Mount Kinabalu (Malay: Gunung Kinabalu) is a prominent mountain on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is located in the East Malaysian state of Sabah and is protected as Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site. Kinabalu is the highest peak in Borneo’s Crocker Range and is the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago. Mount Kinabalu is also the 20th most prominent mountain in the world bytopographic prominence.
In 1997, a re-survey using satellite technology established its summit (known as Low’s Peak) height at 4,095 metres (13,435 ft) above sea level, which is some 6 metres (20 ft) less than the previously thought and hitherto published figure of 4,101 metres (13,455 ft).
Mount Kinabalu includes the Kinabalu montane alpine meadows ecoregion in the montane grasslands and shrublands biome. The mountain and its surroundings are among the most important biological sites in the world, with between 5000 and 6000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 mammalian species identified. Among this rich collection of wildlife are famous species such as the gigantic Rafflesia plants and the orangutan. Mount Kinabalu has been accorded UNESCO World Heritage status.
Low’s Peak can be climbed quite easily by a person in good physical condition and there is no need for mountaineering equipment at any point on the main route. Other peaks along the massif, however, require rock climbing skills.
Climbing the Mountain.
Climbers must be accompanied by accredited guides at all times due to national park regulations. There are two main starting points for the climb: the Timpohon Gate (located 5.5 km from Kinabalu Park Headquarters, at an altitude of 1,866 metres (6,122 ft)), and the Mesilau Nature Resort. The latter starting point is slightly higher in elevation, but crosses a ridge, adding about two kilometres to the ascent and making the total elevation gain slightly higher. The two trails meet about two kilometres before Laban Rata.
Accommodation is available inside the park or outside near the headquarters. Sabah Parks has privatised Mount Kinabalu activities to an organisation called Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (also known as Sutera Harbour). The mountain may be climbed on a single day trip, or hikers may (usually) stay one night at Laban Rata Resthouse at 3,270 metres (10,730 ft) to complete the climb in 2 days, finishing the ascent and descending on the second day. The majority of climbers begin the ascent on day one of a two-day hike from Timpohon gate at 1,866 metres (6,122 ft), reaching this location either by minibus or by walking, and then walk to Laban Rata. Most people accomplish this part of the climb in 3 to 6 hours. Since there are no roads, the supplies for the Laban Rata Resthouse are carried by porters, who bring up to 35 kilograms of supplies on their backs. Hot food and beverages are available at Laban Rata. Most rooms have no hot water in the bathrooms and whilst the dining area is heated, most rooms are not. The last 2 kilometres (6,600 ft), from the Laban Rata Resthouse at 3,270 metres (10,730 ft) to Low’s Peak (summit) at 4,095.2 metres (13,436 ft), takes between 2 and 4 hours. The last part of the climb is on naked granite rock.
Given the high altitude, some people may suffer from altitude sickness and should return immediately to the bottom of the mountain, as breathing and any further movement becomes increasingly difficult.
There are two stories that led to the main beliefs in the origin of the mountain’s name.
The first derivation of the word Kinabalu is extracted from the short form for the Kadazan Dusun word ‘Aki Nabalu’, meaning “the revered place of the dead”.
The second source states that the name “Kinabalu” actually means “Cina Balu” (which would fully mean “A Chinese Widow”). Due to the lingual influence among the Kadazan Dusun of Sabah, the pronunciation for the word “cina” (chee-na) was changed to “Kina” (kee-na).
It was told that a Chinese prince, was cast away to Borneo when his ship sank in the middle of the South China Sea. He was subsequently rescued by the natives from a nearby village. As he recovered, he was slowly accepted as one of the people of the village. Eventually, he fell in love with a local woman, and married her. Years went by, and he started to feel homesick. So he asked permission from his newly-found family to go back to China to visit his parents (the Emperor and Empress of China). To his wife, he promised that as soon as he was done with his family duties in China, he would come back to Borneo to take her and their children back to China.
When he made his return to China, he was given a grand welcome by his family. However, to his dismay, his parents disagreed with him about taking his Bornean wife back to China. Worse, they told him that he was already betrothed to a princess of a neighbouring kingdom. Having no choice (due to high respect towards his parents), he obeyed with a heavy heart.
Meanwhile, back in Borneo, his wife grew more and more anxious. Eventually, she decided that she will wait for her husband’s ship. However, since the village was situated far away from the coast, she couldn’t afford to come to the shore and wait for him daily. Instead she decided to climb to the top of the highest mountain near her village, so that she could have a better view of the ships sailing in the South China Sea. Thus, she was then seen climbing up the mountain at every sunrise, returning only at night to attend to her growing children.
Eventually her efforts took their toll. She fell ill, and died at the top of the cold mountain while waiting for her husband. The spirit of the mountain, having observed her for years, was extremely touched by her loyalty towards her husband. Out of admiration for this woman, the spirit of the mountain turned her into a stone. Her face was made to face the South China Sea, so that she could wait forever for her dear husband’s return.
The people in her hometown who heard about this were also gravely touched by this. Thus, they decided to name the mountain “Kinabalu” in remembrance of her. To them, the mountain is a symbol of the everlasting love and loyalty that should be taken as a good example by women.
Local legend among the people of Ranau, a district in Sabah, has it that St. John’s Peak was the stone which her body was turned into.