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The Geology of Mount Kinabalu

"That... thing... must be near as high as Mount Everest." - World War II pilot, quoted by Tom Harrison, 1959

Mount Kinabalu is split down the middle by a 1 1/2 kilometer deep gorge. The result is a "U" shape, with the two sides Kinabalu East and Kinabalu West, stretching over a kilometer apart. This led people to assume that the mountain was an old volcano. However, recent evidence proves differently. It reveals Mount Kinabalu as the youngest granite pluton in the world.

Mount Kinabalu

In order to understand the geology of this mountain, we must go back 35 million years when Borneo was submerged beneath the sea. Marine sediments began accumulating where Mount Kinabalu now stands. Powerful forces of pressure and temperature transformed the ocean mud into layers of rocky sandstone and shale. These were uplifted to form a range of mountains, now the Crocker Range which runs through East Malaysia.

In the Pliocene period, about 15 million years ago, a huge ball of molten rock was forced beneath the Crocker Range. As this rock hardened it formed a granite mound, called a pluton, deep beneath the earth's crust. Only a million years ago this pluton was forced upward through the Crocker Range.

Mount Kinabalu

The process continues and Mount Kinabalu, presently 4095 meters (13,435 feet), is still growing half a centimeter (1/4 inch) every year. The sandstone and shale which once covered the granite have eroded away to reveal the underlying rock.

As you climb the mountain you can see that the geological story does not end here. During the Pleistocene glaciers covered the summit, altering the topography still more. Glaciation ended only a few thousand years ago and left its mark on the mountain. At 3,300 meters (10,800 feet), particularly behind Paka Cave, you can see where the tip of glacier pushed many different sized rocks before it, forming a moraine. The jagged peaks of the summit remained above the glacier but ice sheets smoothed over the remainder of this area.

Mount Kinabalu

Since then, the effects of chemical weathering, heating, and cooling have also transformed the mountain's surface. The outer shell of granite has split along weak points formed when molten granite solidified next to the old layered rock. Water freezing and melting in the rock cracks has helped to break the outer face down even more. The tiled appearence of the summit results from thin layers of rock flaking off.

The varied forces at work on the mountain have left a summit of bare rock eroded into fantastic chasms and pinnacles. The stark beauty and strength of the peak emanate from the force of its creation.

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