Friday, August 29, 2014

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu In 1 Day, Not 2


My wife and I travelled to Eastern Malaysia in mid-August in hopes doing some scuba diving, finding orangutans, going on river cruises, and climbing Mt. Kinabalu.  Before leaving Korea for our trip, we researched for hours on the web and found it was best to climb it in two days.  “Ok” I thought, no biggy.  So I looked into getting a reservation at Laban Rata, but only found accomodations through tour groups, and the prices seemed quite high.  So I dug deeper, and found the company itself that owns the lodging.  After contacting them directly I learned they were all booked for the dates we had available.

To be honest, it was a bit frustrating… everything we were finding directed us to climb Kinabalu in two days, not one.  On the first day you’d climb to Laban Rata, about 6km up the trail, resting for dinner and a short sleep before climbing to the summit in the cold, dark hours before the sunrise.  The prices to do this were astronomical, in my opinion.  After all, this was a National Park, and I was a bit confused why a private company seemed to have a monopoly in the lodging options in the park.  Also, Laban Rata was all booked!  No vacancy.  Keep in mind, I was emailing/calling 2-3 months ahead of time. 

Kinabalu is a popular spot, and clearly we came into the game a little late!  I wasn’t going to try to change the system, I simply wanted some answers on whether or not we could hike in one day, just by ourselves (no tour group),  and that particular information was difficult to find.  I eventually found enough info to point us in the right direction, and I’m happy to report that we completed Kinabalu in one day, more details of that is located here.  The goal of this post is to lay out what we did to hike Kinabalu in one day.  Hopefully, it can help others who are currently experiencing headaches over trying to plan their trip to Kinabalu.  If that is you… don’t worry, it’s really quite simple.

Pre-Game Preparations:

Arrive at Kinabalu Park HQ early in the morning the day before you plan to climb Kinabalu.  I’d suggest staying somewhere close to the park, within walking distance.  We stayed at Kinabalu Mt. Lodge.  It was a great accomodation and only about 1.5km from the park.  There’s a few other options near the park, so shop around if you wish, but I’d recommend Kinabalu Mt. Lodge.  The park opens at 7:00am, so I suggest arriving before 8:00am for sure.  You’ll need to impress the staff and Park Ranger, Mr. Dikin, so he may grant you permission to climb in one day.  There’s rumors floating around that they have only ‘X’ amount of permits per day, but I’m not sure about this. 

The day we climbed, there was only one other gentleman from Japan doing the one-day climb, and us.  The day before that, our guide Johny informed us there was five groups attempting the one-day journey.  So who knows?  All I know is that if you want a shot, arrive the day before and apply early.  The desk workers will send you to speak with Mr. Dikin.  After a five minute conversation about hiking, the process, the weather, etc., he will call the desk workers and give them go-ahead.  Then you can fill out paper work.  Bring your passport, they will make a copy.  No need for cash on this day, you’ll pay for everything tomorrow when (if) you hike.  All this took less than one hour, so we fumbled through the tiny gift shop, grabbed more information, and went to Poring Hot Springs for the day.

It’s also important to purchase food for your upcoming hike.  Take more than you think you’lll need.  There’s drinkable water at many spots during the climb, so one or two med-sized water bottles would be sufficient.  Purchasing food the morning of the hike may be difficult, the gift shop doesn’t open till 8:00am and the restaurant across from Park HQ doesn’t get rolling till 7:00am, either.  We did, however, manage to purchase ‘to-go’ lunches from the restaurant.  It was a sandwhich, some chicken, apple, egg and water for 15MYR.  If you prefer this, arrange it the day before and you can pick it up at 6:45am before your hike.  For snacks, try the gift shop at Park HQ, or the restaurant across the street from Park HQ also has snacks/drinks available.

A note about clothes:  if you’re expecting it to be warm, think again.  Pack extra layers, for sure.  I love to travel light, so I did the hike in shorts and a light jacket and was borderline miserable near the summit.  Definitely bring pants, light thermal layer, and rain gear.  It will probably rain on you, so be prepared.  Thin hat and gloves would be recommended, too.

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