My Kinabalu Story: Chapter 4 – How to Overcome Altitude Sickness

Last week, I shared about my experience climbing up and descending Mount Kinabalu. Today I thought of sharing some tips on overcoming altitude mountain sickness (AMS), which can occur from an elevation of 2,400 m onwards. This post is also in time for this week’s “Weekly Writing Challenge: Dear Abby“. If I were to title this post with a question, it would be “How Can I Overcome Altitude Mountain Sickness?”

AMS can affect anybody, regardless of whether the climber is an expert or beginner. My buddy was not able to continue to the summit due to AMS, hence this would hopefully benefit you climbers out there who are planning for an upcoming expedition.

view of south peak

As Mt. Kinabalu is of 4,095 metres in elevation, you are prone to experience shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and talking at the same time somewhere above 2,400 metres. AMS can be minor or major depending on the individual. In certain cases, it can even be fatal.

Here are some tips taken from my own experience:

1. Water, water, water. Always hydrate yourself!

As the atmosphere becomes thinner and thinner with increasing altitude, the air density (the number of molecules of both oxygen and nitrogen per given volume) drops. Which means the available amount of oxygen to sustain mental and physical alertness decreases with altitude. So we need to replenish the lack of oxygen by drinking lots of water.

2. Packing the right nutrition is extremely important. (See below paragraph for detailed explanation).

3. Recognize your body’s needs and take frequent breaks

Because of the climate change, you will find yourself out of breath more regularly, especially if you are climbing and talking at the same time. Take frequent breaks so that you will be able to pace out better, and use this time to drink up. Furthermore, take this opportunity to experience the sights, sounds and the scenery around you. The view does get better when you are higher up the mountain.

4. Listen to the rangers and the limits of your body.

[A side story regarding AMS which the ranger had shared with Khadijah; there was a case when a female climber who was climbing with her husband, felt some tightness around her chest and felt nauseous as she was climbing up. She ignored these symptoms and continued on despite experiencing the symptoms more and more. It was a fatal mistake because eventually she collapsed and passed away that very moment. To God we came from and to Him we shall return. The ranger had to carry her body down to base camp…]


Nutrition is very important and I believe it helped me a lot despite my inadequate training.

Here are some good foods I ate throughout the climb:

1. Goat’s Milk (Malay: Susu Kambing)

I drank this every night before going to bed, before and throughout (during the overnight rest at Laban Rata). It helps restore your bones and also provide the required calcium you need in your body.

2. Cranberries, Raisins, Figs (Malay: Buah Tin)

These are excellent supplements and energy boosters for during the climb. They provide natural sugars and have the right tinge of sweet and sourness to keep the AMS nausea at bay. [Fun fact: The figs hardened as we got higher due to the pressure and coldness. Interesting, aye?]

“By the fig and the olive…” – At-Tiin, 1

There’s many reasons why it was mentioned in the Quran. It has so many benefits!

3. 100 Plus

This goes without saying. Besides plain water, I had a 500 ml bottle with me which I drank *very sparingly* throughout…

I also kept some Snicker bars but it did not help much as it contributed to my nausea the higher I progressed. Natural sugars are the best.

Hopefully these tips can be beneficial to anyone planning for any upcoming expeditions. Best of luck in reaching that summit!

This post is part of the series “My Kinabalu Story” based on my expedition to Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia on 26th September to 1st October 2012. For more chapters go to ‘Kinabalu Khronicles’ in the Categories section.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Dear Abby