Fighting the Dragon
The Dragon's Horns, Tioman Island
As most of our climbing trips tend toward the alpine areas of the world, we thought we'd do something in a warmer clime and attempt a new route on a formation called the Dragon's Horns on Tioman Island, a small island off Malaysia's south-east coast. As one would expect, there are two of these 'horns', a north and a south tower, shooting about 400m up out of the surrounding dense jungle. The south tower was first climbed in 1999 and has several established routes, but the north tower only had one route on it, climbed by Cedar Wright and Luis Rivera in 2011. Since we like to go for the underdog, the north tower seemed like a good objective. Well, there was probably a reason only one route had been done on it, and by some pretty hardcore, bold and crazy climbers!
After arriving in the small village of Mukut in September 2013, we met local climber Tam, and got the low-down on existing routes. We did some scoping of the walls on both towers, by hiking up the 'track' through the jungle, a steep, muddy affair complete with jungle creepy-crawlies, spiky plants, and screeching fauna. Not to mention the sweat! Bucket-loads of sweat! We decided we'd give the north tower a go, but since the only climb on it occurred a couple of years prior, it meant there was now no track to the base and we had to hack our way through the jungle with a machete. With heavy packs of climbing gear, we slowly hacked our way through to the base, and kept hacking along the base hoping to find an obvious place to start a climb. Although we had tried to look for possible spots to climb on the tower, we couldn't see any actual lines since any views we had were from so far away, and when we were closer to the tower, jungle was our only vista. So at the base of the north tower, all we were looking for was a place to be able to get on the rock! Not really a big ask. The base mostly consisted of loose, dripping, slime-covered, overhanging rock (yum!) and thick vines and vegetation (a bit better!). Having scoped the base all the way to it's vegetated north side, we found only two access points to the upper rock - one was the start of the Wright/Rivera ascent, and two... well let's give it a go! And it went something like this:
Pitch 1 - Solo, in approach shoes. Climb vertical dripping corner of trees and shrubs to grassy ledge. Rope up, get rock shoes on.
Pitch 2 - Climb some rock (finally), interspersed with shrubs and vines (damn!), climb nice blunt arête (yay) and through tree branches (oh!). Get excited about the fact that there's now more rock than vegetation, the moves are nice, there's gear just when you need it, and then POW, a hold blows out from under your fingers. You examine the bits of broken hold and wonder why this granite looks more like crumbly limestone. You look to your left and notice the lovely pitcher plants growing down a big black groove and realise you are climbing just outside a significant run-off zone, and wonder if this could have something to do with the rock being not as good as you'd heard it was. Go down somewhat disconcerted... come back up later. Keep climbing! Continue up to little corner, tricky moves up and around, and get established into nice finger crack (this is what we came here for!). Keep going - you can see a big ledge up ahead. Climb on ever steepening face holds, get a bit pumped, push through, throw a cam behind that dubious flake, hold it together before you get too pumped and wonder how you are going to to surmount the sloping ledge of overhanging grass. Careful that tufts don't rip out in your hands, and your up. Realise there's nowhere to belay and continue up unprotected wall toward a bigger ledge - hug tree!
Pitch 3 - Climb up behind treed ledge, decide it won't go because of the huge razor flakes just sitting there, and it is too much in the run-off zone for it to be nice. Venture out across narrowing ledge, decide that straight up is too steep and unprotected for mere mortals like us, peer around the corner and discover it's a heinous drop with a very difficult looking way beyond, also too much for us. Come back to ledge, feel a little unsure as to whether our 50mm expansion bolts would be solid in this rock. Retreat while we've still got trees.
But the snorkelling was REALLY good!