Cat Ba, Vietnam
December 1, 2010
Time flies! Well, that and my airline cancelled my return flight from Taipei to Seattle making me leave a day earlier than I would have liked. With no phone and little access to internet, it was a miracle I even discovered the change. This makes today, my last full day of anything on the island. Fortunately, we are off to Saigon Wall and The Face.
Yesterday, after 2 days on a boat, everyone wanted to relax and enjoy the street markets. I, on the otherhand, just couldn’t get psyched by such a possibility. Eager to get back to the Valley, I made arrangements with Slo to meet there early the next morning. The forecast was boasting temps in the 80’s (27) and I was worried with a SE facing wall that the stone would be slick and difficult in those conditions. I was lucky Slo was heading out because no one from the group left town, in the end.
At Linh Mien’s, I met Slo and Vu. Slo was putting in a few bolts on a project of his to finish it off and with our help, he completed his mission. He and Vu were working the line and sorting the beta. He had an idea for the grade and knew all of the moves. Something that was truly unique here is that when you climb, no one offers beta. You don’t ask for it and you don’t get it. This was awesome. It was uniform, not some sense of egoistic sabatoge. This was about self-discovery and self-satisfaction. I couldn’t ask for beta because it would ruin the moment, the unease, the unknown, and spoil the success that comes from onsighting. It seemed silly to me that this approach would be held for an FA attempt, but it was. Mum was the word and no matter how desperately I hoped someone would spit out something that would give away information, nothing came. This made the onsight attempt for the FA of Slo’s line even more rewarding.
Before I go there, let me back up. Slo is a talented climber but with his business, his climbing has been put on the back burner. That and he has a messed up finger that he doesn’t rest. These days, he’s lucky to get in a few pitches any time he’s at the cliff. Still the dude can crank! I’ve seen him working his other project and was very impressed. The crux looks smooth and blank and the moves are compression and body tension dependent. There’s a dyno to a sloper with a divet for your index finger, then a difficult move up to a good hold. It’s 2 bolts worth of grrrr and he nearly stuck the sloper! I didn’t ask what grade he thought it was, but the boulder problem could easily be up around v8.
Now, Vu. Vu is awesome. I met him on the 2nd day in the Valley. He’s 18/19 and lives in central Vietnam but works for Slo most of the year. He understands English really well but doesn’t speak much. I think he’s embarrassed he might make a mistake. Slo sponsors Vu to climb and visit other countries so Vu can help with the business when Slo leaves. The Adventure company has a prospective buyer and Slo is eager to get out of the business, though he doesn’t want to see all the work he’s put into it fall apart.
The day I met Vu, Slo and I were climbing. This Vietnamese boy shows up and Slow introduces us. Then, Slo proceeds to inform me that Vu will be climbing with us. I think, ‘wow, cool,’ but don’t put much stock into what that means. After Slo and my 6c warmup, it was Vu’s turn to climb. I thought he’d just do what we did, but no. There was a line I’d been psyched to try that goes at 7b+ and that was the line he said he would warm up on. This climb, “Hippie Banana Tree Killer,” starts out on a slab for 2 bolts (beta tip, unclip the first bolt and put a long sling on the 2nd) then kicks back for 3 at which point you pull the lip and begin more technical climbing to a technical finish. It is 5 stars! The crux section is from the 2nd through the lip. The moves are powerful and huge. You start climbing a bit of tufa into a wide crack where you can get some knee bars, but the lip of the hole is smooth and difficult to get purchase for your hands. You lean out and grab this beautiful crack system and maneuver yourself up trying not to lose purchase or you’re going for a swing! There’s a bulge of a tufa you aim for, high above and it bites you, though there is no good hold on it. Negotiate that for a moment and leverage the huge tufa to the right to gain height to a pocket. Cross to a slot and span wide to reach a feature far left. Do an iron cross and fall into a scoop. Thread the needle to shake and bust a few more moves over the lip to get a kneebar and a good shake before sussing out the upper half of the climb. Vu was my hero after that. Not just that he warmed up on this brilliant line, but because he did the entire thing barefoot….without climbing shoes.
Back to the project Slo just bolted. Slo was keen to give the project to either me or Monique. Since I was there when he finished bolting it, he pretty much encouraged me to just get on it and not wait. Now, with my flights readjusted, I’m glad I didn’t wait. I got a fair bit of friendly heckling from another climber who arrived shortly before I was heading up, Peter. He was impressed that I was going to go for the onsight FA, to which in my mind I said, “I am?” Slo chimed in that I was and there it stood. I was going to get on this project that Vu and Slo had not been able to link and I was going to have tofigure out the moves on my own. I didn’t fight it, I just went with it. Whatever happens, happens.
The first few moves are powerful, but you are fresh so they are not difficult. You are traversing a crack system with no feet because the feature creates a roof and the wall drops away right there. It’s not unlike the iron cross move on the 7b+ to start, then for shorties, scrunching up and maneuvering along the wall is neat. A big move out left to a wider split and some tensiony moves up gain the 2nd bolt. Traversing a bit right, there is a tufa conglomerate that you can negotiate to pull the next lip. Fortunately, a bit of tufa lined the bottom lip making for a great shake position before busting the moves into the crux.
A chockstone sits in the next splitter and it’s best taken with the left hand. I tried with the right, thinking I had to lie back the smooth crack. If you get it with the left, there is a notch at the back that makes getting up onto the tufa with your feet. You stand tall and hand jam the uppermost part the seam, it’s an obvious hand jam position. There, you can get another shake. Jam a bit higher with your left hand and use it to lever yourself (tall) and reach for a fin. I found a 2 finger pocket at the back of lowest edge, which saved me on this move. Wedge that left foot on the chockstone, then jam the right to go big to a ledge. It’s awkward and for me, it felt like I was falling the whole way, but I stuck it. Now, I fussed from the chockstone to the ledge. Positions were tenuous, recovery was difficult (I was, afterall, mid-crux), and reading how to proceed was challenging.
I played with different positions, trying to commit without spitting off until something worked. I was blasted when I hit that ledge and have no idea how I didn’t come off. A few more moves gained a much needed recovery spot. For the rest of the climb, I was cautious and careful not to break anything or slip off. I was sweating buckets due to the heat and my hands were moist making hand holds slide beneath my grip. For the finish and still with no idea which way to go (there’s a splitter V crack surrounding the bolt), I managed a way to the anchors. My forearms were toast and I had to try hard (but not too hard) to gain the finish. It was incredible and I was elated! Vu and Peter gave it a go, and as of now, it remains unrepeated. The current thinking is 7c/7c+, but we’ll see what others think as they give it a go later this trip. After seeing Vu and Peter on it, I am pretty confident that either grade will do it justice. Vu is small, like me, but Peter is tall and although Peter could reach, he had trouble getting his feet up.
I still have not had the opportunity to get on Dream Weaver and by the looks of the trip thus far, it may not happen. But, I am happy. I have left my mark here in Vietnam, of all places, and only because Slo was gracious enough to give me this opportunity. Today, we are back on the boat heading for two amazing walls: Saigon and The Face. I can’t wait!!
Guidebook can be found here: http://www.fixedpin.com/Vietnam_A_Climbers_Guide