I Thought Climbing Mount Kinabalu Would Be Fun, So I Did It

Yep, I did it. I climbed Mount Kinabalu during the Raya holidays. No, I’m not an active person. I’m not sporty at all, and I signed myself up thanks to a friend’s invitation. After all, life is short, and there are many things to do. Some are interesting. Some are not. Climbing Mount Kinabalu seemed like a fun thing to do, so without having any prior experience – not even regular hiking – I said yes. Oh, and I also contracted COVID about a month before the climb, and this is my experience: just an average Joe conquering Mount Kinabalu.

Preparing for Mount Kinabalu

I don’t really have any sporting background to speak of. Before deciding to climb Mount Kinabalu, I never used to go for hikes. By chance, I told a friend – Mr Yap, an uncle who’s an active hiker – that I signed up for this, and he very kindly invited me to hike with him and his friends. I joined him on his hikes to get a feel of what hiking/climbing was like, and that was about the extent of my preparation. Through these hikes, I did meet a lot of other hikers, and they shared some tips with me. And then, I contracted COVID. I stopped hiking for 2-3 weeks then, and I only managed to hike once or twice before I went on the trip to Mount Kinabalu. I was one of the last to complete the hike, but I did it anyway.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Before I contracted COVID, my stamina was okay then. After COVID, my stamina was affected. I’m not the type of person who’s very active, so I felt it keenly. I got tired very easily, but there was a noticeable difference before and after COVID. There was 16 of us in total, but I had to go at my own pace. I basically did the hike on my own, because my friends were very fast. There are specific rest points or checkpoints where you could stop, but during the hike I rested a lot, which was just me standing still to catch my breath. It was cold and it even rained on the first day of my ascent, so I was frozen to the bone. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, but do be warned that climbing up is like climbing an endless flight of stairs.

On the Way…

The rain was terrible, but there’s a touching story I’d love to share as well. About 2km into our hike, a friend of mine had cramps in both legs, so I lent him my hiking poles while I continued, thinking that he would catch up later. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to continue, descending with the bomba instead. I was told that the descent would be easier with the poles, and I was worried that it would be extremely challenging without the poles later on. After a while, I met two uncles who were descending. Each of them had a pair of poles. I casually asked if it would be necessary to use the poles while descending. They confirmed my fears as I told them a bit of my story. To my surprise, one of them, Mr Chin, gave me his poles. I objected, but he insisted. When I asked why, he just said, “It’s fate.” After that, he gave me a thumbs-up, and continued his journey. I was very touched; it’s amazing that a stranger was willing to help me out of the kindness of his heart.

The Summit and the Descent

The hike to the summit started at midnight as the plan was to catch the sunrise at the top. I didn’t make it in time, so I caught the sunrise along the way, but I made it to the top anyway. It was only 1 or 2°C at the top, though the cold was actually tolerable. It’s the wind that makes it brutal. At the summit, I took my gloves off for a second to operate my GoPro. When the wind blew, my whole arm had pins and needles, lasting throughout the hike. In fact, it lasted for another one or two days, returning every time I drank cold liquids. Those with knee problems might also want to take extra care when descending as it can really do a number on the knees. Some of my friends’ knees hurt, but I was just very tired. The ascent is split, but you do the descent all at once, so it takes a bigger toll on your body in a sense.

Other Things You Might Want to Know

What to Bring: Winter clothing and windbreaker, hiking boots (I used a pair of RM10 kampung Adidas, which the guides were using as well), thermos with red dates, ginger, and hot water, raincoat, hiking poles etc.

Price: RM1,500+; if you complete your hike to the summit you get a coloured certificate, if not then you only get and black-and-white certificate


  • If it rains on summit day, you won’t be able to make the ascent because it’ll be too dangerous.
  • There’s a set time to complete the hike, though the time varies from 4pm, 4:30pm, and 5pm – apparently different people get told different times by different guides. If you go over the time limit, you might have to pay a penalty fee. I went over by an hour, and I had to pay RM45. The penalty fee for each guide is RM15/hour per person, so the total cost depends on how many people your group has.
  • There are guides assigned to you, and there are park rangers who ensure everyone reaches in time as well. When we were there, for some reason there were no park rangers at all, so I can’t say what is it they do exactly.

Final Thoughts

Would I do it again? Probably not, but if I try a different mountain, I’d prepare myself better, because this was tough. After the hike, my legs remained sore for a week – I couldn’t even walk properly! After conquering this hike, I feel like nothing is impossible as long as you’re willing to do it, no matter how hard it may be. If there’s something I’ve learned from this experience, it’s just go for it. Keep going even if you’re taking baby steps – you’ll reach eventually!

Story contributed by Calvin Ong, an average, non-sporty person who said yes to climbing Mount Kinabalu on a whim and smashed it. All images courtesy of Calvin Ong.

Looking for more interesting stories? You might also like: