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Mesilau Trail of Mount Kinabalu - The alternative route to the summit of Borneo

Mesilau Trail is an alternative trail to climb Mount Kinabalu. It starts from Mesilau Nature Resort, 15 kilometers away past Kinabalu Park HQ. To reach the resort, you have to follow the highway past the Kinabalu Park HQ, 6 kilometers (4 miles) down to Kundasang. Just beyond the vegetable stalls that are such a feature of Kundasang, the road turns left for another 11 kilometers (7 miles), descending steeply to cross the small Liwagu river.

Kundasang is the centre of the highland vegetable industry in Sabah and rows of cabbages, tomatoes and onions terrace the hillsides. It is here, in the shadow of Kinabalu, that the garden memorial to allied soldiers who died during the second world war was erected.

Road to Mesilau Nature Resort

The Mesilau Trail leading from Mesilau Nature Resort to Layang-Layang (Carson's Camp) on the Summit Trail was opened only in October 1998. This route is used mainly for scientists and researchers as it takes longer (about 5-6 hours to Layang-Layang from Mesilau, as compared to 2-3 hours on the standard route to Timpohon Gate), and many parts are steep and slippery, particularly in wet weather. If you wish to use this trail, you must register and pay a small fee either at the Kinabalu Park HQ or the Mesilau Gate before they start.

The start of the trail from Mesilau Gate up to the first steep descent is an enjoyable walk in itself that only takes about one hour, one way. The trail starts from a shelter just above the reception office in the tall oak-chestnut forest, but conifers soon become more common and climbing bamboos dominate the undergrowth.

Vegetable stalls at Kundasang town

After about 20 minutes, near the ridge crest at about 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), the forest suddenly becomes much shorter and more stunted, with rocks and boulders jumbled among tangled tree roots, covered in spongy mosses and liveworts.

The path soon rises steeply once again to an open patch, before levelling off slightly, still following the narrowing ridge crest which opens out at the top (2,286 meters/7,475 feet), giving stunning views of the mountain above, if it is clear, and of the waterfalls and rock faces above the resort, as well as views over to the Trus Madi range to the south-east.

The ridge-top is reached just before the 1.5 km mark. Here the trail starts to descend quite steeply down the other side, through taller forest with climbing bamboos. Some little streams are crossed before reaching the Kipuyut bridge, a suspension bridge across the swift-floating West Mesilau river at 2,073 meters (6,778 feet), that cascades down from the precipitous slopes of the Eastern plateau above. A little further on, near the 3 km mark, a small tributary of the West Mesilau is crossed.

Fruit stalls at Kundasang town

From here the trail follows the ridge, rising steeply and continuously, up and up and up in almost never-ending series of steps for about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles), with occasional views across to the Summit Trail as you get higher. At last you reach a very narrow col which joins onto the main Kinabalu massif. From here another 500 meters (0.25 mile) of trail, more or less contouring around the massif, will bring you out onto the Summit Trail, a little way above Layang-Layang (Carson's Camp). The whole route from Mesilau to Layang-Layang is 5.7 kilometers (3.5 miles).

This route has been advertised in the past as an alternative route to the first part of the summit climb, but it is very much longer and more ardous than the standard trail which is only about 3 km (2 miles) from Timpohon Gate to Layang-Layang. It is recommended that the Mesilau route is walked separately.

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