Climbing to the top of Mount Kinabalu, reaching 4,095m, and doing the highest Via Ferrata in the world with a starting point of 3,776m. (This is the same hight as Mt Fuji in Japan). This is the best thing we did in Borneo, an absolutely incredibly, scary and unique experience. Getting down we were high on adrenaline, we loved it.
The climb to the top
In order to do the via ferrata we had to climb up Mount Kinabalu. Staring at around 8am, organising a guide which is obligatory, we jumped on the bus to Timpohon gate, like most sane people. It’s also possible to walk to Timpohon gate and save the 17R ($4USD) return bus fare. The 6km hike to Pendant hut starts here, where we will spend the night before the final part of the hike.
The starting point at Timpohon gate is at ~1800m and the lodges are at ~3200m so we needed to ascend 1,400 meters over that 6km to get to our accommodation.
It’s pretty much stairs the whole way up. The native bush here makes Jeremy think of home, it’s look very much like New Zealand. Stopping at the 4km mark for a quick lunch break we continue to climb the stairs. There is no up and down, it’s just up for the whole 6km, varying between rocks, mud and stairs but nothing technically challenging. The last 0.5km is the most challenging, our guide explains that the first 5.5k is flat compared to the last 0.5km. It’s not flat, just nothing compared with the remaining 0.5km. Luckily, it’s only 0.5km and it’s over before we know it. Anyone who is stubborn enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other will be able to do this climb.
While hiking you pass cool plants, there is a small chance to see orang-utans and the famous hornbill. We were not that lucky.
In order to do the via ferrata it’s mandatory to attend the 3pm briefing at Pendant Hut, if we don’t arrive for this, there is no via ferrata. Given this is the whole point of us trekking up the mountain we are slightly nervous we will miss it. There is absolutely no need to be nervous, we made it with hours to spare.
Arriving to Pendant Hut there is tea and coffee waiting for us as well as amazing views of the area and Mount Kinabalu. Feeling very lucky the sky is clear and we can see the landscape.
At the 3pm briefing the staff goes through all the security stuff, the timings and everything else we need to know about the via ferrata. The Via Ferrata trainers makes this both interesting and fun to listen to. Cracking a few jokes is a good way of keeping us all interested.
When the briefing started, I suddenly became really nervous. The Via Ferrata trainer is talking about the 600m drops and the bridges we have to walk across. I am not scared of heights, but I am also not a fan of them. I am actually slightly surprised that I even get that nervous. I guess it’s because the next day I am supposed to be climbing down a rock face, with a harness and sheer drops. When we have to fill in the form where we sign our life away (the formal stuff) I get even more nervous and can’t even write my name properly.
Once we have tested out the equipment relevant to the via ferrata route we are using, we are free to go.
Dinner is served at one of the other huts, between 4.30pm and 7.00pm. It’s a buffet and we certainly enjoy this. Eating as much as we possibly can, carbing up for the hike in the morning/ middle of the night, a few hours from now.
We are all in bed by 8pm, of course it’s impossible to go to sleep that early, so not a lot of sleep for us. The “morning” starts at 1.45am after a few hours of sleep with toast and tea.
At 2.30am we start the ascent to 4,095m, that’s 2.8km walking up hill. The sunrise is around 6.00am and we’re told that we need to make it there for between 5.30am and 5.50am. If we get there too late we miss the sunrise and if we get there too early it will be too cold. If we get there too early we will probably end up leaving early and missing the sunrise due to the cold.
After 1.2km there is a check point ( bring your pass or they won’t let you in) which has the highest toilet in south east Asia. We relax here for 15 min or so but it’s just way too cold to sit in one place for that long.
We are all walking in a line with our head torches. We then reach what’s called “the danger zone” which makes me think of Top Gun, Kenny Logins.. no?.. just me? ok.. anyway.. the danger zone is where you move from stairs to being a rock face and is a bit steeper going. There is a rope which you can use to assist getting up and not slipping down the rock.
Joseph, the guide, is very helpful guiding us to the top. We make it to the top, Low’s Peak, at around 5.30am, which is great as we won’t miss the sunrise but bad because the it’s so cold. We hide in one of the many “caves” to try to get away from the wind.
We did the hike in July, during the summer time and the temperatures are actually colder because the air is more dry. If you want to spend some time on the summit and taking in the incredible views then bring something warm so you don’t freeze your tits off.
For us we obviously want to see the sunrise but we are more interested in getting to the via ferrata. We have to make it back down to the starting point by 7.30am or we won’t be allowed to do the via ferrata.
Finally at 6.00am we the sun is up, we take some photos and we can finally starts the descent to the starting point of the via ferrata.
The Via Ferrata
The starting point is 3,776m which makes this the highest via ferrata in the world. The whole trail is 1.2km, divided into three bits. Downhill, forest and uphill. Jeremy has done via ferrate in Italy before and is slightly concerned that we are descening rather than ascending the via ferrata, however after finishing he is very happy not having to climb up the side of a mountain for 1.2km. It’s a very impressive Via Ferrata trail, so professional, very well set up and maintained.
We are divided into groups of three plus a via ferrata trainer. We are lucky enough to get into a group with Joe, who leads the way at the front and the trainer, Liao, is at the back.
So this is it, we have talked about this experience for the past 3 months now. We are about to start the climb down the face of a mountain and I am feeling so sick and kind of want to cancel. I am too stubborn to not go through with something like this, I already know that but I still want to throw up.
We start the ascent and I am feeling surprisingly good. It’s actually really good fun. Like I said I am not good with heights but it’s not like looking straight down into nothing. The mountain drop at the start is more of at 45 degree angle rather than just a sheer drop. This makes me feel better, just walking along the mountain side, with 400m drops, feeling very safe with the gear we are using and Liao being very supportive.
If we had sore legs from the hike up we have already forgotten about, when there is a 600m drop, this kind of takes your mind off the sore legs.
There are a few points of the climb down that’s more scary than others but, crossing over the bridges is the highlight for some and the most hated for others.
In regards to activities this is one of the most exciting things I have ever done. Climbing down the side of a mountain, 600m drops with just a rope and a harness to protect me. It’s so terrifying an freeing at the same time. I absolutely loved it and would love to do it again.
Deciding between Low’s Peak Circuit and Walk the Torq
Mountain Torq has two different Via Ferrata going. Low’s Peak Circuit and Walk the Torq. Low’s Peak route is the long one, 1.2km, this one takes 3-4 hours depending on the group you go in. They say this route is for the brave, and active person with above average fitness levels. Having not done any exercise for months or no training we don’t completely agree with this. If you are fit enough to make it up the mountain for sunrise and down to the starting point, you will be fine to do this.
Walk the Torq is designed for those that want a taste of the Via Ferrata experience without hanging on the side of a mountain. The views here are still amazing but nothing compared with Low’s Peak circuit. In hindsight we would have been disappointed if we had gone with the Walk the Torq but of course this all depends on the individual. Very much an introduction to Via Ferrata course. This is also good for those people terrified of heights, as Low’s Peak certainly has the height thing going for it.
We booked this trip trough Mountain Torq. They run a very professional service, very organised, fun staff which made the experience even better. All the equipment is certified with UIAA, so you will be in good hands.
Check them out on www.mountaintorq.com