Mount Kinabalu (Kotal route) - Borneo
A unique chance to trek a rarely used route through the rainforest onto the eastern plateau of Mt Kinabalu crossing the Bowens route to the west plateau and spend a few days exploring the amazing peaks on this very young mountain which rises out of the worlds oldest rainforest.
Most groups climb Kinabalu in a 2 day dash up to the summit, missing out on much that the mountain has to offer. It is a classic U-shaped mountain, a batholith rising out of the rainforest, and there are many peaks on the two plateaux. Linking the two is the amazing Bowens route which involves lots of scrambling with ropes and ladders to help. This is a real adventure, with many nights spent in the forest and on the summit, a big learning curve for anyone interested in extending their skills.
At 4,095m Kinabalu is the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago and between the Himalayas and the snow mountains of New Guinea. Lacking foothills it appears to shoot straight up into the sky, it’s jagged granite peaks floating high above the clouds. The mountain is U-shaped and there is a bare rock plateau at about 3,900m, on top of the two 'arms' called the Eastern and Western plateaux. In between is the infamous Lows Gully, which is over one kilometer deep in places.
Groups are generally 5 - 8 in number with one or two guides, and using some local porters if necessary. But the emphasis with this trip is on self-sufficiency, so expect to carry everything in one rucksack and work on a system of self-management in the mountains.
The route is called Kotal's route and it starts near Kundasang and not far from the Mesilau resort, crosses the Pinosok plateau and past the Mesilau cave and through forest to the Menteki river at about 1800 meters.
The next few days are spent ascending the east side of the mountain which starts with a steep narrow ridge before a steep descent to the Bembangan river at about 2750 meters where we camp for the night.
Back on the ridge the route ascends and reaches the Mesilau Pinnacles where the views are amazing. A strange formation known as Rhino Horn must be circumvented by scrambling around the base where it is very steep; you will be using tree roots and branches to negotiate sections of vertical rock. This is a tricky section and it will take time and effort and care.
The route continues round the base of the pinnacles over a few days, always at around 3000 metres, until reaching the Letingan stream, and some of the clambering is down a waterfall. All this hard work is at last rewarded when you reach the head of the Mekado Valley and the steep granite rock which takes you onto the eastern plateau.
This section descends from the eastern plateau and involves a lot of scrambling on rock, with the help of ladders and ropes. Initially the track descends on steep rock slab, and negotiates various gullies and rocky scrubby ground (with great views around you, but lots of air beneath your feet) until you reach the cliffs that are at the base of the plateau. The descent requires considerable care, and use of the protective measures on the mountain. There is a seven metre chimney, and all the most difficult sections have ladders in place, but this is a highly memorable experience for the non-climber.
(photo courtesy mount-kinabalu-borneo.com)
We have our own trip leaders in Borneo who can be trusted to not only give you a fascinating and fun insight into the various locations where we visit but also ensure that you are safe and well looked after. We also employ local mountain guides who speak excellent English and who provide specific care in certain areas like on the mountain and in the jungle.
Activities and Highlights
Ascending by the old jungle route to the eastern plateau is rarely done these days, maybe once every few years. This makes the trip much more an 'expedition' than a commercial trip. Bowen's route is super exciting, few people do it, and there's a lot of satisfaction tackling something much more challenging than the standard walk up the normal route. Be in no doubt however that this is a highly challenging route which is going to be affected by the weather, especially the Bowens route section which cannot be done in rain. A dry day is needed for this part so we have to accept that delays might happen and you may might have to wait until the conditions are perfect.
Dates and Itinerary
In the itinerary below, under elevation ST = Starting altitude, HP = High Point for the day and SL = Sleep Level
We can offer bespoke itineraries very easily for readymade groups with a preference for their own dates. Please contact us for details.
The climb ascends the eastern plateau through jungle and open rocky ground to achieve the high point of King George's Peak and then a descent via Bowen's route - a short steep niche in the cliffs which is aided by ladders and ropes - to Sayat Sayat hut and a further exploration of the peaks of the western plateau, including the summit of Low's Peak. Descent on the normal route via Laban Rata hut.
Time in Country
14 days including international travel, 10 days on the mountain. There are plenty of options for further travel, to arrive early or stay on later.
|1||Depart UK (usually on an overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur).|
|2 & 3||Sea Level||Arrive in Kota Kinabalu, in Borneo. Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah, one of the states of Malaysia. Transfer to hotel and have some time to relax. The next day will be spent preparing for the trip such as buying any last minute supplies, getting over jetlag, and acclimatising to the heat and humidity.|
|4||ST:Sea Level SL:2360m||Depart for Mt Kinabalu Park, a 2 hour drive to the start of our expedition. Start ascending the route which was discovered in 1963. Primary and secondary rainforest, pitcher plants, orchids, flowers, mossy forest, bamboos and the possibility of seeing wild pig, deer, monkeys and other small mammals. We initially ascend a steep hillside of Nepenthes Rajah, the largest pitcher plant in the world, followed by a traverse to our campsite or bivouac.|
|5, 6, 7||ST:2360m SL:3110m, 3290m, 3350m||Ascend the ridge steadily in jungle, making campsites along the way. The environment becomes less dense and opens out with views of the high plateau above and the largely unexplored Mekado valley below.|
|8, 9||ST:3350m SL:3900m||Reach the granite slopes of the Eastern plateau polished by glaciers, with fantastic views of a multitude of peaks, until we reach King George peak, the natural summit of the Eastern plateau. From here you can gaze across the awesome Low's Gully to the peaks of the Western plateau. The next move depends on weather, whether to descend and cross Bowen's route of camp on the east plateau. The traverse provides the essential link between the Eastern and Western plateaux and is the crux of the route. For about a kilometre it contours along the line where vegetation meets rock slabs, deep into mossy forest and eventually negotiates a series of rock ledges with the aid of fixed ropes and aluminium ladders. It is exciting but requires care and teamwork. After 2 hours we reach the normal route of Mt Kinabalu, and ascend it to Sayat Sayat Hut which is just below the start of the walk on granite to Lows Peak, the actual summit of Mt Kinabalu.|
|10||ST:3900m HP:4095m SL:3900m||We spend the day exploring the various peaks and experiencing the solitude and beauty of camping on the mountain. There are many peaks to explore on this plateau, plus the great experience of gazing down into the depths of Low's Gully.|
|11||ST:3900m SL:2440m||After more exploration of the mountain descend the normal route in the afternoon to the Laban Rata hut where there is a hot buffet meal and showers. The descent is quite easy on a path.|
|12||ST:2440m SL:Sea Level||Further descent to the Park gatre and a drive back to town in the afternoon. The descent is very steep but on easy steps, tough on the knees!|
|13||Sea level||Time in the morning for souvenir shopping or visiting one of the islands for some snorkelling. It is possible to fly home this evening at the earliest.|
|14||Sea Level||Depart Kota Kinabalu. You can either depart back home, or we can provide any other optional add-on trips throughout Borneo.|
Private Group Option
If you have a group of four or more people we can organise a private expedition for your team on any dates which suit you, at no extra cost. You simply need to book on this website and give your group a name and then put in all the travel details and specific information about your group and we will handle it!
Mount Kinabalu (Kotal route) cost: £1,395.00
- Accommodation throughout expedition
- Jeep or coach transport throughout expedition
- Park fees, camping fees and peak fees
- Park certified guides and assistant guides/company reps
- Expedition administrator
- Meals throughout expedition - (excluding lunches and dinners in Kota Kinabalu)
- UK administration and organisation of your trip
- International Flights to Kota Kinabalu
- Lunches and Dinners in Kota Kinabalu
- Personal Travel Insurance
- Personal Spending Money
We advise you to take out your insurance as soon as possible to cover potential events that might cause you to cancel your trip.
You need to ensure that you have a policy which covers trekking to 4095 m, but it does not need to cover technical climbing. You should bring with you a copy of your policy. It is also worth bringing a photocopy of your passport and to keep it separate to your own documents just in case you lose your passport.
Company Insurance - we have full tour operators liability insurance which covers public liability and employers liability.
Financial Insolvency - we have full financial bonding in place which is both a requirement of membership of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AiTO) and also of the European Travel Directive.
You can find out more information about taking out an insurance policy here.
Adventure Alternative shares it's profit margin with our local company in Borneo, Adventure Alternative Borneo, which provides training and development opportunities for local people and communities. The profit share scheme ensures that our local company can run a good company and provide proper wages and training, which is an unusual thing to find in a tourist company in a developing country.
Every place you visit also has a share in the profit, and we always make sure that we bring clients to the same places over many years so that they can develop and compete against the bigger corporate places.
Places which are supported by Moving Mountains where clients from our trips stay, for example Penan villages in Sarawak, also share in the profits. This is a highly successful way of using tourism to fund some of our developmental work.
Our trips have been entirely thought out in terms of the local people and the impact upon them, and the benefit they can gain from having visitors. You can find more information about the benefits of your trip here and local benefits in Borneo here.
Our local provider is Adventure Alternative Borneo. Adventure Alternative Borneo complies with UK tourism standards.
Where we do use providers such as hostel and guesthouse owners and homestays these are people our Adventure Alternative Borneo staff have known for years, and spent time with to build up the trust between both parties. More information about Local Providers can be found on this page.
You will need to be fit for this trip, and we suggest a good training regime in the gym and swimming pool and of course in the outdoors. You will be carrying a pack every day, with a maximum weight of 18kgs, on muddy slopes and through dense forest initially and later on huge granite slopes which can be very slippery after rain. You will be required to scramble and use your hands a lot, balancing and moving efficiently on routes where there is almost no path. Some of the sections feature fixed anchors like ladders and wires, and you will have to negotiate these with a pack on your back. This is not a technical route, but you will be using your whole body over consecutive days in hot and humid climate below, and then on potentially cold and windy days up high. You will need to have excellent mobility and be completely happy carrying packs. If you are a regular hillwalker used to camping out then a short training programme working on the quads and thighs will be useful, otherwise a much more stringent regime on the step machines with a pack on (or preferably long days out on the hill with a minimum 10kg pack on your back.
Type of Terrain
Mount Kinabalu is an oval-shaped granite dome which arose from volcanic and tectonic movements about 1.5 million years ago, which was followed by glacial erosion during the Ice Age, and this accounts for the smooth rock surface. The lower slopes are steep, but the path is well trodden with regular water stops and many wooden steps that meander ever upwards. There is no doubt that it seems never-ending, especially in the midday heat! As you trek through the vegetation zones, there are many view points to enjoy and lots of stops. A lot of people climb the mountain, so you are rarely alone, although you do feel very jealous of those coming down.
Above the hut at Laban Rata you pass onto the high plateau, from vegetation to rock, and the terrain is altogether different. It is utterly bare of plant life, just miles of granite and many peaks and spires. It is easy to walk across, except when it is raining. When the surface is wet you have to be very careful of slipping. When the cloud comes down it is very easy to get lost up on this remote plateau, so be very aware of the weather.
Coming down the mountain can be difficult too, with hundreds of steps to negotiate until your knees are complaining and your feet are sore. Again, it seems never-ending, but at least you are now passing people on their way up who are feeling jealous of you!
The rainforest is actually a very clean and pure place to visit. The canopy offers excellent shade from the intense sun and traps moisture however it can be very humid and a lot of water will be continually drunk. Sometimes the paths can be muddy and slippery, but movement is never fast. A good day would be 10 kiometres of ground covered.
On this trip we will be covering remote and deep forest, bush whacking and ascending a ridge onto the eastern plateau. It is quite physcially challenging but not technical, you just need to be careful and well balanced on your feet. It is hot and humid but gradually getting cooler as we ascend.
(Altitudes in metres)
|Day||Start Level||Daily High Point||Sleep Level|
Sayat Sayat Hut and Laban Rata
This is an amazing little hut on the normal route with astounding views, where we will base ourselves on the start of the western plateau. Laban Rata is very busy and sociable, with dormitories, showers and a large restaurant.
This is an attractive sea side lodge on the South China Sea. There is a white sandy beach, and spectacular sunsets make it an ideal base to start our trip. The food is excellent, and a small bar makes for a great atmosphere. All rooms are twinned and have attached bathrooms and fans. We sometimes use this place for the trip to end.
An eco lodge right at the base of Mt Kinabalu near Poring Hot Springs. We may use this as the base for the start of the trek. Accommodation at Lupa Masa is basic but comfortable; nights are spent in stretcher-type hammocks in traditional “sulaps”. In the bathrooms there are bucket showers, or an option which many guests prefer is to shower in one of the beautiful waterfalls or streams surrounding the lodge.
It is important to point out that the challenge is a non-technical trek to climb Kinabalu. You will need to be reasonably fit and an experienced hill walker will find this expedition within his or her capabilities. There are no climbing skills or experience needed, but there is no doubt that this is big learning curve for people who have been used to highly supported treks in Nepal or on Kilimanjaro for example. Teamwork is essential, and a positive attitude towards an 'expedition' mind, rather than a standard client/guide relationship. This is a trip where everybody has an input.
Adventure Alternative Support
We provide the group equipment, plus the organisation and booking of the permits, and the staff needed to guide this trip.
Adventure Alternative supplies excellent guides and where appropriate local porters. Our leader has a lot experience of travelling in Borneo and will manage the situations and help teach you any skills which you may not already have, but in the village there will be no better support or teacher than the local people.
- Rucksack, minimum 75 litres
- Rucksack cover
- Day sack of 30 -40 litres for day trips on the plateaux
- Variety of waterproof dribags
- Full length closed cell sleeping mat or thermarest
- Sleeping bag liner
- Sleeping bag (3 season)
- Bivi bag
- Good quality trekking boots with ankle support
- Jungle shoes (can be bought in KK)
- Sandals or flipflops
- Base Layer
- Trekking clothes - several sets
- Fleece top
- Sunhat and warm hat
- Sun lotion, SPF lip screen and sunglasses
- Swimming costume and towel
- Water bottles and/or camelback and water purifying system
- Head torch
- Personal wash kit
- Personal first aid
- Passport, insurance papers, spending money etc
- Mosquito net for your bed in KK (mostly they are provided, but for security bring your own).
- Small towel for the climb, and larger towel for beach/snorkelling etc.
Cycling shorts are useful to wear in the jungle rather than cotton underwear. On the mountain standard trekking clothes apply, with shorts and Tshirts initially followed by warm layers up high, where it can get very cold and wet. Waterproofs are necessary and a good fleece jacket for the early mornings. Take both warm and sun hats, plus good gloves for both negotiating the undergrowth (lots of spiky branches which you might want to hold onto) and the cold of the summit (when it can also be wet, so waterproof cover is good).
For your feet wear local shoes made of plastic in the jungle, they can be bought in KK and are perfect for wet ground and crossing streams. They are plastic with rubber studs and cost a few pounds, and you don't wear socks with them. But also bring some sandals or flip flops for the campsite or village. But on the mountain the terrain is difficult and we recommend a good pair of lightweight, goretex trekking boots with a high ankle for protection. Keeping these dry is the challenge, you may want to bring gaiters as well.
Note that anything delicate, absorbant or electronic is likely to suffer from the damp atmosphere, so do bring lots of dry bags, especially for your sleeping bag.
The sleeping bag should be 3 season and preferably synthetic, because down bags will be difficult to dry if they get wet. Bring a liner for the jungle section if it is too hot, and also use it up higher to add warmth. The difficulty with this trip is that it is very hot and humid in the jungle area, but often very cold up high on the mountain. Better to use the layering system - a 3 season bag with an additional liner - and a good quality sleeping mat which will give good insulation.
On this trip there will be a lot of camping in open sites or bivouacs on the way up to the eastern plateau, and there may not be room for tents. We therefore also recommend a waterproof bivi bag to cover your sleeping bag just in case. This can either be the more expensive goretex bivi bags, or a simple survival bag. We will also provide bashas, or tarpaulins which can be rigged up over a sleeping person.
It will be possible to leave travel clothes in the beach lodge or at Lupa Masa in your duffle bag, but don't leave anything valuable. On the trek you will use just one rucksack to put everything into, and don't forget to leave room for group equipment like food and stoves. It can be a good idea to strap a small day sack to the outside of your large rucksack for day hikes on the west plateau, and it goes without saying to always use a waterproof rucksack cover.
Clothing tends to go rotten quite quickly if you let it remain damp in the high humidity and heat. There is opportunity to wash stuff in the rivers and streams and then dry them in the sun, but generally we work on a wet and dry principle in the jungle. You have your wet set for the day, normally t-shirt and shorts, which will become soaked in minutes once you start trekking. When you get to camp, change into your dry set (preferably long sleeved, light trousers and top to keep out the insects) along with long light socks and sandals. Then keep further warmer clothing for the higher camps, plus waterproofs, hats and gloves. You can't wear waterproofs in the jungle, it's far too humid and hot, so most people end up throwing their wet set away at the end of the trip.
- This is an unusual trip, to our knowledge we are the only company offering a complete traverse of Kinabalu.
- We offer small scale, authentic expeditions, which can also be tailormade.
- We employ fully salaried local staff within a local subsidary company to ensure that revenue is retained in the host nation.
- All our guides and staff are professionally trained and have years of proven experience.
- We have built up partnerships with local guides and drivers which are mutually beneficial and exist on a fair and open basis so that the host country and its people may fully benefit from tourism without being exploited.
- We are continually improving our quality service year on year.
- We are passionate about responsible tourism and our company supports sustainable development worldwide in a real way.
- Adventure Alternative underwrites the charity Moving Mountains.
- Financial security is guaranteed as we are AITO bonded.
- We are members of Interhealth which gives you access to pre-trip health information and on-site assistance by phone in the event of an emergency.
- Adventure Alternative financially supports the tree-planting project funded by Moving Mountains Trust, who are currently providing over £10,000 per year to the forest enrichment programme in the area where the Penan live.