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 feet) above sea level, which is some 6 metres less than the previously thought and hitherto published figure of 4,101 metres (13,455 feet). The mountain is the third tallest in Southeast Asia behind Hkakabo Razi of Myanmar (Burma) and Puncak Jaya of New Guinea - Indonesia, and is therefore also the tallest in Malaysia and on the island of Borneo, which Malaysia shares with Indonesia and tiny Brunei.
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 relatively easily climbed by a person with a good physical condition, and requires no mountaineering equipment. Other peaks along the massif, however, require rock climbing skills.
Significantly, Mount Kinabalu is well-known worldwide for its tremendous botanical and biological species biodiversity, with high levels of endemism (i.e. species which are found only within Kinabalu Park and are not found anywhere else in the world). As examples, it has one of the world’s richest orchid flora with over 800 species, over 600 species of ferns (more than the whole of Africa’s 500 species) of which 50 are found no where else, and is the richest place in the world for the Nepenthes insectivorous pitcher plants (five of the thirteen are found nowhere else on earth) which reach spectacular proportions (the largest in the world being the endemic Nepenthes rajah).
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 2700mm 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 (comprised 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).
There are some 326 species of birds in Kinabalu Park (including the spectacular Rhinocerous 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 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. During the ice ages 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. Its granite composition and the glacial formative processes are readily apparent when viewing its craggy rocky peaks.
Climbers must be accompanied by guides at all times. The climb starts at the Kinabalu park headquarters at 1,563m (5,128 feet).
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 800 m (2600 ft), from the Laban Rata hut at 3300 m to the 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 quick but is often equally painful as the ascent: knee joints, ankle joints and toes tend to suffer as the climbers descend 3000 m (9850 ft) in five hours.
There are two tales that led to the main beliefs in the origin of the mountain's name.
The first derivation of the word Kinabalu is extracted from the short form for the Kadazan Dusun word 'Aki Nabalu',- meeting "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 the Borneo island when his cruise ship sank in the middle of the South China Sea.
He was subsequently rescued by the local natives from a nearby village. As he regained full recovery, he was slowly accepted as one of the people living in the village. Eventually, he fell in love with a local girl and married the girl. Years went by, 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 is done with his chores in China, he will come back to the Borneo Island to take her and their children back to China.
So, after building a simple sailship for him, he went back to China. When he arrived in China, he was given a grand welcome by his family. However, to his dismay, his emperor parents disagreed with him about taking his wife from Borneo back to China. Worse, his parents 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 the Borneo Island, the lovesick wife grew more and more anxious. Eventually, she decided that she will wait for her husband's ship. However, since the village is situated far away from the shore, she couldn't afford to come to the docks and wait for him daily.
Nevertheless, because of love, she found a better way to wait for her husband's arrival. 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 around the South China Sea. Thus, she was then seen climbing up the mountain at every sunrise, returning only at nights to attend to her growing children.
Doing this for a long time, her efforts have finally taken a toll. She fell ill, and eventually 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 can 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.
To this day, the people around Ranau, a district in Sabah, believed that St John's Peak was the stone which her body was turned into.
~ data from Wikipedia