Eastern Plateau of Kinabalu – alternative climbing route for hardcore climbers

Do you know that apart from the normal highly commercialize Summit Trail, Mount Kinabalu also has other trail routes for more advance mountain climbers? Mount Kinabalu, which geologically divided into Eastern Plateau and Western Plateau actually offers more adventure for those who really wants to feel the thrill.

Low’s Peak, which is situated on the Western Plateau is easily and highly accessible to most of novice climbers from around the world. However, King Edward and King George Peak on the Eastern Plateau requires more equipments and preparations as it involves more technical climbing.

The eastern plateau can be access from two routes:

  1. Bowen’s Route (Eastern Plateau)
  2. Kotal’s Route (Eastern Plateau via Eastern Ridge)

Eastern Plateau Map on Kinabalu - Bowen’s Route & Kotal’s Route
Click to enlarge

Bowen’s Route

The eastern plateau is about the same area as the western plateau but has a more rugged appearance, with more loose rock. Much more difficult to reach than the western plateau, the first recorded climb was not until 1956 when Myles Bowen and Harry Morris, employees of the oil company Shell, pioneered what is now known as Bowen’s route which starts as a rough track leading off to the right above Panar Laban. The entrance is not marked.

Campers’ Corner PhotoThe track initially leads down more than 300 meters (around 1,000 feet) to skirt a steep rock slab, then through scrubby Leptospermum and Rhododendron forest and through a rock gully to a projecting spur with lovely views, before rising slightly over some small rocky ledges to the rock cliffs at the base of the eastern plateau. From here it is rock climbing all the way, including a seven meter (23 foot) chimney. Aluminum ladders and ropes have been fixed over the most difficult parts of the climb, but this is still dramatic and memorable route and challenging for the non-climber. Permission must be obtained from the park authorities before attempting this route and all climbers must be accompanied by an experienced mountain guide.

Once up onto the plateau itself the terrain is less steep but still rougher than the ice-smoothed slopes of the western plateau, with King Edward Peak (4,086 meters/13,405 feet) to the left and Mesilau Peak (3,801 meters/12,470 feet) to the right. King Edward is the highest point on the eastern plateau but is dangerous even for experienced climbers.

The most accessible peak here, which requires nothing more than a long, hard slog, is King George (4,062 meters/13,330 feet) which gives sweeping views across Low’s Gully to Low’s Peak and the other peaks of the western plateau as well as of the north ridge sloping down into thick montane forest towards Gunung (Mount) Tambuyukon and to the eastern ridge leading down to Poring. A registration book is kept under a rock on King George Peak which climbers are requested to sign.

Kotal’s Route

Adventure Factors photoAnother route to the eastern plateau pioneered during the Royal Society Expeditions in 1964 takes 4-7 days, depending on how large and fit the group is and how fast it is able to travel. This route is sometimes called Kotal’s route after the guide who took the members of the Expedition to the Eastern ridge – though hard and steep, it requires no real climbing ability.

The route starts from Kundasang, goes across the Pinosok plateau and pass the mesilau cave, over the lanslide with Nephentes rajah on the other side of the Mesilau stream to the top of the hill, through ultramafic forest to the small Menteki river about 1,800 meters (5,900 feet). The second day leads up a steep narrow ridge before a 20 minute steep descent to the head of the Bembangan river at about 2,750 meters (9,000 feet), to camp for the night. Very fit climbers can reach this campsite in one day.

The next morning, after trekking back up to the ridge, the trail continues upwards to about 3,250 meters (10,700 feet). Here it opens out at the base of the Mesilau Pinnacles to superb views all around including the curiosity shaped Rhino Horn which blocked the path of the Royal Society Expedition up the eastern ridge from Poring. It is not possible to climb the Pinnacles here and one must continues scrambling around their base, up and down, always steep, often using tree roots and branches to swing down vertical sections of rock or ropes to cross particularly tricky stretches.

At the end of the third or fourth day at the Letingan stream campsite (3,050 meters/10,000 feet), you have gained no altitude but are about halfway round the base of the pinnacles. Excellent views looking north to Gunung Tambuyukon are had from this campsite. The next day the trail continues to wind around the pinnacles, even in one place clambering down a steep waterfall, using ropes, to the Ulu Mekado campsite (3,100 meters/10,200 feet) where, at last, the route leads you to the head of the Mekado valley and up the steep sloping granite onto the eastern plateau.

References:

  1. Globetrotter Visitor’s Guide Kinabalu Park, by Anthea Phillipps
  2. Campers’ Corner
  3. Adventure Factors
  4. Borneo Climbing
  5. Adventure Alternative
  6. Webshots Outdoors
  7. Kinabalu Mesilau-Low’s Gully Expedition 2001

9 thoughts on “Eastern Plateau of Kinabalu – alternative climbing route for hardcore climbers

  1. Hi Leong,

    The best place to ask is the Sabah Park Renjers Office. When you go for your next climb, just make an inquiry about your intention to climb Eastern Plateau. As it is a technical climb, there may be additional equipment that you need.

    Send me an email if you manage to get there.

  2. Hello Drizad,

    I’m so glad for the info posted here. Do you know of any local tour/ group arranging tours climbing mt kinabalu via the Kotal or Bowen Route?.

    Thank.

    Dan

  3. A group of 6 of us from the UK climbed this magnificent route in April 2013. We booked through the UK company adventure alternative who have a office out in Kuching and KK.

    It was unforgetable. Highly recommended for anyone wanting a challenge, but fitness and will power is a must.

  4. Hi Drizad,

    Eastern Plateau is one of my fav spot for training and photography. Normally we camp at UFO rock close to RedRock Peak. Nice Sunrise and Sunset at King George’s Peak since we can see 360 Deg view on top of it… will visit again This place 29 Dis 2014 – 2nd Jan 2015. Happy New Year.

    RD

  5. Hi RD,
    I am climbing King George’s Peak this month 24th & 25th with Dr. Ravi Mandalam and group. I will surely look into your suggestion when I am there. Can’t wait to be there!

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