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Mount Kinabalu: Spiritual peak of Borneo

By Ian Lloyd Neubauer, for CNN
February 10, 2014 -- Updated 0652 GMT (1452 HKT)
At 4,092 meters, the stunning St. Johns Peak is only three meters shorter than Mount Kinabalu's true summit, Low's Peak. It was named after Spencer St John, the former British Counsel in Brunei who joined the second and third documented climbs of Mount Kinabalu in April and July of 1858. At 4,092 meters, the stunning St. Johns Peak is only three meters shorter than Mount Kinabalu's true summit, Low's Peak. It was named after Spencer St John, the former British Counsel in Brunei who joined the second and third documented climbs of Mount Kinabalu in April and July of 1858.
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St. Johns Peak, Mount Kinabalu
But first, you have to start here
Diverse forests
Day two
Low's Peak
Crocker Range
Climbing Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia's highest mountain
Too early for some
Mount Kinabalu porters
Carnivorous plants
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • UNESCO-listed Mount Kinabalu is one of Malaysian Borneo's most popular tourist attractions
  • Mount Kinabalu climbers are required by law to have a guide and hiking permit
  • Dry season of March to August are the best months to climb

(CNN) -- Before Christianity and Islam became the dominant religions of the island of Borneo, Animist beliefs dictated that when a person died, their spirit rose to the peak of Mount Kinabalu.

At 4,095 meters above sea level, it's one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia.

Today, UNESCO-listed Mount Kinabalu National Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state of Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, with visitors forced to book two to three months in advance to secure one of 196 daily allocated hiking permits.

Though Sabah is developing at pace, villagers living at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu continue to perform Animist rituals to appease spirits residing at the cloud-ringed peak so no harm comes to those who scale it.

MORE: Malaysian Borneo: Can you top this for adventure?

The above images were taken on the rock-strewn 8.7-kilometer trail to the summit with Evan Conrad, a guide with Amazing Borneo Tours who first climbed Mount Kinabalu 20 years ago.

Porters earn 128 Malaysian Ringgit (US$40) for two days\' work on Mount Kinabalu.
Porters earn 128 Malaysian Ringgit (US$40) for two days' work on Mount Kinabalu.

"I've climbed the mountains maybe 100 times," Conrad said.

"But I never get bored of it. Every time I see something new that excites me, and the view at sunrise is never, ever the same."

More information is available from the Mount Kinabalu Official Climb & Booking Information Centre, which says March to August are the best months to visit as it's the dry season.

There are multiple options for those wanting to hit the summit, ranging from from one-day to two-night climbs.

The pros recommend beginners do the three-day, two-night option. It allows them to acclimatize to the altitude. Only the super fit should try to get to the summit in a day.

Guides and permits are required by law.

MORE: 10 best islands for a Malaysia holiday

Getting there

From Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, a number of flights to Sabah capital Kota Kinabalu are available. The flight time is about two and a half hours. The drive from Kota Kinabalu to Mount Kinabalu takes about two hours.

CNN Travel's series often carries sponsorship originating from the countries and regions we profile. However, CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reports. Read the policy.

Ian Lloyd Neubauer is a Sydney-based freelance journalist specializing in adventure travel. He has reported extensively across East Asia and the South Pacific and is the author of two travel novels, Getafix (2004) and Maquis (2006).

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