KOTA KINABALU: The via ferrata installed on Mount Kinabalu by a Sabahan mountaineering company has played a major role in raising Mount Kinabalu’s profile among mountain climbers around the world.
It has also elevated Sabah to a world-class adventure destination with a myriad ocean and mountain activities.
The via ferrata, or ‘iron road’ in Italian, is a mountain path that consists of a series of steel rungs, rails and cables embedded into the rock face on a mountain slope.
It opens up routes for the average hiker that were previously only accessible to experienced rock climbers and mountaineers with specialised equipment.
Mount Kinabalu has the first via ferrata not only in Malaysia but also in Asia.
Located at the Panar Laban rock face, a four to six-hour hike from the Mount Kinabalu Park headquarters, this via ferrata is also the world’s highest. It begins at 3,411m and ends at 3,776m above sea level. This distinction has been certified by the Guinness Book of Records.
Opened in December 2007, it makes an alternative route to the summit of Mount Kinabalu at 4,095m above sea level.
The via ferrata was created by Mountain Torq Sdn Bhd, a Kota Kinabalu-based company that promotes adventure and mountaineering in Asia.
Mountain Torq’s via ferrata is approximately 1.2km long and traverses routes of varying difficulties.
It thus caters to all levels of experience, from beginners to intermediate hikers and climbers.
The company’s sales and marketing director Quek I-Gek said this ‘iron road’ on Mount Kinabalu was suitable for almost all ages, from 10 years old and above.
“The via ferrata is devised to give people with little or no climbing experience, the excitement of being above the clouds. You don’t even need to be a seasoned rock climber or mountaineer,” she said.
Families, schoolchildren and climbers of general fitness levels are particularly fond of one of the activities called ‘Walk The Torq’. Measuring 430m long, participants can witness the beautiful scenery of Borneo and capture breathtaking shots during the two to three-hour walk.
Adventure-loving mountaineering enthusiasts who crave an adrenalin-charged experience can opt for the hike up to Low’s Peak, Mount Kinabalu’s highest point.
This is a four to five-hour programme designed for those with above average fitness levels.
Other highlights include walking on a 22m bridge suspended at about 3,600m above sea level.
“As long as you know how to climb a ladder and are still able to do so, you will be able to negotiate the via ferrata.
“All that is needed is a spirit of adventure, the average fitness level of a normal mountain hiker and no fear of heights,” Quek said.
This leisure mountaineering sport had its roots in World War I. The first via ferrata was constructed and used by the Italian military to move troops and equipment across the Italian Dolomites into Austria.
Climbers can follow the via ferrata without needing to use their own ropes and belays, and without the risks associated with unprotected scrambling and climbing.
Via ferratas are found in a number of European countries as well as a few places in the United States, Canada and Malaysia.
When it comes to enjoying extreme sports like this, safety standards are normally the prime concerns.
Quek said that it was the safest of all mountaineering sports that included abseiling, rock climbing and alpine mountaineering.
She said the via ferrata on Mount Kinabalu conformed to the highest international safety standards.
The via ferrata is able to withstand up to three tonnes of weight. It was constructed by a team of via ferrata builders from Europe.
“Safety practices developed and prescribed by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) for mountaineering sports are also strictly adhered to,” she added.
She explained that all equipment used in the sport was UIAA-certified and participants were guided at all times by trainers who had undergone rigorous training, with regular skills upgrading based on a syllabus endorsed by UIAA.
In addition, a continuous belay system is employed throughout the via ferrata route where climbers are hooked up to a guide line, making any deviation from the route virtually impossible.
More information on Mount Kinabalu’s via ferrata is available at www.mountaintorq.com —Bernama