x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ask the expert: A cool respite on Borneo's Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is South East Asia's highest peak, and when you're sweating on the beach, it's hard to believe that on the 4,095m summit there are climbers battling freezing temperatures.

I've booked a beach holiday in Borneo, flying into Kota Kinabalu. I know that after a few days chilling on a sun lounger, I'm going to be keen to do something more active. What are the options or is it too hot here to do anything other than relax?

Kota Kinabalu - universally shortened to KK - is only six degrees north of the equator so the weather stays consistently hot and humid all year. But there's more than one way to find cooler temperatures and if you can't go north, you can go up. Visible from downtown KK is Mount Kinabalu, South East Asia's highest peak, and when you're sweating on the beach, it's hard to believe that on the 4,095m summit there are climbers battling freezing temperatures.

An ascent is within the abilities of most reasonably fit people and an entire industry exists to serve the needs of would-be ascentionists. There is the option of a one-day ascent but that's only for the exceptionally fit because the trails don't open until 7am, there's a climb of 2,200m over 8km and there are usually no summit views because the mountain is enveloped by cloud by mid-morning.

Most people split an ascent over two days, with a rest overnight in a series of basic lodges at Laban Rata, about 800m below the summit. Sutera Harbour Resort (www.suteraharbour.com; 00 60 8831 8888) in KK has the exclusive contract for overnight ascents and offers a 512 ringgit (Dh613) package which includes the park entrance fee, climbing permit, guide, insurance and full board in a dormitory room in Laban Rata. You usually need to book well in advance, although you can also just turn up because there are often last-minute cancellations.

The climb to Laban Rata is steep and very scenic through gorgeous forest. It's on a good path, with lots of places to stop along the way. Most people try to leave Laban Rata at 2.30am so they can see sunrise from the summit, with is also the best time to get cloud-free views. The majority of those attempting the mountain are from the surrounding nations so their only previous experience with cold is air conditioning, which helps explain why they're rugged up as if they're about to join Captain Scott in Antarctica. (If the wind is blowing, you'll understand and wish you were dressed like them.) Dress in lots of thin layers, so you can adjust your clothing to suit the temperature. A good guide is worth their weight in ringgits because they'll keep a steady pace that prevents you sweating too much and which puts you on the summit right on dawn, where you'll be surrounded by others who climbed too fast and have been shivering there for the last hour.

You can't get lost on the stark and mostly unvegetated granite plateau above the treeline because the route is marked with a thick hawser rope. The rope also provides security on some of the steeper sections but it's not really a technical climb. Enjoy one of the most stunning sunrises around and then steel yourself for the quadricep-crunching descent, after which sitting on a beach doing nothing will once more have appeal.

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