Mount Kinabalu (Malay: Gunung Kinabalu) is a prominent mountain in Southeast Asia. It is located in Kinabalu National Park (a World Heritage Site) in the east Malaysian state of Sabah, which is on the island of Borneo in the tropics.
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). The mountain is the fourth tallest in Southeast Asia behind Hkakabo Razi of Myanmar (5881 m), Puncak Jaya (4884 m) and Puncak Trikora (4750 m) of Papua, Indonesia, and is therefore also the tallest in Malaysia and on the island of Borneo, which Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brunei. Mount Kinabalu is also the 20th highest peak in the world in terms of prominence.
The mountain and its surroundings feature a huge variety of flora, and is one of the world’s most important biological sites.
The main peak of the mountain (Low’s Peak) can be climbed easily by a person with a good physical condition, and requires no mountaineering equipment. Other peaks along the massif, however, require rock climbing skills.
The parasitic Rafflesia plant, which has the largest single flower in the world, is also found in Kinabalu (particularly the Rafflesia keithii whose flower grows to a whopping 94 centimetres or 37 inches in diameter),though it should be noted that blooms of the flower are rare and difficult to find. A recent botanical survey of the mountain estimated a staggering 5,000 to 6,000 plant species (excluding mosses and liverworts but including ferns), which is more than all of Europe and North America (excluding tropical regions of Mexico) combined. It is therefore one of the world’s most important biological sites.
Its incredible biodiversity in plant life is due to a combination of several unique factors: its setting in one of the richest plant regions of the world (the tropical biogeographical region known as western Malesia which comprises the island of Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, and the island of Borneo), the fact that the mountain covers a wide climatic range from near sea level to freezing ground conditions near the summit, the jagged terrain and diversity of rocks and soils, the high levels of rainfall (averaging about 2700 mm a year at park HQ), and the climatic instability caused by periods of glaciation and catastrophic droughts which result in evolution and speciation. This diversity is greatest in the lowland regions (consisting of lowland dipterocarp forests, so called because the tree family Dipterocarpaceae are dominant). However, most of Kinabalu’s endemic species are found in the mountain forests, particularly on ultramafic soils (i.e soils which are low in phosphates and high in iron and metals poisonous to many plants; this high toxic content gave rise to the development of distinctive plant species found nowhere else).
Endemic annelids number less than a dozen known species but include the Kinabalu giant red leech that preys on various earthworms, including the Kinabalu giant earthworm.
There are some 326 species of birds in Kinabalu Park (including the spectacular Rhinoceros Hornbill); and some 100 mammalian species, including one of the four great apes, the Orang Utan (though sightings of these are uncommon; estimates of its numbers in the park range from 25 to 120).
Mount Kinabalu is essentially a huge granite dome (batholith) that was pushed up from the earth’s crust as molten rock millions of years ago. In geological terms, it is a very young mountain as the granite cooled and hardened only about 10 million years ago. It is still pushing up at the rate of 5 mm per annum. During the Pleistocene Period of about 100,000 years ago, the massive mountain was covered by huge sheets of ice and glaciers which flowed down its slopes, scouring its surface in the process and creating the 1800 m deep Low’s Gully ( named after Hugh Low) on its North side. Its granite composition and the glacial formative processes are readily apparent when viewing its craggy rocky peaks.
Accommodation is available inside the park or outside near the headquarters. From there, climbers proceed to the Timpohon gate at 1800 m (5900 ft), either by minibus or by walking, and then walk to the Laban Rata hut at 3300 m (10,800 ft). Most people accomplish this part of the climb in 3 to 6 hours. Since there are no roads, the supplies for the Laban Rata hut are carried by porters, who bring up to 30 kilograms of supplies on their backs. Hot food and beverages, hot showers and heated rooms are available at the hut. The last 2 km (2600 ft), from the Laban Rata hut at 3300 m to Low’s Peak (summit) at 4100 m, 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.
A typical descent from the summit is quicker but it is often equally painful as the ascent: knee joints, ankle joints and toes tend to suffer as the climbers descend more than 3000 m (9850 ft) in five hours.
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 girl, 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 chores 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.