FAQ on mount kinabalu

yesterday, i met up with friends from pilipinas sierra for a briefing on mount kinabalu, which i have already climbed before. i had also written about it, and the article came out in manila bulletin. apparently, my sierra friends had read it, and although i am no stranger to people telling me that they have seen my byline or read an article of mine, it still tickles me no end, and i am flattered sometimes to embarrassment.

anyway, i gave them a few tips and merrily answered their questions, although as i understand that climbing kinabalu these days has changed: i heard it has become so much more expensive, and i was shocked to learn that there is a camera charge. i'm only too happy to have climbed it twice already, and it will take me a lot of convincing to go there again, since after all, there are many other beautiful places on earth.

nevertheless, i found these FAQs in my email archive, which i sent to my 2k5 friends during our 2008 ascent to this mountain, and it should be helpful to people planning to scale mount kinabalu. i am posting it here with some never before published photos.

Q. Do I need to bring USD?
A. No. The money changers in KK will accept PHP if you want to buy RM. With the way the USD has been performing vis-a-vis Asian currencies, you probably will have a better deal if you have SGD or PHP changed into RM. But I'm not suggesting you go out and buy SGD and have them changed to RM. You will still lose a bit in the exchange.

Q. How cold is it going to be? What am I going to wear?
A. Very cold. But this does not mean we need to get suited up for Everest. The trek from Mesilau (approximately 1800 masl) up to Laban Rata (about 3010 masl) will pass through forest glades. If the sun is up, it'll be a bit hot. There is a pondok (shed) spread out along the trail, one for each kilometer. It'll only get cold if you're still on the trail after sunset. Suggested attire: comfortable trekking clothes. No need to wear leggings or trekking pants as the trail is pretty wide and well-maintained. We won't be hacking through the bushes.

From Laban Rata up Lowe's Peak (4100 masl), the trek will begin at 2:30am, and that's friggin cold. You might want to wear trekking pants (or shorts and leggings), a long-sleeved trek shirt (preferably of the dri-fit kind), and a jacket. It is almost certain that you'll remove the jacket after 10 minutes once you've warmed up. You must also bring a bag to tow a fleece jacket or an extra layer to wear over your trek shirt and under your jacket. Be sure to bring a bonnet (or ear muffs), gloves, and a scarf (for the fashion factor). Bring half a liter of water at least, and a camera.

Q. What equipment do I need to bring?
A. Don't forget to bring a headlamp! The trek starts in the morning. You are going to be a liability if you don't have one. A flashlight might do the trick but you'll need your hands once you get to the ropes.

From Laban Rata to Timpohon, the conditions of the trail will be similar to the one from Mesilau to Laban Rata. You can wear what you wore going up.

There is absolutely no need to bring a sleeping bag, a fleece blanket, or a Therm-a-Rest. Laban Rata has beds and beddings. Of course, you don't have to smell them!

Q. How much money should I bring?
A. It'll largely depend on whether you want to party the night away at the city. But food and beer at Laban Rata is pretty expensive (about RM 15 for a can). This is understandable as porters (mostly women) carry the supplies (sometimes weighing 30kg upwards) up to Laban Rata everyday! You should see how they carry the baskets. It's supported by their heads! The buffet will cost about RM25 (breakfast is cheaper, and vegetarian is even cheaper!). Downtown, food will cost between RM5 to RM10. It's a bit higher in restaurants. Souvenir shirts are also not very expensive. RM15 for the glow-in-the-dark shirts, and RM20 for the Borneo Backpackers shirt.

Q. What's the trail like?
A. From Mesilau up until the junction, the trek will be moderate, with some long ascents and brief descents. From the junction all the way to Laban Rata, good luck! Be sure to have a banana or some salt to ward off muscle cramps. The trail is very well maintained. The earth is packed so it's not muddy. In some steep sections, rocks or even wood is placed on the trail to fashion out steps. In very difficult portions, wooden stairs have been built. Note, however, that these steps were not made for Asian legs, so good luck.

The summit plateau of Mt. Kinabalu is 100% granite, but it isn't actually slippery, and the rope is placed mostly as a guide so you don't wander off and fall down the ravine.

From the junction down to Timpohon, it's a very straight-forward descent, which ends with a crazy ascent up to the gate!

Q. What do I need to do to get popular with the locals?
A. If you know Jericho Rosales, that's certainly a plus. I'm not sure if Echo is still as famous as he was in 2006, but he and Kristine are a hit there because they dubbed the famous soap where the tandem starred. Nonetheless, here are some basic Malay phrases:
Selamat pagi - Good morning
Selamat tenggahari - Good afternoon (up to 2pm)
Selamat petang - Good afternoon (after 2pm)
Selamat maalam - Good evening/Good night
Apa Khabar - How are you?
Selamat datang - Welcome
Nama saya - My name is...