Mount Kinabalu: Borneo's Highest Mountain

Fast Facts About Mount Kinabalu

St. John Peak at sunrise, Mount Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia
St. John Peak, one of Mount Kinabalu's summits, is flooded with light at sunrise in Borneo.

Nora Carol/Getty Images

Elevation: 13,435 feet (4,095 meters)​

Prominence: 13,435 feet (4,095 meters), 20th Most Prominent Mountain in the World​

Location: Crocker Range, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia​

Coordinates: 6.083° N / 116.55° E​

First Ascent: First ascent in 1858 by H. Low and S. St. John

Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain on the island of Borneo in the east Malaysian state of Sabah. Kinabalu is the fourth highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago. It is an ultra-prominent peak with 13,435 feet (4,095 meters) of prominence, making it the 20th most prominent mountain in the world.

Formed 10-Million Years Ago

Mount Kinabalu is a relatively young mountain, forming about 10 million years ago. The mountain is composed of igneous rock, a granodiorite which was intruded into surrounding sedimentary rocks. During the Pleistocene Epoch almost 100,000 years ago, Kinabalu was covered with glaciers, scouring out cirques and scraping the rocky peak seen today.

Kinabalu National Park

Mount Kinabalu is the centerpiece of Kinabalu National Park (Taman Negara Kinabalu in Malay). This 754-square-kilometer park, established in 1964 as Malaysia’s first national park, was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000. The national park offers “outstanding universal values” and is considered one of the most distinctive and important ecological areas in the world.

Kinabalu Is Ecologically Rich

Mount Kinabalu National Park has over 5,000 different species of plants and animals, including 326 bird species and over 100 mammal species. Biologists estimate that the park has a staggering number of plant species—probably between 5,000 and 6,000 species—more than are found in North America and Europe combined.

Many Unique Plants

Many of the plants found on Mount Kinabalu are endemic to the region; that is, they are found only here and nowhere else in the world. These include over 800 species of orchids, over 600 fern species including 50 endemic species, and 13 species of carnivorous pitcher plants including five endemic species.

Kinabalu's Life Zones

The biodiversity found on Mount Kinabalu relates directly to many important factors. The mountain and the island of Borneo, as well as the island of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, lies in one of the most diverse and richest areas of the world for plants. Kinabalu with its height of almost 14,000 feet from sea level to summit has a wide range of life zones, which are determined by climate, temperature, and precipitation. Rainfall averages 110 inches a year on the mountain and snow falls on its upper slopes. Past glacial episodes and droughts directly affect the evolution of plant species here, allowing for their spectacular diversity. Biologists also say that many endemic species here are found in the forest, growing in soil that is low in phosphates and high in iron and metals, a toxic combination for many plants but ideal for those that evolved here.

Home to the Orangutan

Mount Kinabalu’s mountain forests are also home to the orangutan, one of the world’s four great ape species. These tree-living primates are secretive, shy, and rarely seen. The mountain population is estimated to be between 50 and 100 orangutans.