Minitinduk Gorge is the ancient gateway to Mt. Kinabalu, as it is on “The Hugh Low Trail”, an original summit trail used by documented first male climbers, Sir Hugh Low (1851) and Sir John Whitehead (1888), and female climber, Lillian Gibbs (1910), of Mt. Kinabalu, the highest peak of Malaysia. After another “tourist” trail opens in 1924 (by R.F. Evan and Sarel), climbers / tourists are no longer using this trail located in Kampung Kiau (Kiau Village) of Kota Belud district.
Last month I joined a 2-day-1-night camping trip organized by The Sabah Society to explore the gorge. The weather was good for the past few days until we departed in the afternoon, but the heavy downpour didn’t hold us back. By 2:30pm, we reached the junction to Kampung Kiau (Kiau Village), which is a few Kilometers (KM) after Nabalu and 29 KM before Ranau, and where we met up with Mr. Martin Moguring, our guide from Kinabalu Park. Dr. Ravi, the co-writer of the book “The Hugh Low Trail”, is the organizer of this trip.
Then we drove to the school in Kiau Village, which takes another 30 minutes. We parked our cars in the village and walked to the starting point, just a stone throw away from the village. We were told in advance that we will cross multiple small rivers, so most of us were wearing short. Our group also hired 3 porters (Rony, Abinus and Bengent) to carry some of our bags and supplies.
Jungle Trekking & River Crossing
The distance from Kiau Village to Minitinduk Gorge is only 3.5 KM and take about 2 hours of trekking. For the first day, we walk 3 KM to Sambatang Cave and camp there. The second day we walk from the cave to the Gorge, which is only 500 Meters away. FYI, the gorge is in a private land outside of the Kinabalu Park boundary.
In the beginning, we passed through the farmland, mainly consists of paddy, maize, ginger and other food crops.
Pretty soon we entered the secondary forest, characterized by dense undergrowth. It is still raining so it’s very humid in the forest and this “activates” the little brown forest leeches that live in deeper jungle and love wet environment (and our blood!). There are not many of them and most are only 1cm in length. I had seen forest leeches 5 times bigger in primary rainforest, so these tiny-sized blood suckers didn’t bother me. I didn’t even feel that I got one leech bite until I saw my leg bleeds.
Though it’s a newly generated forest, there are still potential dangers around. Like the harmless looking plant in photo above, its leaves are poisonous and able to make your skin really painful and itchy when touched. But there are many “good” plant too, Martin shows us some plant that can be used as food, preservatives or herbal medicines by local people.
As I’m an experienced hiker, the trail is not rugged and I consider it as an easy walk, not strenuous and challenging at all. Most of the time, we moved on the nature trail adjacent to the Kadamaian River and its tributaries such as Kolapis, and there are about 10 river crossing. But I’m not so used to river crossing. After heavy rain, the rivers rose, turning swift and deep.
Though the depth of river only reaches our knee level, the current is strong enough to push you down if you don’t stand firm. The worst thing is the murky water caused by heavy rain, we can’t see the irregular bottom. We had to cross slowly, probing the depth in front with one foot to avoid stepping into deeper water. I almost fell into the icy-cold water with my camera once.
My best advise is – Trust NO rock and boulder near the river. They all look deceptively safe to step on, but they offer zero friction, after being “waxed” by the river for a long time!
Our socks are soaking wet. Only Dr. Ravi walks with happy dry feet. He also shows us his simple solution – just drill a hole on the shoe for draining of water, lol.
As we were moving further up the river, the boulders get bigger and bigger and see more and more cascading streams, the characteristics of river upstream. The water is so clean, unlike other milk-tea color rivers caused by excessive logging in upstream area (e.g. Padas) of Sabah.
Finally we reach Sambatang Cave at 5:30pm!
Actually Sambatang Cave is a cavernous space under an overhanging huge boulder. It can accommodate 3 to 4 people.
Since the daylight is vanishing, we quickly setup 3 camping tents on the flat area near the cave.
According to the porters, Sambatang Cave is an ideal natural shelter, even the heaviest rain can’t flood the cave.
The porters collected some wood and started a camp fire to “smoke” the cave, as the smell can keep creepy animals such as snake and centipede away from the cave. I’m so happy to keep my feet dry and warm.
Light not only attract insect, it also draws human. After having instant noodle as dinner and a few rounds of hot coffee, everyone squeezes into this small cave to warm themselves up with camp fire.
When I started to see bugs crawling around the cave, I decided to take a night walk to check out the bug party in forest.
Above: a stick insect pretends or thinks that it’s a stick.
You can hear a lot of frog calls near the river.
Same as frog, toad is everywhere too.
Above: This little green frog is almost invisible on the green fern.
When the night is late, I go to bed in Sambatang Cave, which is also the place the early explorers like Sir John Whitehead and Lilian Gibbs spent their night before heading to the summit, as described in their chronicles more than a hundred years ago. Do remember to bring floor mat and sleeping bag if you plan to sleep inside the cave. Torchlight / LED headlamp is needed if you want to do your business in dark night. The night was so cold that I can feel the chill in my 7°C-grade sleeping bag.
What’s for Breakfast?
My biological clock waked me up at 6am next morning. I saw the porters busy preparing breakfast. From their happy smiles, they must be waiting for something really tasty.
Out of curiosity, I take a look what is inside the pot. Oh dear, those are the frogs they catch. No wonder I saw them searching for something along the river last night. Well, I was there hunting for frog photos but they hunt for the frog meat.
Then they grill the frog over the fire. Please note that only certain frog species are edible as some are poisonous. You can find the edible frogs for sales in local native market called “Tamu”. Species such as Limnonectes ingeri (greater swamp frog), Limnonectes kuhlii (Large-headed Frog) and Limnonectes leporinus (Giant River Frog) yield high demand as food by local people.
Above: almost done…
They gave a frog leg for me to try. Being open-minded and “adventurous”, I eat it. To my surprise, the frog meat is so sweet and tender. It is slightly chewy but taste a lot better than chicken, trust me.
After breakfast, we leave our bags in cave and head to Minitinduk Gorge, which is only 500 Meters away. 15 minutes later, we exit the dense canopy and see Minitinduk Gorge is right in front of us! Minitinduk means “the meeting of two beaks” in Dusun language. The gorge looks like a twin towers less than 50 feet from each other, with Kadamaian River flows between them. Someone believe the gap is even narrower and both sides almost touching each other in the past, as a legend says a Kiau couple can jump over to the other side, when they try to escape from a group of headhunters from Bundu Tuhan.
We take a group photo with banner. We look so small in the photo. The gorge is about 150 feet in height. There is a theory saying that the gorge was once a waterfall with a lake at the bottom. One day the waterfall collapsed and creates the gap that bisected the hill, based on a historical record that there should be a lake under Mt. Kinabalu but is never found.
Inside the gorge is an opening with Kadamaian River flows between the vertical rocky cliffs. Even though tourists nowadays don’t use this trail, the Kadazandusun people believe this is still the holy trail for the spirits of the dead to go to their final resting place, the Mount Kinabalu, and this gorge is the gate. It sounds scary when our day of visit coincides with the Chinese ghost festival day.
The water of Kadamaian River is from Mt. Kinabalu. It looks cleaner than our tap water and nice for a dip. Too bad I didn’t bring my swim trunk.
If you follow the ancient trail further upstream, you can reach the summit trail of tourists at Lowii or Paka Shelter of Mt. Kinabalu. On the way, you will see super-huge Kadamaian Waterfall. Someone estimate the height of Kadamaian Waterfall is about 250 to 350 Meters and could be the tallest waterfall of Malaysia.
Enough with photo-taking, we left Minitinduk Gorge. It is really a nice trip over the weekend.
We packed our backpack and go back to Kota Kinabalu city at 11am. Personally I would like to thank The Sabah Society members who spent months of research to retrace this historical trail. You may watch the 6-minute video on our trip to Minitinduk Gorge.
You may check out the photo album of Minitinduk Gorge for more nice pictures:
“The Hugh Low Trail: The Quest for the Historical Trail to the Summit of Kinabalu” by Dr. Ravi Mandalam, Dr. Chin Shui Hiung and Christopher Chin, published by The Sabah Society, Jan 2004
Photos taken in Kota Belud, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo