A Practical Guide for Aspiring Enthusiasts

By Win Y. – 10th Apr 2021

Mount Kinabalu
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” —Edmund Hillary

Mountains depict a myriad of inspiring imagery about life. To many, it is a peaceful and comforting refuge, a welcoming stronghold at times. For some, an insurmountable obstacle, a daunting task with a promise of a breathtaking view. And in a way, it is similar to a rewarding victory-over-adversity story. Encouraging us to draw strength and focus our hope on a marvelous bedrock as we trail and overcome the fearful trials of this world.

In Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu is one of the highest and well-known peaks, standing at 4,095 meters above sea level. It has an exhilarating landscape of black granite peaks hidden in wisps of clouds. And on a clear day, its distinct glacier carved pinnacles are revealed.

Brave the outdoors this summer and conquer the tallest mountain of Borneo, Malaysia! For you to scale and bag Mount Kinabalu with ease, here is a practical stage-by-stage guide.


About the Climb

A Mount Kinabalu summit climb takes two days and one night (2D1N). Most hikers begin their journey at Timpohon Gate. Then climb to Panalaban Base Camp, where they will spend a night there. They begin their second day early, at about 2:00 in the morning. Ascending and descending on the same trail covers a total of 17.4 km. The hike itself is challenging, but views at the peak are stunning (I can attest and guarantee!)  

*Note: It helps to be relatively healthy and physically fit.

Preparation and Packing 

  • Always travel light! Do not bring too many unnecessary things. Try to pack your climbing bag at around 4-8kg. Every extra kilo you carry will become your burden during the climb. 
  • The hike is composed of 2 parts. The first is a rainforest trail which is warm and humid. Therefore, breathable sportswear is ideal. Recommend not to wear denim jeans.  
  • Prepare enough warm clothing for the summit climb. I prefer a combination of a lightweight heat-tech inner layer, a fleech, and a windbreaker; rather than a bulky cotton winter jacket (to save your backpack space and reduce weight).
  • Hiking poles are highly recommended, especially during descending. Prepare or grab them at the last minute in the Kinabalu Park reception. 
  • If you have altitude sickness, bring along medicine for relief. As an encouraging note, I did not have altitude sickness during the trek, nor any of my friends. 
  • A small personal tip here is, I usually prepare a tiny roll of duct tape and some cable ties in case of wearable mishaps. It is essential in just about every situation whenever you need a quick fix. Surprisingly, I did use it on the shoes of my friend. Its sole came off during our descent. A lifesaver!

Before the climb

  • Hikers need to register at Kinabalu Park Office, where they will provide you with an ID TAG. It is necessary to wear your ID TAG at all times. Hiring a mountain guide is compulsory.
  • Fill up your water bottle. During the hike, I found out that a bladder is a much better container than a bottle. The benefits include ease of drinking, comfort in carrying, and saving precious pack space.
  • Grab some energy bars, sweets, or bananas to keep you energized. Give your body the fuel and kick that it needs to power on through.
  • Wear comfortable thick socks and trekking shoes with a good grip. Avoid wearing brand new shoes as it can cause shoe bites and ruin your whole journey.

During the climb

  • The estimated trekking time from Timpohon Gate to Panalaban Base Camp is 5-6 hours.
  • As altitude increases, the air becomes less dense, making you get tired quickly. Feel free to take ample rest. Shelters are available along the trail.  
  • Trek at your own steady pace. Too much rushing may result in high altitude sickness. Do not attempt to run at any point while ascending the mountain trail.
  • Fresh mountain water is available in every shelter for you to refill. However, it is untreated, not fit for someone who has a sensitive stomach.
  • At Panalaban Base Camp, you can have a decent meal and refreshment after a day-long hike. Make sure to have a good rest as you need to wake up early for the summit the next day.

Ascending to the summit

  • Start as early as possible to meet the ‘cut off time’ arriving at Sayat-Sayat checkpoint (between 04:30-05:00hrs)
  • It is freezing early in the morning and still dark; make sure you have your headlamp, gloves on, and wear your ID tag at all times.
  • Follow the ropes and do not go off the path. Watch your steps as you ascend. The stairs surface can be slippery due to mist.
  • Now you are close to 4,000 meters above sea level. Trek at your steady pace and control your breathing. Ensure that you fully exhaled the air from your lungs. This method is to prevent you from getting Mountain Sickness.

At Mount Kinabalu Summit

  • You have finally made it!!! Enjoy the sunrise moment and remarkable panoramic view of Mount Kinabalu.  
  • The average temperature at Mount Kinabalu Summit is around 4°C or lower. Make sure to keep your body, feet, and hands warm and dry. It can be very windy and cold up there. You can use the windbreaker to protect yourself from the wind.
  • Please do not block the path to the Summit Signage. Give way to other climbers for them to enjoy the moment and take pictures as well.


  • After enjoying the first light at the summit, start your descent as early as you can. Suggetion not later than 07:30 AM because you need extra time for packing and breakfast at Panalaban Base Camp.
  • Walk in a zig-zag pattern to prevent you from slipping. Do not run at any point while descending the mountain.
  • After checking out from Panalaban Base Camp, descend from the same jungle trail. While going downhill, use your trekking poles to minimize stress impact on your knees and legs.