Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Nanyang Wall

Early morning on a bright, beautiful Sunday, I received a message from my climbing buddy. Some of our climbing friends would be at Nanyang Wall later that day, and asked if we'd like to join them. At first, I was undecided - the place is quite a distance to drive to. I'm not sure I can find the exact spot even with GPS navigation (mountainsides have no formal addresses) and frankly, even though I was real excited about trying the outdoors, part of me was still terrified. Terrified, but all the same excited about the whole prospect of going outdoors!

By the end of the morning, however, I'd decided I would go (you'd already guessed, I'm sure, for this post wouldn't be otherwise!)

My faithful GPS navigator brought me safely to the given address. I was in front of a couple of rows of shops and facing a residential area. Although I could see vast rock faces surrounding the buildings, all the way into the distance, I had no idea where I was suppose to head to. I decided to wait for climbing buddy to arrive, but after 15 or so minutes, it seemed too much of a waste of time (later, I found out he was late because his not-so-faithful GPS caused him a wrong turn and he ended up going for a spin in KL). I walked to a nearby guardhouse (hauling along all my gear, including the rope! Seriously, I don't know why I do things like this...) I asked a security guard the way to the climbing spot. He pointed me down a somewhat deserted lane, which ended in a sort of rickety old wood-and-wire-mesh gate, secured by a metal chain with a padlock. Beyond the gate was a stretch of sheer rock wall. I followed the curve of the road, separated from the wall by a huge drain (or a tiny river) and saw some climbers at the far end. Great, I found the place - but with the locked gate in the way, how do I get to them? I walked back to the guardhouse.

I confirmed with the fella that the way is through the gate, and told him that the gate was locked. He referred me to someone else - an elderly gentleman, whom I think might be the "gatekeeper". He was probably supposed to unlock the gates for climbers, but was having his afternoon tea and snack and didn't appear too eager to leave his meal. He started telling me of another guy I could go to, when I decided that if it takes that much trouble to get it, I really should wait for climbing buddy to reach first, so we wouldn't need to trouble these chain of "gatekeepers" twice. I told him in the nicest way possible that I'd wait for my friend to come before asking again. Then, I went across the street and walked around a little, with my bags of rope, harness, shoes and water bottle still hanging off me.

Several minutes later, I thought I saw climbing buddy's car go by. As I went back near the guardhouse, the "gatekeeper", still not done with his late-afternoon teatime, called out to me. He explained to me how I could get past the locked gate, with a stern warning to not tell anyone. Whoa, seriously. I think I must've looked so very pitiful - wandering aimlessly, waiting for a seemingly no-show friend, wearily shouldering huge bags of gear - that the good man was overwhelmed by sympathy.

In the manner taught by the "gatekeeper", climbing buddy and I managed to gained access to the wall where the other climbers had been since a couple of hours ago.

We were greeted by this delightful sight -

We were eager to start, and a fellow climber would teach us how.

"There are several easier routes here," he said, leading the way to the other side of the wall. "5c's and 6a's..." He pointed to an easy 5c route which he said we could start off with.

One of the first things he taught us was the proper way to do a "system", which is something (oh, gosh!) that should be done with the rope at the anchor once the climber has reached the top, so he can be lowered safely. For the first climb, expert climber friend started by breezing up the route with climbing buddy belaying. He placed all the runners in the series of bolts along the route and an anchor right at the top. Once secured, he called out a command which we thought sounded like climbing buddy can stop belaying now, and thought we must've heard wrongly. While we were giving each other confused looks, the rope supposedly attached to him fell to the ground. Our jaws dropped.

Ah, us inexperienced fools! He was meant to be safely anchored at the top so when the new outdoor climber leads his way there, he could supervise the first-timer in correctly doing the "system". Well, well! So, climbing buddy tied the rope to his harness, started climbing and made it to the top without any problems. He did all he was supposed to do - the "system" - under the diligent eyes of expert climber friend, and was lowered back down the usual manner.

But our friend was still up there. We wondered if someone should belay him for his descent. There's no need, he said. Once again, we gave each other confused looks - how would he get down? While we were not done trying to understand, he was already on his way, rappelling using his Grigri, collecting the earlier placed runners along the way. Oh, but he's using just one side of the rope, I wondered aloud, so how does it not slip, with the other side seemingly hanging down loosely? He landed beside us, safely, soundly and gracefully, some 10 seconds later. Then, tugging the other side of the rope, he pulled down the section at which a clever loop was tied to a carabiner and around the strand he rappelled down on. Unfastening the knots, he retrieved all his equipment and the rope was left hanging through the anchored loop, ready for top-roping attempts. I was so impressed! (Oh, don't roll your eyes... it was my first time!)

I top-roped up the 5c without too much fuss (oh well, there was a little fuss halfway through, when I decided it was a little too scary, and needed a little motivation, that is - scolding, from climbing buddy). The rocks were rough on the skin, but not too sharp. They reminded me so much of the time I hiked Bukit Tabur. In retrospect, that was a dumb, borderline-suicidal outing. The memory actually put rock climbing into perspective for me... with proper equipment and all safety measures in place... sure, I could still fall and sustain scrapes and cuts, but at least, I will not die!

While the seasoned climbers went to the higher walls (with tougher routes) to have more fun, climbing buddy decided to use our already in-place rope to go up the other side of the 5c route we'd just finished. As he fastened the rope to his harness, he told me to strap the camera to him so he could snap some photos when he's up there. He, the one who always gave me narrow-eyed looks for wanting to photograph anything and everything...

"We're like tourist climbers..." he grinned.

And so he went, and came back down with several shots similar to this -

Then, it was my turn. With a little less fuss than the first time, I made it to the little ledge (the same spot climbing buddy stopped to snap photos in his ascent) where I could stand rather comfortably without having to hang on with my hands.

I took several shots of one side, like this -

Then, I turned to the other side and took several more, like this -

And I made climbing buddy walk to the other side so I could include him in the next few shots, like this -

Of course, I had to have some of the sky, the trees, the "river", like this -

And one of my ugly hand against the rock -

By then, climbing buddy's patience totally ran out and so he rattled the rope... "HEY! Enough!"

Oh well, Reader, you know how I can get carried away.

The next route we tried was a 6a. He wanted to try to do it from scratch, meaning, to place all the runners onto the bolts as he led. Since it was our first time, we were ill-equipped for it. These are all borrowed gear -

The 6a was not easy, mainly because a first-time climber would have no idea where the good holds are. He stumbled a little at a "tough spot", but being a tough one himself, climbing buddy reached the top and finished the route. Being so used to indoors climbing, the moment he clipped on to the anchor, he sat back on his harness and I lowered him down. We totally forgot about the "system" he was supposed to have done up there.


So, expert climber friend graciously waltzed his way up the wall to do it, in order for me to be able to top-rope safely afterwards.

In my Bukit Tabur post, I wrote about expert hikers strolling through the very dangerous trail in Crocs. Well, here's a climber doing a 6a in flip-flops -

I feel tiny. Microscopic. What are these people made out of?!

Finally, it was my turn to try it. It was definitely more challenging than the previous routes, and especially so for me, given my lack of height. I had to be scolded, encouraged, scolded again, argued into submission and threatened, before I found the courage to get over the "tough spot". Once that was overcome, though, the rest of the way wasn't too hard.

Here's a shot of me as I reached the hardest part, right before I shrank back, defeated, to the comforting safety of the ledge, and started arguing with climbing buddy -

Is it my imagination or do I look kinda fat? Oh well... at least I did not startle any bats like I worried I would =D

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