Such Great Heights

17 October 2016

Learn more about rock climbing, the sport that has allowed enthusiasts to conquer their fears and overcome mountains.

Thousands of years ago, climbing used to be a method of survival for humankind. Climbing trees and rocks were necessary to escape from danger, and this explains why little children are often seen grabbing onto things and lifting themselves up. In most parts of the world today, climbing has turned from a survival trait to a recreational sport – one that is commonly misconstrued as an activity only for the adrenaline junkies.

There are a few types of climbing: mountaineering, trad climbing, sports climbing, bouldering and top rope climbing. Mountaineering is the oldest and easily most dangerous form of climbing. It requires extra skills such as ice and snow climbing, on top of cooking and medical skills because expeditions usually range from a few days to a few months. In traditional climbing, climbers will place all gears to protect against falls and have them removed when a passage is completed.

Sports climbing on the other hand, is a form of free climbing that focuses on endurance and flexibility, while bouldering is a rope-less style of climbing which consists of short climbs over crash pads. Last but not least, top-roping is a style in which the climber uses a rope that is connected to a belayer at the foot of the route. It is the most common style done in wall/indoor climbing.

The sport started in Malaysia in 1987 after Persekutuan Mendaki Malaysia (PMM) was formed, and the main purpose of its formation was to plan for Projek Everest 1997. Ten years after its formation, Malaysians rejoiced in pride and glory as mountaineers Datuk M. Magendran and Datuk Mohanadas Nagappan became the first Malaysians to have conquered Mount Everest.

In 1991, one of the founders of PMM, Yap Boh Heong, initiated the move to bring in wall climbing to Malaysia. The first wall climbing gym was situated at Rumah Sarena in Bandar Tun Razak. As of 2016, there are more than 10 indoor climbing gyms in Kuala Lumpur, Pahang, Selangor, Johor, Sabah and Sarawak.

While climbing is progressively growing as a sport in Malaysia, this activity has also given young climbers like Alif an avenue to start a business. After climbing for a few years, Alif and a few friends founded Verticale, a retail store which also provides guiding and training services. The store, located in Sri Gombak, supplies both climbing and industrial equipment such as ropes, shoes, harnesses and other safety gears.

“It was purely accidental, how we started everything,” says Alif, who describes his venture into the sport as a “natural progression.” “I started off selling chalk to support the hobby, and then shoes, and then some harnesses. In the end, some friends and I decided to open up a retail shop and things just grew from there.”

When asked to bust some myths about rock climbing, Alif was more than ready to so.

For starters, climbing is often thought to be a sport for those who are already physically strong and fit. “This is not true,” Alif explains. “The very, very basic pre-requisite of climbing is the pure desire to climb. As long as the climbers want to do it, it will be possible. In our guiding experience, we have had girls who’ve outdone their boyfriends, a 130kg man who needed two people to belay, and even a Kiwi who met with an accident and was told he could never walk again.”

Aside from that, rock climbing is not as dangerous as it seems. As long as one adheres to the specific safety measures for each type of climbing, it is unlikely that the climber will end up in life-threatening situations. Injuries may be inevitable, just like any other sport. The more common injuries obtained by climbers are mostly bruises and sprains.

If anyone is looking to try out rock climbing, this year might just be a good time to start. The year 2016 has been a historic year for climbers and climbing enthusiasts around the world, as it was recently announced that climbing will be included in Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The event will include three disciplines: sports, bouldering and speed. A total of 40 climbers will spend four days competing, and the medallists will be determined by the combined results of all three disciplines.

According to Alif, while it is great to see a lot more effort being done by climbers now that it has become an Olympic sport, he also feels that as a nation, we are still far from ready. “In terms of federations and associations, we are still at our infancies,” he acknowledges. Nevertheless, it is still exciting to anticipate how the climbing events will take place, and how our climbing scene will flourish from there – regardless of whether or not we would qualify to compete.

By Dhabitah Zainal

Photos courtesy of Verticale

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