My First Rock Climbing Experience, in Laos

‘Let’s go rock climbing tomorrow’, says Yash when we were sitting in our hostel in Vang Vieng in Laos. There were four of us in the room, Yash who had been conducting rock climbing professionally for the last six months, Jon who had climbed a dozen times in the last few years, Sara who had climbed a couple of times before and me. Me who knew absolutely nothing about it. I had heard about rock climbing before from Yash but had never actually climbed any.


It was me who said, ‘Of course, why not. Let’s go.’ Sara was interested as well, so Jon tagged along.


The next morning, we were on two rented bikes heading towards the rocks, or crags I think, that’s what they called it. For me, it was just a rocky cliff. As we parked our bikes, crossed the river and entered the area, I saw others climbing. There were people hanging on ropes, some climbing, some almost flying back down and I was intrigued. We were in between two rocky walls, with about two meters in between them and people were climbing or descending on either side.


BELAYING

As I stood gaping at them climb, Yash went and spoke to a couple of guides there to ask them about routes and their difficulty. Meanwhile, we stood by the mouth of the two rock faces and looked. Soon yash was back, pointing to a rock face saying we will start with this. He then makes me get into a harness, hands me a rope and a couple of other things and says, 'Well you can belay me and I will lead climb and then you all can climb after I fix the ropes.'


It was obviously Greek to me and I nod my head saying okay, I know what you mean, I got your back. Five minutes later, I discovered I was going to be responsible for Yash’s life. That was what belaying meant. He climbs, and I pass the rope through a belay device. There was a technique to that and I obviously was confused. All I understood was that I should ensure I don’t let the rope go, so that in case he falls, he stays hanging in the air, and doesn’t come crashing down. For a girl whose dictionary never contained the word belaying, this was absolutely terrifying.


Jon looked at my expression and took over. He says he would belay first and then I could do it the next time after actually seeing someone belay. I gladly oblige and got out of my harness. And then Yash climbs. Before we knew it he was on top, fixing the ropes and saying things I didn’t understand. Didn’t stop me from nodding my head like I understood every word he said.


THE FIRST CLIMB

Once he had set up the route, it was our turn to climb. Yash said what he did was lead climbing, and he set up the rope, so now we would be top-rope climbing. Jon went first and said it was simple enough for a beginner. Then it was my turn. I was told to start, just climb. Thinking my ancestral monkey instincts might just come back, I climb. I start going up against gravity and knowing I had all eyes on me as it was my first ever climb, I rush up like I was in some sort of race. And before I knew, I was on top, hitting the anchor up there, like this was something I did every day.


Coming down was fun, I had to simply let go of the rocks and fly down. To trust the rope and let go was a little scary because when I was asked to let go of the rocks and lean back, I did question it. But when I let go and sat back, it was one enjoyable ride back.

Female Rocking climbing in Van Vieng, Laos
Yash belaying me on 20 meter vertical climb.

Now that this was done without much difficulty I thought ha, why do they grunt and fall so much, I am a natural, I should do this professionally. So, after doing a grade 4– something, we now moved on to grade 6-something. As I write this blog, I know what the grades mean, but back then, they were all random numbers, I mean how tough can a six be when compared to a four right? And then came the actual climb. It had a little section where the rock jutted out and as I reached that area, I had to hang on to it using my arm strength (something I don’t really have) to pull myself up. I understood what the deal about rock climbing was then.


Clinging onto the rocks, holding it with whatever tiny nooks and corners I found for my hand and legs, it wasn’t easy. From down it looked easy, it looked like there was hold everywhere and going up should be simple. But when on the rock, all those holds vanish, they seem so far away. The scale discrepancy is real. And soon, I felt like I couldn’t hang on anymore, I was ready to give up. But Yash who was belaying me from below said he would let me take a break but I shouldn’t give up.

Female Rock climbing first time Laos Van Vieng
Holding on to the rocks as my life depends upon it.


CHILLING IN THE AIR

I did however manage to finish the climb in after few tires. And then came the best part of rock climbing. I realized at the end of the climb, flying down was extremely fun. Now that I had learnt to trust the ropes, coming down was fun. It was worth the struggle to go up, just for the joy of flying down! After doing two more climbs myself and belaying Yash for two more, we came back to our hostel room, with aching arms but delighted faces. I had done it.


And my dance with the rocks is still going on.

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