Shrouded in Asian mystery and knifed in two by the South China Sea, with one part attached to Borneo and the other connected to Thailand, Malaysia is as difficult as chopsticks for the Westerner to grasp.
Yet Malaysia is a tropical paradise with rock galore. Four hours south of Thailand’s climbing mecca of Krabi, in Malaysia’s northernmost state of Perlis, limestone is so ubiquitous it is said to flavor the water, imparting a unique zest to the local cuisine.
Earlier this year the Swiss climbers David Lama and Reini Scherer, with help from Cédric Lachat, Christina Schmid, Anna Stöhr, Katharina Saurwein and Juliane Wurm, toured the region and sent 91 routes up to 5.14d in nine days. Their development of two virtually untouched sectors is arguably the most prolific first-ascent spree the sport has ever known. Racing ahead of them, and organized by Patrick Audrey of Camp 5, Asia’s largest climbing gym, the local climbers Zam, Akmal and Man hacked paths through dense jungle, brushed prospective lines and installed the bulk of 1,000 bolts in the limestone cliffs.
Equally remarkable, the climbers were feted by the Raja of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin, who presented them with a rope, invited them to the palace for dinner, and, with Her Majesty by his side, bravely tied in and tackled a few new routes himself. The Raja was so stoked on climbing, which he sees as a potential source of tourist revenue, he even lent his private helicopter for photo shoots. So much for access problems.
The team found rock similar to that of Arco, Italy, and Germany’s Frankenjura, and in vast supply. Crag heights vary, with 200 meters being the extreme. The regions’ karst topography is pocked with caves, large and small. Some shelter ancient temples and are off limits to climbing, while others are home to monkey gangs who reportedly can pull up to 6c. Slick carved steps and centuries-old ladders in varying stages of disrepair adorn some of the crags. The climbers used these as handy access points; the locals scale them to harvest the nests of cave swifts. Dissolved in water, the gelatinous nests are the main ingredient in the delicacy bird-nest soup, one of the most expensive dishes consumed by man—a single kilo of nest can fetch $1,000 or more.
In the old tin-mining city of Ipoh, the climbers wandered through a water-park with artificial waves, palms, a sandy beach, a thermal spring and tiger enclosure to arrive at 100-meterplus cliffs packed with possibilities. The area was so stunning, Scherer says, “It’s incredible that climbing is allowed here.”
Two areas have been developed: The Bukit Keteri crag near the town of Padang Besar, and the Lost World of Tambun, next to the water park in the city of Ipoh. The Lost World has 40 routes from 4b to 9a.
At Butkit Keteri, 52 routes from 4a to 8c+ went in, with the first established by the Raja himself, and with room for at least 100 more. A cave cuts completely through the mountain, making steep and spectacular routes. Due to this birarre feature, the crag offers routes at two levels: From the ground are mainly vertical and easier lines. From the second level, you find the steepest climbs out of the various eyes and holes of the cave. A large cavern leads through the mountain to a terrace on its north side, where the shady Robot Wall offers slightly overhanging technical lines.
GETTING THERE »
Fly to the capitol city of Kuala Lumpur. Drive north on the North-South Highway to Ipoh. The climbing is in town adjacent to the water park.
To get to Butkit Keteri, also drive north from Kuyala Lumpur and exit at Changlun to Kangar in the far north. From Kangar, take Road 7 toward Padang Besar. After seven kilometers turn right at Beseri at a large T-junction with a traffic light. Head toward Mata Ayer. Shortly after crossing the railroad tracks you reach another T-junction. Head toward Padang Besar. The crag is on the right, in a field opposite a mosque. Park and walk to the crag.
Alternately, you can catch a train in Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh and to the lake of Tasik Melati, which is within walking distance of the crag.
The temperature is near constant throughout the year, with highs in the low 90s and lows in the upper 60s. Avoid the rainy seasons of April through May, and October through November.
Ipoh and Butkit Keteri are tourist destinations with numerous hotels, from flea-bag dives for $6/night all the way up to luxury accommodations.
Malaysia is a Muslim country (no beer or booze!). Avoid the end of Ramadan (dates are 9/1 through 9/30 in 2008), as the hotels max out then.