changes and there’s a rest house every few metres. Never a dull moment!
Although a 7km hike up may sound like a walk in a park, it’s actually a little more challenging than it sounds. Not forgetting to mention that it’s a 7km flight of stairs.
The only advise I can give is to pack light. Otherwise, you can rent a porter to help you with your luggage (even your emotional luggage if you’re lucky!) and you will be dumbfounded by how extremely tough these guys are. Stacking up baggage after baggage towering twice their own height before lifting them up all the way up, it’s crazy how these guys managed to find balance.
As a novice hiker with an average fitness level and no climbing experience, I finally arrived at Panalaban Hut. Located at 3,720 metres high above the clouds over 6 hours hike, the view is spectacular from where it is.
Stinking of dried, cold sweat, I thought I could unwind a little with a hot shower. To my horror, the heaters were not working. The base camp is powered by solar panels and because it is usually cold and rainy up there, there’s only enough electricity to power up the lights.
Beverages including basic water is sold for 500ml for RM7.00 and 1.5L for RM14.00. It may seem like a ridiculous idea to pay such amount for such necessities but we are actually paying for the manpower needed to transport them all the way up to the base camp. Aside from the lack of water and hypothermia-inducing showers, the buffet dinner is enjoyable and the view from the deck is one you definitely wouldn’t want to miss.
This picture is taken at the deck. See if you can spot a natural waterfall running down the mountain. It looks a lot better in real life than what my phone camera can capture. From right outside the base camp, you can already see Low’s Peak through the mist. It kinda gives you the chills, doesn’t it?
Day 3: Panalaban Hut – Low’s Peak- Panalaban Hut – Timpohon Gate – Park HQ
We adjourned to Low’s Peak at 2am. After having a light breakfast and gearing up for the final hike, we stepped out of the hut and it was still a pitch-dark morning, hours before dawn.
Led only by a million sparkling stars in the night sky and a single ray of light from our head torch which illuminates the narrow stair way, we braved our way through darkness and the cold and up to the peak. You know what everyone says to never look back and just keep moving forward (also in life)? But that night, I did look back and what I saw was simply amazing. It looked like there were at least a hundred other climbers behind me and from the glaring shine of their head torches, it was like a long twisted luminous trail of star shine.
The weather was so cold that our mobile phones were drained all the way and completely dead. Thankfully, we’ve brought our GoPro with us to capture the moment. After hours through ultra steep slopes and rocky terrains, tears of joys sprung to my eyes when I finally reached the peak.
When the day got brighter, I can’t believe what I’ve went through all the hours in the dark just to get up there. I guess the key is to keep going, slow and steady. It would seem like an impossible task for anyone with acrophobia.
It takes a whole lot of dedication and patience to reach the Climax, the grand hurrah, and for that moment, nothing else seems to matter but the immense feeling of achievement in your heart.