Mt Kota Kinabalu

Mount Kota Kinabalu Virgin Climb

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East Malaysia, Sabah, Mount Kota Kinabalu, 21-23 March 2013.

This is one of those trips which I got lucky to have unselfish travel buddies, half of which I didn’t even know before the trip. An unexpected invitation from an acquaintance and a post on Facebook, we have a team of six people in the mountain climbing trip. I didn’t do much training to build up my physique. I was too lazy and lacked the determination to do it. But I was glad I survived through, though I didn’t make it to the peak, sadly. The altitude sickness was too much to bear, combined with lack of sleep. I came to realise that I couldn’t go very far without sleep and I’m not one to push myself, unless it’s a matter of life or death or it’s for the sake of my family.

We braced through heavy rain during the descent but managed to reach the meeting point safe and sound. The next three days were spent pampering myself in a spa resort. I won’t do another mountain climbing trip again but this is sure memorable for a lifetime.

An Air Asia return ticket costs SGD165 departing from Senai Airport from Johor Bahru. As compared to flying out from Singapore for SGD450. We chartered a car to transport six of us from Singapore-Senai-Singapore which cost only SGD120. The climbing package Via Ferrata from Sky Adventure was MYR1400 (about SGD560) including mountain guide, transportation, food and accommodation for three days. Food and drinks are relatively cheap in Malaysia even if we have to eat out.

Here’re some basic requirements I was told before the trip:

  • Be physically fit for the climb (the ascent and descent was about 6 hours each).
  • One should not attempt to climb if suffering from hypertension, diabetes, palpitation, arthritis, heart disease, severe anemia, peptic Ulcers, epileptic fits, obesity, chronic asthma, muscular cramps, hepatitis (jaundice), or any related diseases which may jeopardise the climb.
  • Something I learnt during this trip. Do not drink coffee or tea or anything that might make you sleepless. You need to sleep and rest well in order to do the climb at those early hours.

This was my packing list:

  • Raincoat (waterproof jacket recommended)
  • Warm clothing (though it got kinda warm inside during the climb but recommended to have fleece jacket and waterproof hiking pants)
  • Extra socks
  • Extra sets of clothing (to change when I sleep)
  • Waterproof Gloves
  • Beanie (scarf recommended too)
  • Toiletries (skin care is still important)
  • Lightweight travel towel (I got a quick dry one that can be folded to the size of wallet)
  • Water (recommended to have refillable water bottle but we bought bottles of mineral water instead)
  • Torchlight and a headlamp (recommended)
  • Running shoes (proper waterproof hiking shoes recommended)
  • Walking sticks (this is a life saver, one is sufficient though I wouldn’t mind using two at one time)
  • Energy snacks like chocolate, nuts, biscuits, raisins (our guide appreciated when we offered them these snacks)
  • Instant noodles (was comfort food for some of my friends)
  • Medical kit (especially important in case of headache, altitude sickness or any emergency)
  • Insect repellent & plasters
  • Sun screen lotion (strong UV rays on top of the mountain but honestly I didn’t have the time nor mood to use it)
  • Sunglasses (in case it got sunny during the ascent or descent)
  • Camera (the scenery on the way is beautiful, I got a waterproof tough usage type)
  • Mobile phone (there’s actually phone signal up there)
  • Whistle (in case I got lost)
  • Slippers (I wore it to shower)
  • Sleeping bag recommended (I didn’t bring one and suffered when sleeping on the dusty beds up there)
  • Rain cover for backpacks (it’s not uncommon to rain)
  • Small sling bag (for phone, snacks, water, etc)
  • Ziplock bags to bag belongings in the backpack (came in handy when it rained)

Day 1

The group met 4.30am for the chartered transport and that’s the first time all six of us met. I didn’t sleep that night. Guess I was too excited. We took less than an hour to reach the airport. As it was too early in Senai Airport, only one provision shop was open and that’s the only place we could buy some drinks and bread for breakfast.

It was a small airport.

Upon reaching Kota Kinabalu, a driver came to pick us up in a mini van – a humorous and motivating guy who made us feel that the climb was nothing to worry about.


First meal we had in Kota Kinabalu. Supposedly very famous noodles with Yong Tau Foo. The taste was just right, very authentic, that’s what I like about Malaysian street food. We then did some last minute shopping for extra batteries, mineral water and energy snacks before heading to the mountain’s meeting point.

The maps show the distance between each rest point.

We had a few hours before checking into the park hostel, so the guide took us to Poring Hot Spring.

A small little stream but very scenic among the greens.
This hot spring has many small little pools for people to dip themselves in. But mostly people just dip their feet in. I wouldn’t want to dip myself into a small pool where many other people washed their feet. So I did the same.
Treetop walk among the tall forest trees.

On the way back to the mountain resort, the guide drove us through some muddy road to see the rare Rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world. Apparently, it was the season to see it and we were lucky it was blooming. We paid MYR30 each to see a tiny version of it. I felt I was being ripped off.

Dinner time at the club house before heading to the hostel for the night. Food served was decent. It was funny our guys were more health conscious than the girls.

Day 2

Grace Hostel in the morning. It was a great feeling waking up in the nature.

Had expected the hostel to be worse but it was actually quite clean. All six of us slept together in one room with three double-decker bunk beds which made me feel safe and secure. There was a communal bathroom, and for a quick shower for an overnighter, it was ok.

Right near the top was our destination for the day.

A group photo before the climb. Everyone was ready!

Our guide took us to the central meeting place to collect our climb pass and to deposit our luggages. We only brought what we needed for the climb. Dalyn and me insisted we should hire a porter. See the two guys in blue and white shirts behind me? One was our mountain guide, the other our porter, they were weighing our stuff. The service was not that expensive and they charged by the kilogramme. In the end, the porter really made the whole climb easier for us.

Presenting the results from 26th International Climbathon 2012. The record was 2 hours 11 minutes for 23 kilometres!

Leave nothing but footsteps. It’s very important to respect the mountain and everything in it. We took care not to break anything along the way nor throw any rubbish irresponsibly. The trail started with sandy grounds, which turned rockier and rockier on the way up. Walking sticks are a must, at least one. I rented one from our guide at RMY10.

We were ferociously speeding against time, taking an average of about 45 minutes for every kilometre of the mountain height. We had a deadline to meet – to reach Pendant Hut within six hours so we can be in time for the Via Ferrata briefing, if not we won’t be able to go for it the next day and we would have paid for nothing.

Every one kilometre, there’ll be a rest stop like this.

There are certain parts of the climb that are worse than these rocky terrains. I do need to push myself to go on and on. Along the way, I talked to a middle aged lady whom happened to be climbing  for the third time. She said she regretted going back to the climb each time but she still did it. I was pretty sure then I won’t be doing the same. At some point of time, my phone actually rang!

Porters and mountain guides, the most important people during the climb. I’d never be able to do this safely without the mountain guides. These porters walk really fast, they’re so used to this since they do it everyday. I was told these porters could even carry a person up and down the mountain.

When you are tired and hungry, even plain cold fried rice tastes like heaven.
The path changes to muddy rocks.
Then changes again to more rocks.

Along the way, the scenery was just so mesmerising. This was almost our last kilometre.


Couldn’t express how happy I was to reach our hostel, Pendant Hut, after 5.5 hours. My legs were weak and wobbling by then. All I wanted to do was to lie down and do nothing. Pendant Hut served toast with peanut butter and butter, with milo and tea, only for a limited period of time.

The friendly and bubbly instructor teaching us the technique to do the Via Ferrata.

Dinner at Laban Rata at 5.30pm. So crowded there were not enough seats for diners. Food selection was similar to that from an economical rice stall in Singapore. The counter at the far corner sells supplies such as medicine and batteries at exorbitant prices. Everything on this mountain has to be transported up manually, except for water and electricity. Now, if only they have a nice spa resort for people like me to recuperate after the tiring climb.

This was our destination for the next day. As the sun set that evening, the fog got thicker. Back at Pendant Hut, I took a quick shower at the make shift unisex shower area. It stank so badly that no one would want to spend more than enough time in the shower area.

The six of us shared one room with three double-decker bunk beds again. It was really quite dusty.

Sleep was difficult, either because I drank too much tea just two hours ago or the altitude was affecting me. I lied on the dusty bed at 6.30pm and by 1am in the morning, I was still wide awake, panicking and crying. Without adequate rest, I was worried I won’t be able to last too long.

Day 3

Everyone started waking up at around 2am to get ready to set off at 2.30am. The climb instructor gave us a quick briefing again and everyone was ready to set off.

It was pitch black and cold on the ascent, so layering was the way to dress. I was glad I didn’t wear thermal wear as I started perspiring during the climb. So quick dry inner wear and layering on two tops with a waterproof jacket worked just fine. Shoes with good grip is essential as the terrain can be quite slippery in the early morning and it might also rain. My Nike running shoes did its job well throughout the whole trip. The guide told us not to bring our walking stick and I regretted listening to their advice. I needed the walking stick as the terrain is really rocky. I was also glad to have my headlight as it was so dark in the early morning. All of us made sure we carried our own water bottle and snacks so we don’t have to wait or depend on each other during the climb.

Along the way, I felt the altitude getting into me. I was constantly breathless and thirsty. Every ten minutes, I needed to pause and rest. My friends were all way ahead of me and I was really glad my mountain guide was with me. I saw another girl vomiting profusely on her way up but she persisted on.

After about two hours, I came to this point where there were no more rocky steps but a huge slippery rock with a thick rope, which is probably going to take me another 45 minutes to reach the top. I couldn’t pull myself up with the rope and I was blocking the rest of the other people behind me. Frederick (the guide) told me if I wanted to turn back, I could as it was going to get really difficult beyond this point. I sat down for about 15 minutes, cried, and disappointed with myself. But I didn’t want to push myself for this. Frederick took about 30 minutes to bring me down and actually handheld me all the way. Well, he asked me halfway if I could go down myself back to Pendant Hut but it was pitch black and with not a single soul around, I insisted that he brought me back to the hostel.

Back in Pendant Hut, it was quiet at 5.30am. I had restful sleep for five hours. I didn’t manage to go to the peak nor do the Via Ferrata. The rest of my friends came back, one after another, around 11.30am, looking exhausted, pale face, totally zoned out. I was secretly glad that I had some rest before the dreaded descent.

By 12 noon, we got ready for the descent. All the rest of the climbers had already started off and we were the second last batch of climbers at Pendant Hut at that time. Just 30 minutes after, it started pouring heavily, making the terrain slippery and muddy and dangerous. Some of us couldn’t really walk properly, my friends were climbing and doing all sorts of mountain stunts for almost 7 hours! We had a lot of help from the guys and Frederick and the porter on the way down. It was strange that the terrain looked different from the ascent and with the rain, I felt my shoes expanding. Some of my toenails turned blue black due to constant sliding of my feet towards the tip of my shoes. I used some help from the teenage porter, Angelbert. He couldn’t speak English but I got to know from Frederick he’s part of the local indigenous people and he sure loved the snacks I shared with him. After six agonising hours, we reached the meeting point. All I wanted was just a long hot shower, comfort food and a nice bed to rest my sore body.

Some of the photos in this post are courtesy of Dalyn Chia and Ng Khoon Wai. 

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Beautiful Voyager

Hello! I'm Pauline. Welcome to Beautiful Voyager, my food recipe and travel blog where I share my favourite recipes and travel stories. Do drop a note to say a little "hello!" and do not hesitate to ask any questions related to my posts.

One thought on “Mount Kota Kinabalu Virgin Climb”

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