Sport Climbing on Mt. Kinabalu, the Highest Mountain of Malaysia

sport climbing
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Every year more than 50,000 tourists climb Mt. Kinabalu, the highest mountain of Malaysia. Among the climbers are kids, ordinary adult and even old people. Mt. Kinabalu is so conquerable that I think “climbing” is an overstatement. To keep you away from trouble, the park has turned the summit route into something like a super long stairway that is easy to hike.

peaks of Mt. Kinabalu
The majestic Mt. Kinabalu has over 30 peaks, a paradise for rock climbers who thirst for adventure. Isn’t it a “waste” to open the mountain for hiking only?

rock climbing
The good news is – Mountain TORQ sees the potential and starts Alpine Sport Climbing Course on Mt. Kinabalu in 2012. Alpine means the high altitude region above tree line (In Malaysia, only Mt. Kinabalu is high enough to have Alpine zone).

briefing on alpine sport climbing
To experience true climbing, I joined their 4-day training two weeks ago. Fred is my trainer. He gave me an introduction and overview of sport climbing on day 1. He is professional, humble and humorous, so the class is kind of fun. When asked what if all safety measures failed, he replied, “Don’t worry. You will fall only ONCE.” So funny. 😀

learn to use sport climbing gears
I also learnt about various climbing gears such as protective helmet, harness and lanyard. In contrast to traditional rock climbing that we always watch in action movies, sport climbing prioritizes maximum safety so adrenaline junkies can enjoy extreme adventure under safe environment.

rope management course
Rope management is a key part of the course. It is no easy task to run 50 Meters of rope between my fingers inch-by-inch, to detect the damage inside a rope. Sport climbers need a great deal of patience for preparation. I’m a slow learner so I practiced a lot of time making figure of 8 knot and rope coil.

rainy day on Mt. Kinabalu
We were supposed to practice rock climbing on day 2, but too bad it was a rainy day. Our climbing site became a valley of giant waterfalls. 🙁

The Climb

Luckily, the weather on day 3 was good. The morning was so cold that both of my ears were numb. We geared up and departed to our climbing site at 6:30am.

start of Via Ferrata
After 30 minutes, we came to the starting point. We then proceeded to our climbing site by Via Ferrata (or “iron road” in Italian). Via Ferrata is a protected mountain path comprising a series of rungs, rails and cables embracing the rock face. It’s not sport climbing but I’m excited to have a taste of the highest Via Ferrata in the world, a 2-in-1 climbing experience!

Via Ferrata on Mount Kinabalu
Climbing Via Ferrata doesn’t require special skill, all you need to do is just fasten your carabiners to the cable and move along with climbing aids such as iron pins, hand hooks and carved footholds.

sport climbing on Mt. Kinabalu
Mt. Kinabalu is such a nice place for rock climbing because the peaks are free of snow and ice, and the temperature is cooling (about 10-25°C or 50-77°F during daytime), and of course the breath-taking view of landscape from the top.

trying Via Ferrata
Some sections are quite steep and slippery, but the support from Via Ferrata makes the climb a lot easier.

hanging bridge of Via Ferrata
Pic: the cable bridge of Via Ferrata, a nightmare to height phobia but we love the feeling of hanging in the air.

taking rest on a slope

nice view on alpine ground
Pic: taking a break and enjoy the scenery that is available to sport climbers only. The temperature was pleasing when the sun showed up.

get ready for rock climbing
After an hour, we arrived our rock climbing site and got ready to climb.

alpine playground for rock climbing
Pic: our climbing site is 3,773 Meters above sea level (below Donkey Ears Peak, see the yellow arrow), about 2 KM away from our accommodation.

sport climbing routes on Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: the graph of four climbing routes for us to try, i.e. The Arete, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Forgotten, with different grade of difficulty.

waiting for sport climbing
After hearing enough talking and theory in the classroom, we were so eager to be on the field.

belayer of sport climbing
Pic: our Belayer. Belayer is the rope man who holds and controls the safety rope connected to climber. He will act upon the instructions of his climber, e.g. climbing, resting, lowering.

After pre-climb check and fastening the rope to your harness, you can ask the belayer, “Am I on Belay?” You can start climbing if he replies, “You are on belay, climb when ready.” He might not respond if you say, “Excuse me, can I climb?” LOL

site of alpine sport climbing
Pic: the view of our “playground” from the bottom. Trust me, the climbing route is not as simple as it seems.

sport climbing on Mt. Kinabalu
The climb involves vertical wall, crack, corners, overhangs, slabs, roofs, etc. Each route has its own set of challenges. It’s time to put our skill into test. Albeit the challenging climbs, it’s my happiest moment in the course.

practising rock climbing
To impress others, I tried to climb like a Spiderman, but I ended up crawling slowly like a frog. Part of The Ugly route was quite tricky and steep that I stuck a few time because I couldn’t find any hole or crevice to grip on, in order to move over the protruding boulders. The route is only 30 Meters but I was so tired and called for a rest once. You can’t grab the rope to move up, which defeats the purpose of rock climbing. You only can climb with hands and feet.

reaching the end point
Pic: reaching the end of rope. Safe!

What I really like about the climb on Mt. Kinabalu is the coarse and hard rock face of its granite, which has no slippery soil and loose rocks. And climber is not exposed to extreme weather and natural disaster here.

resting position on rope
Pic: abseiling was quite nerve wracking when I had to descend in an upright position to the rock.

“The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.” — Alex Lowe

hanging on rope
To have the greatest fun, just have total faith in your gears and belayer. After all, we want to have some fun during the adventure, right?

hand free in sport climbing
I really love the climbing shoes, as it needs only a very small contact point at the tip, to keep climbers stay firmly on the rock. Spiderman probably got one of this.

climbing on foggy slope
The mountain turned foggy around noon, then followed by heavy rain. We had to stop climbing. The goal of sport climbing is for satisfaction and enjoyment. I think I have achieved it. And I respect Mt. Kinabalu even more.

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Pendant Hut

During the course, sport climbers stays in Pendant Hut, which is 3,289-Meter above sea level and only 100 Meters away from Laban Rata (where ordinary tourists stay). To attend the training, your first challenge is to hike 6 KM to this hut on day 1 (normally take 4 to 6 hours).

Pendant Hut
Pic: Pendant Hut is one of the accommodations on Mt. Kinabalu

Pendant Hut on Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: Pendant Hut and Mt. Kinabalu

interior of Pendant Hut
Pic: lounge area of the hut. We play board games and have breakfast here. This turns into a classroom during training.

windows of Pendant Hut
Pic: the view through the window is beautiful, as if our hut is above the cloud.

room of Pendant Hut
Pic: our room is basic and dormitory-style. Sleeping bag is provided.

There is no heater in the hut. I visited in the coldest and wettest month (4-6°C / 39-42°F), so I had to keep warm in 3 layers of clothing. In warmer months (around mid-year), the temperature here ranges from 12°C to 20°C (53-68°F) during daytime, which is not too bad.

steep staircase of Pendant Hut
Pic: Every day I need to use this steep staircase to “climb” to my bedroom, a good training, haha..

toilet of Pendant Hut
Pic: toilet & bathroom in basement, the coldest area of the hut.

The tap is never short of freezing cold water. The shower water is heated by solar power. You get hot water in sunny day. In cloudy or rainy day, it isn’t enough sunlight to power the heater, so at most you will get lukewarm water.

certificate of Alpine Sport Climbing
Btw, you will earn a certificate if you complete the course successfully. Besides climbing and practical tests, we need to pass a written test (sorry, no multiple choice), which is not hard as long as you pay attention during the course. Now I’m a “Certified” Beginner Sport Climber. ^_^ I’m quite keen to go for their Advanced Sport Climbing Course.

Be a Sport Climber

You may contact Mountain TORQ (see contact below) if you are interested in sport climbing. The minimum age of joining is 10 and you need to be reasonably fit (super fit does help but not necessary).

Company: Mountain Torq
Address: Unit 3-36, Asia City Complex, 3rd Floor, Jalan Asia City, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia (see location map).
Tel: +60 88 268 126
Office Hours: Mon to Fri, 9am to 5pm (Time Zone: GMT +8)
Website: www.mountaintorq.com

Photos taken in Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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  • WEna WEng

    hi. may i know what sport shoes do u use to climb via ferrata?
    2. how do u train before ur climbing date?

  • Hi WEna, 1. I would wear Adidas Kampung shoes for Via Ferrata. For sport climbing, they will provide the proper climbing shoes. 2. Just regular exercise such as jogging will do.

  • WEna WEng

    U mean sport climbing trail not the same wth via ferrata. A bit confused hehe. Hw much does it cost?

  • We only walked the first 1 KM of Via Ferrata trail to reach our sport climbing site. Both are totally different activities.