Kinabalu Challenge – Part 3: Mount Kinabalu & photography

In this final episode I’ll talk about my impression of this mountain, the journey & photography opportunity & preparation.

When to go?

First and foremost, if one wanna go here to photograph its beauty, never ever go during wet season like I did. But I never regretted going to Kinabalu last Wednesday because that was the best opportunity I ever got as far as cost is concern. We spent slightly more than RM800 for the whole trip inclusive of mountain package, food, ground & air travel! During this wet season, the sky was overcast & gloomy. The light was dull & not vibrant. So difficult to get good exposure of the mountain & the landscape. Well then, it is also maybe that I need to sharpen my photography skill further.


One thing that really play major factor when planning or setting package for this mountain expedition is the time you need to spend if you wanna shoot all angles & views, because, the time needed for you to reach Laban Rata is before 6PM. The time you need to be at Sayat Sayat, the last check point to summit is 4AM. The last time allowed for you to climb the summit at Low Peak is 7AM. You guide will make sure you follow that time. It is all decided by the guides. If you can convince the guides, you can override this unwritten rule.

Normally I spend at least 30 mins at one spot. So go figure how much time needed at the summit to shoot sunrise & trying to get all the peaks as foreground.

I arrived at KM8.5 during Fajr prayer, at about 5:20AM. I spent 90 mins at that spot because I knew I won’t get better view at the peak. I set my tripod & trying various compositions & settings. Do remember that it will be extremely cold up there. And windy too.

I started moving slowly to Low Peak at 6:45AM and arrived the summit at about 7:30AM. It was already very late. When I went up the summit, there was only me & my friend, Husni. The view from the summit is nothing compared to what I have seen on top of Mount Merapi, Mount Lawu & Mount Rinjani; all in Indonesia.

By 8AM, the clouds or fog (I am not sure which is correct) already covered our view. So timing when photographing at the top of Mount Kinabalu is important.

I would say that if one could stay at Sayat Sayat Hut over the night, it should be great. The toilet is there but the temperature will be surely super cold. Or else, better to be able to summit 2 times. Meaning one have to plan what areas to cover in two separate days as the window period to shoot before the cloud or fog cover the sky is short.

Camera gears

You can carry any gear you like but do get a porter. The rate is RM8 per KG up to Laban Rata. If you want to get porter to carry till the summit, the rate is even more.

For a 1 time summit, just forget the tripod. You’ll use it pretty short unless you have no problem paying porter to carry it. Usually the guide will also serve as porter. The problem is, the porter won’t be able to walk with us all the time. At times they will ask you to proceed first. So, it is not an ideal situation for a photographer. Hence my recommendation to travel light.

Why travel light? Because you want to be fast or at least within average time. You need to have enough rest so that your sore legs can recover a bit & you can acclimatize faster.

I suggest 1 camera (with good high ISO capability) and one one wide angle zoom lens e.g. 16-35mm range. But it is up to personal preference. Is tele lens useful? Yes but for a very limited use. Therefore you can skip such lens. During my climb, I bring only 14-24mm. I left my 105mm & flash at the hotel. A good point & shoot is enough for snapshots during the hiking.

Raincover is a must as we can’t predict weather change.

If you wish to carry your own gear, get a good backpack. Not ANY camera bag. I used Deuter Futura 32L with Puleme’s camera insert. I reckon a good waist camera bag also OK if your camera plus the lens are light enough.

What to shoot?

The best view should be at the plateau (of cause, the east side), but not from Low’s Peak I think. Thanks to Wazari Wazir for his information, I stopped at KM8.5 instead at the peak for the sunrise view. dR Ali said sunset at Laban Rata & sunrise from Sayat Sayat was great. The landscape along summit trail also not bad especially after Vilossa Shelter. The bonsai was simply amazing. If only the sky was great!

So in summary, choose dry season, travel light, spend more times at Laban Rata & summit at least twice if possible.


  1. George July 26, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    Hi Jamal,

    Nice post. I am planning a trip to the summit in September but i am not sure if i should get there via an agency or to get my own guide. This is because i am planning to take bunch of pictures and if the guide is in a hurry i would not like that. What was your experience? How did you arrange the accomodation and the guide?


  2. Jamal Rahman July 30, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    Hi George,

    Yes. The guide & porter normally don’t tolerate photographers well. First, our gears are heavy, and second they prefer to stick to the usual itinerary (and times). I don’t think you are allowed to have your own guide but you can try. Most important is to convince the guide. You must get a porter & be nice with them. Kinabalu is not that hard.

    Do summit earlier. Tell your guide. And tell him/her that you wanna stay longer at the peak.



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