Oct 19, 2010

The History of Mount Kinabalu Climbing

In 1851, Sir Hugh Low, then the Colonial Secretary for the British crown colony of Labuan, credited as the first person to climb the mountain, took nine days to reach the summit plateau, travelling in a group of 42 people.

Low and John Whitehead, a zoologist who discovered two of Kinabalu's spectacular birds, Whitehead's Trogon and Whitehead's Broadbill, both started their historic ascents from the village of Kiau, situated on the southern flank of the mountain near the Kadamaian Waterfall and recruited their guides and porters here. This route was both steep and arduous, and when the park was gazetted in 1964 and the Kinabalu Park HQ was established, the ascent route was changed to the present one.

People from the nearer village of Bundu Tuhan supplied most of the guides and porters, and Bundu Tuhan's most famous son, Gunting bin Lagadan, reputed to possess remarkable powers, become the first officially registered park guide. Though Low reached the summit plateau, he did not reach the peak that now bears his name. John Whitehead is the first person who reached the summit in 1888.

Low discoveries focused the attention of the scientific world on Mt. Kinabalu, but it was not until 1910 that the first botanist (and incidentally the first lady) Lilian Gibbs, climbed the mountain and discovered many species new to science. Increasing interest in the mountain's natural richness culminated in major expeditions organized by the Royal Society of Great Britain in 1961 and 1964.

Thus it was that in 1964 the Kinabalu Park was gazetted and when the park first opened it was a far cry from the world class facility it is today. In the early years the road to the park was largely a narrow muddy earth track, passable only to 4-wheel drive vehicle. This restricted access to real enthusiasts, but when the road was finally sealed in 1981 visitor figures shot up.

Today more than 200,000 people visit the park each year. Of these, about ten percent have successfully reached the summit. Within the last few years however, an increasing number have come to enjoy more strenuous activities, including Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon, mountain running and mountain biking.

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