Epic adventure at Bukit Takun

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Share your Growth!

I wanted to push myself towards bigger challenges. I wanted to progress my life into bigger things. But sometimes these aspirations put you in places you don’t wanna be in. And you feel ashamed about your lack of ability and worried about scrutiny from your peers. But I am here to say that failure isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of growth for you and for your peers. In accordance to the Bukit Takun ordeal that had happened on the 29th of September 2019, I’d like to share what I’ve learned and what could the entire climbing community benefit from sharing their bad experiences.

Terry on Pitch #2 (Photo credit – Terry K)

Caught in a thunderstorm

I was involved in a rock-climber’s rut of having our rope being stuck while multi-pitching. We were caught in a thunderstorm and witness a thunderbolt within our vicinity. I was cold, exhausted and I was scared. I made a call to a friend explaining the situation in need of a ‘standby’ if something bad were to happen. That call translated somehow made it into a post on the ‘Rock Climbing in Malaysia’ group page on Facebook, where the panic entailed. Somehow the entire rock-climbing community knew of our ordeal with the word spreading like wildfire! If the reader is unaware of what had happened last week in Bukit Takun – Malaysia, you can read my personal account of what had happened at this link

We finally rappelled down below the canopy of the trees feeling relieved about our ordeal. We were wet, grimy, exhausted but pretty damn stoked about getting out of a rut. Too tired to organize our gear, we stuffed everything into our ‘body bag dry bag’ and hiked the hell out of there. I dropped off Adam and Misun home and drove straight to my birthday party with friends awaiting to hear my story.

Epic adventure

I wrote an article about the ordeal the next day with pictures I took with my Sony A6000 and thought, “this ain’t half bad”. It made a pretty captivating piece. I uploaded the article on my website and off it went on social media. I got messages instantly! Some well wishes and some words of advice. I felt I needed to address the dangers and risks of multi-pitching. I’ve heard stories from friends that made my adventure sound like a walk in a park. Recently a friend of mine got stuck on the Dragon Horn route in Pulai Tioman from 7 am to 3 am. And another friend in Bukit Takun got stuck from 7 am to 11 pm. This happens way too often but the stories and lessons weren’t shared. I took it upon myself to write my personal thoughts and lessons on the ‘Rock Climbing Malaysia’ FB group. It goes as follows:

“I’d like to address and clarify the alarm that happened at Bukit Takun. I and two other friends decided to climb the Viserion multi-pitch route but ended up caught in a thunderstorm and then our rope ended up being stuck. A ‘standby’ call was initiated but an unexpected panic within the community caused. I’d like this post to be a lesson learned for myself and for everyone climbing outdoors here in Malaysia.

Ledge on Pitch #4 (Photo credit: Terry K)
Rain clouds approaching (Photo credit – Terry K)

We were prepared, but perhaps under-researched in terms of the amount of time required for a party of three to finish the climb. Time constraint combined with judgment error resulted in a difficult, but fixable situation. A climb that should’ve taken more consideration into what to bring, logistics of the route and chances on the weather. After successfully climbing to the summit, the storm clouds began to hover over us. We rushed and hurriedly rappelled down to the next rappel station. But because of our haste, we failed to do a test pull before rappelling which led to our rope getting stuck in the anchor during our rappel. In addition to that, we needed to rappel in 3 sections but we’ve only done it in two as we didn’t research the route enough to know that rappelling in 2 sections risk getting the rope stuck on rocks or trees.

Stuck on rappel

While getting rained on, witnessing an actual thunderbolt within our vicinity, and being stuck on rappel pitch 3+4, I grew anxious. Our most experienced friend who had it under control made the decision to ascend up the rope using a prusik, progress capture pulley, and a Kleimheist to get the rope unstuck at the anchor. I called 2 friends separately in aid to standby in case we needed help but the message got miss communicated and help was deployed together with that call for aid on the group. The whole situation was in control and my friend managed to fix the problem and got us back down safely.

I’d like to add that it was my fault that the message got miss communicated and only requested a standby but not a rescue. It was due to panic and my first time on a multi-pitch climb which led me to make the call which sounded the alarm and caused unnecessary panic within the community. I take full responsibility for it. The panic call was completely unnecessary.

But on multi-pitch note, please do as much research as you can no matter how experienced you are at multi-pitching. Do take a self-rescue course and get self-rescue/backup gear so that you are fully self-sufficient and knowledgeable in taking calculated risks when doing multi-pitch routes and rescuing yourself in a situation. I’d like to highlight Malaysia does not have a rescue team for climbers so self-rescue is the best option and for Bukit Takun. DO NOT TAKE THIS LIGHTLY.

Seek advice

If you are unsure of a route, do contact the ‘Malaysian Bolting Fund’ (MBF) group on Facebook and ask for all the advice that you need there. The people of the MBF group WILL help you with everything you need to know about the routes on Bukit Takun. They will share what’s best for you and to protect Bukit Takun as a climbing site for all.

If ever the authorities are called in and news started to breakout, Bukit Takun might be at risk of being closed down in fear of threat to the public. So, I respectfully urge everyone to please take this seriously and respect the sport of multi-pitch climbing, especially in Bukit Takun. It is a one-of-a-kind climbing site and we need to protect it.

Photo credit – Terry K

I’d like to say that I sincerely apologize for the panic caused and also my deepest appreciation to those who were deployed and stood by during our ordeal. I take full responsibility and I want everyone to learn from my mistakes. I’d like to say thank you again to those who were deployed. I do appreciate your effort and I am truly sorry for the inconvenience caused. Last but not least I’d like to thank my friend who brought us up and safely back down the route.

Do your homework

So please do AS MUCH RESEARCH as you can on MBF and please do yourselves and everyone else a favor and invest in a proper multi-pitch self-rescue course and appropriate gear.

Many climbers have had close calls but very few have shared their accounts. Patrick Andrey, a prominent bolter on Bukit Takun and administrator of the ‘Malaysian Bolting Fund’ group on Facebook replied:

“Thanks, Terrence for these words.”
We from MBF can only support the strong notion that preparation is key, not only in regards to attaining as much as possible info of the targeted route, but also being fit and ready in all aspects, from knowing your gear to agree on commands, from being trained in self-rescue and having a plan on how to tackle the route, up AND down that is.

View from pitch #1 (Photo credit – Terry K)

Keep your group small

I’ll like to comment here regarding the choice of group size to climb multi-pitch routes: we observe ever so often here in Malaysia multi-pitch routes are scaled in large groups, up to 8 people sometimes. This has lead to ridiculous big wall stories of 12 hours climbs on a short 4 pitch route like “2000 steps”, a climb that can easily be solved in 3 hours. Climbing in big groups is not an advantage at all. Anything more than 2 is slowing down the team (unless one climbs big wall style and includes hauling as part of the game). Hauling in short routes is not necessary, speed is key. While it is social to climb in large groups, there are many disadvantages, some of them lead inevitable to dangerous situations: too many climbers at one stance not only cramp up the space, but they make rope management difficult, increase the load on the anchors and increase the potential of making mistakes. Teams larger than two cannot climb switching belays. Possible rock fall triggered by climbers increased potentially. Time wasted at stances increases, causing dehydration and the need to bring more gear, slowing the party down even more.

We strongly recommend all parties to climb in groups of 2 only. If you are a group of 4 have a greater distance in between each other and arrange how you are planning to rap, so that waiting time is shorter. Or better climb different routes and meet at the summit to rap down together (on two ropes)

In regards to rescue:

MBF can teach rescue courses. Charges will apply, profits will be used to buy new gear and keep up the place

MBF can rescue people. However, again rescue will have to be charged. Again these fees will be used to develop new and safer routes.

I believe more climbers should be open about their failures and their bad experiences. It isn’t shameful to share your steps to growth through your mistakes and/or blunders. It benefits you and the entire community making everyone a better safer climber. It protects our beloved climbing sites from the authorities from ever shutting them down and brings the community closer together. I hope this message is shared as much as possible and I hope to take steps to cultivate your joy for climbing!

I work as a freelance International Expedition Leader and have many stories to tell. So do follow me on Instagram where I post photodocumentaries of my work at ‘mindfulexpeditions.terry’ with links to my website ‘www.mindfulexpeditions.my’.

Don’t be shy to shoot me a message, I’d most likely be very happy to receive any!

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