Climbing Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

By Mark Wiens 37 Comments


At 4,095 meters, Mount Kinabalu reigns as one of South East Asia’s highest peaks.  Situated in the Northern tip of the world’s 3rd largest and tropical island, Borneo, in Sabah, Malaysia, Mt. Kinabalu is a jaw dropping environmental stunner that sprawls into the heavens!

The grueling vertical ascent of Mount Kinabalu is a trek that usually takes 2 days.  The 1st day is spent climbing to the base camp, Laban Rata, and spending a fortune on accommodation.  On the 2nd day, climbers scale to Low’s peak for a glimpse of the sunrise peaking over the gnarly rocky peak.  This normal hiking agenda of spending the night on the mountain is a

monetary nightmare for a mere Migrationologist or English camp teacher.

The Cheapest way to climb Mount Kinabalu is to attempt the hike in a single day without the hassle of Laban Rata or the intense morning frigidness.

mount kinabalu at sunrise

How to Climb Mount Kinabalu in 1 Day:

Note: The climb up Mount Kinabalu in a single day requires very good fitness, a strong will, and top mental condition.  It can be quite strenuous, very exhausting, and unkind to joints.

  1. Arrive at the park headquarters a day in advance to book your single day hike at the booking office.  Another option is to contact a guest house in the area and have them arrange the permit for your group.  I contacted Aristo Kinabalu Resort at Kundasang by e-mail and reserved a dorm room for 2 nights at 30 Ringgits per person/night.  The retreat center took care of all my hiking reservations without any extra charges and zero hassle.  The guest house is about 10 km from the park entrance so it was a little difficult to get to and from the park.  However it was an extremely quiet and serene place to stay at a decent price.
  2. To get from Kota Kinabalu to Mount Kinabalu park headquarters, you can take a mini van headed towards the town of Ranau (15 Ringgits).  The van will take about 2 hours to reach the park entrance.  If you need to get off at a guest house along the way, just let the driver know and he will drop you off.
  3. On the day of the hike, if you can pre-arrange for the guide to meet you early before the registration opens, around 7 am, do so to get an early start on the hike.  If not, begin the trek whenever the guide arrives and is sorted, should be before 8 am.
  4. Fees for a single day summit hike of Mt. Kinabalu are as follows and can be paid the day of the hike,

5.  From this point on, the guide will take care of everything else, except your strained calves and thighs, and the drastically changing weather.

6.  Around 11 am, you should reach Laban Rata base camp before continuing to the summit.  Hope for good weather (no rain).

Risk of Climbing in 1 Day:

Making it nearly to the summit in great timing, we were forced to turn around due to sour weather.  Rain started falling, visibility decreased, rocks became slippery waterfalls, and our guide with word from park headquarters instructed us to turn back immediately for our safety.  1 kilometer from the summit and heart broken, we had to turn around.  Unpredictable weather conditions are the trade-off risk you take when attempting to climb Mount Kinabalu in 1 day.

Note: Water is plentiful at many checkpoints along the well established trail. Bring plenty (over estimate) of energy filled snacks to eat along the way.

Towards the beginning of the hike, you will enjoy some beautiful forest and lush scenery.

If you are not in too much of a hurry while scurrying up Kinabalu, keep an eye our for interesting flora and fauna including the famous Nepenthes pitcher plant.

nepenthes pitcher plant borneo kinabalu

Be sure to look back over the horizon for gorgeous views.

mount kinabalu clouds hovering

The environment drastically changes from tropical rain forest to altitude high shrubbery and stunted vegetation.

Mount Kinabalu tree fauna

to of mount kinabalu borneo

Approaching the top you will begin to trek on solid rock surfaces with thick rope railings.  The ropes are mostly for stability as the climbing is not technical, but be careful along these stretches.

rocks of mount kinabalu borneo

Unfortunately, we did not make it all the way to the top of Mount Kinabalu.  On our 1 day hike to the summit we ran into dreadful weather conditions close to the top and our guide instructed us to turn around for our safety.  Not exactly what I had planned, but it was still an amazing mountain climb!

Good luck climbing Mount Kinabalu, I hope you all have fantastic weather, especially on a single day hike!

-Migration Mark

37 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Lina

    7 years ago

    Hey Mark – we also did the climb in one day and thought it was worth it! We had the summit to ourselves, which was awesome, and the clouds parted so we got some killer shots!

    Here’s our trip report for those interested: http://erohisms.com/trekking-mt-kinabalu-in-one-day-its-all-relative/

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Lina, thanks for sharing, nice photos and glad you had a great trip to the top in one day!

  • Krisitn Addis

    8 years ago

    I managed to get to the summit in one day, but after reading all of these comments and your post, I’m now realizing that we got really lucky with the weather. I definitely think that spreading it over two days is preferable, given the sunrise, but I simply couldn’t afford it. The costs are a little higher now than when you went, but I still did it for under $65 USD.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Kristin, great to hear you made it up in a single day, awesome!!

  • Kjersti

    9 years ago

    Hey, came across your blog on Twitter, love it! I did the Mt Kinabalu trek 6 years ago, and I really enjoyed the change of scenery as you describe, it was surreal to a poor Norwegian! Anyway, when we woke up at 3am to hike to the top I could not move, my legs were constantly cramping and my chest was sore because I had been breathing like a friggin elephant on the way up the day before. Heading down the mountain the next day, I had to walk with stiff legs because if I bent my knees they couldn’t hold my weight. I think this is one of the treks that are harder than people think! Anyway, sorry you didn’t make it to the top, bad weather sucks.

    Have added you to my reader, looking forward to seeing what you’re up to!

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Hey Kjersti! Thanks for sharing this and glad to hear that you also climbed Mount Kinabalu. It was such a beautiful place, I couldn’t believe it. Yah, it really is a challenging hike – it really pushes your muscles uphill. After going up and coming down in a day, the next day I remember waking up extremely sore as well – but it was worth it! Thanks again for checking out my blog and I’m looking forward to connecting with you guys more in the future!

  • dey

    10 years ago

    there are climbathon around this month .. October..
    http://climbathon.sabahtourism.com/2011/index.html

  • climbedin one day

    10 years ago

    hello,

    did the climb in one day three days ago on the 29th of oct. Had to be at around 7:00 am at the visitor centre where you sign a few documents. It said that you had to be at Laban Rata before 10:00 am and from there you had till 13:00 to reach the summit. And I made it but it was the hardest physical activity i’ve done. Also you had to leave the park before 17:00 which i didn’t made. Was there around 17:30 but luckily there was still the taxi waiting.. It was a real physical and mentally challenge for me and my legs are still hurting but it was great.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Awesome job! It really is a grueling task to climb in 1 day. Great that you made it and that the weather held out.

  • jake

    11 years ago

    hi, i’m due to climb the mountain in 1 day tommorow.
    was wondering if you could tell me the best food to take ect
    cheers

    • Mark Wiens

      11 years ago

      I took peanuts, chocolate, cookies, and biscuits, for quick energy when you are tired. I ate a huge bowl of oats before I started the climb and then brought some more along to eat at Laban Rata. The restaurant there allowed me to get hot water (for oatmeal) and use a bowl, free of charge! Good luck, have an awesome time!

  • Mark Wiens

    11 years ago

    I’m sure the scuba diving was beautiful as well! If I had had more time, I would have loved to get to that side of Sabah.

  • Positive World Travel

    11 years ago

    We didn’t climb Mt Kinabalu while we were there. Instead we decided to go scuba diving at Sipadan Island. You’re pictures make me wish we had!

  • sojournrentals

    11 years ago

    I wish I could experience to climb Mount Kinabalu but, I have a phobia in a higher place. I wish I can do the same thing.:)Thanks Mark for the info.

  • climbing mount

    11 years ago

    Hi Great website by the way.I have just added it to my saved list. Sorry if this is off topic but does anyone know of any other websites to check for more good tips?

  • Mark Wiens

    11 years ago

    Hey Richard, sounds like you do quite a bit of walking and are in pretty good shape. If you hike for 8-10 hours on hills every now and then, you should be able to give the single day climb a shot! The hike can be compared to going up a long flight of stairs, so make sure your knees are also in good shape (my friend used double knee braces).
    Good luck, hope you have an awesome time, it’s very worth it!

  • Richard Bury

    11 years ago

    Thinking of climbing MKK in August however have been told it will cost 700MR.To climb it in one day how fit do you reckon one should be?We hillwalk quite a bit and have walked up 8 to 10 hours on various hikes with abot 4-5000 feet of climbing.Do you think this would be sufficient?Any comments welcome

  • Dave and Deb

    11 years ago

    It hasn’t changed a bit. Beautiful as ever. We climbed Kinabalu in 2 days and I highly recommend it. Being up at the summit for sunrise is spectacular.

  • Mark Wiens

    11 years ago

    Yah Dustin, the weather does seem to turn bad after 10 am some of the time, you need a little luck for it to stay sunny.

    Glad you got to do that via ferrata. It looked like a lot of fun, if I ever go back, I will also include that.

  • Dustin Main – Skinny Backpacker

    11 years ago

    Unfortunately you’re not alone. I spent a few extra days on the mountain rappelling and on the via ferrata and I’m not sure that I ran into any successful one day climbers.

    Seems to me that the weather about 3000m is bad after 10am, though maybe it was just the season I was there (May).

    I’d personally say the 1 day climb isn’t worth it for 99.9% of people if your budget doesn’t allow for 2 or more days. If you have the time though, the views are spectacular!

    http://www.skinnybackpacker.com/home/2010/5/9/photo-of-the-day-from-the-granite-face-of-mt-kinabalu.html

    • Name

      10 years ago

      hi, i want to climb KK + via ferrata but the ferrata website quoted me RM$1500 for 2 days 1 night climb which i think is a rip off.

      can anyone here help give me advice into a better cheaper option?
      can i book Laban Rata 1 night & than book ferrata separate so that it is cheaper? any1 here has DIY before?

      Thanks in advance …

      • Mark Wiens

        10 years ago

        Hey, thanks for the inquiry.
        I didn’t do the via ferrata when I was there, but that does sound quite expensive. It was quoted fromt the official website? Not fully sure about your question, I hope someone else here can assist further.
        Mark