V12 – Climb Magazine article

So almost a year has gone by since the memorable trip to Vietnam. What’s happened in the mean time? Well it’s been quiet on the ‘big trip’ front, I’ve been saving my holiday, saving my cash and biding my time to pounce on the big one for 2013. Getting out when possible and trying hard to rest my elbows has meant I’m not climbing hard, but I have had some fantastic weekends out. Trips to Egypt, Morroco or maybe back to ’Naam’ are now on the cards…watch this space.

Mike Hutton’s great account of our trip from last November was published in Climb magazine today. Aside from my ego going through the roof at the sight of me looking deceptivley professional in a climbing magazine, I found it a genuinely great read. Six pages of inspiring images, quotes and trip beta to make the heart beat and the palms sweat. A picture paints a thousand words, yet no combination of words and pictures can do this fantastic climbing destination justice, and can simply hint at what it was really like to have the priviledge of climbing in this beautiful part of the world.

Have a read of the teaser on Climb mag’s website, then buy it. See if it tempts you too.  http://www.climbmagazine.com/issues/105/articles/vietnam

A more detailed review…

I’ve just been looking at flights and pictures and getting more inspiration for future trips. I stumbled accross Dave’s website update, where he’s done a cracking article with more pictures of the Vietnam 2012 trip, have a read!

http://expeditionconsultancy.com/wp/2011/06/china-vietnam-climbing-expedition/

I’d highly reccomend travelling and climbing with Dave, but if this doesn’t take your fancy take a look on his website and get inspired. His in country knowledge is second to none.

Worst blog ever!

So much for a climbing blog!

The intention was to give a weekly update when the mothership returned to Cat Ba to stock up on food. Dave’s excellent planning and the kind support from Asia Outdoors meant no return to mainland was required. Instead, we were able to stay out at sea for the entire trip, and explore a much bigger area. Fresh fish, squid and shellfish were bought off local fishermen – straight from their nets, and a resupply boat filled the kitchen each week. All this meant more climbing and less internet… I don’t think anyone missed it in the slightest.

I haven’t got round to updating this until now, mainly because I didn’t really think you would be at all interested in how good my November was, but since I’ve been back I’ve been given so much stick at the wall for bigging up this trip so much and then just, well, stopping – so I decided I should at least close it off. It’s only fair to do the hyped up preparation justice!

In short, we did 104 completely new routes from 5+ to 7c+. Most of these were on completely undeveloped crags, though we added a few to some existing crags too. Amongst the 104 routes there were two trad routes, ‘Westminster’ (E1 5a) and ‘The Gunpowder Plot’ (E1 4c) both  first ascents on the first ascent of a sea stack we had named ‘Big Ben’ earlier in the trip – a real highlight of the trip. This is quite a significant addition to the list of recorded routes in the area, the guidebook only having around 200 routes recorded. It was great to learn that Asia Outdoors are midway through a new guidbook, this trip was timed perfectly to ensure our routes get recorded properly. For each crag we went to, we took topo shots, and have recorded as much information as possible about the venues to mean the guide is as good as it can be.

Me at the top of ‘Westminster’ – E1 5a FA on ‘Big Ben’. You can’t quite make out the cuts on my arms and legs, the rock was so sharp that falling without slicing your ropes never felt like an option. Photo credit: Dave Lucas, The Expedition Consultancy

Mike, Dan and Dave took some cracking shots with many front cover contenders! Due to my inadequate camera, severe lack of photography skills and pure good looks - I stepped in as lead model. Everyone is currently hard at work selecting the best of a great bunch of photos to compile and send around.

The team L-R: Ruth, Dan, Ewka, Dave, Mike, Alina, Me!, Vu (local climber) and Sam (spot the missing eyebrow).  Photo credit: Mike Hutton

Ha Long Bay and the surrounding area is truly a DWS paradise, the seas are calm, waters warm and rock beautifully featured. This meant than other than repeating prebolted routes on ‘The Face’ we didn’t get around to bolting anything new. There is potential, lots of potential, but trust me, get out there and all you’ll want to do is DWS.
It was great to see the heights of the routes grow as confidence above the water improved, some of Sam’s routes were as high as 17 meters – what a hero! Man points were added when he lost a battle with a jelly fish, and cracked a rock on his face resulted in him being the only member of the team requiring first aid, other than the captain I guess – but that’s a tale for another time! All man points were lost when the first aid involved shaving his eye brow, giving him a very boyband-esque appearance, the picture above shows him sat – presumably waiting for a key change.

The crew included a captain, cook and boatman, they all did a great job in getting us to where we wanted to go, keeping us fed (very well) and also entertaining us with their chronic addiction to karaoke. The trip was a fantastic experience in an amazing part of the world with some incredible people. It was a tale of great expectations, all of which were exceeded.

Would I go back? What do you think?

First Aid

Last weekend consisted of a drive down to Guildford for a first aid course like no other. I’ve done a few first aid courses now, all of which have been excellent. This last one, organised by Lifesigns, run by Andy ‘Pinkie’ Salmon was a real step up. I never want to be in a situation where I have to use any of the techniques I learnt on this course, but feel the training was of great use, and vital for this style of expedition.

After meeting Dave and Dan in the local pub on Friday evening, there was real relief on my part – I could put faces to names, and it was instantly apparent that these guys are very switched on, a reasuring feeling less than a week before you fly out to meet the rest of them!

On returning to the camping barn we spent some time scouring over the admiralty charts which cover Ha Long bay. The 3000 individual rock islands appear to sprawl endlessly accross the South China sea, just as skyscrapers and flats sprawl accross a city. The difference being, only a few hundred of these towers have ever been climbed. When you imagine many of these will have tens of routes on, it really puts into perspective how much there is to do out there.

We now think it may be possible to have the mothership resupplied with a speedboat, to avoid a lengthy return journey to Cat Ba Island on our slower big boat. Whilst this is fantastic in terms of exploring as much new rock as possible, it also highlights just how far from help we could be, should we need it. Looking at the map, it could be as much as 8 or 9 hours.

Should anything happen, we would be the first aiders, rescue team, paramedics and evacuation team. Lots of skills were learnt but the real lesson learnt was that as usual, prevention is better than cure. Day one’s activities included intravenous/ intraosseus canulation, suspension trauma, advanced airways, which involved the rather suspicious looking ‘i-gel airway’ and ressucitation.

Most of day two was spent at the pool, learning water rescue techniques and playing with the stretcher. This was an invaluable excercise as in doing so we managed to identify some improvements which could be made to improve the stretcher. Had we discovered these in Vietnam, we may not have had the opportunity to make any changes. More imporantly, it allowed those of us who were there to work together as a team, and run things through systematically.

The weekend ended with the med kit being divided up amongst us, providing yet more luggage to pack into my 20kg baggage allowance…. it’s a good job I’m planning on taking AN pair of shorts and a couple of T shirts!

Battle of the fingers and in need of first aid

So the final guitar lesson before the trip means climbing now has the edge in the ongoing battle of the finger nails. The past few months have been a continuous struggle – bringing back memories of A levels and guitar concerts and exams. I’ve tried experimenting with fake nails, tip kits, ping pong balls and superglue in an attempt to strike a compromise but I think it’s time to admit defeat and accept that the focus can only be on one or the other. On my return it’ll be all about the guitar with highly polished and lengthy nails in preparation for my sister’s wedding in December. (In case you were wondering, I am playing the guitar at the wedding, it’s not that I just want my nails to look nice.)

Whilst we’re on the subject of fingers, I’ve been trying to climb lots and remain injury free recently – the last thing I want before I get out to Vietnam is a tweaked tendon. It’s ironic then, that whilst dusting off the trusty Swiss army knife this evening I took a slice across two fingers. Great stuff. After reminding myself that I’m the most important person in the world (Alex being the A in ABC) applying pressure and raising the wound I was eventually convinced that the concept of gluing myself back together was a good suggestion. The idea of smearing a liquid – the packaging for which is plastered in harmful and irritant symbols – all over an open wound is something I was understandably a little unsure of. However, so far so good, I’m very impressed, is this one for the first aid kit?

Further to the irony of fingers, cuts and injury, this weekend is the 2 day first aid course in preparation for the trip. Whilst I’ve recently completed a fantastic first aid course with Pure  Outdoor the aim of this course is to allow the team to work together using some of the specialist equipment we’ll have on the boat. Reading the schedule it’s looking like a bust weekend with some serious kit, a little more advance than a triangular bandage and a tube of superglue anyway! There will be an emphasis on deep water spinal rescue, as we’ll be hours from help when we’re out there so need to be able to deal with most situations efficiently and as a team.  This training is clearly pretty vital – but as with all first aid, fingers crossed we’ll not need it!

Moving from fingers to toes, tomorrow I’ll be trying on some Vibram Fivefingers. I’ve been told that these are excellent for the kind of stuff we’ll be up to, they should help prevent cut up toes on rocks when swimming to beaches etc. Anyone tried these? I’m reserving judgement as  I’m a little skeptical of how they’ll fit. I rarely get normal shoes to size right, let alone each individual toe on both feet!  There’s a Vibram logo sized space there on my header image, let’s see if they jump on board and give me a special price.

Now to swot up on first aid so they’ll believe me when I tell them how important I am.

3 weeks 1 day….and counting

With around 3 weeks to go until I touch down in Hanoi, I’m getting as many wall sessions in as possible. I’m loosely following some training guidelines that Will Smith gave me and so far it seems to be paying off and importantly – it makes sense. There’s always the feeling that you could be more focused or simply doing more, but so long as I’m feeling good, injury free and enjoying myself- I can’t complain.

I also cannot complain about how well the many pestering phone calls and emails have been received by manufacturers and distributors. Wild Country have kindly provided Nitro draws, chalk bags, chalk and t shirts, with Alpkit sending some lovely little goodies. This was in return for me dressing up as a drunken Spiderman for them a couple of years ago. It’s amazing that when pushed and gear is on the cards, you are able to remember things like this!

Wild Country and Alpkit – legends

This success is largely down to the fact that saying yes and providing kit is a very effective way of making me go away. A quote regularly used by the legendary Mr Baxter is ‘shy boys get nowt.’  How very true.

There are still one or two more things in the pipeline before it gets too tight and I’ll think about dusting off the wallet!

Next step is to work out who carries what, on the plane -  thank god Ryanair don’t do long haul…..

 ’£20 each way?? We’ll take it as hand luggage…’