Amazing Borneo: Mt. Kinabalu, Day 1

I flew 9,142 miles from New York to Kota Kinabalu with one primary objective in mind: to climb Mt. Kinabalu and take on the highest via Ferrata in the world.

After much research, I selected one of Sabah’s best-in-class guiding services, Amazing Borneo Tours to make my experience on the mountain most memorable.

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At 4,095 meters, Mt. Kinabalu is the highest peak between the Himalayas and the New Guinea.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is home to one of the richest collection of flora and fauna in the world, as well as the highest via Ferrata in the world,  at 3,776 meters above sea level.

Day one of my mountain adventure kicked off quite early, with a 6am pickup in Kota Kinabalu. After 90 minutes of enduring windy, bumpy roads, we finally reached Kinabalu National Park’s headquarters,  where we registered,  picked up our packed lunches, and had our pre-climb photos snapped with cloudy Kinabalu as our backdrop (note how my super snazzy orange tee matches the Amazing Borneo-mobile and surrounding flora).

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After a short transfer to Timpohon Gate, we checked in and started our ascent up the mountain.

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The first 3km of the climb was fairly straightforward: steep but manageable. I’d stopped for short water and snacks breaks, but maintained a consistent pace.  Around kilometer 3.7, we breaked for lunch, and I must say that my packed lunch of fried chicken,  cheese sandwiches, and hard-boiled eggs was simply delicious (and to be fair, I worked up quite an appetite hiking up the trail).

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After lunch, things got a bit more difficult. We’d already climbed more than halfway up to Pendant hut, and had only a little over 2 kilometers to go, but the trail became more steep, rugged, and rocky.  My calves were definitely starting to feel it, and my heart started pumping faster the higher up we hiked.

The last kilometer up to the hut felt insufferable, in spite of the last two months I’d spent training daily intervals on the StairMaster.  This was Nature’s StairMaster and it felt like it was never-ending.

To make matters more interesting,  it started pouring rain during the last half hour of the climb,  and I’d been too stubborn and sweaty to put my rainproof windbreaker back on. I became instantly soaked, and the hairs on my arms stood up as I got goosebumps.  My fingers began to turn numb, and my lips blue from the cold mountain air and rain as we reached Pendant Hut at ~3,260 meters.

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I quickly showered after entering the hut and even the cold water felt warm to my freezing body.  It took me a couple of hours to warm up using thick alpaca socks as gloves, Berghaus beenie,  Patagonia Capilene 3 fleece, Icebreaker merino wool socks, and  Mammut long underwear, all while nestled in my rental sleeping bag on the top bunk.

After a short nap, I went downstairs for the via Ferrata briefing to learn all about the next day’s adventure on the mountain.  I was famished by 4pm and was thrilled to be greeted by a lavish buffet dinner of chicken, noodles, beef, salad, veggies, and soup. It felt seriously satisfying much-needed nourishment for the summit climb, which would kick off at 2:45am the following day.

By the time I hit the sleeping bag, it was already 7pm.

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