I write this from a restaurant on Cat Ba Island, the largest island off the coast of Northern Vietnam. The world heritage listed Ha Long Bay is here, and with its thousand plus limestone towers, this is a special place for climbers.
With the arrival of Chris Glastonbury, Steve Ionnonu and Chris Beric (the Townsville boys), it's been an eventful couple of days. The boys flew into Hanoi and were so overwhelmed by the noise, traffic, chaos and potential for being scammed that they went for the safe option. The Hanoi Hilton! Yes, the real one :) While we had paid $30 for our quite deluxe accommodations, the boys fronted $260 for their room. Both included a buffet breakfast. Living it up in Hanoi.
The first night for the guys in Cat Ba was memorable, and resulted in sore stomachs all round from laughter. At dinner, Chris was enjoying the $0.45 Tiger beers, and decided he needed to go and make room for more. He disappeared for 15 minutes and came back looking disturbed. Instead of walking all the way back to the hotel, an 'abandoned' building site seemed like a likely spot. As he entered, a tarp was pulled aside and he was ushered in to a back room filled with Vietnamese men and smoke. They urged him to sit down and partake with them. It was all looking a bit concerning, so he said he had to go and get a drink, and beat a hasty retreat.
Within minutes of returning to the table, he was being massaged at the table by the local masseuse, Mr Vu. Mr Vu did good business that night with Beric and Sam each putting their 50,000 in for a massage. After dinner we headed home and said our goodnights. While the oldies thought that was that, the boys headed back out to the Blue Note Bar where a contingent of Irish girls on a tour were already well established. In the meantime, our hotel locked its doors for the night. At midnight when the guys returned, there was no way in. Except for climbers. I'm thinking it's probably not a first ascent, but I'm told getting onto floor two is about grade 18.
In stark contrast to somewhere like Thailand, climbing is just getting started here in Vietnam. The most well developed crag here is Lien Minh. Lien Minh, or Butterfly Valley has been solely discovered and developed by the SloPony guys (two ex-pats who have made their home on Cat Ba). They have had to purchase the lease on the cliff, so it pays to support them as much as possible by buying guidebooks and such. This cliff offers the most modern and well equipped climbing in Vietnam. There's currently 30 routes to do here and nearly all are super high quality.
Our first two days at the cliff gave us the flavour. The crag rocks! Crazy motorbike action to get there sets the pace of the day. Sam did her hardest onsight (20), Glenn did his hardest flash (22) which Sheree promptly seconded cleanly. The route in question - Elephant Man - was mega - four stars! I've managed to onsight everything up to about 26 so far and came off the last hold of a 28 and did it second shot. Super soft though! Haven't done a bad climb so far.
Yesterday being the first day for the Townsville boys saw lots of 'firsts'. First 23 flash (Chris), first 24 flash (Steve), first bout of repeated falls above the bolt (Beric), first climbing a sport route composed primarily of a tree (Sam), first dinner costing more than
Beric on You Enjoy Myself (20). He's been to Coolum once, and is now hooked on kneepads © L Cujes 2009
In true travelling celebrity climber fashion, Sam and I have both picked up colds, so we're having a rest day today in order to send them packing. Thinking "this is tropical Asia" we didn't pack much in the way of warm clothes, and have since discovered our average top daily temp is about 18 degrees. I assumed that was a mistake when I was researching the trip :)
More to come...