Promise of an easy hike stumbles on Borneo's Mount Kinabalu
April 13, 1997
(CNN) -- Many guide books lure hikers to northwestern Borneo with the promise of an easy prize -- a relatively painless trek to the top of Mount Kinabalu, the highest point in Southeastern Asia. Some call it the climb anyone can do.
Don't believe everything you read.
Yes, the mountain in Kinabalu National Park, on the Malaysian part of the island, is accessible and easy for some fit travelers to conquer. But the climb is steep, relentless and takes even accomplished hikers many hours --not a big surprise, once you get past the hype.
The Sabah Park Service estimates the climb takes about 10 hours, with the hardest part at the end. Most people break the trek into two days.
Mount Kinabalu's trail stretches from park headquarters to the 13,000-foot summit. By some estimates, there are almost 60,000 steps from start to finish. The clearly-marked path has much-needed rest stops and shelters along the way.
According to local lore, Kinabalu is where the spirits of the dead go when they leave the body. From the lofty perch, they're said to watch mortals -- perhaps smiling at those attempting the climb.
It's a scenic trek -- not just for the panoramic views. Botanists have identified at least 1,000 species of the orchid family on Kinabalu, along with unusual rhododendrons, rare pitcher plants and giant red blossoms of rafflesia.
The Laban Rata house offers respite after the first day of the hike.
The basic accommodations are perched at about 11,000 feet above sea-level. The decor is simple, but after the ordeal of getting there it feels like a five-star hotel.
Area: 286,914 square miles/743,107 km
Population: about 12 million
Climate: Tropical monsoon
Average annual temperature: 80 degrees fahrenheit (27 degrees celsius)
About one-quarter of Borneo belongs to Malaysia and the tiny nation of Brunei
About three-quarters of Borneo belongs to the Republic of Indonesia
More than 50 kinds of lumber including teak, rattan
Major exports: petroleum, rubber, cinnamon, cloves, coffee, cotton, nutmeg
The accommodations are dormitory-style with shared bathrooms and a potluck draw for roommates. Even the "VIP suite" is spartan, though it has its own bathroom. An early breakfast wake-up call (at 2 a.m.) ensures hikers get up in time to cover the last 3,000 feet to the summit.
A spectacular view of the sunrise rewards those who make it to the top before dawn -- like a blessing from the spirits to guide weary hikers back home.
Photos by Tham Yau Kong