This was our last adventure in Borneo before we departed for Kalimantan the next day. And what an adventure it was! Mount Santubong is a mountain located just outside of Sarawak. With a summit of 2,658 feet above sea level, Mount Santubong is a must-do for those who love climbing mountains and spending time outdoors.
What’s fascinating about Mount Santubong is the urban legend behind how it came to be there. A local man told us the story of how there was once two princess from heaven that had come down to earth to bring peace to a dispute between two local villages. Santubong and Sejinjang were their names. These two princess had many admires but would accept nobody’s charm for some time until one day they met Prince Serapi. They both fought with each other over who would marry Prince Serapi. They fought so hard that their father, the King, came down and declared he had had enough. He cursed them and turned them into Mountains, the two mountains that stand in Kuching today.
Mount Santubong is blissfully free to climb, simply turn up at the entrance booth, sign your name for registration and away you go.
The entrance is located on the right side of Sultan Tengah Road and is 1.3km from the cultural village, a popular tourist attraction in Kuching. It’s around a 40 minute journey from the centre of Kuching and cost 32 RM in a grab taxi. Since it is quite far from the centre of Kuching, you will rarely be able to locate another grab when you finish the mountain. To get back to the centre of Kuching, we walked to the cultural village and hopped in one of the minibuses that take people back to the centre every hour - this cost 20 RM per head. If you prefer to be picked up from the entrance - make sure to take your grab drivers number and arrange for him to pick you up - we took our drivers number and was quoted 50 RM for the return drive. But for that price, we took the minibus option instead!
The hike up the mountain was by far, one of our favourite climbs in a long time! There are two routes - blue and red.
Red Route (The One to The Top)
The red route runs horizontally across the mountain, before coming to a steep incline to the peak. It starts by crossing a beautiful river that flows from one of the two waterfalls that are seen on the trails. Hopping across the rocks, you continue on to the right hand side route, following the red markers on the trees for guidance. The first part of the route before the incline to the peak is fairly easy. There are a couple hard uphill climbs that really require some power in your legs to conquer the vine-staircases, however these are quite short and the remainder of the trail is flat and is basically, a bit of a jolly through the jungle!
There’s a beautiful waterfall, half way between the start of the red route to the peak incline section. Just after the waterfall, we actually got lost! A tree had fallen over the trail, bringing an absolute tonne of shrubbery and bushes with it. Instead of taking a sharp left over the tree, we went around it and ended up somewhere in the jungle, around 10-15 minutes off track! Although we did make this boo-boo, it was so fun trying to get ourselves out of it! We were winding through the jungle trees like two little mogolis lost in the jungle book without a clue what was going on. We finally resulted to maps.me when we couldn’t channel our inner Ray Mears and find the trail. Top tip - Maps.me has the whole route mapped out. Download this before you hike to help with dilemmas like this!
The first part of the hike took 1 hour to walk. Don’t underestimate the whole hike from the judgement of the first part. Arriving at the bottom of the climb to the peak, we felt strangely fresh, not very tired and ready to give it a go. Half-way into the peak climb, we were puffing, panting and making some really strange noises as we lifted our legs higher than we even knew they could reach!
The peak climb starts with some easy vine stairs, but soon turns into a all over body session at the gym as you have to heave yourself up humongous steps, made from the vines and roots of trees, using the same vines and roots to hold on to as you do. You basically have to ‘walking lunge’ the entire path up to the peak. There are 3 huge sections of constant upper and lower body work to make your way up through the incline. However, these are made even more fun by the 15 sets of steel ladders that have to be climbed at random points on the incline trail to get to the roots above.
The ladders were previously made from rope, but have recently been replaced with steel due to safety precautions and effects of weather. We were so sad that they weren’t ripe anymore, but it’s probably for the best hey?!
The smallest ladder is around 2m, a nice easy climb and nothing to worry about. But, if you are a bit of a thrill seeker, you’ll be excited to hear the biggest ladder is a whopping 8m long. It’s literally the strangest sight seeing such a big steel ladder slap bang in the middle of a cliff face. Of course there is also the option that Jac took, which was to climb up alongside the ladder using the tree roots and rocks! We don't suggest you do this unless you're a confident climber as he actually slipped at one stage, right at the top and was left hanging on a tree root with one arm!
Still, having this all as part of the route made this mountain one of the most unique we’ve ever climbed.
The ladders are separated throughout the route really well and are so fun to climb up!
The sign at the bottom of the incline to the peak says it takes around 2.5 hours. However, we did it in just over an hour and weren’t pushing too hard. We think this sign may have overestimated it a little! 1-2 hours is about right, depending how fast you climb.
When you reach the peak, yes you’ll be aching all over, yes you’ll have mud on your hands and face, yes your legs will still be burning, but my gosh, would you look at that view! The view from the peak is absolutely incredible. You see rows and rows of rice fields, scattered in between busy town areas and the towering mountains.
The peak has a wooden hut for you to sit down, chat to other successful climbers and eat your well deserved lunch. We ate our protein porridge, peanuts and raisins, whilst chatting to a guy from America who had only gone and climbed Mount Everest. You can only imagine how long we spent here asking him 100 questions!
The descent from the peak is tricky as you basically have to do what you did to get up (hold on to tree roots for dear life and climb all the ladders, again) in reverse. Be careful as it’s very steep, one wrong footing and it’s a looooong way down on some of the decline sections!
Close to the end of the red route, just before the river you cross at the very start, you’ll see a right turn for the blue route.
Blue Route - (Small, But Still Amazing)
On the 2.3km blue route, you’ll find an amazing waterfall, which has many different levels for you to climb up and explore! The waterfall was full to the brim with local people, having picnics and enjoying the sunshine.
The water below is just deep enough to sit in and cool off. Above the waterfall is a suspended bridge platform that runs for around 50 meters onto the start of the blue trail loop. The loop is much like the start of the red route trail with a few hills and mostly flat ground. It takes around 20-25 minutes to complete and finishes at headquarters. We recommend taking this route at the end of the red route trek, it adds about 30 minutes on to your trek, but is so worth it to see the waterfall and to see a bit more of the incredible jungle. You are in Borneo after all!
We tracked the whole trek on Strava and found that we walked 6.5 miles, gaining ... in elevation, in a grand total of .... hours. Not bad for a days work hey!
One of our favourite things about this trek was not only the ladders and the clambering vines to the peak, but it was the fact that there were so many local people climbing it too. We were really happy to be able to share the hike to the legend of Mount Santubong with them and we hope that we can encourage others to conquer it too!
If you have any questions regarding the climb, or anything else for that matter, please get in touch via email or the comments section. We would love to hear from you!
All gone rogue x
When we're free