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Brits Climb West Wall of Fabled Dragon’s Horns

The west face of the south tower of Dragon’s Horns (aka Bukit Nekek Semekut), Tioman, Malaysia, showing the line of first ascent, Beckwith-Traver (5.10 A3, 14 pitches, 400m). The Brits spent more than two weeks preparing for the five-day climb. [Photo] Steve Beckwith collection

Steve Beckwith and Matt Traver of Wales have climbed a new route on the Dragon’s Horns, twin towers that erupt from dense jungle on the Malaysian Island of Tioman in the South China Sea.

According to local legend, the Dragon’s Horns (aka Bukit Nekek Semekut) are fabled to be a Chinese princess who, flying to her prince, took a luxurious rest in the sea and transformed into these spires of rock.

Though long eyed by climbers, for many years the towers only held one route, Waking Dream (5.9 A2, Nelson-Tomlin, 1999) on the south face of the south tower. In 2002, an all-Malaysian team climbed a nearly free variant, which brought more attention to the formation, and in 2004 Dave Sharratt and Hank Jones freed it at 5.13a.

A handful of unsuccessful attempts have been made on the striking southeast arete of the south tower, the “nose” of the fabled Dragon Princess when viewed from the west.

So when Traver, who visited the island in 2006, saw more potential on the Dragon’s Horns, he returned this summer with Beckwith to attempt the virgin west face of the south tower. The wall offered not only what seemed to be a direct line up the center of the face, but also the challenge of a prominent 12-meter overhang, which the pair dubbed “The Great Roof.”

On their third day of traveling to the island, Beckwith and Traver hitched a ride on a local fishing boat to bring them to the village of Mukut on Tioman. It took them 16 days of bushwhacking to transport their five haul bags and settle in to their “jungle base camp, which affectionately became known as the ‘Trench’ on account of its dank, muddy and insect infested nature,” Beckwith said in a trip report.

A view from the lip of The Great Roof. [Photo] Steve Beckwith collection

Over five hot days in August they climbed the west face, mostly in capsule style, to make the towers’ second ascent. The route, Beckwith-Traver (5.10 A3, 400m), is fourteen pitches long and requires bizarre protection–big cams in strange pods–run out in places and a sketchy stretch of aid through seams in The Great Roof. The pair installed a couple bolts in the most dire circumstances.

An exhausting 14-hour day of rappelling brought them back to the Trench, where they would shuttle loads back to Mukut.

From high on the route, the pair spotted other climbing objectives worthy enough to note in their trip report. And they added that, even on the conspicuous Dragon’s Horns, “a great deal more potential exists… not just on the south tower, but also the north tower, which as of yet still remains unclimbed, despite the possibility of some long and direct lines.”

Sources: Steve Beckwith,,

Traver hooks beneath The Great Roof. [Photo] Steve Beckwith collection