It was overall a great experience. I read somewhere Mt. Kinabalu is the richest place in Borneo in terms of biodiversity (which is saying a lot), due to the changes in elevation, and that’s definitely true.
Since it’s the highest point on the island, the alpine nature on the top is unique and doesn’t exist anywhere else. The hike itself is demanding but nice, and the mountain is beautiful, as are the views.
Let’s start from before the beginning: the drive there. There were already nice views (the base camp is at 1700m, so it’s already in the mountains).
I arrived a day before my hike. The next day, I arrived early at the national park headquarters, registered and filled out all the paperwork, and searched around for people to share a guide with. Getting a guide is 150 ringgit (about 40 euros), but you can share with up to 3 people, and with 3-6 people the guide is 175 ringgit. I didn’t find any other independent travellers, but I found a couple from Luxembourg (or rather, the guy, Mattias, was German, and the girl, Hana, was Czech, but they lived in Luxembourg) who had booked through a tour agency and they were willing to share.
The guide said I could join for 100 ringgit, which is more than the 75 I would have paid if I shared with another independent traveller, but he spoke excellent English (which many guides don’t) and there were no other independent travellers around, plus Mattias and Hana seemed friendly enough, so I joined them. Those 100 ringgit included transportation to and from the start of the trail, which was also 10-15 ringgit one way, so in the end it was a decent deal.
Now, the ‘base camp’ is not a camp. This was the entrance to Kinabalu National Park, which also includes several hostels and even hotels, restaurants, and other trails. The whole thing is very well organized, including the hike, with rest stations with places to sit and bathrooms roughly every km.
Anyways, we took the taxi to Timophon gate, where the hike begins, and set off.
The first 2km were all stairs (going upwards, of course), so it was pretty tough, and we ended up using almost all the rest stations, which I didn’t expect. Even so, we made good progress, going at a decent pace.
The nature down here was pretty similar to the cloud forest of Cameron Highlands.
After 2km, there were stretches that were flat, but on the whole it was still going up quite steeply. After 4km it started going up again, with some stairs but also a lot of rocks.
As we rose in elevation, the vegetation started changing, with the trees becoming shorter and scragglier (although still quite large and impressive), with whiter wood. There was a lot more moss, and we also entered the clouds which gave everything a very cool surreal look.
As we neared the top, the vegetation became alpine, which is unique to Mt. Kinabalu. It exists nowhere else on Borneo, since Mt. Kinabalu is the only point that reaches this high, and although alpine vegetation exists in other places, it’s different from the specific type of alpine vegetation here.
As we got higher, the vegetation kept diminishing in size and getting stranger.
It reminded me of a ghost forest: the trees were now decidedly scraggly and had white branches, with a sickly green moss draped over the branches, and the clouds covering everything. It was eerily beautiful.