By Jack Buchanan
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2001, Vol. 17, No. 1
As reported in last spring's Leader, Brent Raymond, a NOLS instructor, coordinated an expedition to Malaysian Borneo. The goal of this expedition was to explore the unique climbing opportunities of the Mt. Kinabalu region. The other group members included Heather Calvert, Aaron Sheldon, and Brandon Loudermilk. The group has returned and are happy to report that their trip was a success. Not only did they establish eleven new climbing routes, they traversed through uncharted jungle territory along the Mesilau Pinnacles, very nearly completed the first descent of Low's Gully, and even managed to host a short climbing camp for members of Outward Bound Sabah and Sabah Park Rangers. Obviously, there were hardships along the way, but all members have been galvanized by the experience and wish to return to the jungle for future adventures.
Preparations for the expedition actually began weeks before the February 1 start date. For a month, the team ferried loads of climbing equipment, ropes, and food to a re-supply station at Panar Laban. With this gear in place, the members were ready to strike out for the jungle. As befitting the local custom, a Dusun priest first performed a ceremony. Seven white cockerels, seven eggs, and an assortment of fruits and betel nuts were sacrificed on behalf of the ancestral spirits that are believed to reside there. In this way, the expedition was to have good fortune and maintain favor with the mountains. If we keep in mind that hardship does not preclude fortune, we see that their travels were indeed blessed.
The first leg of the expedition was to complete the ambitious traverse of the Mesilau Pinnacles. On the very first day, Aaron sliced his finger on sharp bamboo. The cut was deep and proved to be a substantial hindrance but through vigilance and constant care, he was able to keep it from getting infected. Nonetheless, it made for a painful start to an already difficult undertaking. The terrain consisted of thick vegetation, deep mud, and collapsing root systems that carpeted the jungle floor. After two days, at a site never before reached on the ridge, the group began scouting to try to find the most advantageous passage through the undergrowth. At this point, John, a local park ranger that was accompanying the group, revealed that his leg had become infected. The infection stemmed from a pre-existing injury but appeared to be spreading and was a big concern for the team. Given these circumstances and the fact that John was later mildly hypothermic, the group decided to retreat and save the completion of their traverse for another trip. They left with a greater appreciation for the commitment that jungle travel takes and the underpinnings of a good starting point for future ventures.
The rock climbing section was characterized by good weather and productive route finding. Their base was a small hut at 12,000 ft. called the Gurka hut. From this point, they experienced twelve days of perfect climbing weather. They averaged almost a new route per day, establishing eleven new routes ranging in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.10+. All of these routes were on rock that had never been explored by climbers before. Brent is currently compiling a guidebook to the area and is excited by prospects of further exploration.
On the heels of this success, the team set out to descend Low's Gully. Low's Gully is a mile deep canyon that runs the length of Mt. Kinabalu and splits the summit area into two distinct areas. Consequently, it also serves as a prominent drainage that catches most of the runoff for this area. It descends approximately 7,000 ft. of elevation. The expedition encountered numerous technical rappels, steep jungle travel, and endless wet and slippery boulder fields. Over the course of these ten days, there were heavy rains that swelled the drainage considerably. Despite all of these hindrances, Brent and his crew came to within two kilometers of completing the descent. However, the final leg of the gully proved to be impossible and reluctantly, they were forced to retreat.
Finally, the team hosted a small climbing camp for some of the local population. Their intent was to further introduce climbing to the area and raise awareness as to the possibilities of this region. Four members of Outward Bound Sabah and two rangers from Sabah Parks Rangers were involved. Brent, Heather, Aaron and Brandon took the group through the paces of everything from basic knots to top-roping. The camp lasted ten days. The expedition members found the experience both challenging (teaching in Malay) and rewarding. It was the perfect way to cap off a successful expedition.
To learn more about this expedition or contact any of the members, check out their website at: www.webexpeditions.net/kinabalu.