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Climbing Mount Kinabalu. The world's strangest mountain.

Sunrise from Lows Peak, Mt. Kinabalu, looking into Lows Gully.

Sunrise from Lows Peak, Mt. Kinabalu, looking into Lows Gully.

The Laban Rata guesthouse (11,000') with Kinabalu's dome in the background.

The Laban Rata guesthouse (11,000') with Kinabalu's dome in the background.

Approaching the top of Kinabalu and Malaysia, Lows Peak.

Approaching the top of Kinabalu and Malaysia, Lows Peak.

South Kinabalu Peak (12902') from the approach to Lows Peak.

South Kinabalu Peak (12902') from the approach to Lows Peak.

The canopy of the tropical montane rainforest along the trail near Carsons Falls.

The canopy of the tropical montane rainforest along the trail near Carsons Falls.

Great views of the surrounding countryside from above timberline.

Great views of the surrounding countryside from above timberline.

Looking up at Kinabalu from near the trail's gate (about 6,000').

Looking up at Kinabalu from near the trail's gate (about 6,000').

Kinabalu seen from the lowlands near Kota Kinabalu.

Kinabalu seen from the lowlands near Kota Kinabalu.

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Geology of Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu – The World’s Strangest Mountain?

At the northern tip of the world’s third largest island, Borneo, there is a curious natural phenomenon that defies the rules of geology. Mount Kinabalu, or Gunung Kinabalu (Malay) rises in virtual isolation more than 4000 meters (13,000’) above the surroundings in the Malaysian state of Sabah. There is no deep ocean trench near Borneo and no colliding continents.* High mountains usually owe their existence to these dynamics yet there is a strange absence of either when it comes to Mount Kinabalu’s unexpected presence. Another possible answer for its lofty isolation – a hot spot perhaps; the same phenomenon attributed to Hawaii’s volcanoes, but in Kinabalu’s case, there is no lava. With the exception of Poring Hot Springs, close by, there is little thermal activity in the area. The mountain is built of a grey granitic type of rock called grandiorite. According to geologists Kinabalu is only about 1.5 million years old and the massive, not surprisingly, continues to rise about 5 mm per year. The mountain saw extensive glacial activity during the last ice age and glacial striations are visible on some of the summit peaks.

* The region was shaken by a rare 5.9 magnitude earthquake on June 5, 2015. The event triggered rock slides on Mount Kinabalu leaving many hikers stranded and at least 16 dead as of June 7.

Hiking Kinabalu. The best way to experience the mountain is by hiking. As the centerpiece of the 754 square kilometer Mount Kinabalu National Park the hike requires you to navigate some red tape, but with some advanced planning it’s easy to do. You can get to the park by bus which leaves coastal Kota Kinabalu at 0730 every morning and takes about two hours to get the park's gate. The return trip to Kota Kinabalu from the park leaves at 0800. Register at the park’s Headquarters, 88 kilometers from Kota Kinabalu, where you will be required to hire a guide. The guides are cheap but check prices ahead of time. It is also customary that you tip the guide at the end of the trip. Most of these friendly guides are local villagers and your money supports a large part of their yearly income. It's hard to believe but some rude, or stingy, hikers did not tip these hard-working people who offer to carry your bags and will give you a helping hand when needed. More amazing is that some of these guides have climbed the mountain a thousand times, or least that’s what some claim. Temperatures can drop below freezing at night so be prepared with a set of cold weather clothes.

Accommodation at the mountain’s base vary from functional to private bungalows with the usual creature comforts. If you just need a place to sleep there are facilities that sleep people in bunks, eight to a room or so, with shared bathrooms. Most hikers will stay a night at the base near the park’s headquarters and set out with their assigned guide the next morning. After you meet your guide at the park HQ (1558 meters), you will be driven to the Timpohon Gate at the 6200’ (1890 meters) elevation and begin the hike. Your destination for the day will be Laban Rata Hut (11,000’), which is 6 kilometers from the Gate, or Sayat Sayat Hut (12,500’), about 7.5 kilometers from the Gate. The latter is above the timberline - a spartan collection of low-lying and functional shelters with few amenities. The former, Laban Rata, is well staffed with a restaurant and facilities that are regularly provisioned with a network of porters. After spending the night in one of the huts, the guides will wake you up very early so that you can make it to the summit in time for the spectacular sunrise. From Laban Rata, it will take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours to reach the summit, or another 2.5 kilometers. There is no technical aspect to the climb. It just takes some conditioning and acclimation to the higher elevations. This is where you would be advised to stay in the lodging near the park’s HQ for one night and Laban Rata the second night, especially if you are not accustomed to high elevations. If you are in poor shape, the climb, which covers 7,500’ vertical feet, is not recommended. The worse part of the hike is probably the way down, which is typically done in one day and can be difficult on the knees.

Some of the superlatives of this mountain include the unbelievable range and diversity flora which includes the largest flowering plant on the planet, the Rafflesia. The top of the mountain, which is a huge domed massive, is a pin board of polished granitic peaks above 12,000’. The tallest, Lows Peak (13,435’), or 4,095 meters*, is the most popular destination for the stream of hikers and their guides. Other peaks that you will see along the route are Donkeys Ears (13,301), Ugly Sister Peak (13,228’), St. Andrew Peak (13,295’), St. Johns Peak (13,440’), Victoria Peak (13,431’), Kinabalu South (12,902’), Alexandra Peak, No Name Peak (13,132’), King Edward Peak (13,405), North Peak (12,630’), Tunka Abdel Ramen Peak (12,952'), and King George Peak (13,340’). These peaks were sculpted by glaciers of the last ice age and the most impressive residual feature left from these tropical ice sheets is the U-shaped abyss, Lows Gully, more than 3,000 feet deep and visible from the top.

*The previous accepted height was 13,455’ or 4101 meters, but the mountain’s latest measure in 1997 lost 6 meters. All other heights of satellite peaks above are from older triangulations.

Other hiking hubs by jvhirniak:

Malaysia: Ten Places Worth Visiting (in no particular order)

Kuala Lumpur and Beyond: Ten Places to Visit

Climbing Longs Peak: A Personal Narrative.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


jvhirniak (author) on February 19, 2018:

Shrouds: I hope you can visit, well worth the effort! Thank you for you comment.

Shrouds on February 16, 2018:

I never been here yet but this one is a quite good pre info before going,thank you!

jvhirniak (author) on November 23, 2011:

Phyllis - I will have to take a look at your Rainier hub. I was there many years ago but unfortunately the mountain was often obscured in cloud cover. Many thanks for visiting my kinabalu hub and taking interest!

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on November 22, 2011:

Mountains fascinate me, and this hub is very interesting. I recently wrote a hub on Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Have you ever been there? It rises up to over 14K ft, with no surrounding mountains to distract from it, similar to Mount Kinabalu. I really enjoyed reading this hub. Thank you.

jvhirniak (author) on October 11, 2011:

rickmy - thank you very much for visiting and commenting. I hope the area remains pristine for everyone to enjoy and I was very interested to hear the significance of Kinabalu for the Dusuns tribe. It was a very mystical place when I visited and I hope to return one day.

rickmy from Borneo on October 09, 2011:

I think this piece is the best I've ever read about Mount Kinabalu. FYI, Mount Kinabalu is considered as a sacred mountain for us in Sabah, especially the Dusuns tribe. Our ancestors believed that when we die, the souls would go to the peak of the mountain. Looking at its wonderful and gigantic view, with its blue hues, there must be lots of souls up there.

Thanks for writing this hub!

Alex Green on September 30, 2010:

Hey I saw that largest flower, Rafflesia arnoldii which was huge and around more or less 1 meter in its diameter. Then I had gone for Canopy Walk which was hypothetical to be a track walking path. Then the 2 different waterfalls. Bathe within the Japanese-fashion baths. I took a look at Butterfly Farm. Following url provides the information on "Things to see at Poring"

jvhirniak (author) on May 23, 2010:

Sord87 - Thank you again for visiting and commenting. Yes, please feel free to share on facebook!

sord87 on May 22, 2010:

Thank you jvhirniak for your information,i should thank you more to highlight me about the national park which i should find a time to visit,I'll be sure to vote this up and share this with my facebook friends!

jvhirniak (author) on May 21, 2010:

sord87: Even if you are not a hiker, the mountain is quite impressive and you can visit the national park without hiking. I believe on days with good weather Gunung Kinabalu can be easily viewed from Kota Kinabalu.

sord87 on May 21, 2010:

Excellent! you are a writer of experience,hiking require a lot of stamina that i do not have,I think you had faced excitement and adventure as a hiker,it was an amazing reading!Thank you!

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