Borneo – Mt. Kinabalu

Sunday, April 13, 2014

It was an early morning for our flight to Kota Kinabalu via Air Asia. We arrived in Kota Kinabalu and waited an hour for Hertz to open. While waiting around, James and I went to scrounge for food.

For just 30 ringgits I had mee goreng ayam and some strong black coffee for breakfast.

Well, I was sold. I loved Borneo already.

Excited to take on our role as backseat drivers, James and I helped navigate John in the rental skillfully into the city. We found the Sutera Sanctuary Lodge office in town, which was the place we needed to visit to obtain lodge accommodation on Mount Kinabalu the following night. Unfortunately Lonely Planet was a bit wrong and the office wasn’t open.

We asked around and everyone told us the same thing, that they were quite helpless and we would need to wait to talk to Sutera Lodge to see if they had accommodation, otherwise we couldn’t get a climbing permit.

Not really sure what was the best way to spend a sleepy day, we headed toward the suspension bridge that guidebooks and a tourist map suggested.

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Well, it wasn’t exactly the most impressive thing I have seen, but we took a walk across anyway before taking an attention deficit detour through a tiny market to smell some stinky fruit (durian). Then we headed off toward Mount Kinabalu.

We went straight to the lodge reception inside of the park. We politely tested to see if we could bribe our way into the fully booked accommodation for the following night. The young lady on the other side of the desk was amused, but definitely not changing her mind or the rules to accommodate our sorry lack-of-planning butts.

I agree; we’ve gotten a bit lazy on the planning front so we treated this little mountain trip the same. Apparently it is smart to book accommodation on the mountain far ahead since once it’s booked out, it’s booked out; eliminating your likely only opportunity to summit Mount Kinabalu.

We created a waitlist at the front desk and continued to beg and gauge how likely it was to bribe our way up the mountain. Judith and John were incredibly patient as they waited for us do our thing. After realizing we were getting nowhere discussing a two day hike, which required accommodation at Laban Rata Guest House we then asked about the other option – eliminating the need for accommodation entirely.

“No. You can’t do that.”

After about 5 minutes we convinced them we were physically capable of a one day hike to 4095 meters above sea level.

“Okay fine, you need to go to talk to the park ranger and get permission to climb,” said the receptionist, happy to have pawned us off on someone else.

We stood up straight and pretended to flex the quads we no longer have as we were invited into the cluttered ranger’s office.

“What do you want,” he said uninterested and barely raising his head away from the intimidating stack of permits in front of him.

Twenty minutes later we left his office with permission to do a one-day hike. He was pretty upfront and said we likely wouldn’t make it past Laban Rata and that the weather would be too crapy to get to the summit.

Hey, better than sleeping in.

That evening we went to a little roadside food stop. We enjoyed fried rice, fried noodles and fish soup with locals and had a relaxing evening enjoying ourselves.

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Monday, April 14, 2014   

Mount Kinabalu

We were up at 6 a.m. and stuffing our faces with the fuel we were given from Mile 36 Lodge – eggs, sausage and beans.


“I hope this takes us to the top,” we said as we slammed another cup of coffee.

We arrived at the park reception at 6:45 a.m. and there was an exciting buzz occupying the air.

Badges were printed and we picked our guide, Richard. “Will you take us to the summit?” we asked him.

“Um. Yeah, sure?” Petite little Richard said indifferently.  It was convincing enough for us.

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We waved goodbye to John and Judith and jumped in a shuttle van with two other Germans to the Timpohon Gate.

By 8 a.m. we were bolting down the stairs while Richard stopped within two steps of starting to get some ramen soup.

Within minutes Richard reappeared and revealed we had to make it to Laban Rata Guest House before 10 a.m. If we didn’t check into that stop before 10 a.m. we wouldn’t even get a chance to continue on the trail to Low’s Peak. If we did beat the clock, we would then have to make it to the summit of Low’s Peak before 1 p.m. otherwise we would be turning back.

We had absolutely no idea what we were in for.


James says the hike was the most difficult thing he has ever done in his life. The hike was intense and being under pressure to beat a time made it even more anxiety provoking. I think if we had known what the hike was going to be that intense we would’ve started at about 3 a.m. from the Timpohon Gate.

The first 1406 meters of elevation gain spread over 6 km felt like a good two hours on the stair climber. Most people take 6-9 hours to do the hike, and it took us 2. It was absolutely insane and we pulled into Laban Rata at exactly 10:01 a.m.

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(This man below is NOT our porter – how do you need that much crap for a TWO DAY HIKE?)

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Richard decided it was then a good time to tell us that he had never actually done the hike in one day.

He called us insane and then told us to be back in our shoes and outside in a few minutes.

Our legs were shaking as we sat down guzzling water. We had a few minute psych up session, and then on our way out of the lodge met three Navy peeps: Amber, Lydia, and Mark. These three were the only other ones that made it by 10 a.m., so they would continue to the summit with us.

The second leg of the hike was completely different than the first. It was only 2 km and about an 800+ meter elevation gain. It was expected to take about 3-6 hours at a good pace.  The first bit kicked our butts. So much so that we were both thinking, this was absolutely impossible and why, why, why did we think this was a good idea?

James was quick to point out that it wasn’t our idea, it was mine.

That had me pick up the pace, because there was no way we were attempting this thing and not making it.


Stairs changed to rock faces and we were told to grab onto a rope that would lead us to the top.

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I was happy to take some of the work into my arms rather than my legs. It was hot but cold, windy, and beautiful up there.

There were some groups of intense climbers on the slopes along the way, but when we reached the top of Low’s Peak, James, Richard and I were the only ones up there.

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Clouds crept over the sides of the cliffs and we sat in peace amongst silky clouds at the top of the mountain. Despite being a questionable decision at times and overly challenging most of the time, it was all completely worth it.

Amber, Lydia and Mark joined us at the top and we all hung out, enjoying what we had just accomplished.

After an hour, Richard woke up from his nap and urged us to get moving back down the mountain so we could make it back to the gate by 5 p.m.

The hike down was probably worse than the walk up. Our knees screamed and our legs kept buckling underneath us. It took us longer to go down than it did to go up. By 5:30 p.m. we were back at the gate and back on our bums. We said goodbye to sweet Richard and reunited with John and Jude.



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