"We can ask ourselves whether we failed or succeeded, [...]whether we’re tough climbers or weak girls…but at the end of the day, it felt hard as nails and yet we gave it everything we could and well, I think that’s enough." - Hazel Findlay, badass
"This is hard and scary." - me
Give it everything I can? Right, then. My chance to give it everything I could came on one of my last days in SE Asia, after months of climbing and experiencing the highs of (finaalllly) pushing grades and the lows of injuries. My friends and I piled into a boat and headed two hours east toward The Face, a crag that had been built up in my head for months, specifically because of how interesting the rock was and the huge falls people have taken on it. My friends Benny and Ross, two other Asia Outdoors staff, and I were wrapping up our time in Vietnam, so we were psyched to end our time by spending a day on this beautiful crag.
Beautiful indeed. When our boat rounded the corner, our lack of sleep and choppy boat ride (our Vietnamese boat driver, Chu Bien, made us wear lifejackets, which never happens) were quickly forgotten, because suddenly there it was. This stunning, sheer crag rising 45 meters out of the waters of Ha Long Bay was The Face. We get to climb this thing?! Uhhh, OKAY!! We started getting psyched, chatting, and taking photos.
And then, the closer we drew, the quieter we became, taking in the sheer size of such an inspiring and beautiful rock.
There are only two bolted climbs on The Face. On the left is License to Climb, an inspiring and sustained 7b (5.12b) with a difficult and chossy 7c (5.12d) extension. Yeahhh, one of those sound way more fun than the other.
And then on the right is THE FACE, the crag's namesake, a 7b+ (5.12c) that starts cruiser and keeps getting steeper and more technical the further you go up. It's about 30 meters tall and the last 5-8 are the most run out and (surprise!) the most difficult. Most of the talk I'd heard about The Face was centered around the top of this climb, that if you don't make it to the anchor you will take a BIG fall.
Chu Bien pulled the boat up onto a slabby rock and we all hopped off, scrambling up to the base of our warm up, License to Climb. What sort of fantasy world are we in that a 7b is our warm up? Nonetheless, bags were tossed on the deck, ropes were flaked, harnesses were put on and okay Liz you wanna go up first? Oh hell yes.
My nerves gave way to sheer happiness as License to Climb was as beautiful as I imagined, 20ish meters of small two-finger pockets, side pulls and laybacks, underclings and high, high feet. I began to lose myself in the climb, engaging fully in it to the point that everything around me faded away; afterward I wouldn't remember anything about it. My body took over, the moves linking together naturally until I arrived at the first anchor with only one fall. I lowered off happy, psyched at how fluid it all felt.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, giving way to higher temps, each person hopped on the route, leaving ample time for our favorite things: mainly eating, lazing in the shade, and watching each other climb. Thom (another Asia Outdoors staff member) and Ross had been here before and had already worked both climbs. But for the rest of us in the group, Benny, myself, and Alaskan couple Shasta (as in the freaking mountain!) and Kelsey, the rock was totally foreign, unlike anything we had ever done before. My friend Gavi described it perfectly - melted crayon, a solid wall full of small pinches and pockets.
The sun was high in the sky by the time we all finished License to Climb and it was getting hot, hot, hot. The day had been awesome but Benny and I were still antsy to try The Face. It was an intimidating lead, but we had to try it before leaving Vietnam. Benny went up first, hanging draws with the hot afternoon sun beating down on him. He looked strong, but since he had already gotten on License to Climb twice, he whipped off about halfway up, exhausted from a long day in the sun.
...uhh, crap. my turn.
I started up The Face slowly, trying not to think about how much I had imagined this climb. I paced my breathing and took my time to explore holds, lying back to see where the line was going. Every hold looked good but it was easy to get lured off route and all the holds would disappear, leaving me to traverse or even less fun, down climb to get back onto the line. I kept moving up, up, up, the line growing more steep and the holds getting smaller and further apart. Keep breathing, relax, you can do this.
One of the million reasons I love climbing is exactly this – there isn't anything else in my life that demands every part of me. There is no room for any thought or worry, stress or distraction. There just can't be. Breathe in, grab that side pull, breathe out, high foot. Breathe in, lay back, breathe out, pull up.
And then suddenly I was at the crux, clipping the last bolt and looking up at the anchor, still about 5-8 meters above me. I glanced down to see the rope swaying between my feet and about 100 feet below my feet were my friends, watching and yelling up encouragement.
Okay you have this, be brave.
I took a deep breath and got my feet up high, using my height to my advantage as I levered my body up. And I landed in a blank spot, with technical and sustained hand holds and very thin foot holds. What the junk, where are the feet? I hesitated, adjusted, hesitated, adjusted. Try it. Just go for it. Come on.
I pulled down with my right hand, got my feet up high, reached up with my left hand and...slipped.
I fell about 10 meters, the biggest fall I have taken in years. Most falls are a blink and it's done, but this time I was able to process what was happening and the position my body was in. Apparently I let a few choice words fly, but I just remember hearing my breath go in and out on the way down. It was such a rush of adrenaline, scary and fun and incredible!
I lowered down to a psyched group, who didn’t even care that I didn’t clip the anchor; they were just happy I tried hard. It's days like this that I feel so grateful for this playful and supportive community of climbers I get to hang out with. Everyone wants each other to succeed, to push ourselves. It's not a competition, we’re friends that love the outdoors and being involved in something so pure and spiritual.
In the end, no one in our group sent The Face that day, but it didn't matter. Because climbing is just a medium to let me be outside, to push myself alongside badass people on inspiring rock in a beautiful bay. Climbing gives me a chance to try things that are hard and scary; to give it everything I can. And climbing lets me drink beers, and that, that is worth being grateful for.
Most (okay, ALL) of the photos on this post were taken by Kelsey Gray, a talented Alaskan professional photographer who just got himself, and his sweet girlfriend Shasta, a bunch of house guests for being so cool (see you two soon)! Check out more of this talented mofo here.