Thursday, July 17, 2008

Batu Lawi~Misty Mountain of Sarawak

It was 5 years ago since I had the opportunity to lead in any big climbing expedition. Now, I’m sitting in front of another spectacular peak, deep in the heart of Borneo and the main peak of one mountain range called “Tama Abu “. Batu Lawi is the crown of this mountain range at an elevation of 2043 meters located in the district of Limbang at Sarawak, Malaysia. It had two sandstone peaks separated by the saddle. The lower sister peak can be reached by steep trekking and a bit of scrambling near the top. From the top of the sister peak you can see the main peak towering in front of you. This main peak is my destination ! Our expedition was tagged “Puncak Merdeka Batu Lawi Expedition”.“Puncak Merdeka” means the Independence Summit and we were climbing in conjunction with Malaysia’s 50 years National Independence celebration. The climbing team consist of Ajiz and Chaun from Multimedia University, local boyband singer Zam and myself. We will be accompanied by the national tv crew documenting the climb along with our support team. 6th August 2007 Woke up early to catch the flight at 5.45 to Miri. The adventure begins! We transit at Miri and board another flight to a small inner town named “ Lawas”. Flights connection to inner town from Miri uses the “Twin Otter” which is a two fan engine plane with a maximum of 20 passengers including the pilots. From Lawas, it took us another 5 hours of 4wd along the timber road before reaching “Raven’s Court Camp”. This is the last logging camp deep in the jungle. The elevation was at 1400 meters and the temperature had lowered to 20 degrees. Here, we met with our guide/porters Tawi,Sakai,Panai and Lasung from another small town called “Bakelalan”. 7th August 2007 We drove for another two hours before hitching a ride on the bulldozer for a 35 minutes ride climbing the steep mountain . By 3.15 p.m The main climbers, porters and the tv crew start to trek . Our support team decided to stay behind. After an hour of trekking, the jungle changes to dense mossy forest known as “kerangas forest” . The weather is cold with healthy moss everywhere from the ground to the branches of the trees. By 6.00 p.m we were given with the view of Batu Lawi from the north and 20 minutes later we reached our base camp somewhere in the middle of the trek. 8th August 2007 We continued trekking to the saddle, and at around noon we noticed the trek that we followed had brought us to the north/west of Batu Lawi which is not what we planned. The view is nice though! We stationed the tv crew at one point while the main climbers and guide set to find the way to the saddle. After much rough trekking through thick kerangas and wild thorns we reached the saddle at around 3.15pm. We stayed at the saddle for 15 minutes and head back to our previous base camp. Minutes later 2 of our support team with two porters arrive with barking deer which they had hunt the day before. Tonight will be warm as a result of the deer meat we ate. 9th August 2007 The tv crew headed back down the mountain at 10 a.m while the rest of the team head for saddle. We reached the saddle late evening with only two bottles of water to spare. Tomorrow, we wont be able to climb the main peak since we are lack of water but our porters volunteer to get the water needed as not to waste our time to climb. These porters are the unsung hero of our expedition. I respected them for that. By 8.30pm, Tawi and the gang arrived with all the water needed. 10th August 2007 On the south face corner of the main peak we climb/scramble a dehidral slab full of vegetations to a small ledge. I climb another 5 meters of rockface to a bigger ledge where we find clean rock with crack system. I climb this vertical crack for another 30 meters before ending the day at 6.30 p.m. Everybody head down to saddle by 7.45 p.m. When we reached the saddle the rest of our support team had just arrived from base camp. 11th August 2007 By 12 p.m we started our pursuit and each of us took an average of 30 minutes to reach to our previous highest point. Hauling all the gear, water and porteledges is no easy task. We were slow and tired but very determine. By 2pm everybody reached the big ledge just below the vertical crack. I jumar to yesterdays highest point and continued climbing. 8 meters above I came across 5 meters of chimney and climb pass a small roof to a 7 meters of bridging and another 10 meters of dehidral before a slab and some vegetation. I sneak pass through the vegetation and was thrilled to found a cave. The cave is 10 by 10 meters of rock that lies towards the main peak. One side of the cave entrance is facing the east while the other is facing the south. Either from both side you will get a breathtaking view. We camp at the east side of the cave. 12th August 2007 At dawn the first glance of the sun appeared on the right side of Mt.Murud bringing warmth on our chilling bodies. Screams of gibbons far below echoed loudly signaling the break of a new day. I continued climbing this dehidral rock of unstable huge boulders. I climb pass several small roof and traverse to the right at a corner and into another dehidral and decided to set our porteledge. I climb another 18 meters before coming down at 4.15 p.m as it begins to rain. I could see there’s another 10 meters of climbing before we reached another flat kerangas bushes. The rain continued till 6.15 p.m and immediately after, rainbow appear and cloud gathers resembling a dragon flying below and around us. The view was spectacular. These cloudy forest are in danger of extinction as a result of the global warming. These clouds are also the reason of the seldom disappearence of Batu Lawi from the naked eye hence the ethnic people dubbed it as “Misty Mountain”. It was already 6.30 p.m when the crickets starts singing signaling the daylight is over and welcomes the night. 13th August 2007 I climbed this badly protected dehidral and pass a small roof to another 20 meters of dehidral crack of loose rock before reaching a small kerangas ledge where we set our anchor. It rains and Zam and I squad and stayed close together near to the rock avoiding the rain and chill wind. I continued climbing another 25 meters of chimney which gave me a beautiful view of the sister peak below . This chimney begins with a finger crack that widens to the width of 2 meters. At the end of the chimney there’s a traverse to the right across thick kerangas bushes. Climbing these overhanging kerangas bushes is very risky and scary experience as they seems to let loose every time you hold on to them. I had to grab another bushes of kerangas before it breaks and most of the times I had to dunk my hand deep to the level of my elbow to get a firm but still not solid grip. At some point I felt as if I’m swimming in them. Once reaching the top of the kerangas it rains again. It’s impossible to get any vocal communication between Zam and me so both of us just stay quiet, shivering from the chill wind and dripping drops of rain. We climb yet another boulder and the wall open up it’s upper section of the kerangas. After 15 minutes of kerangas bushwacking we reach a big ledge where you could see the south and the east. We were at an elevation of 2030m and on top of us looks like another 20 meters of rock that leads to overhanging kerangas bushes and then hopefully………………the summit. We set our ropes here and abseil down to our portaledges, by now every inch of our body was aching and screaming from exhaustion but the thoughts of reaching the summit tomorrow kept our spirits high. The “Summit” 14th August 2007 Everybody woke up at dawn and started ascending to the highest point. We scramble through thick and wet kerangas to the right of the rock face for half an hour and had expected to reach the summit. To our surprise there’s another section of 4 meters of rock to climb . We did not bring our climbing shoes as we thought there will be no more rocks to climb . This section is not difficult but given the expose view of the land below and climbing damp rock with wet sport shoes, it still gives us the shivers. On my left there is this long drop possibly to the saddle and on the right this long deep crack of mossy rock heading down to the unknown. I reached the top of the rock and was happy to see we had reached the top. By 10.05 a.m the whole team reached the summit. We were glad that we made it to the summit and I personally was happy that my dream to climb this peak have been fulfilled. We sang our national anthem and waved our national flag with pride . This main peak of Batu Lawi has waited for 50 years for a Malaysian to step on its summit and this is our way to contribute and share the joy of independence with the whole nation. “Happy 50th National Independence Day Malaysia!!!” this is for you!!! We started ascending by 12 afternoon and everybody were back at the saddle by 15th August 2007 The next morning before leaving the saddle I glance one more time at this beautiful and spectacular peak and appreciates all the lessons I’ve learnt. I’m glad that its over but look forward for the next adventure………………………..

Batu Lawi view from summit.