Five-Twelve in Five Months

photo - Mai Todo

photo – Mai Todo

24 years old, 173cm and 62kg, , Jeff Lau is a normal looking guy with hipster black frames matching a trendy mop of black hair. Outside of a jaunty hoop earring(black) he’d be hard to pick out of a lineup of Taiwanese climbers. But get him on the wall and he’s on a completely different level.

Whereas most climbers with a few months of experience are working on silver-level(v2-v4) boulder problems and wrestling with 5.10 routes, Jeff is  sprinting up yellows and reds(v4-V8) at STONE bouldering gym – routes that climbing veterans years his senior have trouble tackling.

Hailing from London, Jeff Lau started climbing regularly in the summer of 2014 and has advanced incredibly quickly. Bouldering gyms naturally breed strong kids good at pulling hard on neon holds, but Jeff is no mere prince of plastic. 5 months since he started climbing regularly, Jeff has redpointed two separate routes routes outdoors rated 5.12a — and one of those was a flash.

We sat down with Jeff recently to find out more about his accomplishments on rock and what sets him apart from other climbers.

What was your first trip climbing outside like?

I went to Long Dong for the first time about 4 months in with my friend Fabian, as well as Alix and Ryan. It was my absolute first time outside. We didn’t have much gear then besides harnesses and climbing shoes so we just followed Alix and Ryan on whatever they did. I remember I toproped some 10s and then someone suggested  ”why don’t you try this 12a, on toprope”.

I was like “what the hell, skipping a whole grade!” but it ended up being a real confidence booster, a kind of precursor. I couldn’t actually send the route since I didn’t really have any idea how to climb outdoors. I spent maybe half an hour up there but I managed to get to the top eventually, doing all the moves. It made me realize– this stuff is possible!

Tell me about your trip to Guanziling, the limestone climbing area in Southern Taiwan where you redpointed your first 12a

I was super psyched for Guanziling because it was my first serious rock trip. It was my first time leading and because of the trip to Long Dong, by the time I went to Guanziling I had that kind of confidence that 5.12 moves were possible for me.

jeff lead gzl

photo – JennyCoo Chen

First day first route I’m putting up a 5.8 and its my first ever time leading. I’m coming in there full of confidence thinking this will be a walk in the park. I get two draws up – and I cant find the holds! its a 5.8 and I cant find the holds!

I started panicking – I’m basically pumping out on this super easy route. I think I took there- it was pretty disheartening. I did end up finishing it later on. After that I tried another 5.8 which I went up pretty quickly, that felt quite easy.

Then I tried a 10b. After that I did a 10d, that was about 8 or 9 meters, going across, quite nice. And this is where I started getting my confidence.

The next route I did was an 11a, and it looked like my cup of tea, only 4-5 draws. I managed to onsight that on my first day. It was all drawed up, so I just had to clip the draws.

You did this 5.11a onsight with no beta?

Yeah, exactly. That made me feel really good.

Now Digua had already told me “You should try this route 破鏡重圓(A Broken Mirror, Joined Together), a 12a, I think you can do it. Its bouldery, Its your cup of tea.” And when someone without me prompting them tells me i think you can do this route on lead, I felt like yeah, I gotta try it then.

So it’s basically 2 boulder problems. Bottom side has a couple of reachy moves, then the crux move where you’re on this not so good sidepull and you have to get a high foot and you have a pinch, then you have to clip from this awkward position. I managed to do all the moves on top rope the first day.

When I came in the second day I didn’t care about the other routes, I just wanted to get this thing done. And the third time I tried it that day I managed to get it. Ironically it was probably my worst attempt out of all the attempts. I got to the 2nd move and I kind of forgot where some of the holds were. I didn’t want to go down, I just wanted to keep going so I just slowly managed to figure it out.

Then I got to the crux move, got the pinch, got up, and forgot to clip. Now the draw is actually way below my waist, so I have to go down and clip that draw, and from there I could also clip the draw above it. I learned afterwards that I should have just clipped the higher draw, but I had no idea at the time – it was my second day leading!

I wasted a lot of energy on that attempt, but I managed to do it, third try on lead, it was pretty encouraging.

Soon afterwards, you were able to send a 12a at Long Dong first go – a Flash

That day I didn’t have any confidence at all and originally I wasn’t even going to try it, but the people I was with were pushing me to get on it. So I said, I’m just gonna watch you guys do it, I’m gonna learn all the moves and if I feel like I want to give it a try, I’ll give it a shot.  I managed to do it on my first try, so I guess technically I flashed the route, and that gave me massive confidence.

jeff ld mai

But the thing is that day was shit. I had the worst day. It was bloody raining, and I’m with these guys, Yang Chu Hao and Fang Hsiang who climb 12b, 12d. And right off the bat they’re like “oh yeah, I want to warm up a bit ,  so I’m just gonna warm up on Ferrari, this 11c over here.”  So Chu Hao got on New Ferrari, and put up the entire route.  I was like, “alright” and i just let him do that.

Then Fang Hsiang said “I’m gonna warm up now”. And I said “What are YOU going to warm up on?” “Oh I’m just gonna warm up on my 12c project.” I was like “What. You’re just gonna warm up? On your project? What?”   And I guess for him it seemed normal. He put it up in 3 different sections — He did a bit of it, then took. So he put that up and I was like man, at that point I knew I was almost out of my depth.

So then they asked “yeah which one do you want to warm up on then?” and I said “I think I’m gonna choose the 11c, not that I’m happy about it” and he asked me ‘Do you wanna do it on top rope or lead?”. I said “I think I’m gonna do it on top rope” but he said “No, I think you should do it on lead” and I was like “Ok.”

Now at this point it starts to rain. Really lightly, but enough to shake my confidence a little bit. I tried Ferrari but I couldn’t get past the 2nd bolt. Theres a small crux at the bottom of the route. I don’t even think its the actual crux, it’s just a little bit harder there at the bottom. I was scared as shit basically and after a few tries I was like “Alright I’m coming down.” So I come back down and they do their routes.

So then I want to try something easier, this 10d – High Class Quickdraw, but Digua said ‘No, you should try this 11a.” So I’m like “Fuck. Ok.”

I was doing alright on that route(Everybody’s Welfare), and we get 7 bolts up, and you get to the crux, which is this face where there is nothing but a few pockets, and they’re kind of slippery because of the rain as well. I come to this really scary bit where I can just hold myself . I can see the bolt where i need to hang the quickdraw, but I didnt feel comfortable enough to clip. I got really scared, I even put my finger in the bolt, and Digua shouted “What the fuck are you doing! Thats  the one thing I told you NOT to do!”

So I took my hand out of the bolt really quickly, then I climbed up a little bit and then fell. I fell awkwardly where I kind of came backward and hit the back of my head. It wasn’t actually too bad. The rope took my fall first, and then I got kind of pushed back to the wall. But I did have a bit of a bump on the back of the head.

It just felt like this day was getting worse and worse. I was falling off my warmup and now I’m putting my fingers in the bolt and taking bad falls, I had no confidence then.

After that, Fang Hsiang wanted to do a trad route, so I just followed him up this 10b. Which wasn’t too bad. I was a bit scared because it was a new experience following trad and it was pretty long – a 25m route, but I finished that and I felt more warmed up, though still without much confidence.

It was at that point that I’m watching both of them, Fang Hsiang and Chu Hao, send that 12a. I really didn’t want to do it, but at the same time I kinda felt like I should give it a shot, you know.

Its kind of irrational because at this point the higher i go the more scared i get even though it should be the other way around,so it was kind of the perfect route for me in that the crux is at the bottom, and the rest of it is kind of easy. Basically I could just do the crux and then try and not be scared. With the crux near the bottom even though its less well protected I feel safer almost, and I was able to put all my strength into doing that crux.

jeff beers

Victory Beers – photo courtesy Yang Chu Hao

Do you feel more proud of that 12a or the 12a in Guanziling

Probably that one at LD, because it was longer and I really didn’t feel like I could do it you know, whereas when you’re coming in brimming full of confidence, i think its a lot easier mentally, its like you’re not overcoming as much as when you’re coming from a point where you feel like you cant do anything. When youve hit rock bottom, and then you flash the route that you though you’re never gonna do.

I was super happy like, super happy at that point.

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