Cat Ba Climbing

Marjie woke me up: “Chris, it’s 4.40!”I practically jumped out of bed. “How? I must have turned off the alarm I was so tired.” I distinctly remember setting the alarm for 3.45am. I hear gnats farting at night, how did I miss my iPod’s melodious cricket chirping? It turns out, that I set the alarm for weekdays, not saturday, so … we had 20minutes to get to the bus station.

Somehow, we made it. We did manage to leave most of our snacks and water behind, but at least we’d be out for a fun weekend. We arrived right at 5am, the designated meeting time with the VietClimb group. Luckily, the bus didn’t leave until 5.20. A few hours later, we arrived in Haiphong, transferred to the ferry, then back to the bus for our 30minute drive to Cat Ba city center. That was about 5.5hrs. It was relatively painless, though. Hoang Long bus service provides a door-to-door service.

From there, we hopped on a boat, grabbed the kayaks, and had lunch on the way to our climbing spot. Yes, climbing. VietClimb organized a deep-water soloing tri. What is deep-water soloing? It’s when you climb up the limestone karsts all around Cat Ba island without ropes and jump into the water when you’re done.

I managed to do a bit, but wow was I a wimp. I hate falling. I don’t care if I’m on a top rope, I don’t care if it’s water, I hate falling. It’s a healthy fear that is augmented by my overdeveloped evaluation of the long-term future consequences that arise from sport-related mishaps. I think it’s why I was never destined for greatness in sports. I’m just not a risk taker.

Yet, here I am, 30 feet over the water, thinking about how burned up my forearm muscles are and I haven’t even gotten to the hard part of the climb. I thinking: “can I cross my legs before I hit the water without making too many girly noises?” The answer turned out to be yes.

In my second climb, I lost my nerve a bit. I couldn’t get beyond the easy part, again, and I couldn’t just jump straight into the water. What now? About 10 minutes of dithering while the next climber impatiently waited for me to get out of his way.

Luckily, we found something more my speed. Hanging upside down in a cave about 4 feet above the water. Even though I wasn’t strong enough to get all the way through the route, it was still fun to try and certainly less terrifying to fall.

We did a few more climbs, then headed back to the floating house where we would spend the night. Of course I have no photos, and in retrospect, of course I wish I had taken more. Instead, you’ll have to use your imagination. The house floats on all sorts of styrofoam boxes and the like. Surrounding the living quarters are nets where the keep fish, squid, and crabs. It’s basically a farm at sea. There was a massive grouper like fish in one of the pens, these fish that were ready to eat you in another.

The best part about the trip was the karaoke. None of the climbers really wanted to karaoke, but the boat captain did. So at 9pm, when most people wanted to pass out, he dragged folks from the boat to their house where boot-leg moonshine was passed around and wretched music was sung horribly.

Around 10pm, the skies opened up, dumping tons of water. It was part of some storm that swept across SE Asia. Let me tell you, the rain on the corrugated tin or aluminum roof was deafening. Luckily it made it easier to not hear the music. There was lightning, massive booms of thunder, then the slow steady drip of water from the ceiling into a spot about 3 inches from my space. That wasn’t annoying at all, or wet.

The next morning, it was a bit breezy and the water was pretty choppy. A few folks got a bit seasick. Rather than put the boats at risk crossing a wide open channel with large white capped waves, we headed to a protected lagoon. Eventually, the wind blew the clouds out to sea and we had a gorgeous day.

Here is the link to Tim’s collection of photos. He’s a professional photographer, so, his photos are nice!

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