32 Top of Borneo

A few months ago, my sister sent me a random quote that read ‘if you don’t do stupid things while you’re young, you’ll have nothing to smile about when you’re old’. At that point of time, I was really thinking about my upcoming birthday (yes, my mind worked in advance!). One particular place came to my mind. I picked up the phone and dialed the number. I did not place a high hope in the availability of spaces, but asked the reservationist ‘do you still have space available on June 16, for two persons?’ I was really just trying my luck, so when she replied ‘yes, we have the last two spots on June 16’, I could not stop myself from letting out a jolly laugh. The question then became ‘do I want to do it?’ The quote that my sister shared drove me to say HELL YEAH!!! So, Mount Kinabalu, here we came :-D. Was it a stupid thing to do? Certainly not! It was actually one of the best trips I had said yes to.

sunrise south peak

The rays of sunrise are blessing me with their much appreciated warmth; in the background is South Peak (3933 meters), which is often featured in postcards of Mount Kinabalu.

I had previously climbed the mountain back in 2008 and 2015. However, as John Steinbeck beautifully pointed out in his novel ‘Travels with Charley: In Search of America’, a journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. My third journey to the top of Borneo was just as refreshing and meaningful.

timpohon gate

The start point at Timpohon Gate (1866 meters). Good luck ladies!

Each trip was propelled by a different motivation, done with a different travel companion, had tested me with a different set of physical and mental challenges, and endowed me with a distinct rewarding experience.

Trail- stairs

The Summit Trail- a lot of stairs!

Trail after layang

After the second last rest point called the Layang-layang hut, the trail is called the orange trail for the obvious reason of…as shown in the photo 😀

lush rainforest

According to the UNESCO, Mount Kinabalu has a very wide range of habitats, from rich tropical lowland and hill rainforest to tropical mountain forest, sub-alpine forest and scrub on the higher elevations.


I love this view! I am reminded of the open space dotted with acacia trees in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

danger sign

An example of ignorant visitor behavior. Doesn’t she understand the warning clearly stated on the signboard? PS: I am just the actor. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS UNLESS YOU ARE PROFESSIONAL lol!

The most recent trip to this highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea had an added zing to it as it was made after the rare, devastating 6.0-magnitude earthquake that jolted the mountain a year ago. A part of me looked forward to trying the new trail constructed in the affected areas, and to seeing firsthand the damage caused to this beloved iconic landmark of my own state.

Trail closed

The alternative route of Mesilou Trail has been closed since the rare 6.0-magnitude earthquake that jolted Mount Kinabalu on 05 June 2015.

Damage 1

The damage on one side of Mount Kinabalu. From a distance, the area looks as if it was blanketed by snow. It is a heart-breaking sight to see the huge damage caused to this emblematic landmark of Sabah, Borneo.

Damage 2

Another wrecked section of Mount Kinabalu, very close to the summit check point at KM8.

Damage 3

More damage- a large chuck of the structure fell off.


As described by Yahoo News, the earthquake had loosed rocks as big as cars.


Top: where the old trail once was; what is left now is just the rubble from the earthquake. Bottom: part of the new trail- stairs!

Laban rata

Finally, we make it to Laban rata (3270 meters), the main mountain hut. There are a few other smaller huts. We start out at 9.46AM, and get here around 3.30PM. Good timing!

sunset at laban

Sunset from Laban Rata (3270 meters).

I have had the fortune to climb a few mountains in different countries. I guess there is much truth in the expression ‘home is where the heart is’.While the journeys to those mountains had rewarded me with some of the best moments in life, there was one thing that ONLY Mount Kinabalu could give me: the beautiful, serene feeling of ‘Ahhhh I’m home’ when I was on top of it, enjoying the surrounding picturesque views illuminated by the rays of the rising sun, and being reminded again that life was beautiful :-)!


Darkness pierced by headlamps of climbers as we make our final ascent to the summit as early as 2.30 AM. The sky is dotted with twinkle twinkle little stars. So, take some moments to engage in astrotourism, the new form of tourism that involves stargazing in dark places :-).

top- almost

We are almost there! 2 minutes to the top, after a tough battle with the wind, which makes it much colder than what it really is.

top- there

Yay!!! We made it to Low’s Peak, the highest peak of Mount Kinabalu at 4095.2 meters. And I just turned 32, on Top of Borneo!!! :-D. With my sister, Shuzy, and our guide, Alfred. To many Kadazandusun people, Mount Kinabalu is part of their heritage. The name itself, Kinabalu, is believed to derive from two Kadazandusun words namely Aki (ancestors) and Nabalu (mountain). To them, the mountain is sacred, a final resting point for the souls of their departed ancestors.


top- crowded

OK, it is time to go down. Low’s Peak is getting crowded.

sunrise 1

The sun is slowly pushing itself over the clouds. It is such a beautiful, serene moment to be as close to the nature as possible; seen from an area just below Low’s Peak.

sunrise 2

The rays of the rising sun are illuminating Mount Kinabalu and the surrounding areas; seen from an area just below Low’s Peak.

south peak and st johns peak

The sun is shining on the top section of St. John’s Peak, the second highest peak at 4092 meters. It is just 3 meters shorter than Low’s Peak (the highest). Also in the background is South Peak.

st johns peak and shadow

The shadow of Low’s Peak is formed between St. John’s Peak and a particular feature whose name I can’t recall. What a sight! A local legend has it that a long, long time ago, there was a Kadazandusun woman who married a Chinese prince who had come in search of that often-talked-about pearl on top of Mount Kinabalu. One day, he had to return to China upon his father’s request, but made a promise to her that he would return. Every day, she went to the top of Mount Kinabalu awaiting his return. Days turned into years. She became very ill and finally passed away. The mountain spirits had their mercy on her, and thus turned her into a stone overlooking the South China Sea, symbolizing the ability of the woman to continue to wait for the return of her beloved husband. That stone, is believed to be St. John’s Peak :-). Sad but beautiful legend!


wishing pool n st johns peak

St. John’s Peak and its reflection on the wishing pool. The pool has a beautiful local legend attached to it… a long time ago, there was once lived a giant king named Gayo Nakan which translates into ‘big eater’. He resided at the base of the mountain. His people were drained of energy in an effort to satisfy his enormous appetite and, thus, were hard pressed to feed him. Hearing their complaints, the king told them to bury him alive at the top of the mountain. Bringing all their tools, his people labored to no avail, until the king uttered magic words and sank into the rock up to his shoulders. He then told his people that, as a result of their limited patience, drought and famine would afflict them, though he promised to help them in times of war. Apprehensive and remorseful, the king’s people performed their first sacrificial offerings at the wishing pool below the summit, believed to be the king’s grave.

south peak and marker

South Peak and a stone marker.

donkey ear

The iconic Donkey’s Ear Peak; sadly, part of it was destroyed by last year’s earthquake.

mountain ranges

A remarkable view of the distant mountain ranges as seen from KM8.

views of down below

A stunning view of the towns surrounding Mount Kinabalu- Kundasang, Mesilou and Ranau, as seen from an area after the summit check point.

Rope climbing

Rope climbing is the only way to get through certain parts of the trail from the summit check point to the top.


Some of the guides posing for a photo. They are Kadazandusun locals from the surrounding towns. The guy in green shirt: he is a climber from Seoul, who insists on his photo taken haha!

Porters 1

I always have my respect for porters. They work hard for a small pay. Without them, mountain tourism can falter. My research has showed me that porters, regardless of their locations, tend to face one big issue in their employment: their welfare is often overlooked.

Porters 2

I am lucky to have a brief conversation with these young porters. The steel frames they are carrying weight 13KG each. They are paid MYR13 for each KG they carry. I make an attempt to lift the load placed between the porters which weights about 36KG. Can’t even move it.

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