American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Malaysian Borneo, Sabah, Mt. Kinabalu, Low's Gully, East Face, Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Mt. Kinabalu, Low ’s Gully, East Face, Attempt. Climbers Steve Long, Dave Turnbull, Paul Platt and Chris Parkin, with Paul “Chip” Rafferty, Charles Stead and Jon Rees in support, attempted the first big wall style climb in Malaysia from March 14-29 when they tried the east face of Low’s Gully on Kinabalu (4101m). The east-facing wall is a 1000-meter wall in a remote setting, involving a complex abseil approach to the gully floor. The objective failed due to poor weather and blank granite, but the team pioneered a relatively safe approach route for future parties. We also made a recce of other potential climbing objectives.

The expedition was planned to coincide with the dry season. However, this year was unseasonably wet and we experienced an average of 12 hours of rain per day. Given the prevailing weather pattern, the only relatively safe options were the golden walls higher up the gully, which are overhanging for more than 2,000 feet but apparently devoid of cracklines in the lower sections, plus an area at the right-hand end of the wall that appeared to have three parallel cracks and is relatively protected from the waterfalls. This is the line we attempted.

Fixing an approach line into the base of Low’s Gully took considerable effort, as we needed to conserve as much rope as possible. We took a total of 450 meters of static line and 180 meters of dynamic rope. A further 200 meters of static line would be appropriate for any attempt on the golden walls. The descent to the base of Low’s Gully required ca. 300 meters of fixed line, essential for access and escape. Due to the rain, we decided that portaledges were not a safe option, and planned to fix 300 meters of rope to a ledge system and then sprint for the top. Unfortunately, the cracks proved to be dangerous and “blind.” We only made about 80 meters of progress at about 5.8 and modern A3 before loose blocks and poor protection forced a retreat. Without bolt protection, this part of the wall is too dangerous.

The rock on Low’s Gully is recent granite and seems to lack cracks. The exception to this is the Commando Cauldron area, which has potential for 400- to 500-meter routes. The walls opposite Lone Tree and stretching back toward Commando Cauldron are vertical to overhanging for 800-1000 meters. There is a long comer system which may be possible to reach from directly below, some 200 meters back up the gully from our abseil line where the gully

makes an abrupt turn. However, binocular inspection did not reveal any cracks in the comer.

There is scope for a long buttress climb on Cirque Peak; this is clearly visible from the summit of Kinabalu and was photographed by Paul Pritchard in 1998 as a potential objective. This would require two days’ bushwhacking through virgin jungle from Lone Tree, and the first 200 meters of steep slabs would probably require bolt protection. Above this would be excellent climbing on good cracks. This would be a feasible objective for a future expedition. The 250-meter Japanese route from 1969, Tetsujin, is on very poor rock, and still sports almost continuous fixed ropes and vast numbers of bolts.

There is considerable opportunity for climbs based at the four-man West Gurkha hut near the summit of Kinabalu, ranging from one to 15-plus pitches. Dewall Peak looks particularly promising for long ridge climbs.

Steve Long, United Kingdom

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