I was full of beans about rock climbing when I first arrived at Green Climbers Home in Thakhek with Nico. After my focus and improvement when climbing in Tonsai, Chang Mai and Vang Vieng – I was ready and motivated to nail a few 6a’s in Thakhek… but things don’t always go to plan.
Personally, I found the routes in Thakhek to be particularly challenging. Nico and I found ourselves in a range of debates about the responsibility of the grader to ensure the grades are accurate for the climber. I must admit – particularly as a novice climber – I found myself very demotivated and frustrated when I attempted to climb 5b and 5c graded routes. I simply couldn’t climb them.
Fortunately, we met a German couple who were climbing at a similar level to me, and they also felt the ‘easier’ climbs were too difficult. As the routes are new, not many people have climbed them. As a result, the rock is really sharp and ideal grips become impossible (at least for me) as they scratch your hands and your arms and your legs.
Most experienced climbers are familiar with how to overcome these seemingly minor challenges on the wall; but I’m not that experienced, and I was very flustered by the reality of climbing ‘easy’ routes and struggling to nail them.
My 8 days climbing in Thakhek probably had more to do with psychology than it did about climbing. I started to realise why it was that so many climbers are avid yoga practitioners. My greatest challenge involved forcing myself to try again… forcing myself to take breaks mid-climb to breath and to re-focus, so as to later nail the climb. This was hard for me to do as I convinced myself that I had already ‘passed the 5b and 5c level’. I kept telling myself, ‘I’ve climbed 5 6as! Why am I now struggling with a 5b?!’
The verdict? It’s not about the grade. The grades are there for guidance purposes only; and, they’re very subjective. The climbers who bolt and grade new routes are usually phenomenal; and can often climb at 7a, 8a or more. Once you’ve reached that level, is it still possible to remember what a 5a-graded climb actually feels like? Only a novice climber knows that… and, fortunately, novice climbers don’t bolt new routes.
On our last day in Thakhek, I was in better spirits. After all, I had a week to manage my own emotions and to overcome them. Nico asked me if I wanted to give a 6a-graded climb a go. I thought: ‘what the heck. I’ll give it a try’. After many breaks… 2 falls… a couple of scratches… a lot of swearing… and a lot of grunting and yelling… I nailed it! And that was it. Job done. I achieved what I wanted to achieve in the end, and I was happy.
- Newfound Climbing Glory: Green Climbers’ Home in Thakhek, Laos (thirdkulturekidparis.wordpress.com)
- Rock climbing in Tonsai and Railay, Thailand: Being a good “climber’s girlfriend” (thirdkulturekidparis.wordpress.com)