The North Face® Athletes Yuji Hirayama, Daniel Woods, James Pearson and Caroline Ciavaldini just returned from the expedition to Mt. Kinabalu (4095m) on Borneo, Malaysia. The team opened over 20 new routes up to Fr 9a+, and each one represents the individual styles and strengths of it’s creator:
Yuji Hirayama – Pogulian Do Koduduo Fr 9a and Metis 120m 5-pitch E6 6b / 5.12r
James Pearson – Excalibur Fr 8c+ and a flash of Alanga 120m 3-pitch Fr 8b
Caroline Ciavaldini – Apuri Manan Fr 8b and Alanga 120m 3-pitch Fr 8b
Daniel Woods – Tinipi Fr 9a+ and Enter The Void Fr 8c
In the words of James Pearson, “Three days into the trip, was actually more like seven, but today is the third climbing day. Bodies are beaten, but minds are getting stronger. It’s funny how just a few days ago, I would have said the exact opposite, as we arrived at the base of the mountain well rested, but a little apprehensive.
Climbing and living at 4000m is something new to me, and coming from sea level to the top in just a day made the experience even worse. My head is still aching and my lungs still screaming now, but on the first few nights it was hellish.
Walking up through a torrential downpour did little to help the situation, wet clothes that never dry make you clod to your bones. Wind, rain, how can we ever climb in a place like this?
But then the clouds clear and the sun shines, you see the most incredible landscape you can imagine. A mountain of granite, twisted and sculpted into formations from your dreams, with overhanging towers and faces as far as you can see, just waiting for their first bolts.
Yuji has been here before and so we know the score. Patience is the name of the game, the weather can never be trusted, meaning a lot of time in the hut, then making the most of the small windows through the mist. He tries to explain us how things work up here, and what our schedule may be like. The 5am wakeup call sounds horrendous at first, but when you realize it is only 7pm and your eyes are starting to close, perhaps it is not so bad.
The first time on top of the mountain, it’s hard to take it all in. It’s so vast, so 3 dimensional, with towers shooting off towards the heavens, and dark gullies seeming to fall away to hell. Yuji explains the location of his existing routes and shares the secret of his projects, we spy a few new things of our owns, all that remains is to start.
I have bolted before and understand the fundamentals, but the everything, really knowing what to do, and the little things that make it work well, only come with practice. However in comparison to Daniel and Caroline, I am a master and so I do my best live up to their hopes, and teach them what (little) I know.
Within a few days everyone is firmly in the swing of things. Everyone has found their piece of inspiration, thrown in some steel work, and stared trying the moves. Like bolting, climbing at altitude is something that also needs learning. So different from climbing near the sea; not only does the slightliest tricky sequence have you panting for breath, but I also find myself feeling much more intimidated than usual, worrying that my feet and hands unexpectedly slip, despite the amazingly grippy rock.
Speaking of the rock… The best quality granite, formed into every shape you can imagine, offer a seemingly endless playground for the (slightly) adventurous. We are essentially running around, cherry picking the best, hardest, most inspiring lines from the whole plateau, and there is more than we could ever hope to blot. If you extent things to the easier grades or the more difficult to reach areas, the potential is there for several life times.
After a few days we all become more accustomed to living at altitude. No longer are we out of breath during evenings in the hut, and we start to become aware, some more painfully than others about the importance of Sun cream and moisturizer! Of all the routes we have bolted, the majority have been freed, leaving some of the hardest routes in the area. The difficulty when bolting is not just to choose a beautiful line, but to find something close to your limit, but still climbable. The difference between possible and impossible is something very small!
Life in the hut is easy and enjoyable, thanks in a big part to the involvement of Mountain Tork – a Malaysian Adventure Tourism operator, and our guides on the mountain. They have taken care of everything, leaving us free to focus only on the climbing. The amount of planning and preparation on their part is simply outstanding and it is safe to say without their help, this expedition may not be possible, certainly not in the same way.”
According to Caroline, she said; “I am completely fine with waiting. I am realizing that Kinabalu will be a real expedition. Cold, wet, tiring, and so windy… and in this conditions we plan to bolt, trad climb… Something really hard. Part of me wonders, what the hell am I doing here. I will surely get sick, I will be tired, cold, scared. But I will come out happy, and proud to have been part of that expedition. I know it. Because I felt the same on my previous little adventures with James and The North Face. But for now, I hear a lot the little shy girl in me that struggles to keep warm even in the hut. Maybe if I recover a bit, acclimatize; a warrior in me may wake up.”
Photographer: The North Face®/Mitci S.
Athletes: The North Face®/ Yuji Hirayama, James Pearson, Caroline Ciavaldini
Location: Kinabalu, Borneo – Malaysia