Kuala Lumpur is a wonderful, vast sensuous city, full of bizarre experiences, odours, sounds and tastes. It is a mixture of tatty chaos, and polished, aseptic modernity.
This is an experience of the metropolis through the eyes of a climber. You might not travel here specifically to go climbing, but if you catch yourself there one day, it may give you a window of experience on a place, that other travellers will miss out on.
It is another evening in the sodium glow in the climbing gym. It's quiet down here tonight, and the vast space feels church-like. Some identi-kit globalised house music provides my evensong; a soundtrack to working a series of moves on smooth textured brightly coloured resin.
The author on Putrajaya Wall, Camp 5 indoor wall.
Camp 5 climbing wall is a behemoth glasshouse, squatted on the top of a shopping mall which is bigger than the town I grew up in. Outside the cage of thick metal struts and tinted glass, dozens of lanes of traffic glow and intermingle. Headlights flare in the late evening. All outside noise is blocked in here, and the blaring of horns and the constant rumble of rubber on asphalt do not intrude on my evening perch.
Yoga Class at Camp 5.
Across the wall, Mimi takes her yoga class - teacher and three students silhouetted against the city's teeming pattern of lights. Neatly knotted ropes behind them hang like nooses.
It's hard to feel strong in the baking heat, even a thin t shirt feels like I'm wearing a winter coat, and no one here is allowed to climb shirtless. But even in the heat I find the movement and the activity fascinating; and am absorbed in trying to eliminate any useful footholds from the boulder problem that I have just completed.
Kuala Lumpur's National Mosque.
It's one of the most international environments I have ever been in, in my last couple of visits I have climbed with Malaysians, Chinese, Japanese, Singaporeans, Iranians, Americans, Germans, French people; even the guy who owns the place is Swiss. None of the customers of Camp 5 seem to know about the name's origin in a grubby climber's campground thousands of miles away in Yosemite Valley. Most of them are not interested in climbing outdoors, this is their crag, what they train for and look forward to at the end of the day's work.
The imposing Petronas Towers.
It is a fantastic sanctuary in this world of rampant consumerism, granted they charge as well, but the joy of yarding between coloured blobs gives a satisfying contrast to the culture of endless buying and acquisition in the building around it.
KL street life.
Camp 5's companion on floor 5 of the mall is an enormous, purple neon clad karaoke bar. The approach march to the wall makes me think of every jungle, desert and mountain I have ever walked through or up in order to get to a piece of rock. None of them were as thoroughly disorientating as the rows of shops, restaurants and various attractions, serried in purposely confusing ranks, to envelop and consume an endless stream of customers. I feel a profound sense of satisfaction in walking back through the mall after the evening session; sore-muscled, chalk-smudged and tired.
Curried fish head.
The Putrajaya gym gives another flavour to climbing in the urban dystopia of KL. It is by far the biggest climbing wall I have ever been into. You could fly a 747 into this room. The extreme sports park that houses it is correspondingly vast - a giant BMX and skate facility with parking for hundreds houses a couple of lonely cars, owners strapping shiny bikes back onto their roof racks. Despite the profoundly bizarre situation, this is an amazing competition standard facility, housing huge changing rooms, warm up rooms, a massive bouldering wall and a variety of routes of all grades. There is even a dedicated speed climbing wall.
272 steps to the Batu Caves.
The Batu caves. At last a taste of the natural world, real, broken rock, monkeys, mosquitoes and dirt. The climbing area is a series of small cliffs in the bush around the vast, famous Buddist and Sikh temple. The mention of a temple may bring to mind visions of a serene and spiritual environment; this proves to be a little far from the truth...
The author on 6c Sector Comic, Batu Caves.
Despite the setting disturbingly close to an 8-lane motorway, the climbing is diverting, much of it on excellent quality, well bolted rock. This situation could hardly be called scenic (although some of the crags are well sheltered by jungle) but the climbing is good, and you will soon be absorbed by moves and holds, and barely notice the sprawl of urbanity and building sites that surround the cliffs. Take the time to wander by the temple caves as well. A quick jog up the 272 steps provides a pretty good warm up for climbing, and the scale of the caves is truly amazing.
Excellent technical 6b+, Batu caves.
Batu Caves knowledge
Batu caves; jungle meets city meets crag.
KL climbing wall knowledge
The above video features the ever-topical David Lama on hopefully a bolting-free trip around Malaysia, the video happens to be in German but does give a good feel of what to expect in terms of environment and climbing situation.
Some essential things to know about KL:
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