Just across the causeway lies two stone massifs, towering over the jungles of Tioman Island – Dragon Horns, a sight to behold as you approach the island via ferry.
We were invited to join the first post-pandemic expedition to this wall during the Hari Raya long weekend by Monster Climber, and gladly took up the invite – it was an opportunity not to be missed. A total of 10 of us embarked on this expedition together.
Getting to Dragon Horns
Thursday, 7 July 2022
Our journey started off with a short train ride to Johor Bahru on Thursday night. We rested for a night at Hotel Tebrau CT and left at 3am.
Friday, 8 July 2022
Monster Climber picked us up by car from the hotel and we drove 2 hours to Tanjung Gemuk Jetty. From here, we waited for the 7.30am ferry to Kampung Genting Jetty. It was a 2 hour ferry ride which you can pre-book by calling the jetty.
The boat rides continued at 11am when we boarded the speedboat to Mukut Jetty – it was a quick but scenic 30 minute ride. The huge Dragon Horns twin towers greeted us as we approached the jetty.
After arriving at the jetty, we quickly checked into one shared cabin at Mukut Village to re-pack our equipment, leaving the items we didn’t need for the climb in the cabin, and only taking the things we needed.
The Hike (In)
Getting to Base Camp (of the route) requires a 2-3 hour hike through dense tropical rainforest, with a total estimated elevation of 550m (3.4km in distance). It was described to be intermediate level of difficulty. There were occasions of clambering over some large boulders. For steeper terrains encountered, there were ropes anchored to trees that were handy in helping us climb the trail. Overall, we were expected to pass through 7 checkpoints before reaching the Base of the Naga route.
We started off around 2.15pm from the cabin. The route from Checkpoints 1 to 5 was relatively clear, with a pit stop at Checkpoint 4.5 to collect drinking water from the stream, which we could use for cooking.
The hike from Checkpoints 6 to 7 and then to the base of the crag was slightly more complicated, passing many fallen bamboos before finally reaching Base Camp at 5.30pm.
Without wasting any time, we set up camp with a party of hammocks, flysheets and Kembara self-heating foods, to rest before the big climb the next day. The cold settled in as the night progressed. At a point in time, it was hard to sleep with the cold nibbling at our feet and any exposed parts of your body.
Things we brought for this trip included water bladder, emergency blanket, poncho, jacket, walkie talkie, head torch and Aquatabs. On hindsight, it might have been more comfortable to bring an inflatable pillow, and socks for the sleep at night.
Saturday, 9 July 2022
Bright and early we rose from our slumber and packed up camp. There were some crevices in the rocks at Base Camp that allowed shelter for items we temporarily wanted to leave behind.
We got ready to attack! The Naga route on the South Tower is estimated at 270m, with 8 pitches to the summit. It would be no easy feat and excitement (and anxiety) accompanied us as we started the climb.
Pitch 1 (30m, 6b)
The first 2 clips are mossy and not an easy start. Follow the hanger on your right to the 3rd clip. If you clip the 4th hanger on your left, that is another route, so keep going right and up instead.
Pitch 2 + Pitch 3 (60m, 6a)
To save time, we climbed past the Pitch 2 anchors (which was a hanging belay) and moved up to the Pitch 3 anchors.
Pitch 4 + Pitch 5 (60m, 6a)
Again to move up quickly, we skipped the Pitch 4 anchors and moved straight up to the Pitch 5 anchors. Up to now, it was straightforward easy climbing on slab.
Pitch 6 (25m, 6b)
The adventure starts here. We heard many climbers bail here because they couldn’t find the first clip which is in the direction of 1pm from the anchor of Pitch 5.
Towards the first clip, there is a run out of 10m to 12m if you miss a very old sling tied to a tree (on the right of the anchor of Pitch 5). This tree can also be used for belaying if you don’t fancy a hanging belay.
At the top of Pitch 6, use the big tree (on the ledge) as an anchor point to belay your second up. This ledge is a great rest point. Derek even laid down to take a nap here while waiting for the other Monster Climber’s members to arrive!
Pitch 7 (30m, 6b)
Should you ascend left to the anchor tree, the scariest route was here, with long runouts on a 30 degree slab. Without cams and nuts, be prepared to climb up to the first clip at between 12m to 15m distance from the tree. We were told ascending right to the anchor tree is also possible.
Pitch 8 (20m, 5c) old sling
This was the pitch leading to the Summit, with no bolts at all. Use at least 5 to 7 slings tied around trees and attach quickdraws as you move up to the summit. It was essentially scrambling – we were grabbing bunches of soil, grass and saplings just to haul ourselves up. Fortunately, we were blessed with dry weather for this scramble. We can’t imagine how hard and sketchy it would be if it rained…
And with that, we made it! The first climber reached around 5.30pm, and the last of us finally summited at 11.30pm. It was a long climb, having to bear the weight of our bags and rope, complicated by the rope drag. There were definitely moments of fear – but with good knowledge of your gear and how to set up anchors, we made it up safely.
Sleep and Sunrise
Sunday, 10 July 2022
We spent the night at the Summit, which was surprisingly warmer than at the base of the crag. It was a squeeze, with all 10 of us trying to find a space where we would have some rest as the moonlight and stars watched over us.
At 6.30am, we walked the 2-3 min journey to the tip of the Dragon Horns. There were anchor points there for us to safely sit on the Summit. We awaited the sunrise (supposedly at 7am)… which didn’t appear 😂 A thick fog blanketed the entire Summit, leaving us with a faint glow of the sun through the fog. At some moments, the fog moved with the wind, giving us a peak of the sunrise every now and then.
The next important part of the climb came next – the journey back down.
On the way down, we managed to give back to Dragon Horns by changing out some of the rusty maillion and abseiling rings with the new ones provided by Monster Climber.
Starting off with an 80m rope, we started the descent.
Summit to Pitch 7 anchors
Abseil down on one rope from Summit to Pitch 7 anchors using trees as the anchor point.
Pitch 7 anchors to Pitch 6 anchors
There are rappel rings to the left of the big tree (originally used for anchor to belay).
Pitch 6 anchors to Pitch 5 anchors
Make sure to move to your left as you rappel down to pitch 5 – you’ll need to rappel past a few trees as you descend.
Pitch 5 anchors to Pitch 3 anchors
We skipped Pitch 4 anchors and rappelled down using a single 80m rope.
Pitch 3 anchors to Base Camp
Tying the 80m rope to the anchors of Pitch 3, we single rope rappelled down to the left. Afterwards, we walked down to base camp, about <8m distance away.
The first person rappelling down also set up a double rope rappel from Pitch 1 anchors for the last team to take as they clean the route/ rope to the ground.
By 2pm, everyone had reached Base Camp safely and we could finally heave a sigh of relief. After a day of stuck ropes and careful rappelling, we finally completed our 3D2N big wall climb at the Dragon Horns!
The Hike (Out)
At this point of time, most of us had no water left. Unfortunately, we underestimated the amount of water we needed and had ran out of water by the morning at the Summit. We had a variation with respect to the amount of water each of us carried up to the Summit, ranging from ~1.5L to more than 6L (it depends on your drinking habits).
Hence, for the hike out, half of the team descended first and got water from the stream at Checkpoint 4.5. The remaining half of the team caught up later on and was able to enjoy the collected water.
Descending from Base Camp was relatively quicker than ascending. We took ~2hours or less. As we finally broke through the trees and entered Mukut Village, the hunger and fatigue started to set in.
On returning to the cabins, Derek immediately gobbled down 6 ketupats, 4 hard boiled eggs and 2 bowls of mee siam offered by the cabin’s makcik. Later on, we had a delicious BBQ dinner of seafood, chicken and lamb – kindly and generously prepared by our village friends.
Monday, 11 July 2022
After the “best sleep ever” in the cabins, we woke up bright and early to catch the 7am speedboat from Mukut Jetty to Kampung Genting Jetty. We then continued the journey with a 9am ferry to Tanjung Gemuk Jetty. We drove for 4 hours back to Johor Bahru.
As it was the long weekends, we found ourselves in the thick of the crowd going back into Singapore. We decided to walk across the Causeway in view of the uncertain waiting times (and massive crowds) for the public busses. On hindsight, staying over one more night in JB and taking a morning train out would have been a better option.
We would like to thank the Monster Climber’s team for this amazing opportunity to scale the Dragon Horns – a big wall expedition close to home. It truly was an astounding feeling being at the top after a long day of climbing, and then reaching back down to the ground after a whole day of rappelling.
With this being our first big wall experience, we ran into numerous lessons along the way. But to us, the most important lesson of all was to always be prepared and be familiar with your gear and knowledge of multi-pitch climbing. The more comfortable you are with the basics, the more you will enjoy the climb. Here’s to more expeditions/ adventures in the future!
Photos and drone footages contributed by everyone in the team!
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