Path through the impossible

Rock climbers find ation in challenging the heights

by Yvonne Lau

Under the hot sun, pairs of people are moving up and down the cliffs in Shek O. Webbed in knots and equipped with heavy metal gear, they are not spidermen. They are only trying to reach the summits by a primitive method — rock climbing.

Mr. Yu Ka Chi, the treasurer of Hong Kong Mountaineering Union, traced the origin of rock climbing.

“It is a sport evolved from mountaineering. Pioneered in Britain and developed in Western countries for more than a century, rock climbing spread to Hong Kong in recent decades. The general responses for this new sport in Hong Kong are enthusiastic.”

But enthusiasm is not enough. The intrinsic value of rock climbing can only be explored by those obeying the rules of the game.

The first rule is to choose the appropriate seasons.

Mr. Tam Chee Keung, a committee member of training division of the Hong Kong Chinese Alpine Association, said, “Autumn is the best season for rock climbing. In summers, intense heat almost drives us all to jump into the sea. Handholds and footholds are also burning hot.”

Handholds and footholds are the cracks and protruding boulders on the cliffs, where climbers can hold on with their fingertips.

“It’s too cold to climb in winter. In fact, heavy clothes hinder our movement.

“As you can imagine, spring is so wet that stones and mud are loosened by rainwater.

“Some people believe that sunny days are the best for rock climbing. Yet, some theories advocate practising at night since our touch is very sensitive in darkness,” said Mr. Tam.

To fight the unpredictable physical conditions, a set of well-prepared equipment might help.

Describing the gear, Mr. Tam said, “Rock climbers usually need a pair of climbing boots, harnesses, carabineers, slings and some rope.

“Climbing boots are usually smaller in size for holding the foot tightly. The flat and smooth soles can also increase the boots’ friction against the surface.”

Nevertheless, according to Mr. Tam, no equipment is as useful as the knowledge and experience of rock climbing.

Mr. Tam said that there are numerous ways of ascending and descending rock walls. Some experienced rock climbers show their courage by performing “solo”, which means climbing alone and without any ropes.

Yet, the “belay system” is the most popular among rock climbers.

Said Mr. Tam: “‘Belay’ is an action of safeguarding a climber’s progress by attaching a rope to some points as anchors. Anchors, like those for sailboats, mean heavy materials for fixation. Anchors can be trees nearby or a stable rocks.

“The ‘belay system’ requires at least two persons working in a team. When the climber is moving upwards, the belayer protects the climber’s safety.”

According to Mr. Tam, the belay system can be classified as to “top rope”, “top belay” and “under belay”, depending on the relative positions of the climbers, belayers, and rope.

Said Mr. Tam: “Through working together, climbers entrust their safety to the belayers, thus developing close personal knits. Rock climbing helps build up friendship.”

This is echoed by Mr. Michael Andrew Cox, an exchange student at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and a rock climbing enthusiast.

Said he: “I enjoy reaching the top and sharing my feelings with my friends.”

Sometimes, the rising level of difficulty is more attractive than the rising heights, according to Mr. Tam.

He said, “The Hopewell Centre is much higher than a six-storey prewar building. Yet, I enjoy going to the top of the prewar building more because there is no lift.”

According to Mr. Tam, the most popular rock climbing spots in Hong Kong are Shek O, Tung Lung Island and Kowloon Peak.

Said he: “Shek O and Pak Tam Chung are safer for beginners because of their moderate heights, flatter gradients and shorter routes. They are also more accessible in case of emergency.”

Artificial spots make rock climbing possible to many

by Sally Kot

Should climbers find suitable rock climbing spots inadequate, or are exhausted by the intense heat and cold wind outdoors, artificial spot climbing can be a good alternative.

Artificial spot climbing, like natural rock climbing, originated from the West.

Mr. Ng Tang Yee, a Hong Kong Spot Climbing Representative, traced its origin. Said he: “It was originally organized for the sake of competition in some advanced countries.

“Climbing indoors is an integral part of practice in between competitions. By rearranging the movable handholds and footholds, people can modify the climbing routes for specific needs. The routes can be designed to train a specific group of muscles, or for practising some difficult climbing actions.

“Later, Hong Kong followed suit. In 1990, the Urban Council, Regional Council and Hong Kong Mountaineering Union jointly organized the first outdoor artificial spot climbing competition in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, there is as yet no indoor rock climbing competition in Hong Kong.” According to Mr. Ng, artificial rock walls are usually structures of wood piles or concrete, with movable handholds and footholds protruding outwards. Since they are built indoors, the venues must have good air circulation, and the ground must be covered with pads.

Though its structure resembles to natural rock walls, indoor spot climbing brings different feelings to outdoor climbers. Miss Chan Yuk Lan, who is also a Hong Kong Spot Climbing Representative, said, “The pleasure gained by outdoor rock climbing is much greater. Natural routes usually show a greater variety of changes.

“Also, climbing indoors lacks the pleasure of contact with the nature,” added she.

Nevertheless, losing contact with the natural environment means good shelter for indoor rock climbers.

Said Mr. Ng: “These artificial spots protect the climbers with an ideal environment from bad weather. Even in cold winters, climbers need not wear many clothes.

“Moreover, with the long working hours in Hong Kong, it is impossible to practise outdoors every Monday to Friday. Most of the climbers are exhausted by the long working days. These indoor artificial spots are convenient places for keeping our physical conditions and skills at a stable level. We can then enhance our abilities when climbing outdoors on holidays,” added he.

In fact, Mr. Ng said indoor rock climbers are usually outdoor rock climbing enthusiasts. They usually practise indoors at gymnasiums run by some private organizations.

According to a spokeswoman of the Regional Services Department, the Adventure Park in Tuen Mun, the Tso Kung Tam and the Sai Kung Recreation and Sports Centres provide indoor and outdoor artificial rock climbing walls for the public.

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