Friday, 18 October 2013
However, we did find some exciting climbs, and this is the story of one of them.
The island of Wang Chau is one of a group of four islands in the east of Hong Kong that forms part of the territory’s National Geopark (so designated in 2009). As an instructor at Outward Bound, I had had a chance, from the deck of the school’s motor launch, to reconnoitre possible climbing opportunities along the entire east coast of the Sai Kung peninsula. Most of these had been accessible overland, but in order to climb on Wang Chau, we would need logistical backup.
In March 1976, I persuaded one of the school’s seamanship instructors to give us a ‘lift’ to Wang Chau. This could be only an exploratory visit, to see if climbing there was even possible, and the section of the island we chose to investigate more closely is shown on the map above, on which the red asterisk marks the approximate position of the section of coastline shown in the following photograph.
The most obvious line is the huge chimney on the left of the photo, which we climbed on a subsequent visit, but I was immediately attracted to the slanting corner in the centre of the picture. It certainly didn’t look easy, but it did look possible.
There is a huge difference between consulting a guidebook, which provides a description and a grade of difficulty for any intended climb, and tackling a route that may turn out to be impossible. The eventual difficulty can only be guessed at in advance. However, the first few feet looked straightforward enough, as illustrated by the photo on the right, which was taken by Keith with a miniature camera that we used on such occasions.
The delusion that this might turn out to be easier than we’d originally anticipated lasted only as far as the first overhang, which I overcame by stepping up to the left then back right above the overhang. Retreat would now be more difficult, and the last move was only the start of the serious difficulties. The next photo, taken by our seaman colleague from the school’s inflatable, merely hints at just how difficult this section turned out to be.
Almost 40 years on, I can remember few details, except that upward movement became more and more difficult, until I reached the position shown in the photo, at which point I became stuck. I couldn’t work out what to do next, and I spent 45 minutes in that one position. Finally, by a series of precarious balance moves, I was able to reach the point shown in the next photo.
Although I had clearly overcome the crux of the climb, progress still wasn’t easy, and yet another problem began to impress itself on my mind. We were using 45-metre ropes, and on a long runout it’s customary for the second to shout out estimates of how much rope is left when it looks to be running out. I reached a suitable ledge with less than two metres to spare. The rest of the climb was easy.
I’ve written before of how it is the prerogative of the first climber to do a route to assign a name to that route. So what should I call it? I may not have felt that rigor mortis was about to set in after spending three-quarters of an hour in the same position, unable to move, but Rigor Mortis seemed an appropriate name nevertheless. We assigned a grade of extremely severe (E1), with a technical grade of 5c, and it is a fair bet that it has never been repeated.
There is a reason for that. In the 1990s, two expats put together a guidebook to climbing in Hong Kong, and several local climbers told them that they should speak to me. They never did, so to this day very few of the dozens of new climbs that I pioneered between 1974 and 1989 are known about. This one is certainly worth a visit. It wasn’t the best of the climbs that Keith and I did together—that was Nightmare, which is another story entirely.