You don't need to be rock hard to enjoy rock climbing

This blog post was written for: Singapore Star Sports Blogger Contest

My fascination with rock climbing began not when I watched Sylvester Stallone in the movie Cliffhanger but when I watched a speed rock climbing competition on TV. Two competitors stood in front of their respective walls side-by-side. The artificial walls were covered with huge cloths. When the timer starts, the cloth is dropped to the ground to reveal the two walls that look exactly the same. The two competitors race up the wall like monkeys up a tree and, obviously, the first to reach the top wins.

"What does it take to be a rock climber?" I asked my friend, an experienced climber.
"Determination. Lots of determination," he replied.
I was unconvinced so I asked, "How about strength and stamina?"
"Well, yes, you need some of those but determination is the most important."
Oh, really?

At the start of my first session, my friend taught me how to tie the knots and "gear up". There was only one knot I needed to tie: a figure-8 knot, which was a no-brainer! There are other types of knots but this was all I needed. The gear on me consisted only of a harness and a pair of rock climbing shoes. To wear the harness, I put it through my legs and tightened the buckles. Easy! To put on the shoes, well, everyone knows how to do that!

My friend then gave a 5-minute briefing.
What to keep in mind when climbing (a vertical wall): Use legs to step up instead of using arms to pull up, keep hips close to the wall, chalk hands often for a better grip, keep in 3-point contact with the wall (i.e. move 1 leg or 1 arm at a time).
Safety considerations: When climbing use only the holds (i.e. the fake rocks) and do not use the metal rings* otherwise your fingers might get cut off if you slip, when falling face the wall and kick yourself away from the wall so that you don't knock your body and head against the wall.

"Now, you're ready to climb," he said. That's it? You're not going to teach me exactly how to climb? He walked to the tallest wall - 25 metres (about 8 storeys high). "Do I have to climb this one?" I asked. "Yeah, why not," he smiled. I think he wanted to see me squirm.

The 25m wall at Yishun Safra

How hard can it be to climb a wall?
I was about to find out.

I tied the figure-8 knot while he watched and checked that I did it correctly. "Ready when you are," he said as he pulled down on the supporting rope that hung from the top.

The wall looked deceptively easy to climb but it wasn't :( It was literally an uphill task. Some of the holds were tiny and I couldn't get a good grip. Some of them were spaced out far apart so I couldn't reach them. I found both my mind and body fully engaged in trying to find a route upwards.

Some holds are easier to hold/step on to than others.
I would be happier to see the orange and white/green ones (center row).

I'm climbing the 25m wall at Yishun Safra

My friend occasionally yelled - for I wouldn't have been able to hear him if he didn't yell - those points which he briefed me on but I had "forgotten", i.e. use legs to step up instead of using arms to pull up, keep body close to the wall, chalk hands often for a better grip. I tell you, those metal rings* looked especially tempting to use when I couldn't find a proper hold.

I managed to climb about 12m (about 4 storeys) before I ran out of ideas and energy. Not too bad for a newbie I thought. No praises from my friend though. He's not the sort who readily dishes out compliments but he's skilled at saying funny and sarcastic things to motivate people.

"Climb like a monkey!"
"You can climb Mount Kinabalu but you can't climb this wall?"
"I'm not letting you down till you reach the top."
"Who asked you not to wear shoes to climb? Now don't complain!"

Works for me. I respond better to this form of motivation.

It's been more than a year since my first attempt at rock climbing and I am still hooked! I found out firsthand that what my friend said was true: Determination is the most important thing you need to be a rock climber. Occasionally I get hit by the "why am I torturing myself?" question while climbing. The mind and body naturally want to remain in their comfort zones. Without determination, even the strongest person will not be able to make it to the top.

Rock climbing offers a complete mind and body challenge that other extreme sports like go-kart racing and diving cannot offer. Rock climbing is about strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination, strategy and conquering fear. It is EXTREME!

Who can climb?
Anyone with a reasonable fitness level and determination can climb. You don't have to be exceptionally strong or have rock hard abs to do it for leisure and have fun! But, as usual, check with your doctor before engaging in intense physical exercises.

How can I get started with rock climbing?
The easiest way is to sign up for a course. The 3 centers listed below offer courses. A course certificate in rock climbing doesn't mean anything (Singaporeans enjoy collecting certificates) but courses focus a great deal on safety. Rock climbing is an extreme sport - meaning you can die from it. But if you take safety precautions, I can confidently say that it's safer than crossing the road. Don't be too hard up to drag any Tom, Dick or Harry to take a course with you. You must be able to trust your climbing buddies with you life. If you can't, then don't climb with them. I am dead serious about this. Remember: Safety first.

What if I'm afraid of heights?
Everyone has some level of fear of heights or of falling. I am afraid of falling and breaking my toenail again! It is natural to feel scared. But whenever I am overcome with fear, I ask myself: is it rational to be afraid and what's the worst that could happen? I know that my friends are reliable and they care for my safety. If you are supported by friends who are reliable, you will naturally feel more secure.

Where can I climb?

Artificial walls

My favourite outdoor walls are at Yishun Safra (60 Yishun Avenue 4, Singapore 769027. Click here for price list and equipment rental). There is a 25-metre wall with 3 different sections, an 18-metre wall and 6 15-metre walls. If you feel like enjoying some aircon, you can go into the indoor bouldering gym.

The 8-metre high indoor wall at Climbers Laboratory (48, Toh Guan Road East, #05-153 Enterprise Hub, Singapore 608586, +65 6515 9363, Click here for price list and equipment rental) is a good option if it's raining). The place is airy and has a nice view. This place has a good range of easy walls and challenging ones.

I've not climbed the indoor walls at Climb Asia Climbing Centre Pte Ltd (Civil Service Club, 60 Tessensohn Road, Singapore 217664, +65 6292 7701, Click here for price list and equipment rental) but it's crowded whenever I am there. The outdoor walls are for lead-climbing* only. Very siong because the weight of the rope pulls you down and if you fall - like I did - you can fall up to 2 metres in height. A quarter of my toe nail broke off when I slipped from stepping on a loose hold. My blood dripped all over the ground and the flies came for a party. The pro shop contains a good range of climbing equipment. The items are not cheap but you can always wait for discounts and promotions. The indoor air-conditioned bouldering cave reeks of smelly feet. If you have foot fetish you can consider hanging out here.

* The metal rings are used for lead climbing. Lead climbing is an advanced aspect of rock climbing. A lead climber does not have an anchor point above them while climbing. The climber carries the rope and "clips" it on to the metal rings at about 1 metre intervals apart.

There is a newly-opened climbing wall at the People's Association Water-Venture Adventure Sports Centre in Pasir Ris. It is a 13-meter tower. I've not tried it but do let me know whether how it is if you climb there.

Natural rock walls

Some years ago, a climber died while scaling a near-vertical cliff at Dairy Farm Quarry at Bukit Timah Hill. I visited that area but nobody expect monkeys climb anything there. The rocks are covered with moss - which makes them slippery and therefore difficult to climb. I've also read that there are loose rocks. A tiny rock that falls from 10 metres above you will not feel that tiny if it lands on your head!

One great spot for climbing natural rock is Labrador Park. You have to choose a day when the sun is beaming brightly at you and the rocks are hard and dry. You'll need to bring your own equipment because there are no rock climbing operators there. But the great thing about climbing here is: it's FOC!

However, it's better for beginners should get familiarized with safety and climbing techniques on artificial walls before attempting natural rock walls.

Natural rock wall at Labrador Park

A climbing buddy scaling on natural rock wall at Labrador Park


laliloo said...

interesting, i've always wanted to do rock climbing but unfortunately no friends of mine are into this kind of adrenaline rush activities... so its still kept as thought >< thanks anyway for the insights and preview xD

David said...


You are absolutely right. even older guys like me can manage rock climbing. Although I admit I take the easy routes up most walls.

My wife and have cruised on Royal Caribbean liners many times, and all that lines ships have rock climbing walls. They have course every day for all age groups, and climbing competitions. The view from the top is tremendous.

Enjoy many more climbs.
BTW, your photo show how fit you look!
Very nice indeed!


Yu-Kym said...

laliloo, maybe you'll get to meet like-minded people and climb with them after the course?

David, sounds like fun! I thought they'll let you climb real rocks. Heard you can dive on those trips too?

Anonymous said...

It looks fun and I thought it was until I found out the injuries to your fingers. On the reverse incline slopes, your whole weight is on your fingers.

This prolong activity cause damage to your fingers, possibly arthritis.

I like to feed myself when I am senior citizen. Thank you very much.

Yu-Kym said...

So far the only "injuries" I've gotten other than a broken toenail are blue-blacks and skin falling off my fingers. I suppose the type of crack / holds makes a difference to the amount of strain on your fingers when you're climbing overhangs.

Fabby said...

eh, you confirm win the laptop already la. Congratz in advanced! Lol.

Wee Kiat

Yu-Kym said...

Fabby, I am not so sure about that. Will need all the votes I can get. Hope you are enjoying your new iPhone!

shaun said...

interesting post about rock climbing! :)

Shaun Owyeong

Anonymous said...

if you dont, who will. keep it up kym.