Sport Climbing on Mt. Kinabalu, the Highest Mountain of Malaysia
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.
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).
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. 😀
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
“The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.” — Alex Lowe
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.
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).
Pic: Pendant Hut is one of the accommodations on Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: lounge area of the hut. We play board games and have breakfast here. This turns into a classroom during training.
Pic: the view through the window is beautiful, as if our hut is above the cloud.
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.
Pic: Every day I need to use this steep staircase to “climb” to my bedroom, a good training, haha..
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.
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)
Photos taken in Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo