Living the Dream in Laos

By Nicki Simon

 

Before traveling to South East Asia, I knew next to nothing about Laos. “It’s next to Thailand, right? And you’re sure there’s climbing there?” I asked my travel and climbing partner as we were making plans for our post-graduation trip to Asia. He assured me he had heard of a place with lots of sport climbing and some cool hut-things to stay in, so I agreed to give it a chance and we made plans to check out Thakhek. Little did I know those bamboo bungalows would become like a second home to me, and the limestone walls surrounding them would hold my favorite climbing thus far in my travels.

As many people would probably agree, Green Climbers Home is very difficult to describe. When your tuk-tuk driver turns down the dirt road you are really entering a different world; a little climbers’ bubble in the middle of Laos. German couple Tanja and Uli Weidner opened the camp in 2011, and have just finished their final season in Thakhek before passing their baby off to new owners. I first went to Green Climbers Home in March 2018 and instantly fell in love. The relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of the camp, paired with the beauty of the area and the tremendous volume of climbing within a few minutes walk made me feel like I was seriously living the dream.

Those two weeks flew by, and I knew I had to go back as soon as I could. I very strategically began asking Uli and Tanja about working there in the future, and the next thing I knew I was booking flights and making plans to return the following season as a volunteer. 

From December through February this past winter, Green Climbers Home was my home and the traveling climbers community was my family. The time I spent working at GCH was easily one of the best experiences of my life. It was awesome to see some familiar faces from the year before (GCH has lots of repeat guests, for good reason), and to really get to know people and the area since I was there for much longer. I was constantly surrounded by new and interesting people from around the world, all brought together by their love for climbing and traveling, and cheap Beer Lao, of course.

I think I could have happily stayed for the whole season, still feeling like I had only scratched the surface of the climbing there. With nearly 400 routes and seemingly endless potential, this area has so much to offer. I mean where else can you find a legit roof!? It is worth it for every climber to test their heel hook and knee bar skills at The Roof, and try not to get completely turned around in there.

Living at the crag gave me the opportunity to really focus on my climbing, and I think it really allowed me to grow as a climber and become even more passionate about it. One goal that I had for the trip was to work on climbing styles I wasn’t particularly fond of.

The Roof, for example, provided a perfect place to get more comfortable and confident on burly overhanging routes, and I am happy to say that I now really enjoy that type of climbing! Getting used to climbing on limestone was also a bit of a learning curve, but so fun once you get the hang of using all the crazy tufas and stalactites, and contorting your body in ways you never could on a Tahoe granite slab.

I saw tremendous improvements in so many aspects of my climbing, which was an awesome feeling! However, I also experienced a handful of discouraging times, which was kind of a new thing for me. For a good chunk of time, I felt like my climbing had plateaued and some days like I was even regressing. I would get super frustrated, confused as to why I wasn’t seeing consistent progress when all I was doing for two months was climbing. I eventually got out of my funk and even ended up sending my hardest climb to date! It definitely took me a while to accept that not every day is going to be a great climbing day, not to be so hard on myself (still working on that one), and that one of the best things to do for yourself is to take a rest day…or three. And just be happy to be in a beautiful area surrounded by awesome people!

Working at Green Climbers Home was such a fun and amazing experience, and I am so grateful to have had a small part in its story. Until next time!

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