Vemanna Appannah shares his thrilling experience of tackling the world’s highest via ferrata
WHILE there are more than 800 via ferrata routes in Europe, there’s only one in Asia. It’s the world’s highest and it’s in Malaysia. Yes, it’s located in Mount Kinabalu, Sabah.
A via ferrata (or “iron road” in Italian) is a protected mountain pathway comprising a series of rungs, rails, cables and bridges embracing the rock face.
It allows access to scenic sections of the mountains that are typically available only to rock climbers and mountaineers.
My adventure begins when we sign up for the 2D1N Walk The Torq package with Mountain Torq, which manages the via ferrata.
The day begins at 9am from Timpohon Gate. It takes us five hours to reach Panar Laban and check in at Pendant Hut, which is 3,289m above sea level.
The day is cloudy and though we hope it will not rain, it does.
At4pm,wearebriefedonsafety features, the use of equipment and basic techniques by a Mountain Torq trainer.
We put on the safety harness and learn how to clip the carabiners securely to steel cable.
All trainers are certified by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (UIAGM / IFMGA) and endorsed by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA).
These certified instructors undergo mandatory skills certification and upgrading with training standards regularly.
It is a Sabah Parks safety regulation that all via ferrata participants be accompanied by a Mountain Torq trainer at all times.
The Walk The Torq package includes Low’s Peak summit climb and a Walk the Torq circuit. Since the four of us have reached the summit of Mount Kinabalu a few years back, we opt for the Walk the Torq circuit route.
We start our climb at 5.30 the next morning instead of 2.30am.
The Walk the Torq morning is gloomy with rain cloud shovering in the sky. Thus begins our 380-metre Walk the Torq circuit via ferrata experience.
Upon reaching the starting point at 3,520m, we put on safety equipment such as harness, safety helmet and safety rope which offer triple security.
The sky does not look good. We are warned by our trainer Hillary that we will have to abort via ferrata if it rains before we start or if it rains within 50 metres into the via ferrata route.
Fortunately, the gloomy skies does not rain until we pass the no abort line at over 100 metres. And here is where the fun starts: it drizzles just as we begin to get familiar with the carabiners.
Our movements become slow and we are drenched. The steel hand and foot bars planted into the rock face turn slippery.
We are cold and shivering and we can feel our fingers freezing. Towards the circuit end, there are two hurdles waiting for us to cross over: the Monkey Bridge and the Rogimut Ladder.
Holding tight, we slowly cross a small ravine on Monkey Bridge, walking sideways while gripping a steel cable above our heads. The steel cable line is slippery and cold.
Next is the 90-degree vertical Rogimut Ladder. This is a vertical climb on a suspending steel ladder planted vertically onto the rock face.
By this time, it is raining even harder, and we can see water gushing like waterfalls on the rock surface in the distance.
We are getting weaker and it doesn’t help that the rain is slowing us down.
The trainer, Hillary, demonstrates how to climb the ladder. Jin goes next, followed by Chin Ting and Ravi.
When it comes to my turn, just as I am reaching the top of the ladder, I cannot move.
Looking down, I realise that my waist rope is tangled in across position between the steel bar.
Hillary repeatedly calls me to climb up. I reply to say I’m stuck. I cannot see him and he doesn’t realise I am stuck.
Eventually, Hillary descends and untangles my waist rope. I have somehow made a wrong turn earlier while climbing up, which caused my rope to become entangled with the steel cable.
By this time I am frozen in one position from the cold and wet.
“How are you, Vem?” he asks. I reply that I am freezing. He answers that he is cold too. I feel like I have been hanging onto the ladder for hours.
Meanwhile, my tired friends have been holding tight to the harness in awkward positions on the steep gradient.
I finally pull myself up after the heroic rescue by Hillary.
The trainer is calm throughout our expedition. His confidence and clear instructions keep us all at ease.
Everyone feel a sense of relief as we are almost at the end of the route. After slightly over two hours, we reach the end point of the circuit. It is definitely an experience to remember and cherish. The entire climb feels safe under Hillary’s professional guidance.
I highly recommend this via ferrata experience. No prior mountaineering experience is required. It is suitable for anyone who is 10 years and above. However, you must not have a fear of heights or at least be willing to squelch that fear. The high adrenaline flow activity is surely not for weak hearts.
We slowly make our way back to Pendant Hut. We pack our stuff, have brunch and head down to Timpohon Gate.
Will I return again? Yes!
There is still the 1.1km Low’s Peak Circuitto conquer. I still can’t get over that this is the world’s highest via ferrata.