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Grabbing The Dragon By The Horns

Dragon’s Horns, Tioman Island, Malaysia. David Kaszlikowski and Eliza Kubarska put up a 270m route up the compact granite of the south tower (right) in April 2011. [Photo] David Kaszlikowski

Just over a decade ago, the jungle surrounding the Dragon’s Horns on the island of Tioman, Malaysia, was too thick to even think about attempting a climb on the formation. Creating a path through the dense forest requires an hour of hacking with a machete for five-minutes’ worth of trail. With this arduous approach plus heat, insects and rainstorms, the granite summit of Dragon’s Horns is not easily attainable. But in the last days of April, David Kaszlikowski and Eliza Kubarska topped out on the formation, leaving Polish Princess (7b+, 270m) in their wake.

David Kaszlikowski hacking his way through the jungle on Tioman. To clear five minutes’ worth of trail, he and his partner had to work for an hour. [Photo] Eliza Kubarska

The south tower of the formation was first climbed by an English team in 2000, after several unsuccessful attempts by a Malaysian group. Waking Dream (V 5.9 A2, 10 pitches), later freed by Dave Sharratt and Hank Jones at 5.13a, ascends the south tower. The second ascent of the formation was an arduous, three-week expedition that resulted in Beckwith-Traver (5.10 A3, 14 pitches, 400m). Read more about Steve Beckwith and Matt Traver’s adventure in the November 24, 2009 NewsWire.

When Kaszlikowski and Kubarska arrived on the island in August 2010, only three routes had been established. On that trip, the duo put up Sam Sam (7b+, 300m) after an “exhausting” effort in rainy conditions.

The two climbers returned to the island this April in hopes of climbing the tallest–and boldest–line on the south tower that ascends 500m of smooth, compact granite.

“[W]e weren’t able to place bolts in its compact rock. We had brand new Hilti drill, but it wasn’t able to drill the rock deeper than one centimeter after ten minutes,” Kaszlikowski said. “We realized that bolting the route would take one month and hundreds of drill bits and batteries, so we abandoned original project and moved back closer to our 2010 route.”

Traveling in a two-person team, the husband-and-wife duo climbed efficiently. “We know each other like no one else. After so many explorations we don’t need to talk too much–we know what to do and how to find interesting line,” Kaszlikowski said. This small group also meant the traveling and hiking to and from the climb was especially strenuous. On the wall itself, the duo filmed and photographed web episodes about their trip themselves, climbing far out of the way to get shots. Watch their video documentation in the June 8, 2011 Feature.

The route took two days to climb, with Kaszlikowski and Kubarska swapping leads. While they were able to free climb most of the way, but aided a few meters low on the route.

Eliza Kubarska on Polish Princess (7b+, 270m), Dragon’s Horns, Malaysia. [Photo] David Kaszlikowski

At around seventy meters off the deck, the climbers were caught in a rainstorm at a hanging belay. “It was much stronger than any experienced shower, and very cold. We started to shiver first, then the wall turned into waterfall–we had problems breathing,” Kaszlikowski said. “We survived only thanks to the tent cover we dug out from our bag just in time.” Nearly hypothermic, they covered themselves with the tent and waited for the downpour to stop. They rappelled later that night to find their camp “totally devastated” by water.

After completing the climb, the pair slept on the summit for three nights. “Some nights were quite scary because of thunderstorms, and lightning struck around us. We were really exposed on the very peak of the mountain, and we found only one flat place (surrounded by some bonsai trees, and carnivorous pitcher plants) to sleep,” Kaszlikowski said.

They placed a total of seven bolts and at least one more at every belay stance, while the rest of the climb is a well-protected, “four-star” trad line with a few runouts. They later returned and redpointed the climb, grading the 270-meter Polish Princess at 7b+.

“It seems that further exploration of the area will go much faster now,” Kaszlikowski said. “With three free routes ready for repetitions and new trail, it is possible some strong team will come after us to add more routes.”

Sources: David Kaszlikowski,

“We were attracted by the quality of rock and the potential of the place after our first new route in 2010,” said Kaszlikowski of Tioman, Malaysia. “It is probably the only big wall on the planet standing so close to incredible coral reef, with chance to climb and dive in the same day.” [Photo] David Kaszlikowski

Eliza Kubarska surrounded by an insect net in camp. [Photo] David Kaszlikowski

David Kaszlikowski jugs up Polish Princess on Dragon’s Horns. The team climbed the route a second time to free the aid sections, clean and place bolts for future climbers. [Photo] Eliza Kubarska