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Mount Kinabalu – Borneo’s highest peak Via Ferrata

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by         : RJ Fisher
last update: August 2020

You are neither a mountaineer nor a rock climber. You might be like me and have a slight case of vertigo. On the other hand, you really want to make the most of your trip and add some excitement with an adrenaline pumping activity. In that case the via ferrata on Gunung Kinabalu is for you!

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What is it?

First of all, what is Gunung Kinabalu? Seriously? Ok, Gunung means mountain in Malay and Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia (4095m).

Second, what is via ferrata. In Latin “via” means path and “ferrata” comes from ferrum meaning iron, so Iron Path. This via ferrata happens to be the highest in the world, whoohoo!

The via ferrata itself is a path laid out along the mountain side. It consists of a series of descents, bridges and traverses. Along the path are rails, rungs and cables to hook on to. So basically you hook, climb, repeat….

Gunung Kinabalu is best visited from Kota Kinabalu. It’s best to use the Skyscanner website to find the full schedule and prices of all incoming and outgoing flights.

Hike up Mount Kinabalu

Alright, let’s first get you up the mountain. Start in the morning for a 4-5hr hike to the Pendant hut at 3289m where you will meet your trainer and receive your mandatory via ferrata briefing. The Pendant hut is a simple but good accommodation on the mountain.

You’ll have to stay at least one night at the Pendant hut to acclimatize to the altitude. It’s an early night with lights out at 8pm, because it’s wake up again at 1.30am the next day.

About an hour later the rest of your ascend (2-3hr) starts for the summit attempt at 4,095m to catch the sunrise. A truly magical sunrise and a sight I’m sure you will never forget.

Sunrise on Gunung Kinabalu
Sunrise on Gunung Kinabalu

Via Ferrata

30 minutes after the sunrise it’s time to descend from the summit to the via ferrata. At the via ferrata there are actually two paths. 1. Walk the Torq: 2-3hr, 430m long at 3,668m altitude. This is the more easy option, but still challenging though. Minimum age 10y and 1,3m height. 2. Low’s Peak Circuit: 4-5hr, 1,2km long at 3,776m altitude. Minimum age 16y and you will need an above average level of fitness.

Whichever patch you choose, do not overestimate yourself. There are thin air conditions and you already have a steep hike under your belt.

Since you will literally be hanging off the rock face you have the point of view that is usually reserved only for professional climbers. Jaw dropping sceneries over Kinabalu national park and fluffy clouds well below from where you are.

The circuit is strenuous, but the incredible views and adrenaline will get you through it. After finalizing the circuit you return to the Pendant hut for breakfast, pick up your certificate and start your descend off the mountain (4-5hr). It’s been a long day.

Via ferrata on Mount Kinabalu
Low’s Peak Circuit

Great achievement

I know, mountaineers might say that Mount Kinabalu is classified as just an “easy” mountain. Rock climbers can argue that via ferrata doesn’t really qualify as climbing, more like traversing and that it’s less challenging, because your path is already laid out for you. Ha!, we are not going to let anyone rain on our parade, we know it’s not K2.

Be proud of your achievement, because that’s what it is. If you did the Low’s Peak Circuit you have been hiking and climbing for at least 10 hours without any training and/or experience. Besides, I bet that there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that you can do that they can’t!

Climbing up Mount Kinabalu via ferrata
Climbing up Mount Kinabalu via ferrata

Book on time

You might want to book ahead, especially in high season, because the local authority limits the number of permits. Only ~150 people are allowed to go up the mountain per day. That includes all hikers, even if they’re not doing the via ferrata.

Book the via ferrata directly with Mountain Torq the company that operates the via ferrata and the Pendant hut. They are extremely professional with quality material, clear briefings and certified guides. Also, for them safety always comes first, so be advised that sudden changes in weather conditions could cause them to cancel last minute.

If you want to include the trek up Mount Kinabalu, as well as transport from and back to your hotel in Kota Kinabalu, then hook up with one of the local tour companies. They can take care of your mountain permit and the arrangements with Mountain Torq. Check the website of Amazing Borneo for tour packages and itineraries.

Travel Insurance

No, no, no, don’t you dare to skip this part, even if you think that travel insurance is boring! Healthcare in Malaysia is hopelessly underdeveloped. Any serious ailments or injuries will almost certainly involve medical transport to Bangkok or Singapore.

Always make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that includes adventurous activities and covers medical care abroad, as well as evacuations and repatriation.

Get a non-committal instant quote.

What do you think, is it for you? Wanna give it a try? Let us know in the comments if climbing Gunung Kinabalu is on your bucket list. Or if you already did this, I’m sure everyone would like to hear about your experience.

Safe Travels!


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