27 May 2010, Hattiban/Elephant Hill, Kathmandu, Nepal

I’m sitting in my climbing harness, hanging on a rope about 5 metres above the ground, thinking: “Damn it, why can’t I go up any further?”

It was my first time rock-climbing on natural rock. Or rather, it was my first time climbing. Period. I had not even tried sports-climbing on an artificial wall prior to this trip. Around 20 minutes and forever before, I was just standing at the bottom of this 22 metre (I think) high rock wall, fixing the carabiner  to my climbing harness, and thinking, “Okay, this doesn’t look too difficult.”

I had watched my friends attempt this same ‘intermediate route’ just moments before. Some of them had made it to the top, while others were stuck in the middle because they couldn’t find foot holes and finger holes (ie: places to balance their feet on and holes to grab on to) and could not advance any further.

Rock Climbing - intermediate route
My friend, HX climbing up the ‘intermediate route’

Rock Climbing - difficult route
Another friend, HY trying the ‘difficult’ route

From the ground, rock-climbing seems a lot easier than it really is; one is able to see all the foot holes and finger holes, and one wonders why the person climbing can’t seem to see it. We would shout instructions to the climber, such as, “there, there, just above your right hand,” or “stretch your left leg. Yes, the level of your knee.” But really, when you are hanging by a single rope and a carabiner like your life depended on it, and yes it really does, and literally plastered to the wall, it is difficult to find these holes and I found myself often just feeling the rock and hoping that I would be able to find something to grab on to.

My arms start to tremble, and my legs are worn out. “I must be doing something wrong,” I thought to myself. I shout down to my belayer, HX, requesting to be let down. In less than 10 seconds, I’m back on the ground, feeling like quite a failure.

Rock Climbing - no. 1
Mr No. 1 examining the rock wall. Don’t be fooled by his skinny, 54kg frame

Rock Climbing - no. 9
Mr. no 8 fixing the rope, while Mr. No. 9 belays him

It’s not everyday that one gets to meet the no. 1 rock-climber of Nepal. And, oh, no. 8 and no. 9 too. And it’s a greater honour to get the opportunity to rock-climb with these experts.

It’s amazing how The Experts make it look oh-so-easy. One of us were about to begin our climb on the ‘difficult route’ when Mingma, Mr. no. 1, grabbed the rope from said person, and said: “Hold on, give me 2 minutes,”  and proceeded to climb the rock wall with such ease and dexterity that before we knew it, he was hanging at the top of the rope, fixing…something. I did not know what the issue was.

2 minutes?! That’s it?!

Well he took a little longer than 2 minutes to climb, fix whatever, and descend. Maybe he took 2.5 minutes. Or 3 minutes. Okay maybe about 5 minutes. But still? If I were given only 5 minutes, I’d probably still be approximately 1 metre off the ground wishing I could fly up instead.

To give another example, earlier in the day, it started pouring unexpectedly when Pasang, Mr. no. 9, was fixing the ‘easy route’, yet he continued hanging there in the pounding rain to fix the rope into its bolt hangers (I believe that’s the term for the metal pieces that are inserted into the walls. Please correct me if I’m wrong) until it was fully fixed.
Rock Climbing - gear
All the gear

I put on Tenzeeng’s, Mr. no. 8, shoes again. My toes are cramped as the shoes are too tight for me, though I learnt that the shoes are meant to be tight, and if Tenzeeng, whose feet are a lot bigger than mine, can fit into the shoes, so should mine. “My toes are bent all the time,” he said, explaining the state of his feet in those little things.

It was my second attempt to scale this wall and I was determined to make it to the top. I take a deep breath and began the climb. The first 3 metres were easy. I perched myself on this 20 cm wide ledge, the widest point on the entire rock face, and said to myself: “Okay Daph, here goes. Next section of the climb. You can do this.”

I continued the climb, constantly reminding myself of the tips that my friends had given me during the previous attempt – use leg power more than arm power, and keep as close to the wall as possible.

Left foot here, right foot there, use legs to push up and quickly grab hand holes. Straighten body, and balance. Yes! One more metre down (or rather up), just about a million more to go.

There were many points throughout the second climb that I found that I could simply no longer balance on the points on the rock and just let myself fall, trusting that my belayer, who was Mingma at that time, would pull tight on the rope to ensure I would not fall to my death.

“Do you trust the rope?” asked Tenzeeng the day before, when I told him I had not rock-climbed in my life. “Yes,” I replied. And I’m glad I was not lying to myself.

Rock Climbing - no. 8
Mr. No. 8 fixing rope

Rock Climbing - belaying
My friend, XH, belaying

I let myself fall more than a dozen times during the ascent (and I have to thank and apologise to Mingma for that). It gave me some breathing time (literally) to figure out my next step. My friends kept shouting words of encouragement to me and it was heartening to receive those. It came to the point where I was stuck at the same place, about 2/3 up the rock wall, for the longest time that I convinced myself it was perhaps time to just give it up. I was falling more than I was ascending and it was time to let other people use the ropes.

Is it not amazing how one can spend what seems like an eternity climbing up, but again, in just a matter of seconds, one would be back on the ground?

It was a long but fulfilling day of rock-climbing. The rain did not completely hamper our climbing plans, though we did spend some time with umbrellas and mats over our heads to shelter ourselves from the downpour, during which Tashi, a Nepali whom we nicknamed “Teddy Bear”, entertained us with his dancing (with bananas no less) and funny antics.

Rock Climbing - teddy

HX and “teddy bear”

I think I did pretty well for myself considering these were my first two attempts in rock-climbing. But I’ll try harder next time. And to the top of the rock wall I will reach.

Rock Climbing - Sg The Singaporeans with harnesses on and ready to go!

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