Being the trad climber wannabe

It has been almost a week since we left the Valley and I’m missing it already. Looking back at the trip, it is like a rojak of extreme joy, fear, sadness and anger altogether. Climbing has never been so emotional for me. Yet at the same time, I feel I’m alive and living life.

Hikers' cables to the summit of Half Dome, part of the climbers' descent route

2011 marks my 10th year climbing since I started out in Temasek Junior College. From participating in competitions to climbing in the outdoors, I love the lessons the sport has taught me and places and people it has brought me to. I’m not a strong climber but I constantly strive to become a better one. My JC coach, Philip used to tell his students that for each place that you have climbed, the experience will add on to your “climbing library” and that is how you grow as a climber. Late last year, I decided to expand my climbing library a little and took up trad climbing.

Trad climbing was totally alien to me. I vaguely remember seeing some articles in magazines featuring it but they never interested me enough to read them. My conception about trad climbing being it the forefather of sport climbing, something that was done in the past before bolts were invented when one had to place his own gear to protect himself from any possible falls during a climb. Now that we have bolts, why then still bother to take the extra step spending more time with the damn nut that refuses to set when we can just fix it with bolts and just focus on the climbing?

Dead beat after topping out on Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome

I must say I have been very fortunate to be able to practice my newly picked-up trad skills in several places over the year – from our backyard crag, Dairy Farm (yes, there’s trad in Dairy Farm!) to Malaysia’s Bukit Takun, Taiwan’s Long Dong and Australia’s Arapiles. I grew to realize that trad is not just about placing gears for the draws to be clipped in, it is vitally taking and managing risks.

Sometimes I wish trad could be as simple as just placing gear. Climbing in places more popular for trad has taught me certain rock types like granite, sandstone and gneiss (which I usually hear is not so “nice” afterall) usually provide features that are more conducive for placing gears. Yosemite Valley is primarily granite and known for its splitter cracks, chimneys and flat surfaces that make climbers perform seemingly effortless jamming of their finger/fist/feet/knee/body (and all sorts of body parts one can think of). Being a noob crack climber, learning to trust my hands and feet to get a secure jam in the cracks was indeed a challenge (I usually ended up getting all pumped up from liebacking and edging them and stared blankly at those that I couldn’t). The worst thing was we only had 3 more weeks before we jumped on El Cap. At the thought of that, I told myself “oh man”!

Getting a sip at the top of the climb on Central Pillar of Frenzy, Middle Cathedral (El Cap in the background)

Qx and I climbed several multi-pitches, many of which were classics and really beautiful. I just wish I could fear less and enjoy the climbing more but unfortunately I soon realized I was not comfortable climbing cracks and even starting to fear leading them. Subsequently, Qx was doing all the leading and aiding while I did the seconding and clearing of gears. Thank goodness Qx was natural on cracks and had good endurance (or was put into a situation where he had to pull it through), we managed to ascend all the routes on our list in this set-up including the 3 big wall climbs – South Face of Washington Column, Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome and The Nose on El Cap. The first of which is a Grade V climb while the other 2 a Grade VI.

Reflecting on the trip, I have learnt so much about climbing that I had never experienced before – when you have a big face of crag with no bolts available and you’re wondering how to make your way to the next belay; when you have to climb fast enough for fear that you will run out of water and food; when the sleeping ledge is so small and sloppy that it feels more comfortable just sticking your legs out of it; when you need to poop and pee on the wall in grace while keeping out from views of tourists who are looking at you on their binos from the ground. More importantly, you have to be brave and wise to take calculated risks so as not to put yourself and your partner in danger.

I always love how “paradise” is defined in Alex Garland’s “The Beach” – “it’s not some place you can look for. Because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment… it lasts forever.” I was in paradise! =)

On the last couple of pitches on The Nose, El Cap

Kelly is looking forward to her next adventure on the wall. She promises herself she will brush up on her crack climbing technique and will not lieback on cracks anymore.  

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4 thoughts on “Being the trad climber wannabe

  1. hey so well wrtten! am touched by ya learning attitude. can really feel ya joy n love for life…you go gal! ;P

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