Mandalay is Myanmar’s royal city, and we are Mandalay’s loyal weekend warriors. The ten-hour night busses that take us to Mandalay and back to Yangon make for grueling transportation experiences. On a typical Mandalay trip we will spend two nights on busses and one night at a hostel. When we arrive back in Yangon early Monday morning, we emerge from the bus in a zombieish haze and essentially head straight to work from the bus station. After more than ten trips like this, Katie and I have the details dialed: Our favorite hostel, number of melatonin tablets to take on the overnight bus, cheapest motorbike rental shop, everything is dialed.
Sharing the roof with a cargo of baskets on the way into Mandalay from the bus station.
A monk and his begging bowl making the rounds in the morning
Grandmas ride motorbikes in Myanmar
Myanmar kid with thanaka paste (used as a sunscreen/fashion statement/skin lightener/etc.)
Mandalay’s palace wall and moat
The Royal Palace
Queen of the palace
Waterfall Hill and Monastery
Katie and I have seen most of the well-traveled sites around Mandalay, but it’s Yaedagon Taung (Waterfall Hill) that pulls us back. A forty-five minute motorbike ride leads you out of Mandalay city, through the rice fields, past two villages, over the bridge, up the Waterfall Hill, beyond the monastery, past the tea shop, and finally into the canyon where the impressive limestone walls make up Myanmar’s only established rock climbing destination. Although, ‘established’ is a relative term, as Katie and I are by far the most frequent visitors. The climbing at Waterfall Hill is only half of the experience, and at times it’s not what most climbers would consider enjoyable. The limestone tends to be blocky, chossy, and aside from some true gems, the climbing can be uninspiring and potentially dangerous. The loose rock and wandering nature of some of the routes gives the crag an alpine climbing atmosphere in some respects. The Yangon climbing club calls the bottom of one of the walls the “hospital zone” due to all the blocks that have come off of the wall. Helmet Status: Mandatory. However, all things considered, the experience as a whole is wonder-inducing. Golden pagodas and small monasteries lace the crevices and peaks of the crags. Smiling monks live in the caves, thieving gangs of macaque’s bash through the treetops, and village residents occasionally invite you to lunch. Overall, the climbing in Myanmar not only offers a very unique setting, but also an authentic encounter with the local way of life, without the tourist veneer that is so hard to shake these days.
Looking down the valley from the upper monastery
Fire Wall on the left and Monk’s Life Wall on the right.
Every peak and valley in Myanmar has its pagoda
So far the monks are very welcoming to the few climbers that have come to Waterfall Hill, and Katie and I work hard to be extra nice. Access issues aren’t a thing yet, but they may if climbing traffic increases.
Tea shop mama is always so happy to see us. She lives in the small shack with her family, and she cooks us lunch and cheers for us from the road while we’re climbing.
Tea shop Mama’s tea kettle
Village home for lunch; I guess even in village homes you can’t escape ipads
Tea shop mama’s adopted chick
Aung and Poe Pin with the TCCM gear on our first trip to Mandalay
Marion trying the bottom 5.11 section of the Firefly Engagement, a project at the time.
Katie sending Za Za 5.12a for the 3rd ascent, and becoming the first female to send 5.12 in Myanmar. It was also her second ever 5.12.
Before Katie got a climbing helmet she had to wear a huge motorcycle helmet to climb. :)
The first ascent of the Firefly Engagement 5.12c:
The route is 100 feet long (photo of the full line below): 30 feet of technical vertical climbing leads to 40 feet of easy slab which dumps you into the 30 foot crux that climbs the overhanging arête and finishing on the exposed panel up and to the right. The crux had three distinct boulder problems separated by marginal rests. It took me eight days on six different trips to Mandalay to figure out all the moves and send. I originally thought it might be .12d because the moves felt pretty impossible. It was also really hard to figure out the crux sequence because the bolts were widely spaced; so it wasn’t possible to hang on the bolts and feel around for alternative holds. It was a slow elimination game: climb into the crux. . . take a big whipper. . . climb into the crux. . . try one thing differently. . . take a big whipper. . . repeat. . . repeat. . . repeat. . . FINALLY figure out the beta! After I did finally figure out the sequence, I sent on the next day. As far as difficulty, I think the lowest grade I could call it is 5.12c. So that’s where we’re at now, and it’s currently the hardest climb in Myanmar. It’s a special climb in so many ways. I avoided it for as long as I could because I was so intimidated by it, all those big falls into lots of air. I’m actually grateful, because In the States I would have just climbed a different route, but the lack of rock climbing options in Myanmar forced me to project something out of my comfort zone. Overall, The proud nature of the climb combined with the difficulty and the first ascent aspect, makes the Firefly Engagement one of the most rewarding lines I’ve ever climbed. But as the nature of climbing goes, we are on to the next thing. Now Katie and I are psyched for the last great Mandalay project.
The full line of Firefly Engagement with the rope hanging from the anchor
Katie on ‘A Goat, A Yurt, A Wheel’ 5.8
Taking a break from climbing for some small cliff jumping at Dee Dote Waterfall with friends
Sunset over Mandalay from Waterfall Hill
“Come you back to Mandalay, Where the old Flotilla lay: Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay? On the road to Mandalay, Where the flyin’-fishes play, An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”
– Rudyard Kipling