Climbing in Borneo

Climbing in Borneo
Second pitch of Make it Snappy, 7b+, Berhala Island

Sandakan Wall Climbing Centre

Sandakan Wall Climbing Centre
New, For You.... Sandakan Wall Climbing Centre - Sports Complex

Berhala Island, Bolted climbing in Sabah

Berhala Island, Bolted climbing in Sabah
Contact us for a route guide, free

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


An incredible amount of time has passed since we finished installation of the Sabah Indoor Climbing Centre and we have been stood by waiting for the thumbs up to go ahead and open it. A lot has happened with us in the meantime, we have been to Australia to get our Level 3 certification in rope access, we have completed half of the Canopy walkway in Bunga Raya and re-rigged the National Service High ropes course at the Tamparuli camp. No-one could accuse us of letting the grass grow...

Any road up, insurance and paperwork dependent we aim to be open in the first or second week of January 2010, Woohooo as Homer Simpson would say. New Ropes, new shoes and toilets that actually flush, its a modern miracle.

So now its your turn, you have to come on down and give it a try, then tell us what you think and we can improve it because this is your climbing centre.

If you write to and tell me why you deserve a free climbing session I will be passing out some free passes for people to come and try it out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Eds Big Pink Cave

The photo is coming I promise, a crap Sony camera is to blame. I am now convinced that they are manufactured to die within a year. Seems like a rubbish policy to me because I will never buy another Sony camera and I will go out of my way to tell everyone I know that they are shite.

Dont lets get distracted from the new cave, its quite a thing to behold I can tell you, you should drop by Likas and take a look. According to Ed it was meant to be purple but I am not sure that a purple cave would have been any better anyway.

Somehow the colour doesn't even diminish its class, what a great piece of wall-making and I for one am looking forward to getting a firm hand-hold in Eds pink cave and cranking on it......

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Red Gecko (Blue Monkey)

A huge lurch forward has occurred since I wrote the last installment, my departure on a two-week road-trip seems to have happened during the ideal growth period. Ed and the boys have made monumental leaps.

1 - the lower half of wall 4 is now in place (Eat Blue Llama)
2 - the bouldering arch is almost complete and ready for painting
3 - all the strength tests are completed (thanks to the Climb Asia team, especially Halil).
4 - the Cave subframe is almost complete, cladding begins on monday

Not bad for a ten-day stretch, powered by lemonade I suspect.

As we approach completion we are thinking about the management and staffing of the place when it opens to the great unwashed. Good staff are being sought.

The gear and clothing outlet is to be called Red Gecko with the cafe to possibly be called Blue Monkey, those who inspired this know precisely who they are....

Ed thinks he will take a holiday once the project is complete, considering his job consists of doing all his favourite things at the same time I fail to understand what he could do on holiday that could be better.

A new project looms on the horizon also, one that will require us to purchase a new outboard motor for my boat in order to get to and from the project site (on an island), its expensive but alas, necessary hmmmmm.
Our experience of the the last island project should have taught us that neither Ed nor Naz can be allowed to drive the boat, land lubbers the both of them.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


....for making lemonade.

If thats what you have, thats what you do, apparently.

Its a commonly held belief that you can do anything if you put your mind to it, I have my doubts that Formula One is going to be prepared to let me have a stab at the world championship next year and however hard I put my mind to it the fact that I am, er, several years older than the current racers and slightly heavier than I should be would probably make me an outside chancer, even if I had the money of Roman Abramovitch or the chap that just bought Man City (theres a wally if ever there was one) I would stake everything I own on not getting a sniff.

On the other hand, if you have lemons you probably stand a good chance of becoming a lemonade maker, maybe more so than a Formula One driver in fact.

My point is that while we are in the throes of building a climbing wall it is still a wonder for us to stand back and admire our work, not in a particularly smug way, more like getting the job done and enjoying the way it looks.

We are climbers and project managers so building a climbing wall is like the lemon man making lemonade, its the natural thing to do and thats why it is a pleasure for us.

These words of wisdom issued forth from Edward today as we were hauling up the third big wall, the arete in fact. At the time they only served to make me thirsty but then these things sometimes take a considerable time for me to process.

As you can see from the photo its pretty nice, the colouring is different from the last one and the piece that fits between them is going to blend the two shades together, we hope.

Four weeks to go, the clock is ticking but the team continues to work hard, eat messy burgers and nurture a wholly unhealthy sense of humour.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ugly Beautiful

Personally I have the creative abilities of a tennis ball, my three year-old daughter draws better than me.

What you see here is the work of a genius, drawn from memory on a huge canvas Ed has created something rather special. How glad I am that the 'artist' we asked to come to work with us didnt bother to show up. We have saved money and I very much doubt that he could have done anything nearly as good as this.

The main climbing wall is now a production line of engineering, carpentry, surfacing and decoration and what you see here is the first of a series of five walls we are now installing.

The arete is next, a brutally overhanging construction complete with jamming cracks and hand-moulded features, the perfect compliment to this gentle slab, after that the cave..........

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kids stuff

Getting the kids wall up was far less of a faff than assembling the Discovery panels though both jobs are now just about done.
Got to do a bit ot bolt tightening before any of this stuff can be climbed on but with luck we will be putting on holds within a few days.
Torrential rain has been causing some problems for us despite the fact that we have a roof, you see the clever designers thought that the walls should only be half height, meaning that any rain accompanied by so much as a light breeze gets blown into the climbing centre. Its a shambles.
So our lovely new centre is soon to have huge plastic sheets nailed up against its side. Maybe if it looks dreadful they will be shamed into fixing it before the VIP comes to open it.
The good thing about the rain is that it has provided the equivalent of a car skating rink outside the climbing centre for the appreciation of myself and Ed, got to watch out for the huge holes they keep digging though, that pesky skate park is needing a lot of work... (John the Texas Ranger can often be seen walking around, shaking his head and mumbling about Bali).

Watch this space for pictures of cars in ditches, construction glitches and Naz in stitches....

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Walls within walls

It turns out that the Discovery (tm or whatever) wall panels take a little jiggery-pokery to get lined up, "You're going to need a bigger hammer" said Halil, our Singapore supplier (Climb Asia, Cool from the gang!), he was right.
It is starting to look pretty good though and drawing a bit more interest as a result.
The kids wall and the beginners slab are almost finished now, trouble is they are lying on the floor and weigh a bloody ton. Ed has been training at the gym and promises to show us the benefits by lifting the wall into place, personally I favour the chain-block approach but whatever way we do it, there will be difficulties. With any luck I will get some photos and put them on the blog. I have visions of a Laurel and Hardy comedy scene..... "Well Ed, thats another fine mess you've gotten us into"
The discussion on design and art continue, the Logo is going to be decided on in the next couple of weeks and we can then get the PR stuff properly under way. I think we can unveil the logo on the blog first. (is anybody reading this thing?)

Friday, June 26, 2009

So here we are, the 27th of June and I reckon the roof is just about finished, there are still some guys working up there so we cant actually safely work inside just yet.
The main frame is almost finished, some bracing to do and a few shackles to get torqued up, then its time to assemble the fibreglass panels before we get the plywood sculpting underway.
Michael Jacksons demise has had absolutely no effect on our work, or for that matter our lives, whatsoever. Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, John Lennon maybe Janis Joplin, actually gave us something of artistic value, a skinny midget dancer who didnt write his own stuff and slept with children doesnt warrant a moment of my concern so we will not be mentioning him in this blog, at all......
However I do get the feeling that we are going to have his music forced upon us for the next few days at least, bring on the jokes I say.
To all those Wacko fans out there, I apologise, its a matter of taste I appreciate that.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ikea climbing wall?

The panels for the prefab fibreglass wall arrived to day, might not sound like much to you but its a high five moment for us. they seem to have survived the sea crossing from Korea unscathed and customs decided that they did actually constitute sports equipment so were not due tax - somehow mountain bikes are not considered sports equipment though.....thats Malaysia for you!
We have now got to a point where we need a roof, I mean apart from the searing heat and having welders working above us its no problem, but we cant get the wall in place untill its got a lid on so we are downing tools from tomorrow until it is safe to work there.
seems somehow pleasing to an old socialist to be walking off site but at the same time a little worrying if thats one of the defining features of socialism. I shall ask Sween what he thinks...

Doz continues to sprinkle sweat as liberally as his bad jokes (the Malaysian boys humour him like only Malaysians can). Ed, Naz, Ronny, Mark and the rest of the team politely avoid the subject of pink skinny legs that appear to hang out of his shorts though its pretty obvious they enjoy having him around anyway.

The next stage is the main wall itself, now the frame is up we have to get on with the complicated task of sculpting the climbing face and assembling a frame to mount it on. I have a feeling that I should have been a bit more competant with my mechano set as a kid but once I discovered air guns all thoughts of mini engineering were replaced by the sound of breaking glass... not a worry though, our engineers and consultants have it pretty much worked out, its a case of putting in the graft now.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Still roofless and awaiting the floor to be finished, the climbing centre starts to take some kind of a shape at last.
We couldnt wait to get started, already three months later than planned the building construction project was hampered by rain and delays after delays mean that it is falling far behind schedule.
Installation of the climbing wall is technically complicated, its not rocket science but then climbing is never going to get popular in zero gravity....
Naz and Ronny now live in the rafters, oblivious to the burning sun, like two monkeys rescued from medical research that couldnt give up smoking. Torque wrenches and Hilti drills wielded like samurai swords.
Don Eduardo, the regal project manager and senior engineer (not to mention designer) calmly overseeing progress from ground level spends far too much time drawing on walls like a four-year old with a set of crayons. Mystical cave drawings will be discovered one day when the climbing wall gets dismantled. Maybe I should buy him a pen and paper.
Doz is the project chief sweat-producer, sloshing around the site, legs turning a vivid pink despite his scampering off to the shade at any opportunity.

The climbing centre is under way, every day brings more progress and more excitement for us all, keeping opening day in our sights is important as time ticks on by.
Watch this space for progress reports.......

Saturday, May 23, 2009


So, after ten weeks on the island, some 350 + bolts, a few storms and, as it turns out, a hell of a lot of money, what have we achieved?

For the Sabah Climbing scene this has to be the biggest thing ever to happen, there are now 30 + bolted climbs on an accessible crag and true to climbing ethics, you dont have to pay anyone to go there.

Apart from 5 low grade beginners climbs at Kg Kironggu there is no other established climbing area in the state.
Sure you can climb on Mount Kinabalu but that is far from easy and even further from cheap, not terribly accessible to Sabahans or people looking to engage in rock climbing as a pastime or sport.
So Berhala Island is launched by climbers for climbers, where do we go from here?
We see this as a first move to introduce rock climbing to the people of Sabah and this not where it ends, not by a long chalk.

Sabah Climbing Centre

Our next undertaking is to establish Sabah's first indoor climbing centre and its already under way. The building that is set to house the centre is almost finished now, funded by the State ministry of Youth and Sports we have been contracted to install and run an indoor rock climbing facility. The site is at the Likas Sports centre area, beside the city stadium and we aim to establish a world-class centre complete with cafe and shop. Theres going to be climbing trips to Berhala and other crags once they get developed, we will also establish a climbing club and host competitions, basically do everything we can to promote climbing here.


It is true that traditionally, attempts by federal and state departments to encourage climbing have been a little wide of the mark, paying a bucketload of cash to have a super-hard competition wall built, then (of course) nobody can climb on it (UMS). We all know that is not the way forward and it seems that the state ministry of Youth and Sports has worked this out. They came to us and asked us to come up with a plan as well as a design for a wall that would be accessible to anyone who wanted to try climbing. By having us build it with a mind to actually running it as well they know that we will be more likely to come up with a formula that would work.

We start installation this week (friday 28th May), and for three months we will be sculpting and installing the first climbing facility that is truly for the people of Sabah.

We will be inviting school groups and youth groups, we will be offering membership incentives, we will hold open days. There will be extreme video showings as well as all the latest climbing videos. We will be looking to recruit keen climbers for training and even starting a state climbing team to compete regionally.

It is time for Sabah to join the climbing revolution.....

Monday, May 4, 2009

Success!! Naz and I racked-up for the first accent of one the bigger routes, 'Die Another Day', yesterday, having been thwarted by the rain for three consecutive days (I didn't leave England for that!!). It was a baptism of fire for Naz, who's only experience of climbing so far has been top-roping a few of the easier single pitch stuff on the beach, although he's no stranger to big trees; the route is just under 100m, adventurous (read loose and sometimes run-out) and graded about fr6a, 6b(with one really horrible move) and 6c. Although Naz breezed the first pitch, albeit with a few Nazisms (he talks very animatedly to himself and gives cries of 'aye ya!' in times of stress and concentration), he did have to be coaxed a little on the second pitch, which involved a few pendulums and a little cursing, and flat refused to try the third pitch. I was a little anxious about this one, since I knew it to be loose and dirty in places and couldn't be sure how hard the top traverse was going to be. The line takes a giant arch visible from the beach, which begins as a finger-tip/juggy layback crack and grows discouraginly into an offwidth-like, flared chimney, although luckily it also has holds, so there is little squirming and just a little, elegant bridging and chimneying. The pitch ends with a traverse along the edge of the overhang on sandy jugs to a final, heart-in-mouth (choose your holds carefully!) pull over the roof. Thankfully, all the holds stayed in place and I was able to top-out without drama. A truly excellent pitch and a stunning line - just watch out for spiders.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The word according to Al....

Fresh from tickling some monkeys at the weekend we returned to the island to be overwhelmend all over again by the sheer volume of rock on the island.
Having finished bolting our first big route "Make it Snappy", we wondered where we would turn next. Before the monkey spotting trip Si and I had made an attempt to climb Make it Snappy for the first time, we only managed mild concussion and a bruised behind respectively owing to the unexpected elasticity of our new rope and a few embarassingly spectacular falls. Our excuse; dirty holds.....Having now worked out the sequence of moves on the final roof of the second pitch, we're now trying to find the holds on the third pitch, we estimate the grade at F7b thus far (depending on how well we are climbing on any given day and the amount of Milo drunk beforehand.
Next up, well either the rainbow couloured honeycomb wall with the biggest jugs on the island or one of the numerous hanging slabs, the elephant skin pockets on the single pitch face or that massive roof looming over our camp....spoilt for choice.
We have been threatened with a visit from some super strong climbers from Singapore so I think we need to get Make it Snappy climbed very soon.


Life is still a beach

We have now finished bolting our first big bastard of a route, 5 pitches, first pitch now almost clean, fun pocketed climbing on a steep slab. The second pitch, my nemesis it seems, is a long, sustained and absolutely brilliant pitch. I will grow the bollocks (and the biceps) to climb it eventually. 3rd pitch seems the technical crux but I like it, sustained technical but it doesn't really feel like I need to pull. Bring it on! 4th pitch, big jugs, big gaps, big runouts cha ching. 5th pitch....who knows! Hopefully by the end of next week we will be at the top.
Looking forward to getting some single pitch routes done now, we have to get into a rhythm and satisfy the bosses so to speak before we get on with our next big project. By god theres a few left!


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Simon Says -

Life's a Beach.

Two weeks in, fun, tiring, demoralising, mind opening, frustrating and scary.

from the stress and tiringly slow progress of bolting from the ground up to the elation of making it to the top of the cliff, the renewed enthusiasm of seeing a rope dangling the height of the cliff and the fear of finding a badly worn rope 160 metres off the deck.

The beauty of the place, the harsh temperature, the ferocity of the rain, the size of the spiders and real life dragons! Not forgetting our celebrity status amongst the locals!

Life on Berhala has not been what I expected so far, time will tell how successful the project will be but in Naz and Al there is always bundles of enthusiasm and energy around the camp.

Add to that more unclimbed rock that I have ever seen anywhere, surely we cant go wrong?

Al says -

I have lost count of the number of days spent on the island but Si, who is very good at telling me where I've left my socks, ipod, toothbrush, sunscreen and other sundry items (although inexplicably incapable of finding his own), tells me it is a grand total of fourteen. Not quite justifying the promisingly bushy beard I proundly sported, all the time thinking of Crusoe, until yesterday (it was ginger and a bit hot after all). I have yet to fulfill my island dream of shaving with a parang (machete).
Yesterday was also the day I finally got to the point of having noodles for breakfast lunch and dinner, although all of varying quality and temperature.
We dream sweaty dreams of ice cold lemonade, ice cold gin and tonic, and ice, ice, ice.... 
Today Ed arrived with two cans of ice cold coke from Sandakan which were so very welcome, I could have hugged the man. All the more appreciated after a long, hard and at times, scary day on the sandstone wall.

There is so much rock here, 160 metre cliffs looming up from numerous small bays, all burnt orange and black and not a single existing route! (taking a kayak around the island is enough to boggle the mind of an aspiring new-router, so many lines for the taking) It is hard to know where to start.
Access has been tricky but we are now making good progress with our first big route, its quite hard and some snappy holds have seen us flying on more than one occaision however the climbing itself is excellent.

we are also looking forward to completing the bouldery single pitch on the beach which I have already managed to injure myself on.

We are unlikely to get bored but if it all gets too much, Simon has created an excellent chess set from driftwood and bottle tops.


Monday, March 23, 2009

What progress? I hear you all cry, the emails are coming in asking how things are going and, to be honest the silence from the island was beginning to get me worried too. Lord of the Flies images coming to mind or perhaps the guys having gone off to live with the sea gypsies. Just when I was starting to become fearful, Simon got a message to me.
Being a Spurs fan and knowing I am a Chelsea fan was perhaps a motivating force behind his text, just how he knew the score escapes me but it obviously cheered him up.
As for progress well it sounds promising;
2 routes on the beach are now in progress, hard, steep starts in the high 7's. Another two routes up the slab to their right, a 6b and a 5+.

"We have a line straight up the middle of Condominium face. First pitch no harder than 6b, second pitch 7b/c mayber harder. Steep with lots of snappy holds!! The wall is probably 160m! Higher than forst thought. The bottom of all the main wall is dirty and loose! Almost had an incident yesterday, jumar rope wore through to core!"

I will publish more pictures tomorrow when Ed comes back from the island but it is good to see progress being made at last despite the obvious drawbacks.

We have had enquiries about people coming out to join the guys. We will welcome anyone who wishes to be a part of this project.

More to follow.....

Monday, March 16, 2009

The first week....

Simon Hills and Alan Royle are the chosen two, why exactly is hard to answer but hey, at thier age I would also have leapt at such an opportunity.

When the guys arrived my partner was taking care of his family, his daughter having just been admitted to hospital, I was on a rafting expedition so they had to hang out at our house until I got back and we could get down to organising the set-up.

Building a camp is fairly straightforward but we didnt want these guys to be uncomfortable so we bought a generator,  a cooker, a solar panel to charge a battery for night lights and supplied a brand new Hilti drill complete with all the necessary resins and stainless steel bolts. Heck we even bought them a ladder!

Our bolting methods are based on two peices of published research, one from South Africa and one from Australia, both studies showed that threaded glue-ins, using a two part chemical adhesive gave the best results in destruction tests and we decided to improve strength by doubling the length of the  shaft. Our bonding agent of choice is Hilti's HIT-RE 500, though not cheap it is considered the most heavy-duty of the bonding agents available that will withstand the harsh environment of a sea cliff.

Strangely the first difficulty we faced was getting to the top of the cliff but that was resolved today by Naz (our rigger) and Alan who made thier way through the jungle to the top of the cliff.

The next week or so will be sure to bring much to light and not only with the rock itself; the heat in this part of the world can be really harsh, climbing on a windless day would be simply impossible never mind the heavy work of drilling and bolting.

We will update this blog as often as there is news and new pictures.

For anyone out there who wants a piece of this pie we have an offer for you; we will feed you and provide the tools to climb and bolt, bring a hammock or tent and come and join the party!

email me at 

Simon and Alan arrive at Berhala Island

This project was always going to be a voyage of discovery, I guess all crags start like that really but with the minor complication of being in Borneo and on an island, we did have our own set of reasons to headscratch.

Subtly advertised on UKC climbing forum we asked if anyone would like to come to Borneo to develop a crag for free, we pay for the flights, all in-country expenses and provide all the gear to climb and rig a 130 metre-high sandstone cliff.

We did have some amusing approaches and it took us longer than we had hoped to get it all sorted but eventually we settled on two great young climbers with impressive experience and a bagfull of enthusiasm.

So what is this all about? I hear you mumble, well let me tell you;

I am a Brit living in Malaysian North Borneo, a state called Sabah, I have a company that does rigging, you know the stuff, dope on a rope and all that. we actually specialise in film rigging and if you have watched any stuff on borneo trees or caves recently the chances are that we did the rigging. Myself and my partner used to be climbers, that is until we moved out here and got caught up in running our own business so we have always wanted to develop rock-climbing in Sabah since there is a small amount of good rock (not least the magnificent Granite of mount Kinabalu - 4095m).

When a hotel developer asked us to do a site visit to Berhala island to look at the possibility of recreational climbing development we went along to see what was there and were blown away by the place. Its a huge crag and there is a lot of it to choose from. Sure enough some of it is soft but most is fine and it only takes a few seconds of looking to see dozens of obvious lines leap out at you.

The hotel company want to develop a hotel with a focus on outdoor activities and the cliff is the obvious place to start, we proposed to bolt the lines that couldnt be climbed traditionally since it was meant for high levels of climbing traffic. When we did the proposal we figured that th best way to do it would be to get a couple of mad keen climbers to come and have the first stab at developing the crag.

What an opportunity, these guys get the chance to be the first climbers, to name the routes, and to write the guidebook, on a crag with zero development, a rare situation these days.

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Al gets to grips with Hilti's finest glue...