John leaned back and looked down to see the consequences that lay 20 feet below. Feeling exhausted, he reached for the next hold. All of a sudden he slipped and started falling, no rope to stop him. All Erin could do was look on as John hit the water with a big SPLASH! This was part of our best day in Vietnam (and the falling was half the fun). The idea of us rock climbing and, specifically, deep water solo climbing, came from a couple of Spaniards we chatted with in Siem Reap, Cambodia. They had stayed many days on Cat Ba Island and among other things, had spent time climbing. One of the questions we ask ourselves when we choose to do something in our travel is, “can we do this at home?” We tend to spend our money on unique experiences we can’t replicate as easily back in Oregon. Rock climbing is something we have done a handful of times, usually with our friends Keith and Laura Schneider, so we weren’t sold on the standard climbing outings, but Slo (the owner of Slo Pony Adventures) told us there was a group of climbers going out to do some deep water climbing the following day and we could talk to them about going out. When we caught up with the climbers, they were more than happy to let us tag along. We clearly told them were novices, but wanted to give it a shot. After arranging the logistics, 11 climbers were all signed up and paid for with a plan to leave at 7am the following day.
We were pleased when everyone showed up on time and we were on the boat, cruising out into the bay toward Hawaii Five-O and Tiger Beach, our climbing locales. The cruise out was really peaceful and a different scene from our first ride through Halong Bay. The early morning activity of the floating villages we passed were great to absorb–parents rowing their children to school, fruit vendors pawning their goods to neighbors, and fishermen putting out their nets. As we pulled up to the rock face it was still a little cool out and few of us were super eager to be first in the water. The more experienced climbers hopped in the kayaks and headed out as the rest of us watched. Rock climbing is really an art form of sorts. To watch the experienced climbers move across the rock like smooth and graceful dancers was very cool. Some of the climbers reached heights of probably 60 feet before either jumping or falling into the water. After watching a couple people, we decided to give it a go, hopped in a kayak and paddled near the rock. Getting on the rock is the most challenging part of this type of climbing. You really have to be able to pull yourself up at least 5 feet while avoiding falling on top of the kayak. John’s first attempt was successful after 5 minutes of trying to just get on the rock. At that point with arms exhausted, climbing up an overhanging rock with no rope and the potential to land in the water on his back, it was like nothing he had ever done before. Before too long he was in the water and it was Erin’s turn to go. She hung on the rock, but she did not actually climb the rock. We both gave it a second go after about an hour break to rejuvenate our arms. But as the tide was lowering, getting on the rock became even more difficult and neither of us were successful in our attempts. Regardless, it was really fun and we enjoyed watching the others climb just as much as we enjoyed trying it ourselves.
From 11am on, the tide was too low for the deep water climbing, but after an amazing lunch of squid and delicious scalloped potatoes and a kayak through the huge limestone islands, we had the chance to do some top rope climbing on Tiger Beach (the stuff we have some experience doing). The expert climbers were able to do the lead climbing and get the rope set up for the rest of us. Again, it was incredible to watch these humans with Spiderman like qualities scale the rocks. We were grateful for the kindness and generosity of everyone who went. It seems to be consistent with rock climbers–there’s not much attitude or cockiness, everyone is supportive and wants each other to succeed. We spent the next few hours climbing, encouraging each other, and relaxing on the beach. What a perfect afternoon! We both successfully climbed challenging routes and were reminded of how much fun climbing is. From the top of the routes the view was quite spectacular looking out on the islands and green water. By 5pm we were all bushed. We got back on the boat and returned to our starting point. But the day was not over. We met up with most of the folks for dinner and ended up hanging out until about 12:30am (a total of 18 hours). It was a fun crew and we swapped stories and laughed a lot. John even was given an Irish alter ego, Sean Rua a fisherman from Clifton (it’s a long story). We had a really good time hanging out with these guys and it made us miss our “family” back home.
Here’s the line up of climbers we spent the day with:
John (AKA Samuel–it’s another long story) & Fin – Two Irish guys spending the year travelling the world with no itinerary, so who knows where they’ll end up. They are also both surfers and told John to bring his wetsuit when we make it to Ireland. These two guys were hilarious and provided much of our evening entertainment.
Christian – The German Spiderman. There was nothing he couldn’t climb.
Janna – The German Spiderwoman. With 10 years of experience, she was fun to watch.
Robin – Australian university student on summer holiday. Great climber, hopes to scale El Capitan some day. Cheers to Robin for arranging the details of the day.
Peter – German dentist on holiday to China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. We have him to credit for some of the shots of Erin climbing since John was belaying her.
Adrian – Canadian climber who has been working at Slo Pony Adventures while spending time on Cat Ba.
Two Germans we never learned their names, but they were both excellent climbers and real laid back.
It was a fantastic day and one we won’t soon forget.