Assisted by grants from the BMC and Sports Council for Wales, young British climbers Steve Beckwith and Matthew Traver made the first ascent of the West Face of Dragon's Horns, twin granite towers situated on the Malaysian island of Tioman.
Prior to their arrival, there was only one established route on the entire island, Waking Dream on the South Face of South Dragon's Horn. This 10-pitch climb was put up in 1999 by Scotty Nelson and Nick Tomlin at 5.9 and A2.
Waking Dream was repeated in 2002 by the all-Malaysian team of Rosmann and Sharin, supported by Abudullah Danial, Akmal Noor and Al Haleq. These five created an important, mostly free, variant above half-height, and the climb attracted so much national attention that the successful ascent made front-page news in the Malaysian Star.
In 2004, two experienced, American, big wall free climbers, Dave Sharratt and Hank Jones, visited the island and made the third ascent. After working the route, they eventually climbed it free in a single push at 5.13a.
Traver, who started climbing while living in Hong Kong, had visited the island in 2006 and seen the potential on the Dragon's Horns (aka Bukit Nekek Semekut).
During a five-week period this summer, he and Beckwith macheted a long and difficult approach through dense virgin jungle, ferried multiple loads, including more than 100kg of water, to a dank and insect-infested base camp below the West Face, and then climbed the wall in 13 pitches. The weather was mostly dry, though often windless and a scorching 35°C.
The pair first fixed five or so pitches up to the 'Great Roof' before continuing the ascent in capsule style. Climbing was a mixture of free and aid up to E1 5b and A3. The rock proved 'temperamental' and good protection, often large cams key-holed into awkwardly shaped pockets, spaced.
On pitch four, Traver made roughly 13 consecutive skyhook moves before forced to place a bolt to avoid a potential fall onto the belay – a spacious sloping platform dubbed Free Willy Ledge.
The final push was carried out with some urgency, as by this time Traver was feverish due to infected cuts to his (now swelling) leg. However, the two successfully exited the West Face at its highest point after a total of 400m climbing, to reach the forested summit cap of the South Horn.
The descent - 14 hours rappelling with heavy loads while stripping the route - proved the most demanding part of the trip, and then began the shuttle of loads back down to the village of Mukut.
Tioman Island (aka Pulau Tioman) sits a short distance off the east coast of Malaysia in the South China Sea and has in the past been regarded as one of the world's most beautiful islands. Some sources quote Tioman as one of the locations for the 1958 film adaption of the musical South Pacific.
Beckwith and Traver report great potential for coastal granite cragging, as well as many more multi-pitch lines in the interior, notably on Mumbar Peak. And the North Dragon's Horn still remains unclimbed.