Climbing Mount Kinabalu – the highest mountain in Southeast Asia which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a surreal experience. Yet like most outdoor activities, bad weather can be a major issue. As such, it is wise to check the weather around the mountain region, before you decide to book your air ticket and pack up.
First of all, to know and accept the fact that very tall mountains are very capable of trapping clouds around them, coupled with the nature of tropical climate and Sabah lying below the typhoon belt (hence commonly referred to as “Land Below The Wind”); rain falls almost every day regardless of season, as illustrated in the chart below.
Sabah is subjected to two main rainy seasons, brought by the northeast monsoon between October and January, and the southwest monsoon between May and July. Precipitation determines the amount of rainfall and as shown in the both charts above, the driest months in terms of rainfall here would be February and March, with January and April being slightly wetter. Pick your months wisely if a summit climb is in your to-do list, as a climb to the summit can be cancelled due to bad weather. However, due to recent climate patterns change and global warming, the weather forecast remains to be inaccurate and fluctuates on yearly basis.
The general daily weather pattern around the mountain would be clear and sunny early mornings, followed by increasingly cloudy mid-morning, and then showers in the afternoon or evening. Weather around the mountain is rather fickle, so do not be surprised if it rains early morning and gets sunny in the afternoon instead. These downpours are commonly between 1 to 2 hours, so there is no worry about your whole day getting spoiled.
Despite sharing similar rainfall with nearby city such as Kota Kinabalu, do note that the temperatures illustrated in chart 1 above are that of Kota Kinabalu’s, and Mount Kinabalu has its own climate, typically ranging from 15°C to 24°C at the park, and from 6°C to 14°C at Panar Laban base camp along the summit trail at 3,270m (10,728 feet) above sea level. Temperature at the summit at 4,095m (13,435 feet) can drop right down to freezing 0°C at night.
In conclusion, February to April is the best period to come pay a visit to the mountain. As mentioned above, the weather around Mount Kinabalu is not quite tropical-like and tends to be cold and wet all the time. As such, do prepare to get raincoats ready and wrap yourself in warm clothing from head to toe. Any gear you would be carrying with you would need to be covered with water-proof material.
Via Ferrata Activities
The term via ferrata means “iron road” in Italian. is a protected climbing route found in the Alps and certain other locations. The essence of a modern via ferrata is a steel cable which runs along the route and is periodically (every 1 to 10 metres (3.3 to 32.8 ft)) fixed to the rock.
Using a via ferrata kit, climbers can secure themselves to the cable, limiting any fall. The cable can also be used as aid to climbing, and additional climbing aids, such as iron rungs (stemples), pegs, carved steps and even ladders and bridges are often provided.
Thus via ferratas allow otherwise dangerous routes to be undertaken without the risks associated with unprotected scrambling and climbing or the need for climbing equipment such as ropes. They offer the relatively inexperienced a means of enjoying dramatic positions and accessing difficult peaks, normally the preserve of the serious mountaineer; although, as there is a need for some equipment, a good head for heights and basic technique, the via ferrata can be seen as a distinct step up from ordinary mountain walking.
Conversely, the modest equipment requirements, ability to do them solo, and potential to cover a lot of ground, mean that via ferratas can also appeal to more experienced climbers.
At Mt Kinabalu, there are two routes of via ferrata to choose from. Walk The Torq is offered for the less adventurous, though with a curious heart. It is shorter, in lower altitude but equally fun!
Low Peak Circuit is the intermediate level, for those adrenaline junkies. It includes the Walk The Torq route and thus making it the longest and highest via ferrata in the world!
Get The Right Gear Ready
Asian countries have a tropical climate, but not Mount Kinabalu. Here it rains just about every day and temperatures range between cool and freezing. Wear warm clothing and the right shoes (hiking shoes or sport shoes); get a lightweight raincoat to keep your body and backpack dry. Cover any other gear you would not want soaked like camera and mobile devices with waterproof material.
Head torch is extremely helpful, as you will be ascending on the summit trail in the dark. At the “danger zone”, you’ll need both your hands to grab on to the ropes.
For those with weaker knees, walk sticks are helpful as well, to keep your pace up to base camp or the summit.
Hand gloves and First Aid Kits are useful as well, as you never know when you will get hurt by the rough mountain terrain while climbing on the summit trail.
Do Not Try To Be A Show-Off
Experienced or not, it is always better to play it safe when taking on a place like Mount Kinabalu. Listen to your guide and follow any instructions carefully. DO NOT try to pull off any reckless stunts just because it seems fun, and stick to your group during the climb at all times. If you happen to feel unwell during the climb, alert your guide, take a rest and if necessary, ask to be escorted back to the base camp.
Altitude sickness affects everyone on individual basis, regardless of health, strength, age and sexes. If you cannot continue to ascend to the peak, don’t force yourself. It is better to pace yourself, take in enough oxygen with each breath, and ascend accordingly.
Bring Something To Eat Along The Climb
Climbing a mountain is very tiring and you will get hungry sooner than you would have expected. As such, get some dry, easy-to-carry energy packed foods: sports / energy bars, chocolates, breads or candies before climbing. It is also not advisable to have heavy meals before climbing, as with any other sports. Doing so would probably make you very uncomfortable during the trip. Unless you have more than an hour ahead of you before climbing, stick to light breakfast rich in protein instead of carbohydrate laden foods.
A Bottle Of Water Would Suffice
Water is provided at rest stops (pondoks) along the way, so it would suffice to just bring a bottle of water and then use it for refilling, instead of carry litres on your back and make your trip harsher than necessary. Despite being clean and drinkable, the water provided is untreated. Bring iodine salts if you happen to have a sensitive stomach. Drink lots of water even if you do not feel thirsty, as it helps with altitude acclimatization.
Have Ample Rest Before Your Journey
By rest, we mean sleep well. It takes a lot of stamina and focus to climb a mountain like Mount Kinabalu. Do so with shaky legs and woozy heads and you might need to stop and vomit. The height of the mountain would also mean you might be susceptible to altitude sickness. Sleep well and the brunt of altitude sickness may be reduced, while lacking good rest will have it hit you harder than it otherwise would.
If you really could not avoid alcoholic drinks before your climbing trip, please do so moderately as climbing with a hangover will surly make you feel sicker and more prone to altitude sickness.
Follow the tips written above and you should be able to enjoy your climb at Mount Kinabalu. We wish you good luck and hope you’ll have a great and adventurous trip to the mountain!