Monthly Archives: October 2015

Trekking Poles 102

Once climbers check in, it’s advisable to have a shower as soon as you can in the communal bathrooms. With more than 100 people staying at Laban Rata and its surrounding huts, you can imagine the showers get quite wet and soiled from weary, dirty trekkers.
Climbing Mt Kinabalu – Day 1

I took a regular hike this morning and went up one of the other local hills for a change. For the past two months I’ve been exclusively climbing around Xuan Van Hill (what I’ve been calling Gheng Rang until just discovering the real name). Today’s hike was just 6.4 kms of hiking over 3 hours, but there were lots of up-and-down stretches. The great thing about the hike is that it gave me a chance to try the poles out over new terrain.

The thing is with trekking poles is that there is no single technique that you use. Rather, there are a variety of ways to use them depending on terrain and slope. Here, then, is a brief summary of the ways we can use them.

  1. Over relatively flat, well-defined trails have the poles set for medium length and use them to assist your hiking. Alternate the poles and your legs when walking: it feels more natural and it’s the easiest way to get into a rhythm.
  2. Shorten the poles when going uphill, lengthen… blah, blah, blah. You know the drill.
  3. I’ve found that for moderate uphill stretches planting the pole next to the foot takes a lot of pressure of legs and hips.
  4. For higher steps, rocks, logs and so on, double planting the poles and using them to haul you up works well.
  5. On uneven, rocky terrain, I don’t even worry about technique. I just plant the poles in suitable places as I go along, not worrying about rhythm.
  6. Keep your elbows close to your sides. This gives you better leverage as well as improving your pole placement accuracy.
  7. If your hands start to feel fatigued, it’s a sure sign that you are gripping the handles incorrectly. Hold the grips loosely, with just enough pressure to maintain control. Put your weight on the wrist straps, not the poles.
  8. One web site recommended resting your palms atop the grips when going downhill. I tried it several days ago on the steps and didn’t like it – I felt it was too hard to be precise when planting the poles. I tried again today and learned how to do it properly. The first time was a fairly steep downhill section, hard clay covered with tiny pea gravel. My traction was, to say the least, almost non-existent. I carefully planted the poles some distance in front of me, transferred my weight to the poles, then moved and planted my feet. It was slow but very effective – and safer.
  9. I used the same technique when I started following a rocky stream bed uphill. I ended up having to backtrack because it went the wrong way, but I learned that not only are poles useful when clambering up big rocks, they’re even better when making your way down. Again, the trick is move slowly and carefully.
  10. Without poles I normally lean back when going downhill; with poles, I lean forward with a significant amount of weight on my arms – and off my feet!
  11. Sometimes trekking poles just get in your way. Dense, overgrown tracks are one of these times. Carry or stow your poles until the trail opens up again.
  12. Rubber tips: there are times to use them and times to take them off. I use them on solid rock and concrete (for example, on my training steps) because they’re quieter, absorb shock and offer better grip when planting the pole. I take them off when I go off road and hit the dirt.

I’m still on the learning curve, but they’re starting to become second nature. Like any skill, it takes practice. Becoming competent with poles before attempting Mt Kinabalu is a good move.



From the start at Timpohon Gate, the guide led and walked in a slow even pace. It was too slow for me, so I overtook him – which was a hint to him that I was capable of walking much faster. It didn’t last long though. The path was like a staircase, every single step was going upwards. Soon, I was tired, soaking wet in sweat, and decided it was better for him to lead and walk in a slow pace. You can see I was new to climbing mountains and committed the cardinal sin … never overtake a mountain guide.
Mountains: Kinabalu, Malaysia

There are two main things that I have to think about prior to heading off to Kota Kinabalu: equipment and fitness. Although I’ve been doing a lot of hiking in the Quy Nhon area over the last couple of years, they’ve generally been over relatively short distances. The longest hikes were around 9-10 kilometres, although to be fair there was a 560m peak in the middle. Still, the only things I had to carry were water and a packed lunch and the only hiking equipment I had – or needed – was my trusty pair of Merrell off-road running shoes. I’ll need more than this for Mount Kinabalu.

Unlike Malaysians, Vietnamese people aren’t very keen on hiking. The only hiking/outdoor shops that I can find in Vietnam are in Hanoi and Sapa. According to the reports I read they mainly sell cheap knock-offs of brand-name products, stuff that falls apart almost immediately. I’m not keen on travelling the 700 kms to Saigon or the 1,100 kms to Hanoi on what will likely be a fruitless search for hiking equipment.

My options locally are virtually nil. My new (lightweight) backpack that I picked up a couple of weeks ago has failed. The zipper keeps separating and one of the plastic clips holding the shoulder straps broke. This is after perhaps half-a-dozen hikes with only 5-6 kilos aboard. It’s a pity because the material and stitching seem to be good quality, and it was quite comfortable. What would have been a solid budget backpack is spoiled by substandard fittings. I hope I can replace the existing plastic adjustors with metal D-rings. The brand name, by the way, is ‘Camel Mountain’ – Chinese made but widely available.

Online shopping has its own pitfalls. I won’t buy footwear or clothing if I can’t try it on. Amazon won’t ship to Quy Nhon, and in any case the shipping costs from anywhere outside of Asia are horrendous. There’s a Chinese online shopping company called AliExpress that looks dodgy as hell. I’m suspicious about companies that offer an 80% discount on “genuine” Leki trekking poles. Further research into AliExpress showed that customer comments are overwhelmingly negative. No thanks.

Several weeks ago I looked into a Vietnamese online shopping web site, They seem relatively reliable and I know people who have ordered through them with no real issues, so I took a punt. I ordered a pair of Coleman trekking poles from them. This, by the way, is the ONLY hiking equipment they carry. The poles arrived three days later and were exactly as represented, so no complaints there. Since then I’ve also purchased a head lamp from them, which I’m also happy with.

2Stroke and 4Stroke have kindly offered to buy what I need from Darwin and bring it up to Borneo for me, but my comments about clothes and shoes still apply. And I still like to fondle the merchandise before I buy.

Which brings me to my last option: waiting until I get to Kota Kinabalu and going shopping there. A little more research led me to this page: Hiking/outdoor shops in KK. It looks like I’ll be able to get just about everything I need there.

How risky is climbing Mt Kinabalu?

Not very. Aside from the earthquake earlier this year, there have been only five deaths of climbers since 2001.

  • two of these were due to mistakes on the climbers’ part (leaving the trail in fog and climbing over a safety rail)
  • two from slipping on wet rocks and banging their head (easy to do… like slipping on a wet bathroom floor)
  • one from severe weather. This occurred during a climbathon and the victim was unprepared when unexpectedly severe weather (low temperatures/high winds) hit the summit

Between 2000 and 2015, hundreds of thousands of climbers have done the climb. There’s an element of risk, of course, but it’s no more dangerous than taking a shower. Or riding a motorbike. Here’s a list of safety tips I’ve stolen or borrowed from several sources. It’s all common sense, really.

  1. Remember the three Ps: planning, preparation, practice.
  2. Follow the white rope. Stay on the path.
  3. Wear proper hiking shoes/boots.
  4. Bring a whistle for emergencies. (Bagpipes would be really cool, though)
  5. Make sure you have everything you’ll need.
  6. Dress for the occasion (cold/wet weather gear)
  7. Step carefully when the trail is wet.
  8. Wear a headlamp for the night climb.
  9. Don’t climb over fences or safety railings.
  10. Don’t leave your last teammate walking alone.
  11. Try to reach Laban Rata on time.
  12. Always abide by the rules and regulations.
  13. You must be reasonably fit and healthy.
  14. Take altitude sickness medicine.
  15. Don’t climb in bad weather.
  16. Take extra care on the descent – this is where most injuries occur.
  17. Listen to your guide.
  18. Don’t curse or yell at the mountain.
  19. Keep your clothes on when you reach the summit.

There’s a more detailed article on the subject at Safety and Tragedy: Is climbing Mount Kinabalu dangerous?

The outlier, of course, is the deadly earthquake that shook the mountain on June 5th, 2015. This event tragically took the lives of eighteen hikers including two of the guides and many members of a group of young students from schools in Singapore. Most of the deaths occurred on the Via Ferrata when climbers were swept away by falling rocks. More on the tragedy can by found at 2015 Sabah earthquake and Malaysia quake: 16 dead, 2 still missing on Mount Kinabalu.

Much of the trail was badly damaged from avalanches and rockfalls and Mt Kinabalu was closed to climbers for several months while repairs were undertaken. The lower route from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata was re-opened on September 1st, 2015, while the upper route to Low’s Peak will re-open on December 1st. The Mesilau Trail remains closed until further notice.

Road test – Coleman trekking poles

The well-signposted trail is very easy to follow right the way up to Laban Rata. The first landmark is Carson’s Falls, a small waterfall. After this, there are rest points at shelters every kilometre or so where you can check your position on the trail map, talk to other hikers, fill up your water bottle (untreated water) and visit the toilet if needed. The trail is well looked after and there is very little litter indeed. The views are quite limited to begin with, but as you get closer to Laban Rata, the vegetation become less dense and you can admire the huge granite cliffs of Kinabalu towering in the distance and the valleys of Sabah behind you.
Bagging It!

Disclaimer: I’m new to trekking poles and have been using these for less than three weeks. There are several reviews of these poles floating around the Internet from people vastly more experienced than me. This review is from a newbie’s perspective. Let me put it this way: would you rely on the opinion of somebody who’s had a learner’s permit for three weeks about whether or not to buy a particular car?

I mentioned a post or two ago that I’ve acquired a pair of Coleman trekking poles. These weren’t my first choice, but they seem to be the only ones available in Vietnam. I was after something not too expensive that would let me learn not only how to use them but also what I really need.

The Coleman poles are positioned in the budget segment of the trekking pole market. I looked at a large number of user comments (Amazon has a heap of them) and they were mostly very positive. The advertised features are impressive for a product in this price range:

  • collapsible (sliding, twist-lock shafts)
  • shock absorbers
  • cork grips
  • tungsten-carbide tips
  • aluminium shafts
  • removable rubber bootees (or whatever they’re called)

As I said, the reviews were good. Negative features that were mentioned included:

  • an overall ‘cheap’ feel, i.e. lack of quality
  • the bottom shaft pulls out of the middle shaft too easily and is fiddly to get back in.
  • several people said the tips come off easily [I think they may have been talking about the removable rubber feet]
  • one person said a pole bent on first use (no details)

Based on this (and the fact that these are the only trekking poles available locally!) I decided to go ahead and get them. The best of the local online suppliers is I ordered them and they arrived a couple of days later. The cost, by the way, was just over USD50 including shipping, about what I would have paid to Amazon (USD30 per pair plus shipping) if they delivered to this neck of the woods, which they don’t.

They arrived a couple of weeks ago. I quickly unpackaged them and set about setting them up. No manual was supplied, but there was no rocket science involved. Sure enough, a bottom shaft pulled right out the first time I extended it. A few seconds of fiddling with the rubber expanding grommet thingy (please excuse the technical talk) and I had it back together. No biggy, but it is a poor design feature. The wrist straps were fiddly and awkward to adjust. Unfortunately I had to head off to work instead of taking off to the countryside to play with them.

I’ve already written about my first experience with the poles (Trekking Poles 101). The one thing I found really annoying was that there was no shock absorber as advertised. Nothing. Nada. I found the jarring when using the poles on rock unpleasant. I figured, OK, I’ve ended up with a cheap Chinese knockoff of a made-in-China product.

Over the next week I familiarised myself the the poles. Adjusting the length was fiddly but easy enough. After a few days, the shock absorbers magically appeared. It turns out that after adjusting the middle shaft for length, you twist it back an eighth of a turn until it clicks. Voila! Shock absorbers! Well, I did say there was no manual.

After two weeks of solid use, I’ve found a number of good points and some not so good points.

  • Firstly, for somebody just getting started they’re a good first choice. They’re light, easy to use and adequate for the task. For the price you pay, they’re excellent value.
  • The cork handles were great. Comfortable, fit my hands well, nonslip even with sweaty hands and no abrasion or sore spots.
  • They’re reasonably easy to adjust but take longer than I’d like, especially with wet hands.
  • When you collapse them, they are still way too long to stow in a backpack.
  • There are lines painted on the shafts to assist you when adjusting the length, but they are already starting to wear off.
  • It’s just a feeling, but I’m not confident that they will last a long time. They have a slightly flimsy feel to them.

I’m not sure I’ll use them for Mt Kinabalu – I’m just not that confident that they’re up to the task. However, ask me again when I’ve got another hundred or kilometres racked up on them. I’ll bring them to Kota Kinabalu with me just in case, but I plan to do some serious shopping around for new poles when I get there. I plan to get into hiking/trekking seriously in the coming year and I think it’s worth getting a set of poles that will outlast me.

That said, I’m happy I got these. I’ve learned a lot from them, and still have more to learn. The features you get for this price are unbeatable. If you’re in the same position as me and want a pair of sticks to learn on, they are ideal. I think they’re also good for the occasional hiker.

Trekking Poles 101

The path up Kinabalu did not mess around: it instantly led straight up into the heavens. Porters carrying fifty-kilo loads jogged by us, dripping waterfalls of sweat down bodies sculpted from rock, to soak their highly inappropriate footwear. “Hello,” they all said as they passed, with inexplicably joyful facial expressions. “Good luck!”
A Confrontation With Falling

2Stroke strongly recommended trekking poles for the trip. He’s had his Leki Super Makalus for a few years now and swears by them. I have to admit, I knew little about them. They really didn’t come into vogue until 2000, and I’ve been out of circulation since then. No, not prison. Vietnam.

After a little research, I decided that not only do I have to get them, I have to get them now. Using them is sufficiently technical that practice is needed.

A week or so later, I was in possession of a pair of Coleman Trekking Poles. They weren’t my first choice (I don’t have one yet) but they seemed to be a good enough entry level product that I could become familiar with using them.

Youtube has a few videos (here and here) that illustrate the basics well enough. I watched these and learned – adjustment, using them on hills, both up and down, and traversing. No sweat, I thought to myself. This will be easy.

When the poles arrived, I took them out to the nearest patch of countryside and took them for a spin. After a bit of fumbling around (all right, a lot of fumbling around) I had them at the right length and fitted to my hands, strap in the correct position and all. I set off down the trail and within a few strides found my rhythm: left foot-right stick, right foot left stick, etc. Yeah, it was easy as long as I stayed on a straight, level and smooth trail. When I hit the first obstacles, it threw my rhythm off and I nearly speared myself through the foot. This was going to take a wee bit more practice, I thought.

Fast forward two weeks. By now, I’ve done a fair bit of hiking with them, pretty close to 50 kms I reckon, and over a wide variety of terrain. I’m getting quite comfortable with them even though I’m by no means in the expert category. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  • They are great on flat country trails but are trickier to use on uneven terrain. When going up or down rocky trails, gullies and so on, I find I have to pay close attention to stick placement.
  • Much of my hiking has been up and down steps. These steps however vary in height, width and steepness. I found that the easiest way for me to ascend was by planting the stick next to my foot, left stick with left foot, right stick with right foot.
  • With some of the higher steps it was easier to double plant the poles and pull myself up with both of them.
  • Going down steps is magic. I extend the poles to the maximum and plant them as far down as I can comfortable reach. There’s far less stress on my ageing joints and I can descend faster and more safely.
  • They are a royal pain in the arse to use when the trail is at all overgrown. They snag on bushes and it’s not possible to use the two of them. I end up using one in front of me for assistance and carrying the other.
  • These poles come with removable rubber tips. I find I prefer the rubber tips when I’m on the steps or on rock. They offer good grip without the annoying clicking sound I get with the tungsten-carbide tips. The metal tips are better on softer ground, however.

I still have a way to go before I’m using them really effectively. There’s a nice ridge trail overlooking the city that will be good practice. It’s about three kilometres to the top of the ridge climbing up to 550m, about 6 kms of undulating, up-and-down trail and 3 kms back down again. It will also make a nice break from trudging up and down that damned hill. Soon. When I get a day off work. And the weather cools down.

How not to train for Mt Kinabalu

By the way, Timpohon Gate is really a gate. You have to have a plastic ID badge to get passed. All climbers passing the gate must wear a badge. It’s got a nice photo of the mountain on the front with the text,”Welcome to Mt. Kinabalu, Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints”. You get to keep it too. It’s a nice keepsake from your trip. It looks great next to my certificate! After the hike I looked back at the “Welcome to Mt. Kinabalu” part and had the ironic thought that it was a lot like the “Welcome to Canada” sign painted on the cement wall at the exit of the fastest chicane at the Canadian F1 Grand Prix where everyone crashes spectacularly.
Climbing Kinabalu.. or The Sandarkan Death March Part II

MK-Training2Let’s talk about training for the Mt Kinabalu climb. I’m quite lucky in Quy Nhon because it’s quite hilly along the coast here. In particular, there’s Gheng Rang Hill. This is a 230m high hill at the south end of the city with a path going to the top. The path consists of about 650m of steps and 150m of uphill path and the total altitude change is about 200m. This works out to a slope of 25%, slightly less than Mount Kinabalu’s 26% (8.7 km hike, 2,300m climb). I think it will provide pretty good training for Mt Kinabalu.

There are, of course, some differences. On Mount Kinabalu it’s a continuous climb without any downhill stretches whereas on Gheng Rang Hill I get get regular rests by going back to the bottom. This makes a huge difference – I’m breathing deeply on the way up but breathing normally on the way down. I’m also coping with heat here, which isn’t a real problem on Kinabalu. And it doesn’t prep me for the altitude. Not much I can do about that, unless I tape my mouth shut and plug one nostril…  The truth is that the only thing that preps you for climbing Mount Kinabalu is climbing Mount Kinabalu.

IMG_20150916_055919Over the past month, I’ve been steadily increasing the intensity of my training. Two weeks ago, I scaled the hill four times and did it fairly easily – 800m of climbing and 6.4 kms distance in a bit over three hours. Although my legs felt a bit tired, there was no soreness or stiffness afterwards.

Last week, I upped it to 5 laps and really struggled on the fifth climb. I mean, really struggled – I was starting to feel nauseous and overheated by the end of the fourth lap. I considered stopping for the day. However, I felt that if I couldn’t do one more puny little climb then I’d better not attempt Kinabalu. So, onwards and upwards.

By the time I got home I was exhausted. It wasn’t at all like the previous week. I drank a litre of water, showered and crashed out for a nap. However, I woke thirty minutes later with excruciating cramping in my calves. Lack of salt, of course. I drank one of those performance drinks that was left in the fridge and I was fine shortly after. I sat down and thought about what I had done wrong. How did I screw up? Let me count the ways.

  1. The previous night I went out for a couple (well, three) beers after knocking off work in the evening. I got home at about ten and knowing that I had an early start for the hike the next morning went straight to bed. Without eating. I overslept slightly the next morning and got up at 5:00 instead of my planned 4 AM start, so I quickly packed my backpack with water and all my equipment and headed out the door. Without eating. That’s right, a 1,000 metre climb and 8 kilometre hike when I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before. Stupid.
  2. Although we’re well into autumn here, it was a warmer than usual day. Quite warm, in fact, so the heat started getting to me. My late start didn’t help at all either. Even though I was feeling the heat – and the onset of mild heat stroke – by the end of the fourth lap, pride wouldn’t let me stop when I should have. Stupid.
  3. I brought along plenty of water (4 litres), but it wasn’t enough. This was mainly because most of the water bottles were frozen and I was drinking faster that it was melting. Stupid.
  4. I used plenty of sunscreen on my upper body and face, none on my legs. Stupid.
  5. And, of course, not replacing the salt I lost through perspiration. To be honest, though, this is the first time in my life I’ve had problems with cramping for this reason. Still, I think it qualifies as stupid.

On the plus side, I was fine later in the day. No soreness, not particularly tired and in general I shaped up pretty well. For the record, I climbed (and descended) 1,000m and hiked 8 kms in four hours. That’s two-thirds of the way from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata. And down again.

So, earlier this week I acquired a brand new head-lamp. I got up at three AM yesterday morning, had a coffee and breakfast (a fruit shake with bananas, a mango, soy milk and yoghurt – yum!), started at 4:00 am, carried 5 litres of water (three litres unfrozen)and a couple of bottles of Revive, and lubricated myself all over with sunscreen. And promised myself I would bail out if I started having problems.

It worked a treat, too. Six ascents, 1,200m of climbing/descending, over ten kms distance covered in five and a half hours. Things I learned:

  • The head lamp worked well, a good clear light and comfortable to wear. However, I was climbing and descending much more slowly and carefully in the dark. The torch is no substitute for daylight.
  • The trekking poles are a necessity. They make the ascent noticeably easier, and are worth their weight in gold going down the steps.
  • I’ve discovered the limits of my fitness. My legs were stiff and sore last night and I’m not feeling too spry this morning either.

Next week: seven ascents. This amounts to 1,400m of climbing, the same as Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata. At this rate, if anything stops me from completing the Kinabalu climb, it won’t be lack of fitness.

[Update: I’ve added the Google Earth screen shot above to show my training trail (in red). Quy Nhon City is on the right. Note the taller hill in the background. The highest point is 560m, and there’s a network of criss-crossing forestry trails zigzagging all over the hill. Fun :)]

“Do I really need to bring that?”

There’s a ton of articles floating around the Internet that detail what you need to bring for the Mt Kinabalu climb. Remarkably, they pretty much agree on almost everything. Except for the bloke who suggests bringing a hair drier. Here is my list, compiled from the collective wisdom of those who went before me.

General Notes on Clothing
All too many people are unprepared for the conditions. It’s not just the 0-10 degree temperatures you experience at the top, but also 20-40 km/h (or higher) winds. Many people under-dress. They might be fine as long as they keep moving but as soon as they stop they start to freeze. People have reached the summit before sunrise but have been unable to stick around for another 20 minutes because they get too cold. Some have over-dressed, and ended up overheating as they climbed despite low temperatures. Plus, of course, the weight penalty that wearing heavy clothes involves.

Layering is another subject worth checking into. The concept – adding or removing layers of clothing as needed – is simple but there’s more to it than that. has an excellent primer on the subject at Layering Basics

For the conditions on MK, we’ll need three layers: a base layer of some kind of wicking fabric that will manage moisture/perspiration, an insulating layer (fleece or similar) and an outer layer to protect against wind and rain. has a more in-depth discussion at Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems

Aside from the range of climates and temperatures that we’ll encounter as we climb, we’re very likely to get rained on at some point. Keeping dry is as important as keeping warm. You need to keep your torso dry at the very least but keeping your hands and feet dry is important too. Cold, wet hands make it hard to use the ropes even with gloves.

General Notes on Equipment
I do a lot of hiking here in Quy Nhon, but it’s generally lovely, balmy weather here and I rarely do hikes longer than 4 hours or so. I use my hashing gear for hiking. Kinabalu is a different game, though. I’ve got some serious shopping to do before the climb. I’ll need new shoes, decent trousers, a backpack and trekking poles for starters.

The advantage of the 2D1N package that we’ve signed up for is that we only need clothes for two days, not three. We’re looking at three legs to plan for when we climb Mount Kinabalu (note the cunning way I’m recycling my text).

  • Leg 1 – Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata starts off quite humid, but the temperature drops a lot as we climb.
    Start out with shorts or hiking pants (perhaps the ones with detachable legs) and t-shirt or long sleeve shirt (lightweight jumper). As the temperature drops, add layers as needed.
  • Leg 2 – Laban Rata to Low’s Peak and back will be cold (especially for us tropical types).
    We can shower and change at Laban Rata. We’ll change into the gear that we’ll wear to the top. When we start the climb in the morning, layers again: shirt, jumper (or two), jacket plus gloves, beanie or scarf. It can get bitterly cold as you approach the summit so you need to protect nose and ears.
  • Leg 3 – Laban Rata to Timpohon Gate will be cool, becoming warmer and more humid.
    Pretty much the reverse of coming up. If we’re lucky enough to stay dry on Leg 2 then we can settle for changing shirts at Laban Rata.
    1. Clothing
      • Shoes: for Mt Kinabalu, heavy duty hiking boots aren’t needed. Hiking boots or shoes are fine as long as they’re comfortable, lightweight, rugged and have good tread and grip. Boots provide better ankle support. Personally, I swear by Merrell shoes, been using them for years.
      • Socks: I wear long footie socks for hashing, these are probably a good choice. They’ll provide extra insulation for lower legs. I’d like to work out a good way of keeping my feet dry, however. (plastic bags over your socks, maybe?). Leggings will help a lot, I think.
      • Pants: They should be lightweight and water resistant. It’s a balance, though – the more waterproof they are the heavier. Avoid jeans – they weigh a ton when they’re wet and don’t dry out.
      • Shirts: I’m going to go for this – wicking t-shirt, long-sleeve lightweight cotton shirt, light jumper, heavy jumper, lightweight waterproof jacket (perhaps with hood)
      • Gloves: I’ve got a lovely pair of toasty warm woolen gloves that I’m taking (These were a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, Lady Godiva. Hash names…). I’m not sure how they’ll handle wet weather however. Waterproof over-gloves maybe?
      • Hat: I don’t need to talk to Aussies about hats.
      • Underwear/socks: enough for the trip plus extra for emergencies.
    2. Equipment
      • Lightweight backpack: capable of carrying up to 10 kilos.
      • Small day pack: for Leg 2. You don’t want to carry any more than you have to to the summit: water, snacks, layers, etc. Maybe a maximum of 2-3 kilos.
      • Trekking poles: I’ve never used them but Jim swears by them. They’re highly recommended for MK.
      • Wet weather gear: Rain jacket or poncho. Ponchos cover your backpack. A lot of sites recommend disposable raincoats, they’re lightweight. A water-resistant windbreaker is great for all conditions short of a heavy rain. Plastic bags for keeping stuff in your backpack dry.
      • Head lamp: Critical. You need enough battery power to last 3-4 hours.
      • Belt bag: One with one or two pouches and water bottle holder. I’d prefer one that holds two water bottles.
      • Knee/ankle braces: Optional. I’m going to use them.
      • GPS: absolutely noncritical… but I like to keep tabs on my progress as well as time/distance to destination.
      • Power bank: If you’ve got a digital camera, a GPS and/or a phone, critical. If you travel naked (electronically speaking) don’t bother.
      • Whistle: a loud one in case you get lost or separated from your group.
    3. First Aid Kit
      • Medication: paracetamol, ibuprofen, Diamox (for altitude sickness), imodium (just in case)
      • Bandages: bandages (elastic), bandaids, antiseptic, safety pins, etc
      • Sunscreen: the sun can get pretty fierce up there.

That’s everything I can think of so far, but no doubt I’ll add to it over the coming months.

What are we in for?

4Stroke signed us up for the 2D1N (two days, one night) package. According to the sample itinerary that Amazing Borneo supplies, we’ll be collected from our hotels early in the morning (6:30 AM) on day 1 and taken to Kinabalu Park Headquarters. That’s where we’ll register, get our permits and meet our guide.

We’ll start off from Timpohon Gate mid-morning (9:30) and if all goes well will arrive at the Laban Rata Resthouse mid-afternoon (3:30). Relax and recover, have an early dinner and hit the sack early evening (6:30). Rise and shine at 2:00 AM the next morning, gear up, have a very early breakfast (they call it ‘supper’) and head off for the summit at 2:30 AM.

If we can maintain a steady pace, we should be able to hit the peak in time to catch the sunrise – on 2Stroke’s sixtieth birthday. A quick toast will be in order, no doubt. 4Stroke suggested bringing a few cans of beer, but I reckon those little spirit bottles would work better. Lighter, for starters, and the truth is that alcohol, altitude and climbing don’t mix.

Nobody wants to hang around the summit too long. It’s cold (around 0 degrees) and windy, and once you stop moving you start to get chilled. Back down to Laban Rata, breakfast and checkout (10:30) and then all the way back down to Timpohon Gate, arriving hopefullly by mid-afternoon. Transport will be available to take us back to Kota Kinabalu, so we should be back at our hotels by early evening.

Here’s what we plan to accomplish:

Leg 1 – Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata

  • 5-6 hours
  • 6 kms
  • about 1,400m climb
  • starts off quite humid, temperature drops a lot as we climb.
  • good chance of rain

Leg 2 – Laban Rata to Low’s Peak and back

  • 6 hours
  • 2.7 kms – each way
  • 800m climb/descent
  • cold!
  • good chance of rain

Leg 3 – Laban Rata to Timpohon Gate

  • 4 hours
  • 6 kms
  • downhill
  • cool, becoming warmer and more humid
  • believe it or not, there’s a good chance of rain

Doesn’t look so difficult when we put it this way…


Within days of 4Stroke making the bookings with Amazing Borneo, we had all paid our deposits as well as purchasing our air tickets – me from Vietnam and the others from the wilds of the Northern Territory. We’ll be meeting up in Kota Kinabalu in January.

There are a few things worth thinking about. This is a major physical undertaking and new to all four of us. I’m (just) into my sixties. 2Stroke will be in his fifties when we climb but will age very rapidly and will make the descent in his sixties. Karaoke is slightly younger, in his fifties, and 4Stroke… well, she’s still a pup.

Not everybody who starts the climb makes it to the top. Weather is a major factor – if it turns nasty the climb gets cancelled for safety reasons. No refund either. Altitude sickness affects almost everybody, but if it gets too severe you have to stop and go back down. Some people just give up because of exhaustion. You don’t need to be superfit to get to the top but it sure doesn’t hurt.

It’s important to be mentally and physically prepared before you start. The right gear, fitness and attitude all play a part. This is what I’ll be working on for the next three months.

The story so far…

At the end of August 4Stroke got back to us. She had checked around and decided to go through Amazing Borneo for the climb. She did a good job choosing Amazing Borneo. They offer one of the more expensive packages but they have fewer complaints and more compliments than any other Mount Kinabalu tour company.

My initial reaction was that at nearly US$400 a person somebody’s making a lot of money out of this deal. After some thought (and research), I decided that the price is actually pretty good value. Visiting climbers are the main source of income for Kinabalu National Park and the cost of keeping it running – staff overheads, trail maintenance, cleaning up, etc – must be rather high. The only way to drop the price is to allow more climbers and that would rather spoil the experience.

The price, by the way, includes meals for the two days, overnight accommodation at Laban Rata Resthouse, fees, charges, permits, mountain guide and transport between Kota Kinabalu City and the Mount Kinabalu Park.


Mt Kinabalu view from Kundasan” Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Anyway, it was about then that I started seriously researching and training for the climb. As I digitally wandered around the Intertubes I collected pictures, links and random quotes as well as checking out hiking gear. I started keeping a few notes of my own, since I can be a bit scatterbrained at times. After a week or two I thought I may as well share my findings with the rest of the Kinabalu group. I started an informal weekly newsletter just to share what I’ve discovered and after newsletter number four I realised that it might be useful to make this available generally.

Once again, hence this blog.

The next few blog entries are mainly from emails I’ve already sent. I’ll be sprinkling it with quotes from other people’s Mount Kinabalu climbing stories as well as pictures if I can get permission to post them.

One more thing. I’m a relative newbie at hiking and trekking, so a lot of what I write about will be obvious to those with experience. I’m likely to get a few things wrong since I’m writing about stuff that I have no experience with.