More from Borneo: World's Highest and Hardest Routes

posted by dpm on 07/02/2012

More pictures have come in from the otherworldly landscape of Mt. Kinabalu on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. The expedition members were Yuji Hirayama, Daniel Woods, James Pearson and Caroline Ciavaldini. They lived in a mountain hut near the summit of the 13,436 foot peak for almost 3 weeks and ticked off some very hard routes. Daniel established the highest elevation 5.15a in the world and Yuji put up a multi-pitch, 100-meter 5.14d. For Yuji, the route that became Pogulian Do Koduduo (5.14d) was a dream route that took him multiple trips to achieve. Overall the team established 20 new routes in one of the most spectacular settings on the planet.

The bizarre landscape of Mt. Kinabalu. Photo: Caroline's blog.

Caroline, James, and Yuji in front of the Donkey's Ears.

Expedition member James Pearson provided the following photos and his own personal account of the trip:

In 2003 Yuji Hirayama first visited Mount Kinabalu after seeing a tiny photo of the wildly overhanging Oyayubi peak. Inspired by that single picture, Yuji would discover a landscape like nothing else on earth, a playground for free-climbing, with the hardest high-altitude routes just waiting to be discovered.

Over the years to come Yuji would visit Kinabalu several times, bolting his dream line on Oyayubi and establishing other sport and traditional climbs on the nearby peaks and spires. Despite his best efforts, the project on Oyayubi remained unclimbed, yet regardless of the often bad weather and difficult living conditions, Yuji had fallen in love and vowed to return someday to finish what he had dreamt of for so long.

Yuji Hirayama resting before the crux of his 100-meter 5.14d Pogulian Do Koduduo. At 13,000 feet this may be the world's highest 5.14d. Is this also the first time someone has climbed 5.14d with a grigri on their harness? 

On the 12th of June 2012 Yuji began the journey back towards the summit, this time accompanied by Caroline Ciavaldini, James Pearson, and Daniel Woods. Inspired by Yuji’s stories and vision, the young team was hoping to discover and create their own dream lines, as well as help Yuji in finally realizing his.

The team spent 18 days living close to the summit in one of the mountains many huts, each day making the 1 hour hike towards the summit plateau to climb, bolt, and explore. With so much virgin rock forming such wild and varied formations, the final selection of routes could not be more different, representing the individual styles and strengths of their creators. Blessed with unusually stable weather, the team was able to climb every day, resulting in the opening over 20 new routes up to Fr9a+ (5.15a).

Daniel on the top crux of Tinipi (5.15a)

Highlight routes of the trip include:

Caroline Ciavaldini – Apuri Manan Fr8b (5.13d) and Alanga 120m 3 pitch Fr8b (5.13d)

Yuji Hirayama - Pogulian Do KoduduoFr9a (5.14d) and Metis 120m 5 pitch E6 6b (5.12r)

James Pearson – Excalibur Fr8c+ (5.14c) and a flash of Alanga 120m 3 pitch Fr8b (5.13d)

Daniel Woods – Tinipi Fr9a+ (5.15a) and Enter The Void Fr8c (5.14b)

Caroline on Alanga, a 120-meter 5.13d.

“Part of me wondered what the hell I was doing here. I got scared, tired, wet, but I came out happy and proud to have been part of this.” Caroline Ciavaldini

“It was so hard to link all the way to the summit but I just did it. I didn’t have any words to say it, but dream line had just become true!”Yuji Hirayama

“Kinabalu has been my best ever expedition, uniquely combining excellent climbing with a stunning location. I can’t wait to return…” James Pearson

“It’s like climbing on the moon – so many amazing features and formations. Just don’t forget your sunscreen!” Daniel Woods

Caroline, Yuji, and James on Metis (5.12r)

In addition to the hard routes, the team also spent time equipping the many perfect easier features to leave a selection of walls, arêtes and cracks that would be 3-star routes anywhere in the world. Sunset Café, a route up the front face of the East Donkey Ear being especially good, and according to one member, must surely be a contender for the best 5.10 in the world.

Due to its location and surroundings, climbing on Mt Kinabalu takes a little planning and organization, but thanks to the help of local Adventure Tourism Operators things are now a lot simpler than they previously would have been. From Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of the Sabah region, your operator will drive you two hours to Kinabalu park HQ where you will register your presence on the mountain with the authorities. Once all the paperwork is finished you will be provided with a name tag and a mountain guide, and start your journey up the ¾ height huts where you will spend your first night.

James passing the crux on Excalibur (5.14c)

Here is where things become a little more complicated, as regular tourists usually spend only one night on the mountain before reaching the summit and descending the following day. In order to stay for longer periods, you will need to choose an operator like Mountain Torq who have their own accommodation and understand the special needs of climbers. For more information about climbing on Mt Kinabalu, contact Mountain Torq in Kota Kinabalu.

Yuji on the start of Tinipi (5.15a)

Thanks James for the trip report and beta. Best 5.10 in the world huh? Book your tickets!

Read more about the trip on James' blog here or Caroline's (in French) here.