Vietnam is a country that I heard very little about when I started my journey. However, it soon stole my heart when I discovered the climbs, the people, and the abundant amounts of kindness that exists here. I am still inspired as I write about it.
As shown in The Inspiration, buying a motorcycle is only the start of this incredible journey. With the trip via motorcycle itself coming soon, there is also an incredible amount of climbing I have been able to accomplish as well in Cat Ba, Vietnam. In the heart of Halong Bay and the biggest island, Cat Ba is known for its deep water soloing. However, the island is a treasure trove for sport climbing as well! I meant to only spend 3 days there, but 3 quickly turned in to 11 as I dove completely into the climbing that Cat Ba had to offer.
There are two main climbing shops in Cat Ba, Asia Outdoors and Cat Ba Climbing. Both are reputable companies and completely necessary in different areas. As I touch on the different areas, I will explain which companies to get the permits with as well. Over the span of almost two full weeks, I climbed with a partner that I found through the bulletin board located at Asia Outdoors. this is a great resource to find climbing partners if you are in need. There is also one at Cat Ba climbing that appeared to be frequented as well. For various climbing areas, you will need to show that you are capable and pass belay and lead tests at both of the shops before they will allow you to take an access pass. Keep this in mind and make time the night before to do so, as the shops don’t open until 7:30 to 8 am, depending on the staff.
The areas that I had the opportunity to climb were The Cave, Butterfly Valley, the Farm, and the DWS areas. Here are some tidbits on each of those areas, as I spent multiple days on all of them.
This area lies in the backyard of a sweet older woman and her family. Right on the outskirts of town, there is an area to park motorcycles and scooters. Then, we made our way through her yard and up the hillside. She has signs with arrows posted so that you can stay on the correct trail. At the cave, I realized that it is far bigger than I expected. The tufa reminded me of Kalymnos, as I hung down. There are a few projects in progress as there are signs that bolting has started. The guide book lists some routes, but Mountain Project has the full list, which includes an extra little 5.11a route that is juggy and fun. We climbed the 5.10a (Slingswing), the 5.10b/c (Breakout), Where the Wild Things Are (5.8), Love Handles (5.10b), and Sheltered Nook (5.10c).
These climbs are the moderates then the grades jump to the 5.12’s. Where the Wild Things Are is a fantastic warm-up and fun climb to hop on and gain a feel for the cave. The routes include sharp crimps, jugs, and slopers that you don’t want to trust but they always come through.
On the way out, it cost 10,000 VND for use of the land. Simply pay the husband or wife as one is always around.
Butterfly Valley is a beautiful little valley on the outskirts of Cat Ba National Park. Even though high season has just begun, most of the area was flooded when we arrived. This created a bit of crowding in the area, but we managed just fine. For some great warm-ups, hop on Intrigues (5.10a) and Grass is Always Greener (5.10c). My favorite lead at this crag was by far Fingerless Pho Man (5.11b). It is a mellow start up into a finger crack, then a layback crack for a pumpy finish. It was a spectacular view and the most difficult level of my lead climbing. It was an inspiring finish to say the least.
The farm is an area developed by Cat Ba Climbing, and so you must pay them for the access pass. The Asia Outdoors staff are not the friendliest about Cat Ba Climbing, so try and direct questions and activities in this area to Cat Ba Climbing. All of the routes are bolted beautifully and safely, offering a wide range of climbs with the majority staying in the 5.10 range.
Some notable climbs in this area include Gingerbread Man (5.10b), Bozo’s Big Day (5.10a), and Ant’s in my Pants (5.8). These were fantastic warm up climbs and the mantle start on Gingerbread Man sets a precedent for the entire climb, with many fantastic moves and opportunities to rest alike.
DWS (Deep Water Solo):
Ahhh, deep water soloing. What has made Cat Ba a famous destination to climb has an almost magical appeal. Most of the tours out here run at about $65 per person, per day. If you aren’t experienced with DWS, I recommend sticking with that as the tides change and it can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are getting in to.
However, we paid a local with a boat to take us out for about $15 each for the day. We went to a couple of the rocks we knew were okay to climb with the tides and sent some incredible routes. The woman driving the boat was so stoked for our climbs that she brought us to another crag that was developed by Cat Ba Climbing and therefore not available in the guide books. The routes were fun, long, and HIGH. The jumps 40-50 feet back in to the water are terrifying compared to the climbs themselves!
Cat Ba provides incredible climbing that I didn’t expect at all. For the travelers that aren’t in to the climbing, there are a variety of activities ranging from kayaking to hiking to party boats on private beaches. My climbing partner camped at Emerald Beach, a secret area that when we went swimming at night, found out has bioluminescent water! Long days of climbs led to swims in glowing water at night. Cat Ba is certainly a paradise!
More details on the travel/backpacking/tourist parts of these areas can be found on the sister site, The Faithful Wanderer.