First time in a long time
I went to Yangshuo China not long ago after having taken a long break from outdoor climbing. Although I had been climbing regularly around 2 to 3 times a week on plastic, the last time I climbed on a natural wall was longer than I could remember. I do not consider myself a good climber but I’m definitely no newbie. Leading on plastic had never been an issue and I was quite confident that I could translate that into outdoor climbing.
First of all, being a climber from Singapore there are a few things we need to get used to when climbing in China and that is the language. I can communicate well in Mandarin (although reading and writing do post a problem) but I have no idea what a belay device or a quickdraw is called, or how to communicate climbing commands in Mandarin. But the most important thing which I need to know but can’t understand is climbing beta in mandarin. I highly recommend you brush up on your Chinese before heading off to Yangshuo to climb. I’ll provide some key climbing translations to help you ease into the Chinese climbing culture in my future articles.
A taste of nature
The lack of natural outdoor climbing in Singapore had limited our exposure to climbing on real rocks. The only nearby outdoor options Singaporeans have are Dairy Farm (Singapore) or Batu Caves (Kuala Lumpur). Hence most of us will opt to climb in a gym where quickdraws are already up on the wall and the distance between draws is no more than 1.5 meters apart and the height of most climbing walls is 15 meters or less with routes clearly marked out by the colors of the holds. I am aware that outdoor climbing will be very different as you’ll need to carry quickdraws up with you, identifying where the route goes because the grey color bolts blend in perfectly with the wall and the scariest thing of all is the routes are high and the bolts are far apart.
Plastic climber mentality
Climbing in a gym we have a tendency to complain about the routes for having bad handholds, a lack of footholds, or big reachy moves the list just goes on; which I too had been guilty of such behavior. Only if I’m a couple of inches taller I would have on-sighted this route. The taller climbers have it easy, is no fault of mine, blame it on my genes. Or the holds must be loose, that cannot be the correct position because it is just not possible to execute the next move with the hold positioned like that.
So armed with that mentality going to Yangshuo, I hangdog on my first outdoor climb which happened to be a 6a even though I had regularly on-sighted 6b and 6b+ in the climbing gym that I frequent. As usual, excuses cropped up and if I remember; my excuse was I hadn’t climb outdoors for many years. So after a few more climbs, I did get more comfortable on the natural wall but still had to work my ass off just to onsight 6a and 6b.
There was a group of climbers from Hong Kong clearly more experienced in the outdoor climbing department trying a 6c+ and a 7a. 2 routes that team Singapore didn’t even dare to look at. So after climbing all the available easy routes, all we could do was watch a lady climber from team Hong Kong attempt the 7a with quickdraws already set up by her friend.
She struggled all the way up to the 4th clip and was stuck. She was stuck because the move was clearly too big for her height and the only good hold was another two moves away. So everyone who was watching cheered for her (team Singapore included). After numerous attempts, it was clear she couldn’t commit to executing the big dicey move. So there was some exchange of words between her and the belayer in Cantonese. Based on my minimal knowledge in Cantonese she said “我缺乏自信” or for those like me who can’t read Chinese, it means “I lacked confidence” and her belayer lowered her.
No excuses like the moves are too big or I am too short or I am tired. It was just a simple “我缺乏自信”. I’m not sure if it was just her or if it was a culture difference, she did not find excuses for herself by blaming things she could not control instead, she blamed it on something that she could, her lack of confidence…
If there is anything that I can take away from my trip to Yangshuo will be this. We should stop finding excuses for not climbing better. Excuses like, my reach is too short, the moves are too weird, the hold is too moist or whatever else you can think of are just excuses. Your lack of confidence and commitment are what’s holding you back from achieving your goals and your only cure is; a change of mindset.