The Untold Stories of Mount Kinabalu Guides

Words by Yeong Hui Min
Photos by Yeo Li-Sha

Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s highest mountain, is attracting many enthusiastic mountain climbers around the world. With many local and foreign tourists coming into Sabah to climb up to the peak of Mount Kinabalu, mountain guides play a crucial role in making sure the climbers complete the trek safely. There are more than 200 guides, with only five female guides.

Being a mountain guide is not a job that everyone can take up. A mountain guide requires good stamina and great strength. Guides must also be at the age of 18 and above, undergo medical check-ups and pass their interviews to be qualified for the job. The seven guides that we met with today in Kampung Kiau do not just fulfil these requirements but also have learnt hiking skills from their fathers.


Mountain guidesOur session with seven Mount Kinabalu guides in Kg Kiau

The prerequisites of becoming a Mount Kinabalu guide are not the only challenges. One of the mountain guides, Alexzander Bulageri, shared that guides face difficulties when some climbers lack training or do not declare that they have high blood pressure or asthma, which may be fatal for them. However, Alex mentioned that guides are always patient to take care of climbers that take more time to complete the trails. Another mountain guide, Ehing Sekumbang stated that salaries given to the guides for each climbing trip is not enough to cover costs for food and transportation.


Guide AlexMountain Guide Alexzander Bulageri (middle) explaining what it takes to be a guide

However, no difficulty was as hard as a natural disaster like the earthquake experienced by the mountain guides on 5th June 2015 with a magnitude of 6.0. Two years on, the mountain guides that were affected by the earthquake are still traumatised by the disaster.

Mountain guide Ehing who was on the mountain when the quake happened felt very helpless when he was saving children climbers from Tanjong Katong Primary School in Singapore. The children could not be evacuated immediately from the mountain and had to wait from around 8.00 am to 1.00 pm until help arrived. Helicopters were unable to land on the helipads due to heavy fog at that time.

Mountain guide Alexzander wanted to help other guides in rescuing the climbers when the earthquake happened but he had to reside at villages near Mount Kinabalu to provide aid and advise villagers to stay calm. He had no choice but to remain back at the villages although he wanted to help save the climbers badly.

The earthquake has left traumatic memories in the minds of those who lost their loved ones, including mountain guide Binker Sapinggi. Binker lost his brother to the earthquake when he sacrificed his safety and was pinned to a tree by a falling rock after he saved a climber by pushing him aside. Until today, Binker finds it hard to talk about this incident as he remains traumatised by the earthquake.


Guide BinkerMountain Guide Binker Sapinggi feeling emotional talking about the earthquake experience

The tragic earthquake has caused fear as the number of climbers in the year after the earthquake decreased. Mountain guide Ehing said that there are now more climbers trekking Mount Kinabalu compared to last year. Mount Kinabalu trekking trails were also closed for a year after the incident, which caused the guides to rely on farming for their living.

Although the mountain guides who were involved in the rescue of the earthquake were highly praised for their bravery by authorities and the media, they were not given any medals of appreciation since then. Mountain guide Binker said that they were promised medals by the authorities but they have yet to receive such medals until now.

After an emotional sharing session with the Mount Kinabalu guides, I was truly moved by the dedication of the guides in ensuring the safety of climbers and their passion in their work. The efforts of the mountain guides who have been involved in the search and rescue of climbers must not be forgotten.


Guides group photoTravellers and mountain guides posing for a group photo in Kg Kiau

The upcoming tree-hugging journalist believes that there is a story worth listening to in every corner of the world and she’s ready to tell them.



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