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Am I fit enough to climb Mt Kinabalu?

That's the question that every prospective climber needs to ask themselves. There's nothing more disappointing than attempting the climb, only to have to turn back with the peak in sight. As unlikely as it sounds, a few climbers on my trip simply couldn't continue climbing, with less than a kilometre to go to Low's Peak.

To avoid disappointment, it's best to know what you're letting yourself in for.

Climbing Mt Kinabalu is tough - but achievable

As I alluded to on the homepage, there are a number of accounts of the climb that rate it a small step above physical and emotional hell. Likewise, there are others that gloss over the sheer physical effort required to complete the trek. In my experience, neither of these is true.

Here it is in plain, simple language: climbing to the summit of Mt Kinabalu is difficult. For most regular tourists, it is likely to be one of the most physically demanding things you will ever attempt. But, it is eminently achievable with preparation and care once you're up on the mountain.

As you would expect, the trek is predominantly uphill, except for a brief section just after the starting point at Timpohon Gate. The track alternates between steep stairs and regular sections of uneven inclined track. Without the effects of high altitude, the walk would be physically taxing. With the lack of oxygen, climbers become more fatigued far more quickly.

How fit do I need to be?

That said, you don't have to be an elite athlete to complete the climb. If you undertake regular exercise - power walking, jogging, social or competitive sport - on a weekly basis, you're more than likely going to be fit enough to reach the summit.

On the climb I completed, I was passed on occasions by groups of geriatric Koreans, who put most of the younger climbers to shame! Age is no barrier - fitness is the only determining factor.


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How fit? Not as fit as this guy.
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Take it easy at first.

Even if you consider yourself pretty fit, every little bit of preparation will help. In the weeks leading up to the climb, go on a couple of walks where sharp inclines make up a large part of the trail. It'll help your muscles become aware of the efforts required.

If you're looking to climb Kinabalu, but you're a bit concerned about your ability to do so, don't panic. Three months out from the climb, start going for a brisk walk for 45 minutes, at least twice a week. Just around your local neighbourhood will do for a start. Build up to some incline walks in the last six weeks before you depart and you should be fine.

Also, don't attempt the climb with any hint of an injury. Your legs will take enough of a beating ascending and descending the mountain without being compromised by an existing ailment.

How many people make it?

To give you an idea of the attrition rate, more than 95 per cent of the climbers who attempted the summit on my expedition were successful. They ranged from 15-year-old teenagers to enthusiastic tourists in their 70s, and everything in between. There was a small number of climbers who felt they'd achieved enough by reaching Laban Rata - no small feat in itself! But, a handful of climbers attempted the summit walk and were forced to turn back, either pre-empting their own difficulties or suffering greatly from altitude sickness.

Effects of high altitude

A final word of caution on the climb: high altitude can bring even the fittest climber undone. Take it easy from the beginning of the walk. While it might feel easy in the first hour, you'll need those energy reserves later. The same applies for the summit attempt the following morning. Keep it slow and steady and you should be fine.

Some people are affected more than others by altitude sickness. It tends to take effect on the Mt Kinabalu climb in the last couple of kilometres to the summit. All climbers will experience an elevated heart rate, even when resting, and a feeling of breathlessness near the summit. For most, a slight headache will be their only other symptom. It's more than manageable with paracetamol and plenty of water.

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You'll need plenty of rests.

However, others can be overcome by nausea. Other than climbing at a slow, steady pace, there is little that can be done to avoid altitude sickness if you're prone to it. The only remedy for altitude sickness is to return to lower altitude - there is no magic pill, unfortunately! Of course, the fitter you are, the more likely you are to be able to cope.

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