How to Climb Mount Kinabalu and How Much it Cost?

Mt. Kinabalu
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Standing majestically at 4,095 Meters (13,435 feet), Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain of Malaysia. Mt. Kinabalu derives its name from the Kadazan word, Aki Nabalu, meaning ‘the revered place of the dead’. It is one of the most conquerable peaks in the world. This article will help you to reach its summit, with some info that travel agents don’t want you to know.

Mount Kinabalu, highest mountain in Malaysia
Pic: Mt. Kinabalu is the highest mountain of Borneo and Malaysia.

Mount Kinabalu’s specialty lies in its location at a renowned World Heritage Site – Kinabalu Park. Nature lovers will be delighted to be able to witness the many variations of flora and fauna that are to be found on the mountain at different altitudes.

1. How much does it cost?

I know you want a quick answer. The lowest climbing fee of Mt. Kinabalu is about RM955 (≈USD320) for International Tourist, RM700 for Malaysian (non-Sabahan) and RM270 for Sabahan. The cost includes transportation, accommodation, meals, mountain guide, permit, insurance and other expenses. Please download the Excel file to see the itemized budget. My calculation is based on the standard package (overnight in Laban Rata and start climbing at Timpohon Gate for single adult). If you want the full detail, you may download the complete room rates, charges and other (luxurious) options or view the document as a webpage.

  1. The Best Time to climb Mt. Kinabalu is between March and August, which are the dry seasons of Sabah. The peak season is Apr to Jun.
  2. You can climb in other months, but try to avoid Dec and Jan, which are the wettest months, due to the North-East Monsoon
  3. Laban Rata Rest House is the accommodation 2.72 KM before the summit of Mt. Kinabalu. Most climbers overnight here before conquering Mt. Kinabalu in next morning.
  4. Laban Rata Rest House is the only heated unit, and non heated unit consists of Gunting Lagadan Hut, Panar Laban Hut and Waras Hut.
  5. If you are not allowed to climb Mt. Kinabalu in bad weather, there is No Refund.

How to Book a Climb Package

Booking the Accommodation at Laban Rata is the FIRST step. You can’t climb Mt. Kinabalu if you haven’t reserved any room on the mountain (Laban Rata).

A few important things to note:

  1. You must book at least 6 months in advance. The park allows only 192 climbers to climb per day, due to conservation and limited rooms, so the accommodation is always fully booked.
  2. Conquering Mt. Kinabalu requires only 2 days 1 night.
  3. However, to maximize profit, Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (management of accommodation) usually sells you 3-day-2-night accommodation (with 1 extra night at Kinabalu Park, foothill of Mt. Kinabalu).
  4. 2-day-1-night accommodation package is available, but only open 30 days before the climbing date.
  5. Gunting Lagadan Hut, Panar Laban Hut and Waras Hut are next to Laban Rata, and these non-heated accommodations are Cheaper (but no hot shower).
  6. All accommodation package is inclusive of full meals.

There are 3 ways to book the climb package:

1. Book with Travel Agent

If you can afford, just book the tour package with licensed tour agents. Though you will see a high markup of price than I mentioned earlier, they will take care of everything, from transportation, registration, to the end of climb. This is the Best option, if you climb in big group, which can get better discount.

2. Book with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (SSL)

SSL is the management of accommodation in Kinabalu Park and Laban Rata. For International Tourists, you can book the room online. Or you can contact them at:

E-mail: info@suterasanctuarylodges.com.my
Tel: +60 88 308 914 / 308 915 / 308 916
Website: www.suterasanctuarylodges.com.my
Address: Lot G15, Ground Floor, Wisma Sabah, 88000, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. (see location map)
Business Hours: 9am-6pm (Mon-Fri), 9am-4pm (Sat), close on Sun & Public Holiday

office of Sutera Sanctuary Lodges
Pic: office of Sutera Sanctuary Lodges

You may drop by the office of SSL, which is located in ground floor of Wisma Sabah building in Kota Kinabalu city center and next to Wisma Merdeka, a popular shopping mall. Besides booking, the friendly staffs can answer all your questions on the spot. They can arrange full transport service for you too (the fees are quite high though). If you are lucky, you can find last minute cancellation by other tourists so you can snap up the vacancy. Anyway, don’t bet on this.

3. Sabah Parks (for Sabahans)

To get Sabahan rate, you must book the accommodation directly with Sabah Parks. Though the room rate for Sabahan is the cheapest, only 25 beds are reserved for Sabahans daily (they are building a new hostel, so additional 28 rooms will be available in future). You only need to book 1-night accommodation on the mountain.

Itinerary of the Climb

Below is a rundown of the 3-day-2-night climbing tour in brief:

Day 1

Check-in to overnight at Kinabalu Park (see location map), which is 88 KM away from Kota Kinabalu (KK). The extra night helps your body to adapt to the height so you will be less vulnerable to Altitude Sickness (acute mountain sickness) in the climb next day.

Day 2

9am: Register and pay fees (climb permit, insurance, guide, etc.) to Sabah Parks at Kinabalu Park HQ. Collect your name tag (climb permit) and meet your guide and porter (if hired). Be there before 10:30am or they won’t allow you to climb.
9:30am: Transfer to Timpohon Gate, the starting point of the climb.
10am: Start of Climb!
4pm: Reach Laban Rata Rest House. Usually it takes 6 to 8 hours, depend on your fitness.
- Overnight at Laban Rata (or other huts)

Day 3

2am: Gather and having breakfast at Laban Rata, then head to the summit.
(The park may not allow you to climb in very bad weather)
6am: Reaching the summit of Mt. Kinabalu
7am: Descending to Laban Rata
10am: Check-out and descend to Kinabalu Park
1:30pm: Back to KK

Below is the trail map to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu.
Trail map to summit of Mt. Kinabalu

The following is a very nice video that gives you an overview of the climb:

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu from Experience It All on Vimeo.

Photo Walkthrough

Below are the photo walkthrough of the 2-day climb in chronological order.

Day 1: Climbing to Laban Rata

The standard trail starts from the Timpohon Gate (1,800m; 5,906 ft) which is about 4KM away from the Kinabalu Park Headquarters. Before reaching Laban Rata (3,273m; 10,738 ft), climbers will encounter a series of trail shelters (pondok)—Pondok Kandis, Pondok Ubah, Pondok Lowii, Layang-Layang, Pondok Villosa, and Pondok Paka. The climb from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata normally takes 6 to 8 hours (for 6 KM).

Timpohon Gate
Pic: Timpohon Gate. You can buy basic supply such as snacks, drink and raincoat here.

Carson Waterfall
Pic: you will see the miniature Carson Waterfall very soon.

trail signage and map
Pic: There are signages and markers every 0.5 or 1KM along the trail, to show how far you go.

shelter next to trail
Pic: There is shelter for every 1 KM, where you can rest, refill water (untreated spring water), use the toilet and dump your trash.

Pygmy Squirrel
Pic: Cute pygmy squirrel would come to you wanting food.

trail to Mt. Kinabalu
The trail is clear and in moderate steepness most of the time. You will feel like walking on endless staircase than climbing. Just go slow and enjoy the scenic cloud forest (montane forest).

staff quarter
Pic: If you see this staff quarter, you are half way done.

pitcher plant
Pic: after 4 KM, pay attention to your left, you will see many big and bright-color Villosa pitcher plant in the shrubs. This species is endemic to Kinabalu Park of Sabah.

flora of Kinabalu Park
Along the trails, be sure to keep your eyes open for the plenteous interesting vegetation to check out. The unique ecology is what makes Kinabalu Park the UNESCO World Heritage Site, not just the Mt. Kinabalu. Kinabalu Park has the highest density of orchid species in the world.

ultrabasic rocks of Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: you will see the yellow path. These yellow rocks are 40-million-year-old ultrabasic or ultramafic rocks, and it is an interesting geology feature of Kinabalu Park.

ultramafic forest of Kinabalu Park
Pic: Ultramafic forest of Kinabalu Park.
Very few plant can adapt to the poor nutrients of ultrabasic soil, that’s why most vegetation in this area looks odd, as if you enter another planet.

trail with big boulders
Pic: when you see the trail with big boulders, congratulations! You are quite near to Laban Rata now. The boulders are slippery after rain so watch your steps. A walking pole will help you to balance.

Laban Rata resthouse of Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: Hooray! Laban Rata! You are now 3,272 metres above sea level. This is the accommodation where most climbers spend a night.

restaurant of Laban Rata
Pic: the restaurant of Laban Rata where you claim your meals. You better reach Laban Rata before the restaurant closes at 7:30pm.

view from Laban Rata
The scenery at Laban Rata is fantastic! Just enjoy the view with a cup of hot coffee in your hand. The dense cloud is under your feet. The sunset view at Laban Rata is one of the best in Sabah.

room of Laban Rata
Pic: without heater, my room was freezing cold…

There are overnight accommodations provided for climbers on the mountain (Laban Rata Rest House, Gunting Lagadan Hut, and Waras Hut). The rooms are humbly decorated but are comfortably equipped thick blankets, bunk beds, as well as clean drinking water.

cold temperature on Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: the temperature on the mountain can be lower than 10°C (50°F) and windy day makes it worse. It can be near freezing point near the summit so wear warm clothing.

Good Night! Sleep earlier because you need to wake up very early next day.

“Though perhaps not the highest mountain in the world, it is of immense height” (captain Alexander Dalrymple, 1769)

Day 2: Conquer Mt. Kinabalu

The climb to the summit resumes at 2am the next morning. The climb from Laban Rata to the summit normally takes 4 to 5 hours. To cut down weight, you leave unnecessary stuffs in Laban Rata. There is no water point to the summit. Carrying 600ML is quite enough as you won’t feel really thirsty under cold temperature.

climbing in the dark
The climb will start with steep ascend for more than an hour. Then you will come to a section which is the most challenging part and requires you to hold onto a rope to move side way along a steep slope in the dark. Just proceed slowly and cautiously.

alpine forest of Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: the sub alpine vegetation of high altitude

Sayat-Sayat checkpoint
Pic: The Sayat-Sayat checkpoint. You need to register here so you can earn the certificate.

view at 7KM
Pic: the nice view at 7th KM, where you can see Kota Belud town.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Peak of Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: Tunku Abdul Rahman Peak of Mt. Kinabalu

alpine vegetation
Pic: As you move upward to higher alpine zone, the vegetation will become thinner, so is the air. You will feel that your body is heavier and get tired easily.

Donkey Ear Peak of Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: the beautiful Donkey Ear Peak. At this point, due to exhaustion, you would start to curse around and say “Why am I doing here?”. Be patient, my friend, you will be rewarded dearly later.

South Peak of Mount Kinabalu
Pic: South Peak, the most photogenic peak of Mt. Kinabalu.

St. John Peak of Gunung Kinabalu
Pic: St John Peak, the 2nd highest peak (4090.7M). See the face in the peak?

Low's Peak the summit
Pic: The last peak to conquer, Low’s Peak. The summit is on its tip. A daunting view to tired climbers..

Sacrifice Pool at Low's Peak
Pic: “Wishing Pool” at the Low’s Peak.

trail to the summit of Mount Kinabalu
Pic: the last rope section to drain your last energy reserve. You have come this far so you must make it!

tourists on the summit of Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: Finally, the Summit! 50,000 climbers leaves their footsteps here annually. Despite the hardship, none of them shows a face of regret on the summit. You have only an hour to enjoy the moment of your sweet victory, as the guide will ask you to leave before 8am, because the mountain will be covered in dense fog shortly (poor visibility).

Bonus: If you reach the summit before 6am, you will be rewarded by the beautiful sunrise view on the highest mountain of Borneo.

More Tips and Advices

  1. Pack Light. Don’t carry more than 6 Kg of weight for the climb. Those bringing huge backpacks can hire porters (for extra fee) to carry their bags for them.
  2. The climate is cool with an average temperature range of 15°C to 24°C (59°F to 75°F) at the Kinabalu Park Headquarters and 6°C to 10°C (42°F to 50°F) on the mountain. Climbers are recommended to wear breathable cotton clothing and comfortable pair of hiking boots.
  3. Climbers are also reminded to be ready with torch lights, raincoats and warm clothes in case it rains and the temperature drops.
  4. Descending stresses your knee and muscle more than ascending. Try to descend slowly to avoid serious joint and muscle pain later.
  5. Trail can be slippery after rain. Wear comfortable trekking or hiking shoes with good grip (best if it’s waterproof).
  6. Stay with your group and Mountain Guide at all times. Never walk off trail.
  7. Don’t climb if you have ailments such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and other sickness that severely affects your fitness.
  8. Always book the tour with licensed tour agent. There have been cases tourists cheated by unlicensed agents.
  9. You may check out more photos of Mt. Kinabalu in my online album

Things to Bring

  • Passport / MyKad (for registration)
  • Proof of Accommodation Booking
  • Drinking Water (in Refillable 1 Litre water bottle)
  • LED Headlamp (head torch)
  • Energy Bars / Chocolate Bars
  • Light Backpack (best if come with raincover)
  • Raincoat / Poncho (Murphy’s Law says it’ll rain if you don’t bring one)
  • Toiletries (tissue paper, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste)
  • Warm Clothing (Wind breaker, Fleece)
  • Extra clothing and socks
  • Towel
  • Cash
  • Camera with spare Battery
  • Medication such as painkiller, headache or altitude sickness tablet
  • Plastic bags: to store rubbish and soil clothing
  • Condom
  • Optional: hand gloves, walking pole, sunblock lotion, sunglass

I hope you find this guide useful. Please feel free to add your tips in Comment section to perfect this guide for everyone.

Nova Renata

Author: Nova Renata is a freelance writer and editor based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. When not writing at her desk, she will be cuddling her cat, clocking some miles or rolling on the mats. She aspires to be a best-selling author with solid six pack abs one day. Read Nova’s blog at http://novarenata.tumblr.com and visit her Linked In profile.

Photos taken in Mt. Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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  • Tradewind

    smokehead, i think i recognise 2 of your ‘the way’ one is KK bird santuary, the other is the steps up to mount K. what are the other 3 ‘ways’?

  • Smoke Head

    :-)
    Top row:
    left: Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary
    centre: Monsopiad Village
    right: Mount Kinabalu

    Bottom row:
    left: KK City Bird Sanctuary
    right: Sepilok Jungle Resort

  • anthony

    where is kk bird sanctuary? i only saw the sign board only?

  • Smoke Head

    anthony, if u go to Likas Square from Sport Complex, you will see the KK City Bird Sanctuary sign at the left, before the traffic light. just turn left at the sign and go straight about 100 m and u will see the office and the park. fyi, it is close on every Monday.

  • Marie Vasques

    Hello Smoke Head,
    such a beautiful place to visit. I’m tired of the so commercialize places like jamaica,aruba and so on here in the Carebian. I love to go on my own and being an American young woman, what do you thing of my safety at this time in Sabah. I heard so much nagetive as far as the Foreigners Security in Sabah in particular. Ur pics are so beautifully taken, its so alive to me, tell me about the birds flu too, I never been to any asian countries and want to make Sabah being the first in my list. Really good jobs on this site. dont email me, its office email just publish here thanks

  • Smoke Head

    marie, it is quite safe to travel in sabah. well, crime is something happen in every country. as long as u r cautious (e.g. don’t walk at night at quiet place alone), u will have a good time here. as a matter of fact, sabah is even safer than the countries who issued warning about the safety in sabah. there was/is no bird flu and SARS case here. welcome to sabah.

  • LHS

    Another excellent guide. Well done!

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    Thanks LHS. My blog won’t be complete without a guide to climb Mt. KInabalu. :-) Let’s see how much Google appreciates the info and hope this article won’t be buried under tons of useless links.

  • Caro

    Thanks for this very useful post! I just got back from a few days in Sabah, and was thinking of doing this climb sometime this year. Perhaps you can also post a list of suitable clothing/shoes/gear?

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    You are welcome Caro. You may wear any comfortable clothing such as fleece & jacket that can keep you warm around 5 degree Celsius. It is better if it comes with hood, as the mountain can be windy. For other stuffs, please check out the Things to Bring section.

  • Nana

    OMG….y condom?!

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    Haha, it’s just a joke. Funny thing will happen if someone just copy & paste the list without reading it carefully. :-D

  • Wewe

    Really good post! My friend(non-sabahan) went climbing in 2011 and book through SSL, it was only Rm590 for 2 pax, 3D2N. Why did the price raised so high?

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    Thanks Wewe. :-) I include other cost such as transport, mountain guide, permit, etc., so the fee looks higher.

  • Muahaha

    May I know which travel agents that offer the rate that is shown? Any recommendation? Thanks.

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy
  • reen

    thank you very much. Your site have help me alot

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    You are welcome Reen :)

  • Choo HG

    Very informative site. Attempted Mt Kinabalu three times and only reached the summit once in 2011. I was breathless after Sayat Sayat Hut. Considering climbing again in Jun next year. Can I take the challenge again?

  • Divya Shankari

    A very informative post! Thanks :)

  • EADV

    email to info@exotic-adventure.com for the best rates

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    You are welcome Divya :-)

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    You should, Choo. I’m never tired of its beautiful view and still climbing it whenever possible. :-)

  • Hamidon

    Very informative. Will be in KK this January 2014. Can we go for lower ground only say Lowii shelter?

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    Hi Hamidon, yes you can. I was told that we can register at the gate and hike up to Layang-Layang Hut (at 4th KM). You only need to pay RM$5 for the visitor pass.

  • Dénes Csala

    Video of my one day hike. Feel free to contact for any questions! :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVVAM_Pax5o

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    Hi Dénes, I’m so impressed. What time did you reach the summit?

  • Dénes Csala

    Hi Murphy! Thank you, around 12:10PM

  • Anna

    Hi, Tadpole. can u please advise if you can help to advise what to see for 8days stay in KK best? I have some things i want to look over but need somebody’s advise. My mails is zilevitch@mail.ru and skype is tsarana. if you could contact me there – would be really great!

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    Sure Anna, you may e-mail me at me@mysabah.com. I’ll try my best to answer your question.

  • Ivy Loh

    What a truly fantastic, non bias, clear & precise article.

    Thank you so much Nova for it possible for me to plan as “perfectly” and “unpainfully” as I could.

    Bravo.

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    Thank you too for your kind comment, Ivy. Nova will be very happy to hear this. ^_^

  • เดินขาขวิด มุ่งสู่อเมริกาใต้

    PLEASE UPDATE PRICE FOR CLIMBING.

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    Thanks for the reminder. I’ll visit their office soon to check for the latest rate.

  • http://www.mysabah.com/ Murphy

    I’ve updated the price (of year 2014)