The Summit Trail

The administration office, is situated next to the Kinabalu Park Headquarters entrance, opens as early as 7:00 am. After securing a bed from the Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, normally with booking done much earlier, and settling the various Kinabalu Park climbing fee with Sabah Park at the administration office, climbers are provided with a mountain guide.

Next a charter bus will transport climbers and the mountain guide to the Power Station, which is the main station that supplies electricity to the various facilities at Mt. Kinabalu. From the Kinabalu Park Headquaters to Power Station used to be 45 minutes to an hour walk in the old days, with the road improvement made back in the early 80s, today the 4 km bus ride will only take 15 minutes.

Two trails lead to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu, The Summit Trail is the more popular choice and the distance to the summit is also shorter. The other alternative is the Mesilau Trail, where the landscape is more dramatic, passing through rivers and streams, and splendid for those who are interested in floras, plants and wildlife.

Timpohon Gate at 1,866 m is where the journey to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu begins. This is also the 1st check point out of the three designated check points that will aid the safety of the climbers. Interestingly the summit trail starts with a 100 meter descend that ends at Carson Fall, a small waterfall that is named after the first warden of the Park.

After Carson Fall the journey takes an upward turn, passing the many forests in different climate zones, and there are 7 huts to pass through before one gets a good rest. Depending on fitness, the climb from this point to Laban Rata will take about 3 to 6 hours.

Kandis Huts at 1,982 metres is the first shelter to reach on the journey. Like the other shelters, toilets facilities and a tank with untreated water from Mount Kinabalu are provided. This shelter is on a ridge and on a clear day the long and narrow road leading to the Kinabalu Park is visible.

The second shelter is Ubah Huts at 2,081 metres, and the third shelter is Pondok Lowii which stands at 2,267 metres. These two shelters lie at the mossy forest, which consists of mixed bamboo, tree ferns and the delightful rhododendrons. Many wild orchids can be seen growing at the tree branches too.

Friendly squirrels can be seen from these two shelters onward. These squirrels through generations of human contact, are not afraid to come out from their hidings whenever climbers are around. Food are the main connection here, and the squirrels are happily seen sharing lunch with the climbers.

Mempening Hut at 2,515 metres is the fourth shelter, and funny is that the name for this shelter “Mempening” means dizzy in the Malay language. Probably this is the area where people with altitude sickness kick in. The mossy forest is seen continued from here.

At an altitude of 2,702 metres many climbers have a quick lunch and rest at Layang-Layang Huts, which was named Carson’s Camp in the old days. This is also the area to watch out for the rare Nepenthes plants, which is also known as pitcher plant. As many as nine different types of nepenthes plants are found in the Kinabalu’s forest, climbers just have to pay a little bit more attention to spot them out.

The tree and vegetation change dramatical from here on. The mossy forest has given way to the shorter bonsai trees. The trail now has changed to ultramatic soil which is distinguished with an orange-cinnamon colour. More rhododendrons are seen from here upwards.

By now the climbers are tracking on an exposed ridge, on a sunny day the rocky surface on the upper part of Mt. Kinabalu is clearly visible, and climbers can also have a good view of the surround lands. On a raining day, which happens quite often at this altitude, climbers will be showered with rain, and it is very windy and cold. A rain coat can be very handy.

Villosa Huts at 2,690 metres is the sixth shelter, which was built on a rocky slope. The view on the rocky top of Mt. Kinabalu is getting ever bigger as climbers move higher on the trail.

On reaching Paka Hut at 3,080 metres, climbers will feel much relaxed and happy, as there are no more shelters to pass. At this point only 600 metres separate the climbers and Raban Rata, where climbers will rest for the day. Although just a short distance the thinner air of the mountain slow down the climbers, needing extra effort in their breathing.

Paka Hut the seventh shelter is named after Paka Cave, which is near by. Paka Cave is not a cave after all, it is just a large overhanging rock on the edge of a small stream. Paka Cave is less visited these days, and for historical record, it was at Paka Cave where the first summit expedition led by Sir Hugh Low spent the night on the 10th March 1851.

At Laban Rata, 3,272 metres, climbers reach the so called half way line where all the accommodations are located, and this is also the place for the second check point. The more cozy Laban Rata Hut is equipped with a restaurant, hot water showers, toilets, and each room also comes with a heater. The other huts are Waras Hut, Panar Laban, and Gunting Lagadan, all these huts have basic facilities like hot-water shower and toilets.

laban rata & waras hut

For the less fit climbers while feeling tired and cold, Laban Rata is like an oasis in a desert, where food an drink are served and a comfortable room to shelter from the cold wind and rain (ocassionally).

Temperature at Laban Rata is average around 10° Celsius at night through out the year, just slightly lower on the months of January and February. At Laban Rata climbers will have dinner and a good rest, and prepare for the next day early morning assault on the Peaks of Kinabalu.

gunting lagadan & panar laban

Continue at Part Two: Conquering Low’s Peak
and Part Three: Descending to Power Station

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