The Barefoot Rock Climber

For Vietnam’s best rock climber, no shoes are no problem

When I arrive at push climbing, the rock climbing gym located within Saigon Outcast in Thao Dien, Vu Nguyen is nimbly shimmying his way up a pole, utility knife in hand, and securing a safety pad as a group of the city’s most experienced climbers, young and old, put the finishing touches on the gym’s new bouldering facility. Seeing the bewildered look on my face, he cracks a smile before returning to the ground.

A man of humility with a wide grin perpetually on his face, you would never know it talking to Vu, but the 26-year-old is broadly considered the best Vietnamese rock climber. He cannot hide his talent, however, as he tests out the routes he has been working to setup on the wall, body contorting and comfortably hanging by the tips of his fingers as he methodically raises a leg above his shoulders, somehow finding a way to lock his heel into place and take a moment of rest. To watch it is to see poetry in motion, and yet this is not Vu at his best.

vu nguyen 3

Where he truly sets himself apart from the crowd is on a real outdoor rock wall, where he prefers to scale cliffs without an essential piece of equipment: shoes. “Outdoors, I always climb barefoot, but at climbing gyms, the managers don’t like it,” he says, explaining the presence of his footwear this evening.

In the climbing world, it’s not really up for debate, but rather accepted as a fact that barefoot climbing is a disadvantage. Shoes increase grip and provide protection when standing on sharp, jagged rocks, balancing all of your weight on your toes or jamming your feet into tiny crevices. This is what makes Vu an anomaly.

Asked about how his feet fare on the unforgiving limestone karsts of Cat Ba Island, Vietnam’s most established rock climbing destination where he was first introduced to the sport seven years ago and worked as a guide for Asia Outdoors, his face instantly lights up and he proclaims “I love limestone!” before nonchalantly adding, “I get small cuts on my feet sometimes.”

vu nguyen

Sharing that the most challenging route he has completed barefoot is graded 8a—a reference to the French rating system that measures difficulty, and a level that, according to the International Rock Climbing Research Association, is classified as elite—it prompts the question: is there anyone else in the world who can do that without shoes?

“I don’t know. There’s one guy from Germany. I used to watch his videos, but I forget his name,” he says, referring to Bernd Arnold, the now 70-year-old mountaineer who is credited as the pioneer of barefoot climbing. Essentially, what Vu is reluctant to admit, though I’m hearing nonetheless, is that right now, no, there is probably no one else in the world who can do what he does.

Taking the challenge to another level—and the challenge is what he finds to be the biggest draw to the sport—is that on Cat Ba Island, and other places that will allow it, he frequently climbs above water without a harness, engaging in what is known as deep-water soloing. With little room for error, he casually describes climbing a 17-meter rock face and, once atop, plunging into the water below. Another time, he recalls, while deep-water soloing, he was given the shock of reaching for a ledge above his head only to find that his hand was on a large, venomous snake. “You’re not supposed to touch that kind of snake!” he says laughing, but luckily for him, the serpent was just as surprised and slithered away as Vu clung to the rock and managed to maintain his grip.

vu nguyen 1

In Vietnam, rock climbing is still in a fledgling state, though there are indoor bouldering competitions in Hanoi, where climbers scale short but intensive walls without a harness. Requiring shoes, however, they aren’t exactly what Vu finds himself attracted to. “I like outdoor competitions, but they don’t have them in Vietnam,” he explains.

Nevertheless, he’s done his part to advance the sport in his home country, helping to setup bolts on outdoor rock faces, most recently in Mai Chau, which allows climbers to safely ascend by clipping the rope attached to his or her harness into the bolted wall. The sport, too, has given him opportunity to travel abroad, climbing in such places as Thailand, Singapore, Laos and Cambodia.

When asked where his favorite place to climb is, Vu takes only a quick moment to think before conceding, “I don’t have a favorite.” The world’s best barefoot rock climber simply and indiscriminately loves to climb, anywhere and everywhere he can.

Images Provided by Ngoc Tran

Share this story, choose your platform!

About the author:

2 thoughts on “The Barefoot Rock Climber”

  1. Obviously bare foot climbing works or else the best climber in Vietnam wouldn’t do it and barefoot Charles wouldn’t be doing v17 boulders

    Reply

Leave a Comment

5 Examples of Wrongful Termination Explained

Being fired from work can be a traumatic experience for anyone. However, if it has been done illegally it’s even more overwhelming. There are many instances where letting go of an employee is completely valid. But, if you have been unfairly dismissed without a reason – legal action can be taken.  To help you understand

Read More »

Six Signs That Indicate Your Partner Is Micro-Cheating On You

Relationship experts say that “clearly defining your boundaries can set a happy and healthy relationship with your partners.” However, we may need to understand when these boundaries go too far off the line and create a rift in our relationship. Every relationship has little white lies or harmless secrets that partners keep from each other. Not

Read More »

How Carpet Cleaning Enhances Carpet’s life and Value?

Carpet cleaning can be painstaking when you have a large house and many carpets. With that in mind, it is easy to understand why people require the services of professional carpet cleaning companies that can quickly clean up your messes. However, carpets are not the only things you might need to clean up. When it

Read More »

The States That Have Legalized Marijuana So Far 2021

Are you interested in the legalization status of marijuana, especially in the United States, and want to learn more? Do you want to know where in the United States you could visit and still be able to smoke a joint legally? The legalization of marijuana has been a hot topic in the United States for

Read More »

Understanding A Hoarder: Why Can’t They Throw Anything Away?

To provide an understanding and the process of hoarding, we must first understand its definition. Hoarding is defined as a single-minded urge of collecting and safekeeping unwanted items in great numbers. Most of the people afflicted with hoarding disorder find it hard to throw away items. A hoarder desires to save items that they know

Read More »

Vietnam War Student Protests

Where did the student movement begin? The US airplanes started bombing North Vietnam in February 1965 after North Vietnamese submarines invaded 2 US ships at the Gulf of Tonkin. President Lyndon B Johnson commanded the revenge attacks blasting armed targets in North Vietnam. There were some criticisms about how the government was battling the self-governing

Read More »