Mount Kinabalu: The Facts

Back in December 2012 I started training for Mount Kinabalu. Many of you have followed and encouraged my training and I would like to say thank you for the kind words and support. Before I share about my experience I would like to provide some details about the mountain. It is located on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It’s a World Heritage Site and it is the 20th most prominent mountain in the world by topographic prominence. The summit, Low’s Peak, is 13,435 ft (4,095 meters) above sea level. Reaching the summit does not require any mountaineering equipment. However it is important to note that this is not a walk in the park. My paperwork suggested that I speak to my doctor to ensure I was medically fit for this climb. I don’t recommend attempting this if you aren’t used to physical activity. Be prepared.

Hugh Low, a British colonial administrator, completed the first recorded climb of Mount Kinabulu. He reached the summit plateau in 1851. He didn’t attempt to make it to the highest peak since he thought it was “inaccessible to any but winged animals.” In 1888, zoologist, John Whitehead, ascended the highest point. Lilian Gibbs, a British botanist, was the first woman to reach the summit in 1910. In 1964 Kinabalu National Park was created and by 2000, it became a natural World Heritage Site.

No one can climb this mountain without a guide. Some climbers complete it in one day. Many others take 2 days. If you plan on 2 days, like we did, the first day involves a 6 kilometer hike to the Laban Rata Resthouse, which is at 10,730 ft (3,270 meters). The

I thought I had it bad!

I thought I had it bad!

first day usually takes 3 to 6 hours. There are no roads to the top. All supplies for the resthouse are carried by porters. Hot food and beverages are available at Laban Rata. Most of the rooms, except the dining area, don’t have heat and most don’t have hot water in the bathrooms. And it gets cold. Especially if you get caught in the rain on the way up. More on that later.

The second day’s climb is over 2 kilometers. The last bit is on naked granite rock. I didn’t really understand this until I was there. On this day you ascend from 10, 730 ft to 13,436 ft. This increase in altitude may cause difficulty in breathing and moving. I also found it drastically impacts your thinking.

How do you walk on that?

How do you walk on that?

Why did I decide to climb this mountain? When I first started planning the trip, I enlisted the help of two friends who live in Malaysia. One said, “You can’t leave Malaysia before climbing Mount Kinabalu.” She neglected to tell me all the details. I had a feeling it would be tough so I purposefully avoided reading too much about it until I booked the trip and locked myself in. Maybe that was a mistake. Knowledge is power. But I didn’t want fear to win.

When the big day finally arrived, we had a two hour drive from our hotel to the starting point. It was a nervous two hours. Then we arrived at the base and I saw all the hustle and bustle.

No one seems to know what's going on.

No one seems to know what’s going on.

Flip flops? Really?

Flip flops? Really?

This didn’t settle my nerves one bit. Briefly I considered hailing a cab and spending the next two days on the beach. While I was contemplating this, the Better Half was checking us in. Our guide arrived. It was too late. I was committed to the hike. We climbed into a van and headed for the starting point. Here we go!

No one told me about the rocky stairs.

No one told me about the rocky stairs.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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89 Responses to Mount Kinabalu: The Facts

  1. Oh my. I think this is going to be armchair fun and real life hell.

  2. Daniel says:

    One day you’ll laugh about this!

    I have a dream to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, so maybe I should climb Kinabalu as practice 😉

    I’m sure it was a memorable and moving experience though!


    • TBM says:

      I might laugh about this experience one day–I hope so at least. Today I was doctoring one of my minor injuries, so not laughing yet 🙂 This would be good practice for Kilimanjaro. I admire your desire to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. I once watched a film about a man who tried to ski down it in a geography class. When it was over a student made a crack, “They should call the film the man who fell all the way down Mt. Kilimanjaro instead of the man who skied down.” I don’t suggest skiing it.

  3. Ok, now I’m getting scared :s. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to hear the rest!!

  4. I think I would have to just commit to it too. Super proud of you though! Haha hows the guy in he flip flops! What was he thinking?!

  5. bulldog says:

    Oh my gosh this sounds as though it is gonna get tough.. but then I will continue to read while you continue to suffer… sounds like it’s gonna get good… can’t wait for the next post…

  6. pattisj says:

    You are a brave soul! Did the flip-flop wearer make it?

    • TBM says:

      I don’t know. We were chatting about the experience yesterday and I’m baffled by how much I have either forgotten or blocked out. The better half kept bringing up people we chatted with along the way and at the lodge and I have zero recollection of many of them. I was in survival mode I guess.

  7. I am sure at this point you were glad that you had invested so much time exercising and mentally preparing! Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story…

    • TBM says:

      Thank goodness I got a gym membership and did all that running. Otherwise this would be a much sadder story and probably more painful.

  8. and i get to go vicariously! i love the internet 😉 i do love your photos. it’s like being there only with the pain. as you can tell, i think fear would’ve won out with me.

    • TBM says:

      If I read more about this experience before I booked the trip I may have found a way to finagle a way out of it. I’m glad I didn’t. I can say that now, but it took weeks for me to feel that way. And the pain is almost gone 🙂

    • and of course i meant it’s like being there only with_out_ the pain.

  9. poppytump says:

    Oh TBM you are giving us a good lead in with this … I feel a slightly nervous moment myself on your behalf .. atleast we know you are back home .. and here’s your chance now to give ALL the scary times from a safe place and distance from it .. as you say the pain is almost gone 😉

  10. Novroz says:

    This reminds me so much of Mount Gede (maybe I should write about it one day), less high than this mountain (Gede is only 2.958 meters).

    That guy with the flip flop…WOW!! totally wrong costume. I wonder how he can keep up

  11. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Yes, I’m also happy that you didn’t post this as you went!

    • TBM says:

      That would have been interesting. Some of you may have been quite concerned if you saw what we were doing and how dangerous it is. when we finished one girl said, “They really need to warn people about how dangerous this climb is!”

  12. bocafrau says:

    Can’t wait to read more. It sounds like there’s an interesting story to be told! 🙂

  13. What Robert S. Johnson said! 🙂

    Rain and naked granite? That’s not sounding good, TBM. Looking forward to the end of this story, I think. . . .

  14. The Guat says:

    This was so awesome. So happy to hear that you did it! And you are too funny withholding information from yourself. Duuuuuude. I do it too. I totally don’t need all the information, otherwise I wouldn’t do half of the things I’ve done. Very awesome to see these picture too. The rocky stairs … that would have thrown me off. 🙂

    • TBM says:

      We have a phrase in our house: fun hater. None of us want to be a fun hater. Information can increase the likelihood of me becoming a fun hater so I just try to go with the flow.

      • The Guat says:

        Fun hater! Dude I love that. I’m going to have to steal that because I have plenty of instances where it can be used but the words escaped me. Yeah … I’m adopting that one.

      • TBM says:

        The Better Half came up with that one. We use it all the time and please, spread the phrase. It puts things in perspective quickly when you say it to someone.

  15. Ooohhh, I look forward to your next post! Can you please include a picture of yourself and your better half? I wonder what you look like!

  16. Robyn G says:

    Looking forward to reading rest… 🙂

  17. i loved that expression “arm chair fun, real life hell” but i’m sure it was fun as well as an amazing accomplishment. i’m with you on the not knowing to much-keeps that fear where it belongs-far enough way to not make you change your mind.

  18. aFrankAngle says:

    I can feel your heart-pounding anticipation. Also anxious to hear about the guy in flip flops.

  19. Guilezilla says:

    Where’s the popcorn?

  20. samokan says:

    that is one mountain there. I miss exploring mountains :).
    Congrats on the climb.

  21. Caroline says:

    AS much as I like travelling sometimes I perfer reading about other’s adventures. Tis is one of those cases. I do not enjoy climbing. But I’m sure it’s great to look back on the achievement later.

    • TBM says:

      I found out I love hiking, but not climbing. In the States, most trails have cutbacks. You have to go up a hill or slope but then there’s a level surface for a bit to give you a break. This was all up. Then all down. No rest for the weary.

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  23. Am just starting to catch up – ooh this looks tough 😦

  24. Fergiemoto says:

    Fascinating facts! This is a good lead-in to the climb…which I am anxiously anticipating reading about. Sounds like a difficult one, though. This is another experience which I may just have to live vicariously again through your words and pictures.

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  26. IsobelandCat says:

    I have read your three posts now, and know that should I visit Malaysia I shall not be doing this climb! So thanks for the warning and the photos and well done you!

    • TBM says:

      LOL, that’s exactly why I avoided reading too much about this climb beforehand. I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone. I would encourage people if they wanted to do it, but I would never say, “You should do this if you visit.”

  27. Madhu says:

    I would have chickened out for sure 🙂

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  29. frizztext says:

    no chance for flip flop lovers…

  30. nrlymrtl says:

    Ah! At least someone took on the role of ‘Least Prepared’ – that would be Mr. Flipflops. It looks like those rocky stairs will shred the weaker shoes in no time.

  31. Matt says:

    I have been following your blog off and on, I checked in today and thought I recognized that mountain. It was the first one I climbed, February of this year. I am relaunching my blog so I only have the first part posted (, but isn’t it an amazing climb. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, but so worth it. Good job.

    • TBM says:

      Hi Matt! Yes I agree, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but now I think it was worthwhile. At the time I couldn’t understand why I signed up for such torture on a holiday. Congrats on relaunching your blog and I’ll hop over and read your post on Kinabalu.

  32. Looking at that mountain makes me think pole dancing is a walk in the park! Well done for such an accomplishment – I remember feeling like I was dying after a 3 day Duke of Edinburgh award hike across the Yorkshire moors more than ten years ago! And I was fitter then!

    • TBM says:

      I’m curious about your hike–might have to do some research on that one. I think I’ve only read about the moors, but haven’t really experienced them.

      • Sadly couldn’t tell you much about where we went – think we were compass reading for a lot of it. I remember we started where they used to film Hartbeat and ended on the beach at Robin Hood’s Bay. The bag I had to carry was about half my weight back then! But at least it was mostly flat!

      • TBM says:

        Dang, I’m not good with directions, even with a compass. will need to hire a guide–are you busy 🙂 Oh and I need a porter.

      • lol I could probably insitnctivly find my way to Whitby from anywhere on the moors – but that’s because of the pilgrimage we used to make there every year! Like a homing beacon for our family!

  33. fendikristin says:

    I hardly imagine that guy with flip flop would climb the mountain…! *amaze* And also amaze by the porter that carrying that kind of stuff!

    I only had a chance to climb mountain that was Mount Gede in West Java, can’t compare with Mount Kinabalu, Mount Kinabalu has a beautiful scenery.

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