Day Climb on The Summit Trail of Kinabalu
Summit Trail is the trail that you will be using to climb to the Mount Kinabalu peak. After having a nice rest overnight at Kinabalu Park HQ chalet, you should wake up before 6.30am and get ready with all your climbing gear. Have a breakfast and go to the Kinabalu Park HQ office to get your climbing permit, a name tag, your guide and maybe porter (if necessary). You will be taken to the Timpohon Gate, the entrance to the summit trail where you will start climbing. Buses are provided by the park for climbers and it will cost about RM5 per person. It is a 15 minutes drive along the 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) winding and a steep uphill road leads to directly to the gate.
Most climbers will start their climbing at 8.00am from Timpohon Gate. After a short registration at the gate, you will be surprised that the short first section of the rough gravel and sand track leads down, not up, across small gully to join the main flank of the mountain, and past the little trickle of Carson's falls, named after the first Park Warden.
From here the trail rises steadily as a series of rough, uneven steps, right up to the overnight huts at Laban Rata (3,272 meters/10,735 feet). Along the way there will be 7 shelters (pondok), where each shelter have toilets and untreated mountain water source. The shelters afford the weary some well earned rest at intervals and the water tanks will make it easy for you as you do not have to carry heavy water bottles with you. The average time taken to reach Laban Rata is about four or five hours.
The first trail shelter, Pondok Kandis, is reached at 1,981 meters (6,499 feet), where excellent views are to be had looking down to the coast (southwest). It is a steep 30 minutes climb to the shelter.
Continuing along the Summit Trail for another 20 minutes, you will arrive at Pondok Ubah, 2095 meters (6874 feet). It is a shelter just below a well known site for what must be one of Borneo's most unusual pitcher plants, Nephentes sp. It might be slightly off the trail, but you could ask your guide to point out it to you.
Soon after, an overgrown track leads off left to the radio station, but the main trail continues to the right contouring around the ridge. The forest becomes thicker and mossy, tree ferns are abundant and everywhere the long spiky shoots of climbing bamboo pierce the mist. You will arrive in Pondok Lowii (2286 meters, 7500 feet) after 30 minutes of climbing. The air is damp and green moss and ferns carpet the ground and stunted trees. The trail splits soon afterwards, leading to Sabah Radio and Television Station, a restricted area on the left, and the continuation of the Summit Trail on the right. The trail winds through the dwarf forest. Clouds often envelop the trees which festooned with ferns and orchids.
After 40 minutes you will arrive at Pondok Mempening (2518 meters, 8262 feet) with wild begonias growing nearby. Stops at these shelters give you time to observe the squirrels, tree-shrews and birds that seems so unafraid and come looking for discarded food on the ground.
Soon you will emerge onto an open exposed ridge at Layang-Layang 2,702 meters (8865 feet), where a small tin hut provides a welcome resting place (though not an overnight stop) for weary climbers. It was a 30 minutes journey. Here wild raspberries and a view to the East make a rest or lunch stop enjoyable. At this point a band of ultramafic soil, distinguished by its orange-cinnamon colour, crosses the trail and the vegetation changes dramatically. The forest becomes shorter and much more open and is dominated by the second species of Leptospermum that grows on Kinabalu, L. recurvum, with its tiny grey leaves. This is also the zone of insect-eating pitcher plants which Kinabalu is famous.
After about 45 minutes and at about 2,690 meters (8,825 feet), you will arrive at Pondok Villosa. It is situated at the top of an open rocky patch and soon the forest becomes more stunted. Superb vistas can be had of the mountain towering above you as you follow the path upwards. At the top of this open area at about 3,050 meters (10,000 feet), a small track leads off to a helipad on the right and it is worth making this five minutes side trip for the dramatic view of the towering peaks from the helipad on a clear day. Shortly after the helipad junction, you suddenly leave the ultramafic soils. The forest again changes back to taller trees draped thickly in mosses, and orchids cover the ground in between tumble granite boulders.
Another 45 minutes of journey, you will arrive at the seventh shelter, Pondok Paka at 3,080 meters (10,105 feet), named after the Paka Cave nearby, famous as the place where Low, Whitehead and others slept before making the final assault on the summit. The Paka cave, on the edge of a small stream, is really nothing more than a large overhanging rock. It can be reached along a rather overgrown track to the left, which continues above the cave to join the main trail higher up. This detour is fairly steep but takes only a little longer than the standard route.
The thinning air makes it harder to breathe, but the accomodation complex of Laban Rata lies about another 40 minutes ahead. The Laban Rata Resthouse is equipped with running water, electricity, a restaurant and indor showers and toilets. Electric heaters are provided in the rooms (in Laban Rata resthouse) as well as blankets. This is the resting place for most climbers. You can have your meal, wash yourself up and just have a nice rest with your travel guidebook to read.
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