ime is flying… Almost one year ago, we were making a repetition of Walking Dream, the first historical route on “Nenek Semekut”. Since then, we never had the time to get back to Mukut and enjoy the beautiful Dragon’s horns. That had to change! We laid our eyes on Damai Sentosa, a line that was established in April 2013 by an international team of climbers composed of Stephanie Bodet, Yong Liu, Arnaud Petit, David Kashlikowski and Tam Khairudin Haja. 280m of 6c+ seemed to be a good challenge for the weekend and we were curious to know where we were standing in term of big wall adventures after our Ozy ascent.
For once, we slightly modified our standard operating procedure (aka S.O.P.). Instead of waking up at 3 am in Singapore to reach Mersing (like we did for our Waking Dream ascent), we opted to leave the night before, on Friday, and enjoy some sleep before catching the 6 am ferry to Tioman.
Returning to Simukut Hillview felt like going back home. We were greeted by Tam on the beach and he was as friendly as ever. We love this place, the genuine hospitality of Uncle Sam, the beauty and the simplicity of this resort. We took possession of our rooms and headed straight to the restaurant for a light lunch, some coffee and a quick gear sort. We chatted with Tam about the recent repeat of Damai Sentosa by a young Malaysian team and talked about our strategy as well. As opposed to Waking Dream, we wanted to go light and “fast”. With one day and half to repeat the route, we didn’t have margin for errors. This time, there would be no hard trekking/hauling… just climbing.
- Saturday => hike to the base with all the gear and enough water for 2 days. Climb and fix the first 3 pitches… go down, enjoy beers and a nice swim in turquoise waters
- Sunday => wake up early, start hiking at 6am, jummar the fix lines and climb the remaining 4 pitches.
- 2 x 60m ropes (1 lead + 1 tag line) and 1 x extra 60m to fix pitches (and allow us to jummar back to our highest point on Sunday)
- 10 x quickdraws + 5 alpine draws
- 3 x CCH Alien Offset (black/blue, blue/green, green/yellow) => we only used the green/yellow
- 1 set of BD C4 from #.05 to #2 => we only used the #.5 and #2, but a #3 would have been welcomed)
- 1 selection of small nuts (we only used one of them)
- 5 slings
- Some locking carabiners and spare gates.
- 2 x anchor kits (per kit): 1 x 10m cordelette and 3 x big locking biners
- 1 x rope protector
- personal gear (harness, shoes, chalk, helmets, headlamps, jummar, etrier)
- 1 x medical kit
- 2 x 3L camelbacks + salt tablets
Topo: (Thanks to S. Bodet, A. Petit, D. Kaszlikowski, T. Khairudin Haja, Y. Liu) and the most recent version from Nicolas Archibald Gay
****** EDIT (Apr 2015) ******
We cut a new trail to Damai Sentosa, providing a more direct access to the base. The turn left point is around 30m before the water checkpoint. Look out for the yellow tape on the trees. Continue up until you find the fix ropes that lead to the base.
As usual, the approach was far from being the most pleasant part of the journey. Hiking in a sauna is never fun anyway! Tam guided us to the base of the climb. We were really surprised to see the trail in such a good state. We followed the path until CP5 and headed in the direction of Waking Dream. Damai Sentosa is on the far west side of the south pillar and, 60m below the base of WD, you have to switch direction and follow a path that constantly wanders up and down along steep slopes. Some fixed lines are here to help in the difficult sections, but we were glad we did not have to carry our “Half Dome” bag. It must have been a sufferfest for the Malaysian team as they were carrying enough gear for a siege! Tam told us that he was working on a more direct path from CP4 to the route. One hour and a half later, we were finally ready to jump!
Pitch 1: Tree Climbing 30m / 6a+
Nice and fun pitch, the fixed ropes help you to get the base of a big tree. It is then a fast and easy climb up to the anchors. Tam soloed it in no time and waited at the top to take some pictures of us.
Pitch 2: 25m / 6b+
Jump onto the slab and traverse left for a few meters, then up through an easy overhang. From there, the anchors can be hard to spot. You really have to traverse right under the roof to reach them. A previous party lost apparently a lot of time there. The texture of the rock is amazing and the view already stunning. We used one small cam to protect the move below the roof and thread one sling above, just before reaching the anchors.
Pitch 3: 30m / 6c+
This pitch begins with a fun layback that leads to a slab and then the first crux of the route: 5-10 m of delicate, vertical climbing on pockets, tiny edges, ripples and other dimples. Precise foot work will open you the path to the anchors. I wished we could have moved as graciously as Stephanie Bodet on this section 😉
Time to call it a day. We fixed the lines and abseiled to the base. We left almost everything there and came back to the village by daylight, something we had never done before over our last visits to the horns!!!!! (yeah, we love headlamps and swearing at spiky ferns / tree roots while hiking in the dark). We met our friends, Marlene and Romain, who had enjoyed a nice day of snorkeling. Tam cooked us some delicious dishes made of chicken, prawns and rice. After a few beers, we felt asleep and went straight to bed!
We woke up the next morning around 5.30 am and started the trek at night in order to reach the base at dawn. Time for a jumaring session. Everything went smoothly until I was up 3/4 of the second pitch… where I realized that the outer sheave of the rope was almost gone… A sharp edge had cut it, and the core was clearly visible. We experienced the same situation last year on Waking Dream. We did have some rope protection higher up, but not on this part of the cliff.
Needless to say that I was not really beginning the day with the correct head space… We jumared the next section using our third rope as a backup, lost some time in the process and were ready to resume the climbing around 9.30am.
Pitch 4: 45m / 6c
This is where the serious business begins. This pitch was for us the technical crux of the route (the psychological one was still to come). Compared to the other ones, it provides some sustained vertical climbing over 30m before easing to a slab and reaching the anchors. The right traverse requires some balance and a lot of precision. While leading, I took a bunch of fall on the third bolt… which resulted in another cut on the rope, exactly the same as the one 2h before while jumaring. David put me on belay on the tag line and I had to remove the lead rope, pass the cut and re-tie my knot. Still not good for head space… I was moving slowly and was light years from feeling like Arnaud Petit who was walking in this technical section… At the anchors, I told David that I needed to calm down a bit and that I also should train to take some big whipper to help me go through the runout sections without loosing my abilities. The horns will soon provide me with this experience!
Pitch 5: 45m / 6c+
Good climbing with good exposure on a perfect rock. The crux consists in a 5 m section, slightly overhanging with some delicate moves and a thin sidepull. I took my big whipper right after this. As I was edging higher to reach the next bolt above the crux, a hold broke. Not even the time for screaming, I was flying and so was Dave at the belay! The fall must have been somewhere in the range of 8 m, but it felt very smooth thanks to a good dynamical belay. I almost found it fun.
Pitch 6: 50m / 6b+
The more you go up, the less you see bolts… The runout increases. In some situations, it is possible to thread some slings around “chicken heads” like holds. But most of the time, the route would not take any natural pros. Careful, we did not see the anchors at first and went straight to the abseil station on the right side. Long and easy pitch.
Pitch 7: 40m / 6b (CAUTIOUS HERE !)
*************** EDIT (Apr 2015) ***************
Note to all future ascentionists: this weekend (Apr 2015) we made two small changes to P7:
(a) moved the second bolt 2m to the left, and
(b) installed an additional bolt after the crux to remove the “X” nature of the pitch.
The caution note in the RD above can now be ignored.
( These changes were made after consulting the FA’s).
There is a lot to be said about this last pitch. It first begins with an awkward move on a vertical face, left to the anchors. The second bolt is high above the first one and you will need to traverse right over an overhang. Should the leader fall, he would eventually finish his course on the belayer… Should the second fall, he would eventually end hanging into space, being forced to prussik his way back up on the route. There are around 4 bolts over the first 25 m, the last one being at the crux, a small overhang that leads to the water runnels. Be aware that after this bolt, there is absolutely no protection until the anchors. Neither Dave or I noticed obvious gear placement or additional bolts. The topo says that a small cam might be helpful, but, in the best case scenario, you might only be able to find a #3 placement… This section is runout for 15 m and should be definitely rated R/X. Yes, it is on easy ground, maybe 5a max, but a fall there would break all your bones at best. You’re on a mixed vertical/slab terrain with ledges and awkward rock formations. We have broken some holds during this ascent and it is very easy to select the wrong piece of rock. Being rescued on the Dragon’s Horns is NOT an option: you are in the middle of nowhere, there is with no cellphone reception and the first serious medical center is hours away. You just don’t want to get yourself involved into a precarious situation. Maybe we missed something, maybe we went off route… we don’t think that was the case. Until this pitch, the protection on the route had been perfect. Yes there are some runouts, but the bolts were always placed where you wanted them to be. Taking a huge whipper is never a problem when it is safe. We only climb at a 7+ level, far from a professional level. We love adventure and we love taking risks, but not reckless ones… We finally reach the summit of Damai Sentosa around 4 pm and started the abseil.
The abseil went smoothly. All the stations are very well placed, on a straight line. It took us an hour and a half to come back down.
Exception being made for the final pitch, this route was really amazing. It felt more accessible and less aggressive than Waking Dream. It still remains an adventurous sport route which will bring you great exposure. We found that the difficulty was more around the 6c area but you have to be at least a strong 6b climber to feel at ease. Thanks to Arnaud Petit, David Kaszlikowski and the rest of the team for putting up such a great line. Thanks to the Horns for letting us climb with a perfect weather and without incidents. For future climbers, two words of caution:
- We will write a longer report on the bolt status for Damai Sentosa (and Batu Naga), but be aware that we have noticed some corrosion on the bolts. Each anchors held our body weight and we took some good falls on the bolts, but keep in mind that you are evolving in a tropical, maritime, environment and that “looks” can be deceptive. The route is only 1 year + but we don’t know how long it will last. ******* Apr 2015 DS has been re-bolted with Ti Bolts *******
- As it is mentioned in the topo, the route has some runout sections. There is a maximum of 10 bolts per pitch, some portions have less. The route is not obvious to protect naturally. In some case, we used slings and, when permitted, cams around the #.5 size + one #2 on the third pitch. All the crux sections are well protected, but you need to to be aware that Pitch 7, the last on the route,
is dangerous and rated R/X for usis R.