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By climbers, for climbers
Publication Date : 30-09-2013
Spurred by their fervour for rock climbing, a band of zealous climbers in Malaysia are opening new routes to inspire more folks to climb outdoors
Celebrated rock climber Chris Sharma travels around the world looking for the next “king line”, as he dubs it: a climb that pushes his limits and raises the bar, amidst beautiful settings.
Granted most of us aren’t anywhere near Sharma’s level. But ask any rock hound, and the answer would be unanimous – seeking that “line”, or route, up that rock is what gives climbing its “oomph”.
Here is where the Malaysian Bolting Fund (MBF) comes in. Initiated by Swiss climber Patrick Andrey, this informal volunteer effort rallies climbers to explore new areas and set up sport climbing routes in Malaysia.
Basically, MBF members raise funds to buy tools, bolts and anchors and chip in the hard labour to set up new routes or replace unsafe/worn out bolts and anchors.
Unlike traditional climbing where climbers carry and place protections (chocks, camming devices etc), sport climbing relies on permanent bolts and anchors that are fixed to the rock wall. By clipping their ropes to pre-placed bolts, climbers are protected during a fall.
“Our main objective is to develop more routes and crags,” says Kuala Lumpur-based Andrey, who came to Malaysia in 2000 to explore the region’s climbing potential.
“But we also have to make sure that there is easy access to the climbing site and the place remains clean and enjoyable for everybody.”
The routes vary between 12m to 260m and the grades range from 4c to 8c. (Based on the French grading system, routes start at 4 (beginner’s level) to 9b+, currently the world’s two most difficult routes found in Spain and Norway) To date, MBF has collected around 5,000 ringgit (US$1,533) in cash contributions while in-kind donations are valued at more than 20,000 ringgit ($6,134), including drilling machines and tools by Bosch, climbing ropes by outdoor retailer Corezone, Petzl hangers and equipment by climbing gear distributor Allsports Equipment.
The average cost of equipping a route with 10 glue-in bolts and an anchor is about 330 ringgit ($101). Depending on its length, each route requires an average of about eight to 14 bolts.
All the funds collected are used for materials like bolts, anchors and drill bits whilst volunteers cover their own transport and miscellaneous expenses.
“We try to set up routes every weekend if we are not busy with our ‘real’ jobs,” says Andrey, 47, the managing director of Walltopia Asia Pacific, a leading global manufacturer of climbing walls.
“Depending on how many people show up to help, we can set up two to five pitches in one weekend (each pitch averages 20 to 30m),” he adds. Andrey updates the routes on www.climb.my (a Malaysian climbing community site with forum, events and routes database) so other climbers can check out the new routes.
“So far, MBF only focuses on developing Takun because of its potential for over 300 routes and also due to limited funds and manpower,” says Andrey, who has bolted close to 500 climbing routes in Europe and Asia, including Batu Caves, Selangor. In 2007, Andrey teamed up with Mammut Pro Team climbers to set up 93 routes in Perak and Perlis (151-year-old Mammut is a renowned Swiss mountaineering gear brand.)
“Takun is like a case study on crag development where a critical mass of routes needs to be set up to kickstart and maintain interests,” he adds.
The nuts and bolts
But crag development is so much more than just bolting routes, as volunteers Ana Maria Sanchez and Lim Fang Liang can attest.
“There’s so much to do: scout for new lines up the rock, bolt, equip the routes, clean the rock, build a trail to access the route, clear the overgrowth at the base of the climbing site and of course, climb the routes,” says Lim, 36, a computer programmer and a rock climber for more than 10 years.
“For me, the best part of being involved with MBF is the chance to learn to set outdoor climbing routes and to contribute back to the sport in a positive way.”
Raw food chef and personal trainer Sanchez was a route-setter for Camp5 climbing gym in Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, when she decided to pick up outdoor route-setting and climbing skills.
So what does it take to grasp the art of bolting? For starters, you have to be able to read the “natural line” of the rock, Andrey explained.
“A route should always follow the easiest way within an area. Sometimes, the easiest way up is through meandering cracks as opposed to straightforward vertical lines,” says Andrey, who was in charge of the local bolting board back in Switzerland.
The board supervises bolting activities in their regions, ensuring safe practices and the protection of sensitive areas. They also gather funds for retro and re-bolting activities.
“You need to decide on where to make shortcuts, how to combine lines to get possible variations and anticipate rope drag – and it comes from experience,” says the expert climber with over 30 years of climbing and bolting experience.
“You also need to have a sense of aesthetics and a feeling for moves and sequences.”
A long-time advocate of climbing safety and ethics in Malaysia, Andrey is also the co-founder of Blocx, the climbing wall manufacturer behind Camp5 climbing gym in Bandar Utama, Selangor. He abides by international standards and ethics for route setting.
“When placing a bolt, you need to consider the safety of the climber when he falls and rope handling over sharp rocks, for example,” he adds.
Basic knowledge of types of rock (limestone, granite, and etc) and the appropriate bolt (length and material) to use and the combination of materials to avoid galvanic (metal) corrosion are critical to ensure route safety.
“We are collecting funds to buy marine steel top anchors, which will sustain its condition for more than 30 years in this tropical environment.
“This is so that climbers will have peace of mind when they tackle the routes,” says Andrey who bolted his first routes in Malaysia at Nyamuk (Batu Caves) in early 2000.
From the late 1990s and early 2000s, climbers have been bolting routes in climbing sites like Damai and Nanyang (Batu Caves) and Takun.
But due to prohibitive costs and/or ignorance, some of these bolts have been too short and of the wrong materials.
“Nowadays, climbers still use too-short galvanized expansion bolts and mix and match various grades of steels in the set-up which will result in galvanic corrosion,” he adds.
“MBF is also a platform for climbers to learn about safety issues and to allow interested bolters to get proper bolting materials from the fund.”
Essentially, climbing routes don’t require much maintenance if they are set up with proper materials and good workmanship, Andrey said.
“Of course climbers are encouraged to take stewardship of the climbing sites,” says Andrey.
Falling rocks, snakes, spiders and scorpions are also some of the elements climbers have to face when they are trailblazing untouched territories.
What started as a personal bolting mission for Andrey has evolved into something bigger than he envisioned.
“When Petzl sponsored some equipment and 500 hangers (climbing protection device), I was motivated to bring more people to participate in outdoor climbing,” says Andrey.
“I also want them to be aware of what goes on in developing a climbing site and how fast an area could disappear if we don’t care for it. That was the start of the MBF movement.”
In the long run, Andrey hopes to use MBF as a vehicle to develop climbing and sustainable tourism in a larger scale.
“Currently, limestone is viewed as a raw resource for cement only. By utilising the rock as a tourist and recreational attraction, it offers a long-term alternative to mining and a sustainable income for local generations to come,” says Andrey who has called Malaysia home for 13 years now.
“By setting up new routes now we are trying to prove that there is a business model for rock faces instead of destroying them. The MBF should be a point organisation, negotiator and lobbyist for the cause.