Always ones to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to family adventure, our very own Stubborn Mule team member summitted Borneo’s highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu (4,095 metres) with her husband and three kids aged 5 – 8 years, the youngest siblings ever to do so and, at 5 years, one month old, the youngest girl ever to do so.

Inspired? We were! Here, Helene shares the nitty gritty of how it went, day by day.

It all started with the usual parental discussion about holidays:

Mummy Cooper “I want to take the kids to Borneo”.

Daddy Cooper “Why?”,

Mummy Cooper “Orangutans, elephants, incredible rainforest, gorgeous beaches, turtles and yummy curries – the perfect two-week trip”.

Daddy Cooper “But we need a mountain. What’s the minimum age for climbing Mount Kinabalu….?”

Climbing Mount Kinabalu with kids - the mountain in sunshine seen from Nabalu Town

The challenge…

And so it began. I managed to squeeze the two day climb of Mount Kinabalu into our ‘perfect two-week trip’ in a jam-packed itinerary I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. However, Daddy Cooper was right – we were used to spending our holidays in the mountains, whether this was long weekends in Snowdonia and the Lake District or weeks in the Alps around Mont Blanc. The children were very used to donning backpacks and carrying their own snacks, plus they loved their walking poles – albeit regularly used as light sabers.

Family in the car park, ready to set off on our trip - climbing Mount Kinabalu with kids

Before the off

Thus at 6am on 5th April 2017 we found ourselves at the base of South East Asia’s highest mountain (although we hadn’t actually seen it yet, being swathed in rainclouds). The children were uber excited about the prospect of getting up in the middle of the night to climb with headtorches. I just had visions of my 5 year old daughter dangling off a rope on the edge of a precipice and Mumsnet going mad at me. Let the adventure begin!

Day One

5am. Endless careful packing and repacking. Rucksacks still too heavy. Meet friendly and uber fit guides (calves like melons). Sign our lives away at the Timophon Gate at 8.30. The whingeing starts at 8.33. Sweets come out at 8.45. Steps, steps and more steps. Snacks and toilet breaks at regular shelters.  Kids sharing sweets with weary adult climbers.

Young boy looking at trekking map - climbing Mount Kinabalu with kids

Where’s the summit?

A bizarre encounter with a long-lost friend at about 2500m. Screams and sweaty hugs all round. Super speedy porters run by. Huge grins when they pass the children – high fives all round. Patient guides with strong shoulders for little girls when the steps get bigger than them. Humidity and heat and then rain. And more steps. Enchanted forests and cloudy mountain ‘views’.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu lower slopes with the kids still in t-shirts

I vote down, I vote up…

Finally, the midway hut at Laban Rata at 3270m emerges from the gloom. A decent 6.5 hour ascent. Not bad for three kids of 5, 6 and 8 and their rapidly ageing parents …. A gorgeous sunset as the rain passes away. Magical views above the clouds.

Wonderful vista as family climb Kinabalu

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…

A surprisingly comfortable evening spent resting weary limbs, eating pasta in the warm and convincing annoyingly lively children they need an early night.

Room with a view on Mount Kinabalu climb

View from my bed above the clouds

Day Two

A rough ‘night’ in a noisy dorm where the 1.45am alarm is barely needed. On with down jackets then off with down jackets – it’s too mild. Five headtorches switched on – and we’re off at 2.45. Steps, steps and more steps. Sweets, sweets and more sweets. I’m hot. A long line of torches snaking slowly up the stairs. Damp mist. Then rain. Our guides’ faces look grim. They might close the check point if there’s too much rain.

Family preparing for climbing Mount Kinabalu dressed in warm gear and head torches

Headtorches a-ready and we’re off (2.45am)

We push on to the first rope section. Complete meltdown by both boys. Daughter grabs rope and hauls herself up eagerly. The boys man up and start climbing too. It’s fun! Reach the check point gate at 4.15. It’s still open…

Down jackets and waterproofs on. Much needed snack break. Onwards and upwards we plod. More ropes. V cold in the wind. Glad of balaclavas. Gloves soaking from wet ropes. Sing Easter songs as we reach the summit plateau – pass 4000m sign! Energy levels waning. Take shelter from wind and rain under rocks. Daughter and Daddy Cooper sleepwalk to join us. Ascend final few metres.

Reach summit at 6.15 in time for sunrise.

Family climbing Mount Kinabalu reaching the summit in rain and cloud

Ha! Complete white out, rain, wind, cold – so much for sunscreen and great views of the South China Seas – but we made it! Tight squeeze to fit all five of us plus guide in. 10 seconds at top = quickest celebration photo session ever. The Cooper family at 4095m.

Back down the ropes. Entire plateau now a raging waterfall. Totally soaked trudging through torrents of water streaming from the top.

Dad and son holding rope - climbing Mount Kinabalu with kids

Getting to grips with the ropes

Back to check point hut. The route was closed 15 minutes after we went through. How ‘lucky’ were we? Tired legs take us back down muddy, slippery steps. Clouds clear – great views of summit now Grrrrr….. Reach warmth of Laban Rata Hut at 8.30am. Collapse over endless cups of sweet tea. Mummy and Daddy Cooper can’t move. Mini Coopers annoyingly bounce back within 5 minutes and are soon racing around playing ‘It’ and posing for endless photos with fellow climbers. Oh, for young muscles and knee joints again!

Get in touch
This 360˚view of Mount Kinabalu shows what a truly impressive feat this was. If you’d like to talk to Helene about climbing Mount Kinabalu with kids or any aspect of travel to Borneo, she’d be delighted to hear from you, so please do ring on 01728 752751 or get in touch with us using our online form.

Also check out our Borneo family holidays section for an overview of the many activities you can all enjoy here and see our example Borneo itineraries. If you and your family are dedicated trekkers, you will enjoy our family trekking holidays blog.

Summit - Mount Kinabalu climb in fine weather

The summit on a fine day!