Crag Etiquette

With gyms once again closing down for a bit and an influx of people expected at the crags, it seems timely to give people a little reminder on some of these matters. Last winter we laid down the law for the pebble wrestlers (see here), this year it’s the turn of the rope guns…

Using the Guides on this Website

The following section provides some basic info on the use of the guides, although we hope for the most part it’s pretty self-explanatory anyway.

Crag Access

The inclusion of an area within this guide is not a guarantee of the right to access it. That said, nearly all of the areas included are located within, and can be accessed via, freely accessible government land for which no access restrictions exist. Please treat the areas with appropriate respect to ensure it remains this way.  

Route Descriptions

The following section provides information on how the sport climbing routes on the website have been described and presented. However, bear in mind that climbing is highly subjective, so this information is really just a general guide, not absolute fact. 

Route Status

In recent times many of the more prominent crags in HK have been the subject of Government led bolt cutting exercises to remove the potential for protest banners to be hung from them (freedom of speech being a thing of the past now), rendering many climbs on key areas such as Lion Rock, Kowloon Peak, Devil’s Peak, etc. unclimbable. To add insult to injury, the cutting that has taken place has been poorly executed and has left dangerous sharp remnants of bolt hangers protruding from many rock faces – a definite hazard to both people and ropes. When climbing at these areas, please check the guides on this site and the HK Climbing Facebook page to see the latest status so you don’t get caught out.

Recent carnage at the top of Lion Rock. Photo: Channing Lai

Whilst we try to keep information on damaged routes up-to-date on the website, no guarantees can be provided. If you spot something that needs updating, please comment on the relevant page of the website to let myself and others know.

Climbing

The Routes

The ‘Line’

For the most part, a good sport route will present you with a relatively clear, obvious and unambiguous line that really doesn’t require too much description to be climbed the way it is intended – simply follow the line of bolts using whatever holds are within reach and without straying off too far either side of the bolts. 

Where holds are considered off-route as compared to the way the climb was originally established, the route description will typically highlight this. A good example of this is Evolution at Monkey Buttress, which was originally climbed directly up the groove and wall to its left in the mid-part (see pic below), without any use of holds on the wall right of the groove. Use of holds out right was thus considered off-route and cheating (although given that almost everyone ignored this requirement and used them regardless, the route was simply downgraded to reflect the easier sequence).

Stuart Millis showing the FA beta for Evolution, avoiding all holds right of the groove

Style of Ascent

The following provides a brief classification on the various styles in which a route can be climbed:

  • Onsight: To climb a line with no falls or rests on the rope on your very first try and with no prior knowledge whatsoever of the moves/sequences etc.
  • Flash: To climb a line with no falls or rests on the rope on your very first try, but with some knowledge of the sequences involved. This can range from ‘you just happed to watch someone else climb it whilst waiting for your own attempt’ all the way through to ‘you intensely studied videos of people climbing it and your mate shouted detailed beta to you the whole time’.
    Sidenote: Pls don’t use the term ‘day flash’ – if you’ve so much as touched the holds before, its not a flash… Just because you managed to send on the first try of that day doesn’t mean you get to ignore the twenty sessions you previously spent dogging the hell out of the line…It wasn’t a flash by any measure of the word…
  • Redpoint: To climb a line with no falls or rests on the rope on any go other than your first attempt. This can be anything from your second go to your N-hundredth attempt after multiple sessions working all the moves. No real distinction between 2 or 200 attempts is made when it comes to a redpoint ascent.
  • Headpoint: Similar to a redpoint (e.g. involving pre-practice), but for a traditionally protected climb rather than a bolt protected sport route.
  • Dogging: This is not an actual ‘send’ of the line but refers to the act of sitting on bolts to take breaks whilst figuring out moves etc. and doggedly working your way up the route.
  • Top-roping: This relates to climbs where the rope is already clipped through the anchor and provides the climber with a secure line above them the whole time they are climbing. Similarly, climbing a route in this style this isn’t really considered a ‘send’, even if you climb the line without weighting the rope. It’s just practice for a subsequent redpoint attempt.

Working a Climb

Sport climbing often involves climbing at your physical limit, meaning it may take some considerable time to figure out the moves on a climb or build up the requisite stamina needed to send the line in a single push. To acquire such skills/ability, climbers will often work (or dog) a route in preparation for a subsequent redpoint attempt.

When working a route, please be mindful of other climbers at the crag who may also want to try the same line and don’t hog the line for excessively long periods. Have a good go at the moves, work some link ups etc. but if you see others waiting to also try the line, please yield it to them in a reasonable amount of time. You never know, they may be able to show you some useful beta to help with your own attempts…

Top-roping

Let’s face it, the bolts on the majority of recently bolted lines in HK are so close together that you seldom need to go much more than ‘waist above bolt’ before you’re clipping the next bolt. As such, there’s really very little actual benefit to top roping and you may as well just get on the sharp end and claim a proper send… Even those bolts on most of the older (i.e. pre-2010) routes aren’t so far spaced that they’d result in dangerous fall consequences etc. [despite what certain guidebooks may lead you to believe]. If you intend to climb outside of HK at any point, we’d strongly suggest that you get used to leading on bolts that are spaced more than 1.5 m apart… 

An all too familiar sight at some crags…

However, if you are inclined to have a nice snug rope leading your way then, similar to working a line, just because you got their first and have your top rope set up doesn’t give you and your group carte blanche to lay claim to the route for the rest of the day. Be mindful and respectful of others and limit the number of people in your group trying the climb before allowing others to also get on it. If necessary, this should also include removing your top rope to allow others to lead the route for their attempts.

Don’t Boggart that line my friend…

Pre-hanging Quickdrawers

Back in the day, a redpoint was only considered clean if you also hung the quickdrawers during the send too, with the alternative of clipping pre-placed quickdrawers considered a pinkpoint. However, times change (as do ethics) and in the current context of sport climbing it’s considered perfectly acceptable to send a climb with the quickdrawers already in place without this affecting your onsight / flash / redpoint.

The author enjoying the benefit of some pre-hung quickdrawers

Pre-clipping Quickdrawers

Whilst climbing has never been intended as an entirely safe and risk free pass time, the first bolts on some climbs can sometimes be a little disconcertingly high above the floor, resulting in the risk of notable injury if you fall before getting them clipped. For this reason, it is widely considered acceptable for the first bolt to be pre-clipped during a lead attempt on a climb. However, unless there are serious safety issues with a climb, any pre-clipping should be limited to the first bolt as sport climbing grades also factor in the time and effort required to clip the rope in to the quickdrawers. Top-roping half a climb and then only leading the upper part really doesn’t count as a clean send…

[sarcasm] If you’ve pre-clipped two, what harm or difference could a couple more make really…. [/sarcasm]

Clipping the Chains

Unless the guide description states otherwise and there are specific finish holds (e.g. Logical Progression at Tung Lung, where the retro-fitted anchors now hang far lower than the original finish and can be clipped before all the original climbing has been done), a sport climb will typically be considered finished once you’ve successfully clipped the top anchor without weighting the rope at any point on your way to get there. However, it should be noted that the act grabbing the anchors to clip them invalidates a clean send, meaning you’d need to go back to the bottom and do it all again.    

Crag Behaviour

One of the things most of us love about climbing is that there’s pretty much no real well-defined rules. Provided you behave with consideration, most things are down to personal preference and you can pretty much do what you want.  That being said, and with consideration to the fact there’s quite a few relatively inexperienced outdoor climbers in Hong Kong these days, there are a few basic considerations we’d ask you to abide by and take note of.

Hard & Fast Rules

#1 No Chipping:

We accept no compromises on this one. The beauty and challenge of climbing lies in the ability to tackle the challenges Mother Nature has set out for us. If you can’t send a climb, go train and come back fitter, stronger and with more technique. Modify yourself to be able to climb the rock, not the other way around. Chances are, anyone caught chipping would be lynch mobbed by the climbing community.

#2 Pack In, Pack Out:

Leave No Trace: The ‘leave no trace ethic’ is a well-established concept in climbing circles and one that should be fully adhered to. The climbing areas covered by this website are typically in very scenic and often ecologically sensitive area. Please help preserve the beauty of these location by minimsing the impacts of your visit as far as possible. This will typically mean:

  • Bathroom Breaks: In general, try to ‘go before you go’ so you can avoid the need for a trip to the bathroom whilst at the crag. If you do get caught short in a remote spot (it happens), be considerate and do your business well away from the crag and trails (and in the case of number two’s, it is essential that you either pack them out (take some dog poop bags with you) or at least have the decency to bury them (and the associated toilet paper) so that no-one would ever know you’ve been there. The last thing anyone wants is to unexpectedly step or land in your leftovers…
  • Trash: Take all rubbish (e.g. food wrappers, fruit skins, used finger tape, cigarette butts, toilet paper etc.) away with you when you leave;
  • Vegetation: Many of the mountain crags documented on http://www.hongkongclimbing.com are situated in densely vegetated hillsides, meaning they can quickly get overgrown if no one visits them for a while. Help maintain reasonable access and route conditions by doing some considerate vegetation clearance if you notice things starting to get a bit overgrown.  However, this should be done considerately and minimally, especially for those areas in Country Parks or Conservation Areas;

#3 No Open Fires:

The winter climbing season in HK is typically very dry, meaning the risk of hill fires can be extreme (just look what happens during grave sweeping festivals). For everyone’s sake, avoid open fires (and smoking) whilst out at the blocs, go for a nice BBQ at the beach afterwards instead. This also applies to turning the base of the crag/blocs into your own private kitchen because you can’t live without instant noodles for more than an hour…

#4 Retrobolting:

This is the placement of additional bolts on a climb that has already been established (either as a sport climb or a traditionally protected line). The widely accepted rule when it comes to this is that additional bolts shall not be added to a climb without the prior agreement of the person who made the first ascent of the climb.

Stephen Yip on a trad ascent of the original trad version of Centraline at Soho Crag, before it was retrobolted (with the first ascentionists permission) by someone at a later date

Niceties:

Otherwise known as not coming across as a bit of a dick. Like we said, we love climbing due to the lack of rules so we don’t want to get caught laying down the law too much. The following are therefore some general considerations to make when climbing outdoors so that everyone else can have just as much fun as you are.

  • Volume: We understand that climbers get a little excitable sometimes and that ‘oh so close’ send attempt can prompt a somewhat emotional (and often explicit) response. However, please bear in mind that we’re not the only ones using these outdoor spaces and others may not appreciate your screams of frustration, joy, encouragement etc. Be considerate and keep noise levels reasonable;
  • Route Cleaning: Give the climbs a brush once you’ve finished climbing them. Not everyone in the outdoors appreciates these big white splodges over the rocks. Tech wall at Tung Lung often has so much chalk on it that it looks like someone opened fire with a chalk firing machine gun…
  • Tick Marks: We understand that many people these days are used to nice colour coded gym problems or even LED lights to remind them where holds are. We also understand that nature is often not so generous in gift wrapping directions for you. However, if you really can’t remember where a hold is and must use a tick mark, please pay particular attention to the nicety below and brush it off the rock once you’re done. And for god’s sake, please don’t use chalk to number routes per the guidebook description numbers. We provide you with nice clearly annotated photo topo’s so there’s really no need to ever consider this type of behaviour.
  • Clean Your Feet: You spent a small fortune on those rock shoes to get some super sticky rubber that’ll help you stand on tiny edges and non-existent smears. That money was wasted if you don’t make sure your shoes are clean and free from dirt when you get on a climb. In addition to making life difficult for yourself, you’re also making the holds grubby for the next poor soul who tries the problem. Be a sport, make sure your rock shoes are nice and clean before getting on a climb…
  • Music: The objects in the image to the below are called headphones. If you must listen to music whilst climbing, wear them and leave the bluetooth speakers at home. Most people head outdoors to enjoy nature and the soundtrack that provides, not your questionable taste in music…

Remember, climbers aren’t the only ones in these areas and we don’t want a bad reputation from other users of the outdoors!. Hopefully the above info gives a bit of a guide on the ‘accepted’ practices for sport climbing outdoors. However, at the end of the day it’s all pretty meaningless fun so just get out there and enjoy yourself (but not at the expense of nature or other users of these areas please…)

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Connor

Great read! Thanks for taking the time to write this.