How To Climb Mt. Kinabalu, Malaysia

Summit of Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Summit of Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia | © Nokuro / Shutterstock
Michelle Leong

If you want to climb the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, you’ll need to bring more than your hiking boots.

The mountain

At 13,435 ft. (4,095 metres) above sea level, this mountain is the highest peak of the Bornean Crocker Range and the tallest mountain in Malaysia. The home of exotic flora, fauna, and fungi, your climb won’t just be a physical challenge — it’ll be an education in botanical and biological diversity.

Monkey pitcher plant

Note that East Malaysia is also plagued by bad weather, especially during the rainy season. This means that the summit is sometimes closed, so you’ll have to check this schedule before booking your dates.

There are two trails to climb up Mount KK: the Ranau trail and the Kota Belud trail.

Are you a beginner climber who wants to conquer Mount Kinabalu and catch a selfie with an aerial view of the Ranau town? If so, the Ranau trail was made for you.

Ranau trail

Are you a seasoned climber who wants to show off your superior climbing skills? If so, you might prefer the Kota Belud trail — it’s longer (by 170 metres) and tends to have fewer climbing aids, such as holds, staircases, ropes, rocks, and shrubs. Your climb is bound to be that much more challenging.

The cost

Climbing Mount KK isn’t hiking in the National Park, which means that you’ll need a climb permit. The fee for a permit is RM200 ($50) for foreigners and RM50 ($12.50) for Malaysians — yeah, the world’s unfair like that.

You will also neesd to go with a mountain guide, an experienced climber who can carry twice the weight of you despite his svelte size, and who will charge you RM230 per climb.

Climbers hiking up Mount Kinabalu

Generally, it’s advisable to climb on a “package,” inclusive of climb permits, a mountain guide, insurance, park entrance fees, and accommodation (because one-day permits are not available anymore, and you’ll have to be “glamping” it out for at least one night). Climb packages are usually upwards of RM1,000 ($250).

For a full breakdown on tours and accommodation costs, see here and here.

The climb

The climb will take at least two days to complete, so tell your mum that you won’t be home for Sunday brunch.

You will first need to climb to Laban Rata (the base camp), where you’ll be expected to rest and stay for the evening, before rising bright and early at 1.30am to begin your steeper summit climb.

Laban Rata base camp

If you’re up for a challenge, you can also choose the “via ferrata” option. This fancy Italian-sounding term just means that you’ll be hooked to a harness while scaling hard rock surfaces. Très cool.

Important tip

If you’re serious about climbing the tallest mountain in the Bornean Crocker Range, then get serious about booking your slot 6 months ahead (at least). Only 135 climbers are allowed per day, so the slots fill up fast!

Don’t feel like climbing?

You can also hike it. The breathtaking views of Mount Kinabalu (on the lower ridges) are also available to those who — by choice or circumstance — are not physically fit to climb all the way to the summit. This is a much cheaper option; you only pay RM15 at Kinabalu Park.

Hiking up Mount Kinabalu
landscape with balloons floating in the air


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