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

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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Resin gun

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