One of the things that our boys were most upset about when we decided to move to Singapore was the fact that there weren’t any mountains here. Yes, I know, there aren’t any mountains in Houston either, but our regular trips to Arkansas, Colorado, and even the Texas Hill Country met their deep need to be out enjoying God’s creation. I tried to assure them that there are mountains in Southeast Asia too, and that we would still get to enjoy them, but they weren’t totally convinced. In our first week here, we checked out the highest point in Singapore, Bukit Timah Hill. At 163m (535ft), it didn’t prove to be much of a challenge for those guys. At that point, I set out to find something more challenging.
As it turns out, we found a great opportunity to climb right in our backyard. Mount Kinabalu is found on the island of Borneo. Borneo is a large island to the east of Singapore, consisting of portions of 3 countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. Mount Kinabalu is in the Malaysian state of Sabah. At 4095m (13,435ft) and the 20th highest mountain in terms of prominence in the world, it looked like a great test of our hiking skills. The Mt. Kinabalu ecosystem is one of the most diverse in the world, with between 5000-6000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and over 100 species of mammals identified.
To protect the fragile ecosystem, Mount Kinabalu requires climbers to hire a guide to take them to the top and limits the number of climbing permits to 200 per day. We chose the tour company Amazing Borneo Tours. As this an extremely popular hike, we chose to book about 3 months in advance and were lucky to be able to secure climbing permits. After some research, we decided to climb in February as this is considered one of the best times to climb from a weather standpoint. Rain can make this climb quite difficult – even resulting in a total closure of the mountain several times per year.
When the long-awaited weekend finally arrived, we took the 2 hour flight from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu on Friday night and were picked up early Saturday morning (6 am) to start our adventure. It is about a 2 hour drive from Kota Kinabalu city to the national park headquarters, so we arrived around 8 am. We picked up our sack lunches, met our guide and we were off!
We really enjoyed our friendly guide Freendy. As is the case with most of the guides, he lives in one of the local villages. As we started up the mountain, we learned that he has been guiding climbers for 18 years. He told us that he doesn’t think his knees will allow him to do too many more years of climbing. He seemed a little disappointed to hear how fit the boys were – I think he was hoping for an easier trip up the mountain 🙂
The first part of the trip went through the lush jungle. Traveling with teenagers required frequent stops – not for rest – but for food of course. We stopped for lunch after about an hour and a half into the journey. During our lunch and rest stops we came in contact with some of the most aggressive squirrels I have ever seen. They would climb up your leg or chew their way into your bag to help themselves to your food.
The trip is broken up into two days with the goal of reaching the the rest house where we would be spending the night in 4-5 hours. As per usual form, Jonathan insisted that we had to be the first ones up the mountain, so we reached the Laban Rata rest house before they were even open for business (less than 3 hours). Laban Rata sits at 3270m(10,730 ft) and consists of various accommodations. We shared a room with bunk beds with one other hiker from Europe who would arrive later in the afternoon. I wouldn’t call it comfortable, but better than sleeping in a tent. We enjoyed resting in the bunkhouse and enjoying a couple of nice buffet meals before enjoying a beautiful sunset and an early bedtime to prepare for rising at 1:00 AM to complete our climb. Amazingly, all of the supplies for the rest house and nearly everything that was used to build it are carried by hand by porters climbing the mountain every day. It was amazing to see the convoy of young to middle aged men and women from their 20s to their 50s carrying 20-25kg of supplies up the mountain.
After a few (not so restful) hours of “sleep”, we were off again. I tried to convince Jonathan that making it to the summit early would not be a great thing. Spending an hour waiting for the sun to rise with the temperature around 32 F (0 C), wasn’t super exciting to me. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be convinced and we made it to the summit by around 4:45. After a few quick pics, we found a spot out of the wind and waited for the sun to come up. Despite the temperature, it was a beautiful place to wait and see the sun rise. We had perfect weather and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise.
After completing our climb, we headed back down the mountain to enjoy a nice buffet breakfast at the rest house. The food was great and after a brief time of recovery, we checked out of the rest house and the race was on again! After awhile the blistering pace coming down the mountain stairs began to take its toll. My quads were screaming. We made really quick timing and were back down the mountain by noon.
Except for the fact that I could barely walk for the next 4 days because my quads hurt so much, I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. If you are ever near Borneo, I highly recommend climbing Mt. Kinabalu and wholeheartedly recommend Amazing Borneo Tours.
Our next climbing adventure will be in Colorado this summer. Look for a post about that trip soon!