Food and Drinks While Climbing Mt Kinabalu

From Kinabalu Park Headquarters to Laban Rata

  • Take your breakfast buffet at Balsam Buffet Restaurant before the climb to Laban Rata
  • Keep yourself hydrated during the climb. Bring along 1.5 litre of water, may be in three 500ml mineral water bottles. It should be sufficient.
  • The restaurant will prepare lunch box for you to bring for the climb. The lunch box consists of sandwiches, 2 hard boiled eggs, 1 fried chicken, 1 apple & 500 ml mineral water. It is quite heavy as we are also bringing 1.5 litre of water. I took out water, sandwiches and apple, packed them into my backpack and left everything else including the box behind. We had our lunch at somewhere 4KM to 5KM. 
  • In my backpack, there were also energy bars and banana. (Also, SLR camera, raincoat, altitude sickness pills, three 500ml bottles, etc. It was heavy. :-P )

At Laban Rata

  • Laban Rata's restaurant serves reasonably decent buffet dinner. (Hey, you are in a mountain, don't expect 5 stars hotel's food.)
  • In the restaurant, you can refill your water bottles with drinking water. Yes, it is free, you don't have to buy water.
  • They serve hot water, cold water, coffee and tea in the restaurant
Simple buffet at Laban Rata Restaurant

From Laban Rata to summit and back to Laban Rata

  • Take your buffet supper at Laban Rata Restaurant at 2am before the climb to summit
  • Keep yourself hydrate during the climb. It is still a 5KM - 6KM up and down hill walk that may take 6 hours. I still think 1.5 litre of water in your backpack is a must.
  • Bring along energy bars. It can be cold and tiresome.
  • Don't forget altitude sickness pills.
  • Take your breakfast at Laban Rata Restaurant when you are backed from summit. The breakfast buffet closed at 10am. After that you can still order A la carte.

From Laban Rata back to Kinabalu Park Headquarters

  • Take your lunch/ teatime/ dinner at Balsam Buffet Restaurant. So leave Laban Rata early after your breakfast.
  • Remember to refill your water bottle before going downhill

More general tips on food and drinks

  • Bring energy bars, breakfast bars OR banana for every trip. You need energy bars, something to munch when you are tire. But don’t eat too much during the journey.
  • Don’t eat and walk. It can be very tiring.

Laban Rata to Sayat Sayat 6km to 7km

Step-by-Step Terrain of Mount Kinabalu:

Mid-night buffet supper at Laban Rata Rest House starts from 2.00am in the morning.
It is important to eat well because you need energy to climb to the summit. The climb may take as long as 4 hours to 8 hours before you come back to Laban Rata. It can be as late as 10.00 am in the morning. Breakfast buffet close at 10.00 am in the morning, after that you can only order for À la carte.

Most climbers start their summit climb by 2.30am, after a warm and comfortable supper meal at Laban Rata. I suggest you start earlier.

It is a long upward hike. Initially, you walk on wooden staircases or natural rocky-faced stairs. The last 200 meters (crude estimation) before Sayat Sayat (the last check point right after 7 km) is a climb that you need to hold on to a rope.

Sayat Sayat checkpoint gate closes at 5am. You need to reach Sayat Sayat checkpoint before 5am to be allowed to go uphill.

Not a good photo. I mistakenly forgot to adjust the focus.

Walking on a ledge at night. To be safe, at times, you need to hold the rope.

The only stretch of the whole journey that requires you to pull yourself with your hand.

Take a rest before going further. 

At KM7, just a few steps away from Sayat Sayat check point.

Here we are at Sayat Sayat check point. You need to be here before
the gate closes at 5pm. 

Step-by-Step Terrain of Mount Kinabalu:

Safety and Tragedy: Is climbing Mount Kinabalu dangerous?

Hiking above the cloud.

You ask, is it dangerous (or safe) to climb Mount Kinabalu?

My answer is: It is safe, with a few considerations:
  • you need to be healthy. The mountain operator, Sutra Sanctuary Lodge, has a special note in its booking confirmation documents recommending climbers to have medical check up before attempting the climb. It also recommends climbers who suffered from certain medical conditions to refrain from climbing the mountain. Read here.
  • you can follow instructions: Listen to the rangers during briefing, follow the white rope at summit, follow advice from mountain guides and just don't do what is obviously dangerous
  • are reasonably well prepared with fitness of average people
  • well equipped with proper shoes, gloves, warm cloth (night climb to summit) and headlight (night climb to summit)
  • you can keep altitude sickness under control

Yes, it is a safe climb suitable for family outing of average healthy people. You can read more answers from others who climbed the mountain, click here.

It is safer than it looks. It is just the matter of angle.

Tragedies at Mount Kinabalu

Fatal accidents are relatively rare among climbers of Mount Kinabalu, however, just like any sport at any place, it happens. There were a few fatal accidents happened on Mount Kinabalu. We will focus on what went wrong so that we can take precaution to prevent similar event in the future.

Ellie James
On 16 August 2001, a British school girl, Ellie James, and her brother Henry James got lost in thick fogs on the way down from Low's Peak. Apparently Ellie went off to seek help while Henry waiting at the granite spot they found as shelter. Henry was rescued 6 hours later.

The search for Ellie was hampered by the worst weather hitting the area in a decade. For a week there were tropical storms and thick fogs. Ellie was found dead on 23 August 2001 at about 500m below the St John’s Peak. Mount Kinabalu Borneo website has a full account of the incident. Read here.

Her father, Bruce, gave an account to British media that "...his daughter and son Henry got lost on the Low’s trail when they headed straight instead of following the rope which shows ‘left’."

"But they took the wrong turn. Henry keeps talking to himself on how he missed the turning. The white rope is visible even in thick fog. But the fact is they did it and it was a fatal mistake," said Bruce. Read more here.

The white rope at the left indicates the correct trail for climbers to follow.

Just follow the white rope.

You can find a graphical illustration of the location here.

I also found a concise summary of the incident from this blogger's website:

"...two British teenagers Ellie James and her brother Henry together with their parents, were among a group of 12 that scaled the Low's Peak. However, on the descending from the peak, Ellie and Henry wandered off from the group. Henry was found six hours later by rescuers after the parents alerted the Kinabalu park rangers. Ellie apparently told Henry to stay put while she went to look for help.

Due to the howling winds and poor visibility, Ellie was rendered invisible and inaudible for 7 days. A park ranger found the body of missing Ellie James a 17-year-old girl lying face down on a steep rocky slope near St. John's Peak, the third highest peak on Mount Kinabalu with an altitude of 4,090.75 meters. Her body, still clad in her pink jacket, was found just 500 meters from the spot where her 15-year-old brother Henry was rescued earlier.

The authorities did not rule out that Ellie could have died from exposure as there were no visible injuries on her body. Rescue efforts were hampered by heavier-than-usual tropical storms that lasted for a week and produced thick fogs. Temperatures on the mountain dropped to freezing point and the wind speeds jumped to over 100 kilometers per hour."

You can read the blogger full account of his climb here.

The flat slope at the summit's plateau. White rope at the left bottom corner of this photograph.

Sudin Yussin
On 2 October 2004, a 51 year-old local participant, under veteran category, of Mount Kinabalu Climbathon, Sudin Yussin, died on the summit 8KM due to extremely cold and bad weather. Here is a short account of the incident.

Temperature at the peak can reach freezing point. This is KM8 road sign.

Tan Tzu Hau
On 14 September 2009, Tan Tzu Hau, a 31 year-old man were found dead 5.5KM from the Mesilau Trail. It is near, but before reaching, Laban Rata. Apparently he was trailing behind the group, slipped and fell on the trail.

The Star reported the incident here. Another account here.

(Note: It is quite unlikely that someone will fell off the trail or fell off the cliff. Along the trail to Laban Rata, the climber walks on jungle trail most of the time. There is no cliff. At times, there are wooden fence on the trail that next to a slope. At the rocky summit plateau, you are safe if you just follow the white rope.)

Lau Siang Lip
On 6 June 2012, a 59 retiree from Muar, died of head injuries after he slipped and fell on the rocky trail near the Layang-Layang Point at KM4.7 of the Summit Trail. Read more here and here.

(There is a bit confusion in the report as Layang-Layong Hut is before KM4.0, while Villosa Shelter is located just about KM4.7)

Photographs below show the trail conditions near KM4.7.

The trail can be slippery.

Reaching Villosa Shelter.

Viktoria Paulsen (Updated on 13/2/2014)
On 10 feb 2014, a 22 year-old German student, Viktoria Paulsen, fell from Low's peak and died. Low's peak is the highest point of Mount Kinabalu. This was the first incident of someone falls from the peak.

It was reported that she fell down a 30m steep slope after stepping beyond safety railing (or rope fence) and onto an area of loose rocks on the summit. There are more reports about the incident here and here.

Safety railing as fence to prevent climbers to get too near to the edge. This photo was taken at the highest point of Low's Peak, Mount Kinabalu

Safety railing at the top of Low's Peak, Mt Kinabalu.

Notice the railing at the summit.
Find out more about Low's Peak and its safety railing.

Our experience: Tips to climb the mountain safely

Due to my own "slipped and fell" experiences during training, I suspect most similar cases were due to altitude sickness, training for fitness or selection of shoes. It is safe to climb this mountain, just follow the rules and be well prepared.

Our safety tips:
  1. Follow the white rope
  2. Walk the path, not out of way
  3. Wear hiking shoes, not badminton shoes
  4. Headlamp for night climb
  5. Don't climb over fence or safety railings. They are there to protect the climbers
  6. Don't leave your last teammate walking alone
  7. Try to reach Laban Rata on time and not too late
  8. Always abide by the rules and regulations. They are there to ensure climbers' safety
  9. Have you trained to be reasonably fit? Are you healthy enough?
  10. Take altitude sickness medicine. Remember to visit pharmacy to buy the pill.
  11. Watch out for bad weather. Don't go against mountain guides if they decided not to climb due to bad weather.
  12. Hire a PERSONAL mountain guide (this is probably overdo, but...)

Bad weather and fogs.

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Altitude Sickness & Health

One of the most common common reasons why people cannot make it to the summit of Mount Kinabalu is altitude sickness. It is a make or break factor. (Read more here.) When you suffer from altitude sickness, your climb is going to be really really tough (or near to impossible) unless you take proper medicine.

Therefore, regardless how, you need to get altitude sickness pills ready before the climb. From my experience, 2-3 persons out of a group of eight persons suffer altitude sickness.

Please remember to buy more pills than your own needs. You are bound to have teammates who believe (without basis) that they are the chosen one to be spared by altitude sickness, refuse to bring medicines and ultimately, by chance (so unfortunately), suffer from altitude sickness.

I bought altitude sickness pills from Caring Pharmacy. The pharmacist sold me Acetazolamide. Below is my experience.

My first Climb

I pointed two fingers on my head as mark to
indicate I started to feel dizzy.
In my first climb, my dizziness started at 3KM or 2,455 meter above sea level. I remember this because, for the purpose of future reference, I actually took a photo then pointing 2 fingers to my head.

Later, I found out from wiki on altitude sickness : " It commonly occurs above 2,400 metres (8,000 feet)." Pretty accurate.

At 5KM, I had problem maintaining my balance walking properly on the rocky trail. I packed my camera into my backpack and stopped taking photo. I could not do anything else other than concentrating on walking and dealing with dizziness.

At Waras Hut, just a few steps away from Laban Rata, I lost my balance, slipped and fell on the ground. Fortunately, I did not hurt my legs or knock my head.

Slowly, especially when it near Laban Rata, every exertion of movement seemed to cause a rush of blood pumping up into my head. At Laban Rata, I could only sit quietly at cafeteria. Every movement caused shortness of breath and sensation like pressure of blood bursting my head. I just cannot move and cannot do anything other than resting.

Before the climb, two colleagues in previous group who suffered altitude sickness told me they vomited. So I guessed I was not so bad after all.

Finally I conceded, I took a pill for altitude sickness, went to sleep after cleaning up myself and dinner. When I woke up for the night climb to summit, everything seemed okay. I decided not to take altitude sickness pill during the supper before the climb.

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During the night climb, way before reaching Sayat Sayat, the altitude sickness bothered me again. After climbing the ledge, syndromes of "short of breath" and "blood-rush-head" caused me finally to sit down and rest. It was really bad. Those who are familiar with jogging or any other form of long distance activities know that one should not sit down in the middle of a jog, climb, etc. But I can no longer continue without taking a rest. And I took two more altitude sickness pills!

It was a real tough climb before and after Sayat Sayat check point. At that point, I was the second last among all the climbers of that night. The girl who trailed behind me was climbing without a touch light. However, I was so thankful that one of my teammates, Junious, was patiently accompanying me.

After Sayat Sayat checkpoint, I was so weak and, at one point, I crawled on the uphill trail. While crawling, I saw a few rats or may be squirrels. Yes, on the rocky face of mountain summit.

Before the climb, I have checked with many climbers, a few of them told me the toughest part of the climb was the steep walk after Sayat Sayat check point. I call that stretch of trail  the "point of regrets" because many told me that, at that point, they actually feeling sorry and regret to climb Mount Kinabalu!! Well, I did not feel that way, but I did feel regret to bring my SLR camera that had become so heavy in my backpack weighing me down.

At about 5pm, near Donkey Ears Peak, I was still crawling and struggling with altitude sickness. The mountain guide told my teammate that I could not make it. I was too tired to be bothered by his advice to quit. I crawled, finally, stopped, turned to my side and back, laid on the rocky face and looked at the starry night sky. It was beautiful. The night was so dark and the stars were so shining twinkling bright. The girl trailed behind overtake us. A while later, dawn broke. That was the magical moment, my altitude sickness syndromes suddenly disappeared. At that moment I believed that, just like Ultraman, it was the sun that gave me energy and cured me from altitude sickness. But later, I think it was most likely due to the two pills that I took earlier.

The amazing dawn break near Donkey Ears Peak.

I wrote this in my FB "This was the place Junious and I saw the dawn break and I first realized my altitude problem was gone, and I told Junious 'come let's take photo' and took out my camera, energetically.

Earlier I was 'forced' to lying down on the rock face to rest (for every few moves) and to looking at starry night."

I was excited with my new found energy. Junious and I simply walked up to Low's Peak, taking many photo along the way, without fuss. It was just that simple.

At approximately 7.30am we reached the peak, being the last among the climbers of that day. No problem, I am grateful.

My second climb

I took altitude sickness pill before the climb to Laban Rata and before the night climb to the peak.

In my first climb, I blamed all the toughness of climbing on having altitude sickness. In my second climb, I realised even without altitude sickness, it was still a real tough climb at "point of regrets".

Other health issues

  • Common minor injuries in climbing Mt Kinabalu includes sprained ankle and knees pains. You need to train to hike for at least a few time before the attempt to climb Mt Kinabalu. This is to ensure your body learn to avoid these minor injuries.
  • Let your body get use to climbing upward and descending downward.
  • Shoes are important, choose wisely. Avoid bad shoes
  • Some may get headache at night at Laban Rata, so take panadol before sleep.
  • Take Panadol when experience slight headache
  • Avoid climbing Mount Kinabalu if you have these sicknesses

Read more on "Guides on How to climb Mount Kinabalu?"

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Increase Your Odds to Reach Summit

Not everyone who attempt to climb Mount Kinabalu can reach Low's Peak. There are a few common reasons for the unsuccessful attempts. First, let's look at my statistics at hand.

Reasons of failed attempts

First thing first, failed attempt to summit is not failure. It is merely motivation to try once more.

In year 2010, twenty five of us, colleagues, attempted Mount Kinabalu. We split into 3 groups.

There were 8 of them in Group 1 who attempted the climb in August 2010. Five of them made it to the summit and three did not make it. There were combinations of multiple reasons:
  • No training at all, plus inappropriate shoes (he wore badminton shoes)
  • Altitude sickness, plus a bit of overweight
  • Fitness issue, which disguised as age issue

Our group, 8 of us in Group 2, attempted in September 2010. With the information provided by previous group, seven of us made it to the summit and one did not make it. Reasons being:
  • Altitude sickness
  • Incorrect way of walking uphill (he rushed and stopped and rushed and stopped, instead of walking uphill slowly and consistently.)

In our group, it had shown that AGE is NOT a reason of failing to reach summit. Mr Wong, at the age of 57 were the second person in the group to reach Low's Peak. (Note: I was the the 7th, the last, to reach Low's Peak at 7.30am.)

Group 2. Reaching peak on 19 September 2010.

There were 9 of them in Group 3 attempted in October 2010. Eight of them made it to the summit and one did not make it. There were multiple reasons:
  • Altitude sickness
  • Fitness issues, and 
  • A very bad and demotivating personal mountain guide

The next year, in my second climb, there were seven of us. Three of them decided right before the climb to only  climb up to Laban Rata and will not attempt to reach summit. Out of the remaining four, only three reach the summit. Reasons being:

  • Fitness issue delayed her summit attempt. She reach Sayat Sayat checkpoint a few minutes after the gate closed at 5am. The ranger did not allow her to enter.

We can summarize the above reasons of failed attempt as below:
  • Altitude sickness
  • Lack of training that affects fitness level & walking techniques
On 16 September 2011

Increase your ODDS

Let me start with a story. Zoe, my teammate, joined us for hiking 3 months before the climb. We went to Bukit Gasing at Petaling Jaya. In her first 2 hikes, she had troubles to finish the hike and was suffered along the way. I doubted whether she could really climb Mount Kinabalu.

She did not train a lot. She joined us for our weekly hike at Bukit Gasing, probably less than 10 times before the climb.

On the real climb, she was the first 2 persons reaching Low's Peak. (while I was trailing at far back behind.)

These were a few more measures she took to increase her odds to reach peak comfortably:
  • She hired a personal mountain guide all for herself, despite that there were mountain guides already available for the group! The personal mountain guide would just take care of her, pull her up at steeper area, carry her backpack that contained lunch pack, water bottles, raincoats, etc. (may need extra charge on the weigh, beside charge of mountain guide. Ask first before you ask your mountain guide to carry your backpack, etc.)
  • She stopped at every rest place, pondok, to apply muscle relaxant cream like yoko-yoko on her ankles and knees.
  • She took altitude sickness pills to avoid altitude sickness

She was single minded. She did not try to "prove herself" like most of us who refused to hire a personal mountain guide to help us physically, refused to take "altitude sickness" medication, refused to use muscle relaxant, etc. She was single minded, she just want to reach the peak. That increased her odds, and she did it fabulously.

Other Resources: