No one is too old or too young to climb a mountain. Climbing a mountain can be a good family activity, especially for children. It fosters team-work, patience, agility and persistence.
My family and I climbed Mount Kinabalu for the first time in 2013, comprising my husband and back then, 11 and 13 year old daughters. Mount Kinabalu is Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site, awarded in year 2000. This year, I decided to take my 13 year old son to conquer the mountain. I owed him this adventure as he was left behind in 2013.
It was the monsoon season (Nov – March) and the weather was unpredictable, mostly cloudy and raining in the afternoon. We had a little bit of training, mostly cardiovascular workouts two weeks before the climb. Typically, a party of 5 climbers gets a guide, but after 2015, the park allocates one guide to a party of 3 climbers under 18. Since my two children were 13 and 16 years old respectively, we got two guides; one main and another for my 13 year old, at no additional charges. Do check with your agent about this before confirm booking. I was not aware of this until I reached Kinabalu Park and I took it as a bonus.
We reached Kinabalu Park at 9 am, where we completed some paperwork, got our tags and packed lunch. The climb from Timpohon Gate at Kinabalu Park to Low’s Peak (4,095 meters above sea level) was 9 km. We started the climb at 9:30 am and reached Laban Rata (6km) at 3:30 pm. There were 7 shelters along the way, where we stopped to rest and had lunch. It started to rain heavily after 12:30 pm and we had to walk up steep trails of flowing water in raincoats. We reached Laban Rata, all soaked and wet. However, the waterproof high ankle hiking shoes we had were really helpful to keep our feet dry and warm.
We had a room consisting of 2 double-decker beds. Every climber was given a towel each upon check-in at Laban Rata. There were shared bathrooms for ladies and gents respectively, equipped with solar-powered water heater. So, no sun, no heater *wink*
Buffet dinner was made available from 4:30 pm – 7 pm. We had early dinner and rested after that. We woke up at 1:30 am and got ready for 3 km climb to Low’s Peak. We had sweat-wicking long sleeves top on, with a light-weight insulated jacket over. Based on my first experience, it was important not to over-dressed. You would be sweaty while climbing and needed to stay light and dry. We brought some water, energy gels, extra gloves, sun block and medical kit along and left the rest in our room. Warm supper was served at 2 am and by 2:30 am, we started climbing very steep stairs to the summit. It was cold, windy and slippery along the way. I was at awe looking at the clear night skies with stars, shooting star and constellations visibly bright and clear. Occasionally, I would look up and back to see the skies and the city lighted up from the mountain. It was too beautiful. If you do not have altitude sickness, the walk from 8 km onwards was quite easy. You need to watch-out for icy surfaces and avoid stepping on the rope. Our guide was very helpful to keep the children safe and to move in good pace. We reached Low’s Peak at 5:30 am, just in time for the sunrise and took lovely shots at the summit. The sky was clear and we could see the ocean and Kota Kinabalu city from the summit. The view was surreal.
Once the sun was up, I got heated up fast at the peak. If sunny, you may need to start removing unnecessary layer of clothing and put on sunblock and shades. We descended 3 km quickly after and reached Laban Rata for breakfast at 8:30 am. After a short rest, at 10 am, we continued 6 km journey back to Timpohon Gate. It was misty and cloudy and luck was not with us when it started to rain the last 4 km. It was quite challenging to walk downhill in the rain. Even though I took it super slow, I fell down many times, once on my face. My children were fine and moved quickly. We arrived Timpohon Gate at 3:30 pm, picked up the certificates and had lunch at Balsam Restaurant.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu was gruesome but totally worth it. It was a 9 km walk (9 hours) in total to the peak from Timpohon Gate and 9 km walk (8.5 hours) down – all within 30 hours. My son was happy to be able to experience what he missed 5 years ago.
- Bring drinking water or purchase at Laban Rata. Avoid drinking spring water along the trail or at Laban Rata if you are not used to drinking it. My family and I suffered from bad water poisoning due to this in 2013.
- Take Diamox a day before the climb if you have altitude sickness (ask your doctor before taking any) . My children took 2; a day before the climb and the day of the climb.
- Hiking sticks are useful for descend. You can rent for RM10 at Kinabalu Park.
- Bring knee and ankle guards. They can be useful for descending
- Energy gels and energy bars to keep you motivated and going
- Follow the guide’s pace. Avoid stops, just keep moving.
- Bring water bottles
- Waterproof shoes are necessary if you hike during monsoon season. You may be walking through streams of water for hours and need your feet dry.
- Bring extra shoes with toe opening or soft on toes to hike down. I descended using my soft running shoes to reduce impact on my toe nails.
- All weather sweat-wicking socks
- Sweat-wicking long-sleeves tops. I wore Nashata Raazglove, Azza Toplectic and Ultra Top II and Stirrup Leggings.
- Wind-breaker or a jacket (Laban Rata to Low’s Peak)
- Cap or headwear (Laban Rata to Low’s Peak)
- Face and neck-gaiter (Laban Rata to Low’s Peak)
- Neck scarves
- Water-proof gloves. Bring an extra pair
Must bring gears
- Waterproof bag
- Charger – Many power points in hostel, but no wifi.
- First aid kit
I am grateful for a mission accomplished – all my three kids at age 11 and 13 conquered Mount Kinabalu safely. Climbing Mount Kinabalu is not only about agility and physical endurance, but more importantly – mental strength.
I do not think I want to climb Mount Kinabalu again but perhaps some other mountains. If you are thinking of taking your children or teenagers to climb Mount Kinabalu – It is not easy, but Go For It!