Aung Khaing Myint greets me at the door with a handshake that billows out in a cloud of chalk powder. Inside, behind him, a young boy clings to the wall while his friend hollers encouragement from the padded floor below. Coach Nyi Nyi Aung stands watch, instructing the young climber on his next moves.
Climb O’Clock opened its doors in May this year in a low-key residential area of Yangon’s Thingangyun Township, and is the country’s first dedicated climbing training centre.
The climbing wall— about five metres in height — runs the length of the right side of the building, increasing in difficulty as it goes back. The back of the training centre houses the showroom, which stocks top-notch branded climbing gear such as Tendon ropes, Lowe Alpine backpacks and Butora rock climbing shoes.
Music plays on surround speakers as Nyi Nyi comes to join me in the elevated seating area, while Aung finishes the kids’ climbing session below.
“I’ve been in touch with the mountains since my childhood when my father would travel every weekend to Kyaikhtiyo,” he explains.
For as long as Nyi Nyi can remember, his father had been making weekly pilgrimages to Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda. The famous Golden Rock sits teetering 1100m above sea level, and reaching it entails a steep 11km trek to the top along a humid and slippery jungle path.
On one such trip, when he was about ten years old, Nyi Nyi decided to walk from the base of the mountain rather than taking the bus like the other pilgrims. This marked the beginning of a weekly ritual, and of a lifelong dedication to conquering mountains.
“I didn’t even know myself about hiking or mountaineering until my second year of university when I thought about joining the mountaineering club — even then I wasn’t sure!”
It was through the activities of this university club that Nyi Nyi met his italicise partner-in-climb, Aung. During the years at the university and beyond, their passion for mountaineering bloomed. They racked up experience on everything from hike trails to snowcapped mountains.
“In Myanmar, no one was into rock climbing. So we started rock climbing by watching Youtube and reading books and magazines. It was pretty much self-study,” Nyi Nyi recalls.
Nyi Nyi’s passion followed him to Dubai where he worked for four years at a bouldering gym. After moving back home to Yangon, Nyi Nyi was keen to continue honing his climbing skills but noticed a sizeable gap in the Myanmar-language media on the subject. It seemed no wonder that there were so few interested in the sport, despite the abundance and range of climbing opportunities here. He began writing articles about the theory and techniques of climbing for a Myanmar audience.
The next step in developing Myanmar’s outdoor climbing community was to open a gear shop, to cater for growing interest in the pursuit. Myanmar Outdoor Gear Supplies (MOGS) has been operating since 2014 and remains one of Yangon’s only suppliers of equipment for outdoor sports.
Moving forward to May of this year, Aung and Nyi Nyi are clearly delighted to be owners of Myanmar’s first rock climbing training centre. They say that the customers are an even mix of foreigners and locals, ranging in age from 10 to 30 years old.
Every Wednesday, the duo has been holding free training sessions to in order to help familiarise people with the basics of climbing. Nyi Nyi and Aung give their time free of charge and ask participants to pay only for gear hire. Their sessions touch on some of the theory behind climbing — but of course, for most, the practical element is the most exciting part of the class.
“I love the sport because it’s not only physically challenging—it’s also mentally involved,” says Aung. “It’s not important to reach the top — it’s about how to solve problems step by step. Practice, habit, solving problems.”
Proud as they are of the success of their climbing movement, the top of the back-right wall at Climb O’Clock is not the apex of their ambitions: the pair have their sights set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Rock climbing has just been added as one of the official sports. This is our dream. If we can’t do this one in Japan, we can do another Olympics or a SEA Games,” muses Nyi Nyi. Their vision is for Climb O’Clock to be a starting point for establishing an official climbing federation and organising a professional team to represent Myanmar abroad for the first time in history.
“Our philosophy is all about moving and empowering the climbing community.”