Text and Photos By: John Kong
Sabah, Malaysian Borneo is home to Malaysia’s three highest mountains. If you plan to scale the top 3 peaks of Malaysia, Sabah is the place to visit. Mt. Tambuyukon at 2,579 M, located 12 KM north of Mt. Kinabalu, always covered by cloud and mist during the day is the 3rd highest mountain in Malaysia. The famous Mt. Kinabalu (4,095 M) is the highest Mountain in Malaysia with its majestic granite peaks and rich biodiversity and Mt. Trusmadi (2,642 M), the second highest peak, located in the Tambunan district is another treasure of biodiversity. Mt. Tambuyukon is the least frequented mountain mainly because of the remoteness and toughness of the summit trail.
Many may presumed that climbing Mt. Kinabalu will be much tougher mountain to climb as it is taller than Mt. Tambuyukon. Don’t be fooled! Climbing Mt. Tambuyukon is by far much tougher due to the terrain and distance of the trail. Many parts of the trail are natural thus some sections are really steep with big roots. There are no overnight cabin lodges like Mt. Kinabalu, pampered by hot shower, rest rooms and restaurant. It will be a truly trekking and camping experience where you bring your full camping gear, water and food.
How to Get to There
Journey starts with a drive from Kota Kinabalu to Kinabalu Park HQ. At the Park, you need to register and get your climbing tags and permits sorted out. If you need porters, they can be arranged in advanced at Monggis Sub-Station the base of the summit trail. Need to fill up the indemnity form and purchase climbing insurance at Kinabalu Park HQ.
The road journey from Kinabalu Park to Monggis Substation takes 1.5 to 2 hours (for 60KM). The drive will pass the town of Ranau later the junction to Poring Hot Springs. Instead of turning left to Poring, the direction is to turn right towards the new Ranau–Kota Marudu highway which is now under construction. A 4WD is required to reach Monggis Substation.
Monggis Substation has camping ground facilities if you are up for it with a beautiful Kikulat clear water river. Accommodations are also available with bunk beds on the second floor. Toilets and a well equipped kitchen also is available. Electricity are available only during the night powered by a generator set.
The Summit Trail
Depending on your fitness, the whole journey should take you no less than 5 days 4 nights to conquer Mt. Tambuyukon. The total distance from Monggis Sub Station starting point to the summit is 14 KM. Water is abundant along the trails with some lower part gravity water pipes are installed for climber convenience. The plan is to spend 1 night at Monggis Substation and start the climb early and fresh in the next morning. If you start early, then by the evening you can camp at KM8 Kepuakan Camp (1,006 M). Start the journey on Day 2 to cover another 4 KM to Jeneral Camp at 12.6 KM (2,134 M) while having lunch at Musang Camp at 10.8 KM (1,524 M). Day 3 proceed to reach the Summit early in the morning. If you are interested to take sun rise pictures, Sabah Parks do not permit to start the climb before sunrise. This means you will need to reschedule your trip for an additional camping night on the peak of Mt. Tambuyukon making it 6 days 5 nights. After the summit, descend straight to Musang Camp for additional night. The terrain from Musang camp onwards is very challenging. The final day 5 will descend straight from Musang Camp to Monggis substation while having lunch at Wuluh River at 6 KM. We started from Musang camp at 8 AM and reached Monggis Sub Station around 3 PM where we rested and proceed straight to Ranau for dinner and later back to Kota Kinabalu city.
To experienced hikers, the first 4 KM is not tough. The tall and dense lowland and dipterocarp rainforest are so beautiful site as it is a primary forest comparable to Maliau Basin, Sabah’s Lost World. Common to lowland rainforest, leeches are always ready to great you so wearing good leech socks and having a good leech repellent is highly recommended! You can rest and refill water at Kulat Shelter (KM2.2) and Kera Shelter (KM4). There is a sub trail from Kulat Shelter to the Kikulat waterfall if you are up for it. A highlight is to witness the white angel of the forest, a most interesting tree is the Seraya Putih trees with white-color trunk! We saw some young rafflesia buds along the way too. Fungus and mushrooms are in abundance best for macro photography so always pack a macro lens in your bag.
The ball breaker steep section starts from Musang Camp onwards to the summit. Between Musang Camp (10.8 KM, 1,524 M) and Jeneral Camp (12.6 KM, 2,134 M) are the Nepenthes gardens of Mt. Tambuyukon. All the endemic species of Kinabalu Park are available on this stretch. After 13 KM, comes the ultramafic boulders section, moving carefully along the rocky ridge, this is the hardest section of the climb because of high altitude, we have to take it slowly, one step at a the time. The huge yellowish-grey boulders near the summit are ultramafic rocks. Ultramafic rock derived from the Earth’s mantle, the layer of the Earth below the crust and above the core, formed billions years ago from melted rock when the Earth first solidified. Such rock consists of heavy minerals (Magnesium, Iron, Nikel) and its soil is poor in nutrients, which promotes the growth of endemic and highly specialized plants adapted to this environment. Ultramafic rock was pushed to Earth’s surface mostly during tectonic movement and Mt. Tambuyukon has the highest concentration of ultramafic rocks in Sabah.
Upon reaching the summit, the area no wider than 20M across and densely surrounded by leptospermum trees. The best scenery is beyond the summit where there is a trail that brings us to the summit camp ground exposed to high winds and a magnificent view of Mount Kinabalu from the northern side. Mt Kinabalu is always covered by mist so you will need to be very lucky to get a full view of Mt. Kinabalu. We were lucky!
The Nephenthus of Mt. Tambuyukon
Like Mt. Kinabalu, Mt. Tambuyukon also lies within the boundaries of Kinabalu Park, gazetted as the first state park in the state of Sabah in 1964, it was then made Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 2000 for its diverse range of flora and fauna.
The botanical diversity of Kinabalu Park is remarkable. There are more than 6,000 species of plants in Kinabalu Park! This includes more than 1,000 species of butterfly and over 320 species of birds, over 1,000 species of moths, 40 species of fish, 78 specifies of amphibian and 112 species of reptiles!
A visit to Kinabalu Park is a must if you want to experience the amazing flora and fauna of Sabah, Borneo. On the lowland, you will find amazing rainforest dipterocarp forest one of the best in the region. At higher attitudes above 2,000 M, you will experience the highlight of Mt. Tambuyukon summit trail. The pitcher plants or Nepenthes located along KM11 to KM 14 are one of the best Nepenthes garden in Sabah.
The most spectacular Nepenthes edwardsiana is hard to be missed due to their bright colour and huge size. Nepenthes villosa, endemic to Mt. Kinabalu and Mt. Tambuyukon can also be easily seen. The species we manage to see during the climb are as follows:-
Tips Equipment preparation and things to do and prepare
Clothing – We had to prepare clothes for the cold nights up at the Jeneral Camp and summit, with temperatures dropping below 15 degrees on some nights. For the climb, we prepared 3 basic layers of clothing; the outer layer, the base layer and the fleece jacket.
Photography – For photography, the perfect kit is to bring a small foldable umbrella as you don’t have to wear a full rain coat if it rains. And chances are it will from time to time. Having a full rain cover will be hot when you start trekking. Furthermore you can still take pictures in the rain if you have a small umbrella.
As for camera gear, what I used were Nikon D4 and D3x bodies. Lenses are 24-70mm f2.8, 14-24mm, 16-35mm and 60 mm macro lens. A SONY NEX 6 with 10-18 lens was also used for really low angle pics. Other essential equipment are a tripod, a remote release cable (for river low shutter), a polarizer and ND filters. As we were working in wet and humid environments, a small micro fibre towel is essential to wipe off drops of water on your lens. There are no charging power source available so pack a lot of batteries and power banks.
Along with sleeping gear, cooking gear and food. Another important item in my pack, is a small bag of glucose. I usual mix it into my drinking water as an energy supplements as well as to fight the high altitude sickness when climbing.
Special thanks – Sabah Park Board of Trustees for permits and guidance.
Published Magazine Features
This feature article was published by Sabah Tourism Magazine and Travelution Magazine