Going Wild: Ariel's climbing skills come out on top, making her Queen of the Hill

Going Wild: Ariel's climbing skills come out on top, making her Queen of the Hill

Our adventurous reporter Ariel finds out the hard way that in rock climbing, what goes down, must come up

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Ariel Conant learned that climbing i all about your feet rather than your hands
Photo: Ariel Conant

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Ariel Conant comes up on top (of the mountain)
Photo: Ariel Conant

On a grey and rainy morning I went to meet Dragonfly guides Mike and Jaymz. I was going to try my hand - and fingers, and feet - at rock climbing on the ominously named Devil's Peak. I was a little nervous, since slippery rocks don't make for great climbing, especially for a total beginner like me!

Really, I needn't have worried because soon the sun was blazing, and it was a scorching summer day.

We grabbed our gear and hiked up the trail to our starting point at the top of Devil's Peak, where we enjoyed a stunning view of Hong Kong. But we weren't there to enjoy the scenery. So we set up the ropes and harnesses we needed to scale down the near-vertical rock face.

As Jaymz adjusted my harness and I put on my helmet, Mike explained the topography of the rock we were about to abseil. The first part would slope gently, but then we'd hit a ledge where the drop would be more vertical - with even a slight overhang.

That's where things would get tricky and I'd have to trust my footing, and my guides, who were holding the rope to support me.

After tying the ropes and securing my harness, Mike clipped me to a rope. He told me to plant my feet far apart and lean back on my heels to get the most stability.

For the first run, Mike held the rope so all I had to do was walk backwards down a vertical wall of rock. That's all.

At first, looking down made my heart race, but after a few steps I got into the rhythm and began to trust my feet more. At the bottom of the rock I felt quite proud of myself and what I'd accomplished.

Little did I know that I hadn't really done any work yet.

There was much more to come.

Without a lot of easy grips, getting back to the top was tough. Photo: Ariel Conant

As Jaymz and I took a breather at the bottom, Mike stayed up top and secured the ropes for my first climb. Looking up, I couldn't even see him on the other side of the overhang I needed to climb past.

I slipped on some rock climbing shoes, which fit close to your feet and have a rubber bottom much better for sticking to the rocks than normal trainers. Then it was time for me to try climbing.

But I couldn't find anywhere to grab onto. The rock didn't have any jagged edges where I could hook my fingertips and pull myself up. After awkwardly flailing around for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do with my hands, Mike and Jaymz showed me that I was approaching the problem all wrong.

It turns out climbing is all about your feet rather than your hands. Planting your toes and pushing up with your legs is what gives you momentum up the rock, and your hands are just there to help stabilise.

It felt unnatural at first, and took me a few more tries to get the hang of it. I kept wanting to use my arms, and I had to concentrate on using my legs to push myself up.

The first few steps were tough, but before too long I was up next to Mike at the stop point. I did it! I made it up! But my victory was short-lived, as Mike laughed and told me that now I just had to do it about five more times, trying out new - and more challenging - routes.

On the third climb I was struggling halfway up, stuck trying to figure out where to put my hands and feet. Then suddenly my foot slipped out from under me and I fell, sliding down the rock face.

Fortunately Mike and Jaymz had me securely tied in, so I only slid about a metre. Embarrassed but unhurt, I got my footing again and muscled my way up the rock.

After a few more climbs, each one more challenging than the next, it was time to try abseiling on my own - without Mike handling the rope and controlling my descent.

This was a scary thought: I am pretty clumsy and drop things all the time. But Mike still held a support rope so he could keep me from falling to my death in case I was in real danger. Gripping my rope, I began slowly controlling my way down, which was actually much easier than I had thought.

Next up, Mike had me abseil again, but this time I would go face first, and walk forward, straight down a vertical drop. Holding my body stiff, I slowly leaned forward until I was nearly horizontal. This kept pressure on my feet so they wouldn't slide out from under me.

With my rigid steps, I felt like a zombie walking down the cliff face as Mike controlled my descent. I could see Jaymz staring up at me from the bottom, cheering me on.

Once back at the bottom, it was time to gather up the equipment and make our final ascent.

By the time we made it all the way up to the top, and then back down the trail to Yau Tong, all three of us were hot and hungry, but more than anything, I was happy and exhausted. My first taste of rock climbing felt like a wild success, and I can't wait to try it again!

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Rock star

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