Sabah quake: The day it rained boulders

Sabah quake: The day it rained boulders
Some of the stranded climbers on Mount Kinabalu.

KOTA KINABALU - Just a day before the earth shook and brought down the rocks on them, pupils from the Tanjong Katong Primary School have been excited about their climb up the Via Ferrata trek.

Divided into five teams, some of the students had just put on their rope harnesses when they heard a rumble as the boulders dislodged by the earthquake came rushing down at them.

Via Ferrata means Iron Road in an Italian phrase. It refers to a mountain route consisting of fixed cables, ladders and bridges.

Mountain Torq operates the trek. Its owner Wilfred Tok said a dust storm caused by the rock avalanche prevented the guides from seeing the imminent danger and acting to save the children strapped to the harnesses.

"There was just too little time for them to react," said Tok.

Ranau District Police chief Deputy Supt Farhan Lee Abdullah said most of the 19 people killed or injured on the mountain were those at the Via Ferrata trek.

Tok said if the earthquake had occurred 15 to 30 minutes earlier, the students would not have started their trek.

He said quake caused the whole face of the Tunku Abdul Rahman peak to sheer off, causing boulders and loose rocks to come crashing down.

The boulders and debris came through the white rope section that was the path from Laban Rata to the summit trail.

Some boulders and rocks blocked the trail causing more than 200 climbers and guides to be stranded on the summit plateau for about 12 hours.

Others the size of trucks continued crashing down and some hit the Via Ferrata, snapping the ropes and hitting the students.

"The rocks and boulders continued their path down the mountain damaging the Panar Laban hut," said Tok.

Just hours before, the Tanjong Katong Pri­mary School pupils, who were on a learning trip called "Omega Challenge", had blogged about their journey, according to The Straits Times.

The last entry on a blog for the learning journey was dated June 4 titled "Reached! Pendant Hut".

"What a day! Though it was an exhausting hike to Pendant Hut, Step by step, inch by inch, we All made it up!" said the blog post.

"It wasn't easy but they all succeeded getting up there. How did they make it up? How did they endure the cold wind and rain? How did they overcome the steepness of the mountain?

"The answer? Each other. They encouraged each other. They helped their friends by retrieving water bottles from their bags when it was hard to reach. They checked in with their friends by asking 'How are you?', 'Are you okay?'. They were effective. They pressed on. They utilised each other to give them strength. Eventually, they reached Pendant Hut. Together."

It ended with: "Tomorrow, we will take on the next challenge. VIA FERRATA! Bring it on, I say!"

Many climbers are attracted to the challenging route where cables, metal rungs and bridges are set into the rocks on the steep terrain to help people ascend.

It is not the first time the primary school has organised learning journeys to Mount Kinabalu. According to a magazine published by the school last year, the Omega Challenge, where pupils and teachers trek up Mount Kinabalu, is part of a special programme designed for the school's student leaders and sports leaders.

Students and staff from Fuchun Secondary and Greenridge Secondary schools were also at Mount Kinabalu.

All the student and teachers have returned safely to Singapore at 12.20am on Saturday. These include 32 students and four teachers from Greenridge, and 26 students and four teachers from Fuchun.

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