Cat Ba Island Rock Climbing
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Cat Ba is an island about 4.5 hours from Hanoi by bus and boat. It has weather similar to the north coast of California.
Good accommodations on the main strip can be usually be found in person for less than $10/night outside high season. Summer months when the island is full of local tourists will be more expensive and reserving ahead is highly recommended.
As of October 2019, the local operators who oversee climbing on the island will be your best sources of information. These are Langur’s Adventures (founded by Asia Outdoors staff after the company’s closure) and Cat Ba Climbing.
Please note that Asia Outdoors is closed as of February 2019 so all access information from the 2016 guidebook has now changed.
Latest guidebook (December 2018):
by Luca De Giorgi and Gavi Piper
Available online through Amazon, in Vietnam through VietClimb (Hanoi) and Langurs Adventures (Cat Ba Island)
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION PROVIDED BY Luca De Giorgi (Dec 2016) AND UPDATED BY GAVI PIPER (OCT 2019)
The Ha Long Bay region of Vietnam, a sweep of water from which approximately 1,600 limestone karst islands soar, lies in the Gulf of Tonkin just off Vietnam’s northern coastline and is part of the UNESCO world natural heritage. These craggy islands boast a stunning mix of rock blanketed in jungle and steep, exposed faces. Although not all of these walls contain solid rock, there is an overwhelming abundance of magnificent climbable faces. Many of the walls that rise directly from the water are ideal for Deep Water Solo (DWS). Other faces stand over uninhabited sandy beaches, making for a unique and isolated sport climbing paradise. Cat Ba Island also boasts some amazing limestone cliffs to behold and experience.
The first climbers to visit Ha Long Bay came in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Americans Lynn Hill, Todd Skinner, Scott Milton, Paul Piana, Greg Child, and Frenchman Arnaud Petit, among others, led climbing expeditions to Vietnam and the Ha Long Bay region, bolting some of the area’s first known sport routes. Greg Child and Andy Parkin established early traditional multi-pitch lines in the bay, documented in the BBC’s The Face, Episode 2. British climbers such as Neil Gresham, Tim Emmett, Seb Grieve, Grant Farquhar, and Chris Lindner also visited, establishing sport and DWS routes. Tim Emmett and Klem Loskot are featured climbing at some of the locations presented in the guidebook in Big Up Productions’ Dosage Vol III, and Chris Lindner is featured in The Players.
Thanks to these pioneers, climbing in Vietnam and Ha Long Bay is growing fast in terms of development and popularity in the eyes of international climbers. Vietnam has since become a popular and inexpensive destination for travellers exploring and experiencing Southeast Asia through sport climbing and DWS.
There are more than 200 sport climbing routes and 30 trad routes 18 crags, from 4a to 8a on Cat Ba Island and the beaches and crags of Ha Long Bay. More than 230 deep water solo lines on 24 cliffs, from 4a to 7c+ wait for you in the bay, all in a day trip distance from Cat Ba Town. If you are an independent climber you can explore the crags of the main island Cat Ba on your own; you just need an access pass from Asia Outdoors (see below why) and a motorbike or bicycle. To explore the sport and trad climbing potential of the bay you'll need a basket boat with driver and the access passes for the beaches and knowledge of where specific crags are. If you plan to trad climb in the bay, be aware that there are no established anchors on top of bay pillars! Bring plenty of tat with you to set rappels: while some tat may have been left behind after previous climbs, ascents are rare and existing tat may not be in good condition. Basket Boats and passes can be easily organized with Langurs Adventures or Cat Ba Climbing.
If you are interested in DWS: the easiest option is to join one of the Langur’s Adventures or Cat Ba Climbing day trips. If you are not familiar with the bay, crags will be very hard to find. Going on your own or with an unlicensed basket boat driver can be potentially dangerous. The bay has a unique tidal system with only one high and one low tide every day. The difference between high and low tides ranges up to three meters and is therefore crucial to safety and efficiency when deeping: the water under many cliffs is shallow enough at low tide that climbing becomes extremely dangerous due to the possibility of hitting submerged rocks. A boat is also required to begin climbing since cliffs are sharply undercut at the tide line. If you are a group of experienced climbers, one of the local providers will be happy to organize a tailor-made DWS trip for you.
Tides allowing DWS occur primarily between June and November. Langur’s Adventures or Cat Ba Climbing can provide information regarding tides on specific dates and what kind of weather to expect.
WHEN TO GO:
The two main factors to consider when planning a climbing trip to Ha Long Bay are temperature and tides. Temperatures vary significantly throughout the year: Winter months are ideal for sport climbing, when the temperatures are cool (15-20 degrees C) and there is only moderate precipitation (5-25 mm a month). However, winter has very few days with tides high enough for safe DWS.
Summer months have the most daytime tides high enough for DWS. Summer’s downside is hot and humid weather, and a higher percentage of rainy days. Moderate rain is not a problem for DWS, since most cliffs are overhanging, but it obviously lessens the Ha Long Bay experience.
Ideal months to hit a happy medium are spring (April - May) and autumn months (September - November). Weather is generally good and there are usually over 15 days per month where DWS is possible.
ORGANIZING A CLIMBING TRIP
The easiest way to climb in Ha Long Bay is by staying on the southern main island of Cat Ba. In Cat Ba Town there is a wide selection of hotels from which to choose and good touristic infrastructure. From there you can easily reach the crags on the island and in the bay. Also, Langurs Adventures and Cat Ba Climbing are located in Cat Ba Town. There you can get access passes for individual climbing (these companies oversee separate crags on the island, so you'll likely need to duck into both of their shops at some point) or join one of their climbing trips. If you are with a group of friends and want to live the ultimate Ha Long Bay climbing experience you can rent a junk boat through one of these companies for a few days and take a tour through the bay. Imagine spending as much time as you want on the crags, even the ones farther away, and passing the night in a secluded cove.
WHY DO I NEED TO PAY TO CLIMB ON CAT BA ISLAND?
Cat Ba Island and the Ha Long Bay area are heavily regulated by the military and the National Park Authority. Some Island crags are also located on private land. Ha Long Bay is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Access agreements for each crag have been individually negotiated in time-consuming processes by local climbing communities. On the Island and in the Bay, these agreements take one of three forms:
1: A climbing company pays rent for the land– not only to use it but to prevent tourist development right in front of the crag, to build and maintain trails, provide motorbike parking arrangements, clean the area and maintain climbing routes. In these cases, access passes must be acquired before heading to the crag.
2: An agreement has been established that climbers will pay a small fee per person in cash directly to the crag’s owner on the day they climb. Please have exact change in VND to give the owner if they come by while you’re climbing.
3: A national park fee is required to climb on national park land.
Always buy passes and pay crag fees where required, whether by a climbing company or by local land owners. Passes and fees ensure good relationships between locals and the Vietnam climbing community; they also enable maintenance of safe crag conditions and further climbing development in Vietnam.
If you’re staying in Hanoi, your easiest option is currently Good Morning Cat Ba.
Price: 280,000 VND to 310,000 VND (may fluctuate seasonally)
Duration: 4.5 Hours
Departures from Hanoi: 7:15 AM, 11:00 AM, 2:00 PM
Departures from Cat Ba: 8:30 AM, 12:00 PM, 3:30 - 4:00 PM
Good Morning Cat Ba offers some nice conveniences such as picking you up and dropping you off at your hotel (anywhere in Hanoi’s Old Quarter) and sometimes gives out water bottles and Oreos to their passengers. Once you arrive in Hai Phong, you'll transfer onto a boat that will take you to Cai Vieng (Cat Ba Island’s west harbor) and a minivan will take you to Cat Ba town. There will be 2 transfers on this journey, all on one ticket.
When traveling from Cat Ba to Hanoi, GMCB will drop you off at your hotel/hostel area. Arrange a drop-off location when you book your ticket.
GMCB will also do a transfer straight from the airport to the Cat Ba connection, but it will run a bit more expensive than a conventional taxi.
Coming from the airport:
Hoang Long Bus-Boat-Bus
Price: 250,000 VND (May fluctuate seasonally)
Duration: 4.5-6 hours (Hanoi to Cat Ba Town)
Departures from Hanoi: 5:20 AM (summer only), 7:20 AM, 11:20 AM,1:20 PM (summer only).
Return Departures from Cat Ba: 9:15 AM, 1:15 PM, 3:15 PM (summer only)
Take a cab from the airport to Luong Yen Bus Station (approx.. 45 minutes; 300 VND)
Luong Yen Bus Station:
Ben Xe Luong Yen, So 1 Nguyen Khoai
Your cab should bring you down into the front parking lot of the bus station. Buy a ticket with the Hoang Long Bus Company. Buy your tickets at the station (recommended) or on the bus.
Make sure to board a bus bearing the “Hoang Long” logo (Don’t get on the earlier Thanh Long Bus, which looks similar, but departs at 5 minutes after the hour). Show the driver your ticket so they can confirm it for you.
Once you arrive in Hai Phong, you may be transferred to a different bus that will take you to the harbor. You may wait up to 30 minutes at a small Hoang Long office with a bathroom. From the harbor, a boat will take you to Cai Vieng (Cat Ba Island’s west harbor), and a final bus will take you to Cat Ba Town.
(Note: If you take the 5:20 AM bus, you may have to wait for the second speed boat, particularly in the low season. The company will not run the boat if there are only a few passengers.)
Classic Climbing Routes at Cat Ba Island
Days w Precip