I climbed Mount Kinabalu for the first time last year. We were in a group of seven, comprises of 4 adults and 3 children. Two of the children were my nieces, age 7 and 10 years old back then, and a friend’s 11 years old daughter.
Our group did not reach the summit, also known as Low’s Peak (4,095.2m). Only one from the group reached St John’s Peak (4,091m), the second highest peak at Mount Kinabalu, just one level away from the summit. The remaining of us reached Sayat-Sayat Hut (3,668m) at the bottom of the summit, which also serves as a (final) check point before the final ascend to the peak.
Even though we did not manage to reach the summit, it is already a huge accomplishment for my nieces, a feather in their caps. We are very, very proud of these two little fighters.
On Day 1, the girls were tired but did not give up. Their little feet marched their way, all 8.2km, until we reach Laban Rata Resthouse (3,273m).
On Day 2, it was a super-slow 2km climb up from Laban Rata Resthouse to Sayat-Sayat Hut. At Sayat-Sayat Hut, we arrived before the gate ‘close’ for the climb up to the summit. It’s still vivid in my mind the condition of my two nieces. We were advised against continuing by our mountain guides. We were also told that there are no ‘rest stops’ along the way, and climbers need to hold on to ropes to walk along a cliff. The two girls were just too tired and our guides were concerned that they might not have energy left to grip the rope.
We needed to decide, and the responsibility lies with my BIL (brother-in-law). I felt the weight on his shoulder, and he couldn’t discuss with my sis who stayed behind at Kinabalu Park. To continue on to the summit, or to turn back?
My second sis and BIL empower my nieces to make their own decisions. At that moment, it was crystal clear that the two girls wanted to continue, but it was too big a risk. Could be a matter of life and death. We decided to turn back, and try again … As long as we are still breathing, there is always next time.
We intend to conquer Mountain Kinabalu again next year, and we are waiting anxiously for the verdict on possible impose of age restrictions.
Currently, there are no age limits for Mount Kinabalu climbers in place. There are ‘suggestions‘ that young children have to be at least 10 years old, but it is merely a suggestion. For elderly climbers, there are no upper age limits, so long they are still in good health and fitness level.
Sabah will review the age limits, in light of the recent earthquake disaster. There is the possibility that those below 15 years old will no longer be allowed to climb Mount Kinabalu. I fully understand the rationale behind it, given that seven out of nineteen killed were only 12 and 13 years old. Children will not be able shield themselves against falling boulders. Not that adults can, but we might be able to shield our body better.
If the lower age limit is imposed, it will put a damper on our plan. The girls will need to wait for a bit, blow out few more candles on their birthday cakes. If they are not allowed, this means our second expedition will be on hold for another seven years. We really want to leverage on the learnings of our first expedition, and hey, we are confident that we will be able to reach the peak!
I did a bit of research on age requirements, particularly on the lower age limit for other mountains. I had a big smile on my face when I saw this quote:
Age is an attitude, not a problem
- Mount Everest, Nepal/Tibet 8,848m – scalable from Nepal and China. Nepal has strict age requirements that climbers must be 16 years old and above. China, on the other hand, amended their policy to 18 years old and above. Previously, they did not forbid anyone from making the attempt
- Mount Annapurna, Nepal, 8,091m – no age restrictions
- Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, 5,895m – must be at least 10 years old
- Mount Mont Blanc, Western Europe, 4,807m – 18 years old and above
- Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia, 4,095.2m – currently no age restrictions
- Mount Fuji, Japan, 3,776m – no age restrictions
- Mount Rinjani, Indonesia, 3,726m – no fixed age limit, one tour agency states must be at least 5 years old, another one says 9 years old
- Mount Fansipan, Vietnam, 3,143m – no age restrictions
Those mountains with age restrictions, I was made to understand that the trek itself was difficult and dangerous. Mount Kinabalu, in my opinion, is still a relatively easy feat. I have conquered Poon Hill in Nepal before, and it was 3,210m above sea level. In my memory, that was tougher and requires few days of hiking. Mount Kinabalu, I think is doable for children with strong mentality. The girls are also learning scouting skills now.
Mind over mountain
So, yeah ….. I think children should be allowed to climb Mount Kinabalu. Natural disasters are unpredictable, and it’s happening everywhere. Not only that children are at risk, the same goes for adults. I believe that you don’t get to choose how and where you are going to die. When time is up, death comes and it is unexpected. Young people can die before the elderly.