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Climbing Kinabalu – New Ranau GPS Trail Route

I wanted to discuss a bit more about the new Ranau trail on Mt. Kinabalu. I had tracked my trekking using an App and managed to get a GPX from Timpohon Gate (more like from the first Pondok or “Rest Point” as i had used another useless app that did not track my GPS from Timpohon to the first Pondok).

To Panalaban

To Panalaban

The track does not show much difference from the previous trails. It winds pretty much through the same route to Panalaban (Formerly, Laban Rata).

However, the Ranau route from Panalaban to Low’ Peak has some completely new sections up to Sakat Check Post. A bird’s eye view of the trek is shown below.

New Ranau Route

New Ranau Route

A closer look at the new section using Google Earth will show you the direct approach the new route takes compared to the more windy route of the old trail.

Ranau Trail Deviation

Ranau Trail Deviation

The white lines show the path of the old route and the blue lines show the new Ranau route. The Ranau route follows the ridge while the older trail is in the valley, protected by trees on both sides. This provided good cover from the elements but did poorly for the view. The new route follows the ridge line and is exposed to the weather elements and the cold winds and also does a direct approach to Sayat Lodge. However, the views are breath taking if you can just stop for a moment without worrying about the climb or descent and adsorb the surroundings.

The old route is completely destroyed by fallen trees and boulders and not much evidence is there of a route at that site.

ranau_route_elevation

The image above shows the elevation gain in the Ranau route. There is no respite from the constant elevation gain and this can pose challenges for people who are not adequately acclimatized or fit enough. Unfortunately, i do not have the elevation gain of the older trek to make any reasonable comparison, but i would guess that it may be a little less steep at some sections leading up to Sayak Check Post.

You can download the two GPX files here:

From Timpohon to Panalaban

From Panalaban to Low’s Peak

 PS: Will appreciate if anyone could pass me their GPX file for Kinabalu before the earthquake.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu (New Ranau Route)

Mount Kinabalu

It was a really emotional moment standing on the summit of Mount Kinabalu once more. It was the first serious mountain that i had climbed. It opened me to a whole new world of climbing.

Unfortunately, in June 2015, an earthquake had devastated the mountain and caused several fatalities. Since then Kinabalu’s summit had remained closed.

When we heard about the planned opening of the mountain for climbers on the 2nd of December, myself and 3 other friends from our Elbrus climb, Uantchern, Benson and Boon Leong, wanted to be one of the first to climb the new trail which was considered harder and more exciting. We got the ball rolling and made some arrangements. Fortunately, our request was approved and we were one of the 53 tourists to climb Kinabalu on the first day of the opening. This article is about our trek to the summit.

The plan was to climb to Laban Rata on the 1st Dec and attempt the summit on the 2nd of Dec. We arrived in Kota Kinabalu on the night of the 28th and spent the rest of the day in town visiting the weekend street market and exploring some places to eat. We capped off the night at the Kinabalu Waterfront Market and retired to our hotel.

30th November

Kinabalu National Park Lodge

We arrived at Kinabalu National Park at 6pm and stayed at one of the lodges. The weather had been favorable throughout the day with warnings of rain the next two days. We were mentally prepared to have a wet climb to Laban Rata and to the summit. Dinner was at Balsam Cafe and after that we returned to our lodges for some chatting and sleep.On the way, we ran into Ravichandran Tharumalingam, Ravi for short. Ravi is very widely known in Malaysia as an adventurer and mountaineer. He had been invited to attend the opening ceremony and flag off of the first group of tourists and climbers by State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun. We got chatting and felt a level of comfort and familiarity with each other.

All the while the weather looked good with clear skies. In the distance we could see lights at Laban Rata. Laban Rata, was still active with tourists allowed to climb till there.

1st December

We got up at 5.45am and proceeded to the Registration centre at 6.30am. We were assigned our guide, Bungin Kombiong, a native Kadazan who had climbed Kinabalu more than 200 times.While waiting for the registration to complete, we managed to take some photos of Kinabalu. Below is a comparison before and after the earthquake. A large portion of the mountain was sheared off by the quake leaving the internal rocks exposed in white. Some prominent features of the mountain has also been destroyed.

kinabalu_before

Before Earthquake

Mount Kinabalu After Earthquake

After the Earthquak

With all arrangements made, we went to the Timpohon Gate and started our Trek at 7am. The official flag off by the Minister was to be at 8.30am but we did not want to wait that long, so we decided to leave early so we can have a head start and be one of the early ones to “break trail”.

Newspaper Article

The trail was the usual and we took about 6 hours to reach Laban Rata. At some sections of the trail leading up to Laban Rata, new routes were placed. But these were very short in distance. Almost 95% of the route remains the same with the ususal resting places called Pondoks still in place. The picture below shows some new sections of the trail before reaching Laban Rata.

New Section

New Section

20151201_084715

Laban Rata now called Panalaban

Laban Rata now called Panalaban

We reached Laban Rata at 2pm. Laban Rata was renamed as Panalaban now and a poster indicated that the Minister shall arrive at Panalaban at 8.30am the next day to welcome climbers from their trip to the summit. At spent some time at the cafeteria eating and drinking. We went out to take some photos of the mountain once the clouds cleared. The photo below shows the before and after of the earthquake.

Before earthquake

Before earthquake

After the earthquake

After the earthquake

Again, the terrain of the mountain is changed with rocks eroded and internal white rocks exposed. Dinner was quick and light and by 7pm we went back to sleep before our climb the next day at 2.30am.

2nd December

Got up at 1.45am and got ready to climb towards the summit. With very little appetite, we just had coffee. Fortunately, the weather man was wrong and the skies were clear. There were no clouds in the sky but it was quite cold. The temperature showed about 5-10 degrees. There were not a lot of people as the parks had restricted the climbers to 135 which included 55 tourists, paragliding team, rescue personnel, media and reporters. We seemed to be the only group from Singapore and there were some western tourists and most of them were Malaysian. I wore a base layer and an outer shell.

Before starting our climb at 2am.

Before starting our climb at 2am.

At 2.30am, we kicked off the climb to the summit and were doing pretty good on time. The route from Laban Rata to Sayat check post was considerably damaged. As a result a new route had to be established. The new route follows teh ridge leading up to Sayat check post. The new route is near vertical with steep sections of wooden stairs of 70-80 degree incline. Some sections did not even have wooden steps and you need to haul yourself using a fixed rope over large boulders. Not for the faint of heart but still doable. Unlike the previous trail, which was in the valley, protected by the trees, the new route is quite exposed to the cold winds. So, speed is also of the essence. Waiting in this section, which inevitably has to be done, can be quite uncomfortable. Another challenge with this route is the rapid gain in height over a short distance. The older route wound its way to the check post while the new route cuts directly to the top. This could potentially lead to AMS (Accute Mountain Sickness), which we saw for a few climbers, who had to turn back. Overall the route seemed shorter and steeper, but the climb is slower, so it takes about the same time as the older route.

We reached the Sayat check post in about 2 hours, which was quite fast. We seemed to be in pretty good shape and we climbed all the way to the check post without taking any break. After the hut, there was no change in the route compared to the old one. There were new ropes placed to guide the climbers all the way to Low’s Peak. Since we were climbing pretty steadily, we estimated that we would reach the peak at 5.00am. We would then have to wait for the Sun rise at 6.00am. So, we slowed down our climb and took short 10 minute breaks in between.

Kinabalu

Soon, by 6am we were at the Low’s Peak and had our summit photo taken. Ravi was just behind us and we managed to take a photo with him as well. Again, there was no change in Low’s peak as such and it seemed like new guard rails and summit post was setup.

Low's Peak

Low’s Peak

Photo with Ravichandran

Photo with Ravichandran

We surveyed the surroundings and so much of the iconic structure had changed. The Donkey’s ears was destroyed and many sections of the rock faces showed visible damage.

Donkey's ear before earthquake

Donkey's Ear

Donkey’s Ear after the earthquake

The way down was much more enjoyable due to daylight as we could see the trail that we had taken.

Kinabalu

Some of the photos of the new Ranau trail is shown below.

Ranau Trail Descending 1

Ranau Trail Descending 3

Ranau Trail Descending 2

20151202_073843

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View of surrounding from Ranau Trail

Wooden Steps on Ranau Trail

Trip down took about 2 hours and by 8.30am we were back in Panalaban. We heard that the Minister will be there at Panalaban to welcome climbers from their summit trek, but unfortunately, there was no one to “receive” us. Apparently, the minister had other pressing engagements that his trip to the Panalaban was cancelled in the last minute. Still everyone was not dampened by the disappointment and celebrations for Christmas was well on it’s way with people singing Christmas Carols and some cake cutting.

After some rest we started down to the Timpohon Gate and since all of us had wobbly knees, hurting from the descent from the summit and again coming down to Timpohon, we took out own sweet time of about 5 hours. Still we made it in good time and in high spirits.

Back to Timpohon Gate

We continued on towards Kota Kinabalu after collecting our certificates and thanking our guide. He was a wonderful chap and took the patience to follow behind us inspite of our slow climb and never once did he leave our side. Kudos to all those guides who have been through all those difficult times in the past 6 months and still their spirits were high.

Conclusion

The new Ranau trail is an exciting path to the summit. It is steep and quite exposed. But it offers a panoramic view of the surroundings. Most important is that, you will need a lot more arm strength to haul yourself up using the ropes and you will need to be extra cautious when coming down, especially when it is raining. The wooden steps and rock faces can be quite slippery in the morning due and so, extra caution need to be taken.

Overall, with the new Ranau Trail, Kinabalu has opened up an exciting opportunity to revisit the mountain again and to experience the more fun and challenging route to Low’s Peak. We had great fun in climbing this mountain.

I will post some more pictures and the route in another blog. So, please stay tuned.

Your Climbing Plan To Everest

Mount Everest

From Wikipedia

So, you want to climb Everest? With the new rules potentially restricting access to the mountain, the Nepal tourism agency would like to assess the climbing resumes of persons who are going up Everest. So, credentials and prior experience in high altitude climbing is going to be a must for future climbers. You may not be able to buy your way to the top… i hope.

So, how do you prepare for a mountain like Everest? Apart from the regular exercises that you need to do, you must also have a good track record of climbing higher and higher. If we could breakdown the mountains in 1,000m categories, each increase of 1,000m provides new experiences, risks and challenges that you need to get used to.

So, with that said, what kind of mountains do you need to climb? Here is a list of potential climbs that could reasonably create a good resume of climbing while at the same time getting you seriously ready for Everest. At least, these are the mountains that i could do if i were to climb Everest.

4,000 to 6,000 m peaks

The world is peppered with mountains of this height. So, depending on the region or continent you come from, there are certainly mountains in this range that you can use to build your resume. More like trekking peaks to get your body and mind accustomed to altitude as well as the experience of having to stay overnight in tents and having to deal with settling for a less comfortable lifestyle in the outdoors.  These mountains do not take much time in terms of periods away from home and work. Most mountains can be climbed in a period of 1 to 2 weeks time. These by themselves are not going to get you a ticket to the highest mountain on earth.

 Kilimanjaro (5,895m)

Kilimanjaro

From Wikipedia

Grading: 1A

One of the most popular and easier mountains to climb. Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, provides a very good training ground for high altitude trekking without any technical experience. It has a very long summit day at a reasonably high altitude. The support structure for the mountain is very good and there are close to 35,000 people attempting it every year. If you exclude the travel time, it may range between 5 days to 8 days depending on your route, fitness level and weather conditions. Often the success rate ranges between 45% to 85%. It gets you used to staying in tents. You can even have your own portable toilets brought along.

Rainier (4,392m)

Rainier

From Wikipedia

Grading:

Rainier, located in North Western USA is a difficult mountain to climb. It requires prior knowledge of glacier travel and self-rescue. You will need to get yourself accustomed to using double boots, ice axe and crampons. On an average, 10,000 people attempt it every year. The success rate is claimed to be about 50%. It provides a good introduction to climbing with some basic life skills when up on the mountains. Normally, Rainier can be done in a week excluding travel.

Elbrus (5,642m)

Elbrus

Grading: 2C

Elbrus, located in Russia provides a unique opportunity to learn how to climb using double boots, ice axe and crampons. It can be a good alternative to climbing Rainier for those who are not located in USA. There are plenty of people on the mountain every year. Again, this mountain has very good support. However, the summit attempt is really tough and can prove quite a challenge and a good learning experience. Although, there are no official figures, but due to it’s remote location, there are probably a few thousand people attempting the summit with about 15 to 30 deaths that occur each year. Normal duration of climb takes about 10 days excluding travel.

Other Peaks

There are other notable peaks like Mont Blanc and less well known ones that are too many to list here. You must find some peak that is closer to your location.

6,000m to 7,000m peaks

Now you are in the very high altitude zone. These peaks are mostly found in the Himalayas and in South America. These mountains expose you to thin air, long treks at high altitude and overnight camping at various heights. It requires well planned acclimatization treks up the mountain. You will learn to test your physical and mental endurance.

Stok Kangri (6,153m)

Stok Kangri

Grading: 1A

Located in the Indian Himalayas, Stok Kangri is the best peak for introduction into the 6000ers. It is relatively easy to climb but is not a walk in the park. It requires crampons and ice axe depending on the season you are going. Normally, it take about 2 weeks to climb this. It helps you in understanding your body at 6000+ meters. Every year, hundreds of people attempt the mountain with not many fatalities. There are no official records that keep track of the number of climbs. Being very close to Leh, Stok Kangri has easy access and also a quick rescue path.

Island Peak (6,189m)

Island Peak - Imja Tse

From SummitPost

Grading: 3B

Located near Everest in Nepal, Island Peak is a very popular trekking peak without much technical difficulty. However, there is a near vertical wall that you need to overcome before you walk across a narrow ridge that heads to the summit. This can be quite challenging and a great experience. Again, hundreds or thousands of people attempt this peak every year. The success rate figures are not available, but depending on your fitness, weather and equipment, you should be able to do it. This trek takes about 19-25 days excluding travel.

Mera Peak (6,476m)

Mera Peak

From Wikipedia

Grading: 3B

Another alternative to Island Peak above is Mera Peak. Also, located in Nepal, this peak also provides the necessary experience in getting used to very high altitude trekking. This is also considered an trekking mountain and hundreds if not thousands of people attempt them every year. This trek takes about 19-25 days excluding travel. You get used to much longer days at higher altitude and prolonged exposure to ice travel.

Aconcagua (6,961m)

Aconcagua

From Wikipedia

Grading: 1C

Located in South America, Aconcagua is one of the highest peaks in this altitude range and is one of the seven summits. It is formidable in terms of the endurance and physical fitness that is required. With over 4 camps that can be setup, this is close to getting a real life experience of how it will be like to live days or even weeks on the mountain. Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 people attempt the mountain with a success rate of 30%. This can be a real test on your physical and mental stamina. The trip takes about 21-25 days excluding travel.

7,000m to 8,000m peaks

Now you are venturing into Extremely high altitude. These peaks are only found in Asia. They offer a real experience on being in oxygen deprived altitude without the need for supplementary oxygen. The treks are longer due to the unpredictability of the weather and also more days allocated to acclimatization and conditioning.

Mushtag Ata (7,509m)

Mustag Ata

From Wikipedia

Grading: 2D

Located in China, and close to the Pamir mountain range, Mushtag Ata provides a great introduction to 7000ers due to its relatively easy access to the summit with little objective danger and spread out over 3 camps. It requires you to be reasonably comfortable with high altitude climbing while at the same time, not requiring you to have professional technical climbing experience. It has a gentle slope that can be traversed using crampons, ice axe and harness. The whole trip take between 23-25 days excluding travel.

Nun/Kun (7,135m)

Nun Kun

From Wikimedia

Grading: 4C

Nun/Kun, located in India is a two peak massif that is quite steep in areas with close to 45-60 degree inclined ascend. This mountain may not be well known to the outside world, but is easily accessible from Kargil. It is far harder than Peak Lenin or Mushtag Ata and requires more technical experience in climbing. There is a near 400m vertical wall that needs to be traversed while being roped in. Sherpas usually go ahead and setup the ropes for the climbers to climb. Again, allocate 21-25 days for climbing this mountain.

Peak Lenin (7,134m)

Peak Lenin

From Wikipedia

Grading: 2D

Peak Lenin is located in the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is not a technically difficult mountain to climb, but the summit day is one of the longest and the mountain is known for its unpredictable weather. The challenge is its remote location requiring you to take multiple connecting flights in addition to the 25 days or so that you need to spend there for an opportunity to climb. There are plenty of avalanche and crevasse danger on the mountain.

8,000+ peaks

Welcome to the death zone. Normally, you don’t do these mountains and stop here. These are your ticket to Everest. These mountains are the true test of how you will do at the death zone and consequently on Everest. By now you should be quite familiar with all the vagaries of expeditions, weather, gears and your own personal physical and mental fitness. These peaks require you to spend months on the mountains. Being high, the weather window cannot be accurately predicted and you need to be prepared for any unforeseen circumstances. The mountains below are considered “easy” to climb compared to other 8000ers. But easy here is not a walk in the park.

Cho Oyu (8,201m)

Cho Oyu

From Mountains of Travel Photos

Grading: 4E

Located in Nepal, Cho Oyu is a popular precursor before climbing Everest. It is the sixth highest mountain in the world. Climbing are spread out of 3 camps and can take weeks of acclimatization treks. Cho Oyu sees quite a lot of climbers due to its accessibility, lack of objective dangers and very little technical sections. You will most certainly require supplementary oxygen. The whole expedition can last up to 40 days or more.

Shishapagma (8,027m)

Shishapangma

From Mountains of Travel Photos

Grading: 4E

Another mountain on the same scale as Cho Oyu is Shishapagma, located in Tibet/ China. Shishapagma is also an “easy” 8000er to climb and is one of the lowest mountain in the 8000m peak range. The summit days are long and requires you to cross narrow ridges at high altitude before you reach the summit. Normal expeditions take 40 days or more. This “easy” mountain has laid claim to some notable climbers.

Summing Up

Given that future Everest hopefuls may need experience in getting up to the summit of Everest, you need to get your climbing resume well updated with these mountains. These are not the only ones there are and you can take alternative routes. But you need to have at least one 7000er or 8000er in your bag before the big “E”.

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