Can you believe that you only need to hike 1.6 Kilometers (about a mile) to the peak of Maragang Hill, for one of the most spectacular views of Mount Kinabalu (the highest mountain of Malaysia)? I felt a bit guilty when I conquered Maragang Hill, so easy that it’s like cheating. The closer you are to Mount Kinabalu, the more stunning her scenery, and Maragang Hill is probably the hill nearest to Mount Kinabalu.
With a height of 2,232 Metres (7,323 Feet) and located in Mesilau (of Kundasang, Sabah), Maragang Hill is a gigantic stairway for climbers to meet our giant mountain up-close. Maragang is the Dusun (Sabah’s native) name of Red or Maroon Leaf Monkey (Scientific Name: Presbytis rubicunda), an elusive monkey endemic to Borneo. You can see Red Leaf Monkey as a “hill monkey”. Unlike other primates which avoid high altitude, Red Leaf Monkey is adapted to the highland habitats. In Jan 2021, four Maragang were spotted in Panalaban (3,272 Metres above sea level!!!) of Mount Kinabalu and the discovery went viral.
About the Climb
Climbing Maragang Hill requires very little preparation and the trip takes only half-day. You only need to book the tour in advance. The hiking distance to the peak of Maragang Hill is only 1.6 Kilometer one way. You can reach the summit in an hour if you are really fit. Normally most people take 1.5 hours to reach the top. Yes, 2,232 Meters sounds high, but the climb starts at 1,835 Metres above sea level, so you only need to move up 397 Meters to conquer Maragang Hill.
The following is the standard schedule of the climb:
- 6:00am Registration at the admin office (in Mesilau)
- 6:30am Transfer to the starting point
- 6:45am Safety briefing by your guide
- 7:00am Start climbing
- 8:30am Reach the peak of Maragang Hill
- 10:00am Descend to the starting point
- 11:30am End of climb
Sunrise Hike starts at 3:00am but the flow is the same.
My Climbing Experience
I was climbing Maragang Hill with 4 friends last month. We didn’t want to drive 3 hours in midnight to rush from Kota Kinabalu (KK) to Mesilau, so we spent a night in Kundasang, which is only 15 minutes away from Mesilau by car. Next day we waked up around 5am to prepare for the climb. It was so windy and chilling in the morning. Though it’s only 20°C (68°F), I wore three layers of clothing (two T-shirt and a jacket) to keep warm. You can watch the walkthrough video below if you don’t want to read further.
We arrived the registration center (admin office) of Maragang Hill in Kampung Mesilou before 6am. After parking our car in the village, we registered, made payment, met our guide, and signed the indemnity form. Funny thing is, it wasn’t windy at Mesilau.
The paper work only took us a few minutes. Then we and our guide were transferred by a 4-wheel drive to the starting point about 4 KM away. On the back of the truck, we had an open view of the scenic mountain and countryside views along the way. We passed through Mount Kinabalu Golf Club and the lovely pine tree road.
Our vehicle reached the starting point of our climb within 15 minutes. The place is not far away from Mitraville Meditation Centre (慈观法林). There is a toilet for climbers. A mountain guide is assigned to my group because nobody is allowed to climb without a local guide, for your safety. A guide can take care up to 5 climbers.
After a short briefing by our guide, we started our 1.6-KM hike at 6:23am. We reached the peak at 8:10am, after 1 hours and 47 minutes, slightly longer than the average 1.5 hours. This is because we went slow and stopped many times to take pictures.
The first 200 Meters of the climb is quite steep but not difficult. In fact, I prefer to call this as hiking, as there was almost no climbing at all. There are support such as boardwalk, ropes and wooden steps at some steep sections. It is not tough, even to people who are lack of exercise.
Most of the time we walked under the cover of canopy, which protected us from harsh sunlight. The cooling temperature reduced the fatigue and dehydration of our overheat muscles. 500ML of drinking water is sufficient, which is half the amount of my hike in lowland.
After 500 Meters of hiking, our bodies were getting warm, so everyone took off their jacket. There was no leech (pacat) in our trail. But my sweat attracted a few buzzing and annoying blood sucker, deer flies. They hovered around me, trying to land on my skin for a feast. They lost interest and left when I stopped sweating profusely.
At 6:56am, we took a short break at a gazebo, which has a toilet behind it. You can refill your drinking bottle with untreated water from the big water tank there (not recommended though).
In general it’s an undulating terrain, with flat ground in between. Whenever I was about to get exhausted, a gentle slope or ridge would come next and allowed me to catch my breath.
We reached trail markers labelled with 200 M, 500 M, 1 KM, and 1.3 KM, which show the distance we have covered, at 6:38am, 6:51am, 7:21am and 7:51am respectively. For me, they are morale boosters.
The vegetation on Maragang Hill is tropical montane cloud forest, similar to the high altitude forest of Kinabalu park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its plant diversity. Most trees in montane forest are shorter than 15 Meters. It’s also known as cloud forest because it’s frequented by mist, and characterized by tree trunks and branches blanketed with ferns, mosses, liverworts, epiphytes and other moist-loving plant.
To be specific, Maragang Hall is dominated by Ericaceous Forest thrives between 1,800 and 2,400 Meters. Red Leaf Monkey loves to feed on the nuts from the oak trees here. The gnarled and stunted forms of Leptospermum and Dacrydium plant turn the forest into a strange garden. If it’s flowering season, you would see native orchids and wild rhododendron blooming along the trail.
Occasionally we stopped to give way to the descending climbers who return from their sunrise hike, which started at 3am. I was told that the sunrise hike was fully booked (40 slots) and it’s more popular than standard day hike, which had only 11 climbers that day. We already plan to do sunrise hike in the future before we finish our normal hike.
At 7:47am, we came to a long boardwalk that looked like red carpet. A few minutes later we passed by the 1.3 KM marker, and finally we reached the peak after another 20 more minutes. We walked out of the dense bush and greeted by the majestic Mount Kinabalu.
All of us rushed to the platform and took selfie with Mount Kinabalu like crazy, as if we saw a superstar. What a brilliant idea to build 2-Meter raised platform above the summit shrubs, so there is no tall shrub obstructs our 360 degree view.
There are three platforms connected to one another by 20 Meters of boardwalk, forming a U-shape walkway. Each platform offers different viewpoint of the mountain and its vast landscape. The second platform gives us a panoramic view of Mesilau and Kundasang from Maragang Hill.
Only on Maragang Hill, climbers can have a good look of the jagged peaks on Eastern Plateau such as Red Rock Peak, Lion Head Peak, King Edward Peak, Mesilau Peak, and Mesilau Pinnacles. Red Rock Peak is the most prominent due to its crown shape.
It’s a sea of green carpets the foothill of Mount Kinabalu. The lush rolling hills are dotted with flowering trees. I noticed some exposed rockface in the forested slopes, the scars left by landslide in earthquake of 2015. Sad but our mother mountain will recover.
To have better chance of seeing Mount Kinabalu in clear view, it’s advisable to reach the peak of Maragang Hill before 8:30am. In most days, the mountain would be enveloped in dense fog after 9am. Probably that’s why many climbers opt for sunrise hike, so they can get up here as early as possible, and the starry sky is also a bonus view.
You can fly a drone on the peak as long as it doesn’t fly inside the boundary of Kinabalu Park administered by Sabah Parks. Maragang Hill is managed by Mesilou Ecotourism Association (META) of the local community. They claim Maragang Hill is the highest community nature reserve in Malaysia.
In most cases, climbers choose to descend from the same trail. To explore more, we went for the loop trail (Ascending 1.6 KM to the peak and Descending 2.7 KM via different route), which is more challenging and longer than the ascending trail.
The descending trail is less pristine and looks like a regenerated secondary forest in good condition. The trail is steeper and narrower, with many rope support. Some interesting flora and fauna are spotted on the way down, for example, mushroom and fungus, liana vines, trilobite beetles (Duliticola sp.) feeding on rotten wood. We heard calling of montane birds such as Crested Yuhina, white-throated fantail, Mountain Barbet, Barber and Trogon, and also a wreathed hornbill flied over the canopy.
Our guide asked us to watch out for Fire-lipped Keelback (Scientific name: Rhabdophis murudensis), a rare snake endemic to Sabah. When threatened, it can exude a white milky venom from the back of its neck as a defensive mechanism. I wished to see one though.
My group descended at 9:16am and arrived the ending point at 11:54am. 800 Meters before the ending point, you will cross a small and crystal clean river and exit through D’La Sri Cottage after 15 more minutes.
A few advices to those who want to try loop trail:
- Carry at least 1 Litre of drinking water to stay comfortable and hydrated.
- Bring some energy snacks with you. You will need these.
- Loop trail is not suitable for climbers with knee problem.
- You will use rope to descend a lot so gloves are necessary for soft skin.
- Hiking pole can help you to move down easier.
How to Book
Maragang Hill is highly rated and should be in the bucket list of Mount Kinabalu fans. Walk-in is not advisable, especially during weekends, as the daily limited slots of 80 to 200 climbers can be fully booked. You can book the tour in advance at maraganghill.com.my.
There are two types of hikes:
- Day Hike (starts at 6am)
- Sunrise Hike (starts at 3am)
The starting price for Day and Sunrise Hike are RM110 (about USD27) and RM150 (about USD36) respectively. FYI, you can save a lot more by group booking. You can have up to 5 climbers per group (to share the same guide), and you only top up RM10 for each climber. For example, if you climb alone in Day Hike, you pay RM110. But if you have 5 climbers in your group, the total price is RM150 per group, after dividing the cost among yourselves, each of you only pay RM30.
Besides guiding service, the price has included return transfer (usually by 4-wheel drive) for moving climbers between registration office and starting point. Certificate is optional and cost RM5.
You need to pay RM30 deposit to secure your booking (and settle the rest in registration office before climbing). However, currently their website doesn’t accept payment by credit card and Paypal. You need a bank account (e.g. Maybank, RHB, CIMB, AmBank, UOB) to bank-in the deposit via FPX.
Booking Loop Trail
By default, climbers use the same 1.6-KM trail for ascending and descending (they call it Normal Trail). You can request for Loop Trail when you check-in at their registration office before the climb. There will be an additional fee of RM30 to RM70 per group, depending on the group size. You can check out the price in their website.
Lastly, they have a campsite with basic amenities near the peak, in case you want to camp on the hill for stargazing. You can message the operator via their Facebook page (@MaragangHill) if you need more information.
Things to Bring
- Mykad / Passport / Identification document
- Face masks
- Warm Clothing (e.g. windbreaker, jacket). Temperature ranges from 15°C to 22°C (59°F to 72°F).
- Extra clothing for change after climb
- Hiking outfit & gears (e.g. hiking pole, gloves, hat, hiking shoes)
- Backpack (best with rain cover)
- Drinking water and energy snacks
- Phone & power bank
- Toilet paper
- Personal medicines if any
- Optional: LED headlamp (for sunrise hike), sunglasses, selfie stick, tripod
How to get there
Book the climb in advance. Before you climb, you need to report to the registration office of Maragang Hill (GPS: 6.012919616415158, 116.59744029807099 [see Location Map]) in Kg. Mesilou, which is 97 KM away from Kota Kinabalu city (KK). This location is highly accessible by highway and paved road.
If you don’t want to drive nearly 3 hours in early morning from KK to Mesilau, you can spend a night in Mesilau or Kundasang, which offers variety of accommodation. The accommodation nearest to the registration office is Sulap. After registration, they will provide the return transportation to the starting point (GPS: 6.033364907654647, 116.58989023443904 [see Location Map]).
If you love climbing and hiking, you may check out my article on 10 Breathtaking Hills and Mountains of Sabah.
Photos taken in Mesilau, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo