As the rambunctious “Year of the Tiger” leaves for its silent exit, 2011 welcomes the “Year of the Rabbit”, which happens to be Szu-Ting Yi’s animal in the Chinese horoscope. The rabbit is known to be calm, gentle yet persistent and quoting one expert, “Quite fanciful, they respond to the power and beauty of nature and are always being pulled one way and the other to examine what they find.” Startlingly accurate for a woman that is forever drawn into the mountains to explore challenges and to fulfill curiosity; whether it be in traditional climbing, bouldering or the highest ascents of snow and ice-frosted peaks.
One of Szu-Ting’s latest and most exciting projects has been the start up of her guide company, Little Po Adventures. Through it, she not only finds a good reason to climb as she leads clients up the karst cliffs of Yangshuo and other parts of China, but she gains contentment through the gift of giving her clients unforgettable memories as she chaperones them through Asia, at times being their translator and leading them into new cultural and physical discoveries that stimulate all of their sensory; sight, touch, taste and sound.
It was with great pleasure that I would finally meet her, thanks to our mutual, Taiwanese, climbing sister Yiwen, when she swept through Las Vegas and we were able to set this interview up. “Little Po” shares her story:
RRRG: Please briefly tell us your background? Where are you from?
Szu-Ting: I was born in Yunlin, Taiwan (1975) and my family moved to Taipei County when I was 4 or5 and then Taipei city. I started elementary school in Taipei city so I consider myself being raised there. I moved to the States in 1998 and currently, I live in Seattle.
RRRG: How did you discover climbing?
Szu-Ting: My older brother was a member of the Alpine Club of National Taiwan University (NTU) so I heard much about his backpacking trips and occasional climbing outings in Long Dong (north coast of Taiwan) however, I had never witnessed any myself back then because my mom always wanted me to talk my brother out of these “dangerous” activities. I knew that my mom would not allow me to do the same “seemingly interesting things” like my brother but it planted the seed of trying it out when I was in college. Finally, I got to the States and I was off the leash and I started to seek ways to get outside. At that time, my goal was to become a well-rounded mountaineer and I decided to take a beginner climbing course in a local gym because I thought that I needed to know climbing to be a mountaineer. I didn’t like gym climbing too much back then because I wasn’t athletic at all until my friend took me outside to climb in the Gunks. I only followed a 2 or 3 pitch route but I made my mind that I wanted to be a trad leader (because I wanted to lead instead of following and to be a trad climber is the only way to explore alpine routes). Gradually, I fell in love with rock climbing more than mountaineering.
Here is a blog entry after I first climbed outside:
RRRG: Did you have any mentors when you first began?
Szu-Ting: A quick answer is no because I didn’t understand the sport and I didn’t know anybody. I learned how to climb in a very academic way. I guess that’s because I am used to that kind of setting. I have a hard time learning by doing or watching other people do it. I need to know why, first, and I like to learn things in a systematic way (I took a rock climbing course from NOLS and this started my trad climbing path). I do want to say that my family has influenced my character building a great deal. My mom is really persistent and I have learned to never give up due to her. My older brother had always encouraged me to make my own decisions and become independent and my father has a great sense of humor and is very personable. I look up to the good qualities of my parents and my older brother.
RRRG: What is your favorite type of climbing and why?
Szu-Ting: I started as a trad climber and it’s still my favorite because it gives me a sense of freedom. As I mentioned above, I wanted to be a well-rounded mountaineer and trad climbing is, of course, the choice. Sometimes when I look back on many decisions I have made, I realize that I want to have as much freedom and flexibility as possible and trad climbing complements that. Recently, I have been climbing more sport routes because I want to develop my strength. I would not consider myself a “strong” athlete. One thing I love with climbing is that even though I am not a strong athlete, I can find ways to enjoy the sport. However, at this point I have some climbing goals that require me to develop my strength and sport climbing will help me accomplish this. I have never been to keen on bouldering because I am afraid of heights; also, I started climbing after 30 and I want to minimize the chance of injury. Bouldering seems to make me injury prone, so I avoid it at all costs. I used to enjoy mountaineering in the past and I attempted Denali and Aconcagua. I love the views and the sense of team work but I haven’t done much mountaineering since Aconcagua. I like to say the reason is because the approach is too long for mountaineering and I like technical stuff. But I might pick it up again so that I don’t forget the skills that I have acquired.
another blog article for your reference:
RRRG: Where is your favorite climbing area? Where have you climbed?
Szu-Ting: Many, many places all over the U.S. and China and Taiwan. In the US, that includes: Red Rocks (Nevada), City of Rocks (Idaho), The Gunks (New York), Index, North Cascades, Leavenworth (Washington), Squamish (Canada), Smith Rocks (Oregon), Moab (Utah), Joshua Tree and Yosemite (California) and Yangshuo, Dali, Fuming, Nanning (China) and Long Dong (Taiwan).
I used to enjoy Red Rocks a lot because there are so many moderate trad routes and I love trad climbing and multi-pitch routes. I miss the Gunks because the cliff has so much to offer and it was a good training ground for me (even the lower grade routes have bulges and roofs there) but now I want to climb more in Index. I think it’s the best crack climbing ever…even better than Indian Creek. Crack climbing is my favorite type of climbing.
RRRG: When you were first learning to climb, did you have any fears? And what did you do to resolve that fear?
Szu-Ting: I did and I still do. I think accumulating experience and mileage is the way to go. Once I have experienced the same kind of crisis more, the crisis is no longer a crisis anymore. I am afraid of falling still. I think overcoming fear is an on-going process. I read the book “Rock Worrier’s Way” and practiced falling in a gym and have learned to make smart decisions; to “continue on” or to “bail” can both be good depending on the situation. What’s important to me is whether I learn something from climbing, not whether I have a 5.12 under my belt (and I still don’t :p ).
RRRG: How are women that climb/mountaineer perceived in Asia (specifically in China and Taiwan since you have experience there) as opposed to the US ? Do the people look at you differently when they know you do this?
Szu-Ting: I think in both worlds (Taiwan and the States) people still consider guiding and being a “climbing instructor” not real jobs, but in the States people accept it as a normal hobby and nobody will not question me on whether I know how to climb or not. However, in Taiwan especially coming from my mom’s generation, climbing is dangerous and something out of the ordinary. My mom thinks I am not feminine because I like to lead and do all sorts of crazy, outdoor activities. She thinks I should find a 9-5 job and build a “normal” family.
In Chinese culture/society, they believe you may play when you are young but you will eventually come back to the normal path (like being a doctor, lawyer, etc) and therefore, my mom always says “you have played for so many years, now it’s time to look at your responsibilities to the society.” In America, it seems that people might consider “living your dream” romantic but it’s not the same in Taiwan, especially if you are a girl.
RRRG: Have you ever had an incident where someone told you you couldn’t climb as well because you are a female?
Szu-Ting: No. Thanks to Lynn Hill. :)
RRRG: Big points for Lynn. :) How did your nickname come about? Little Po?
Szu-Ting: When I was a freshman in high school, I got a nickname called’ Potato’ because my skin is pale and I have two dimples underneath my eyes like the eyes on a potato. However, it never got popular until one of my classmates changed it to “Xiao Po” – “xiao” means “little” in Mandarin, Chinese.
RRRG: Cute story! Please tell us about your guiding company…Lil Po Adventures (www.LittlePo.com) and how you came up with this idea?
Szu-Ting: I think I’ll give you this blog article: :)
RRRG: Do you still work full-time in the computer industry? Or freelance or part-time while you pursue your own company goals?
Szu-Ting: Not full time, but I still work some part-time consulting….it pays better.
RRRG: How does your family feel about you climbing?
Szu-Ting: My parents don’t really understand about it. My father doesn’t say much but my mom is super worried and she thinks it’s not a job that a girl should take on. The relationship between my mom and I seems to be my life-long challenge because my mom has very strong opinions on what I should do…but so do I. Therefore, we have many conflicts which is a major stress in my life.
RRRG: So sorry to hear about that. I hope that is eventually resolved in the future…. In what ways has climbing changed your life?
Szu-Ting: Many people say that climbing is like life. By climbing, I learn more and get inspired comparing climbing experience with lessons in my life. It’s like a comparative study. I believe that all disciplines share one root and by comparing all the seemingly distinct disciplines and finding the core value shared by them makes my life experience whole. I love that. It makes me feel life is very interesting.
Read more here: http://www.littlepo.com/2008/09/16/traditional-leading-and-maximum-entropy/
RRRG: What are your other hobbies/passions?
Szu-Ting: I like to write and read, cook and eat!
RRRG: What is your favorite food? :)
Szu-Ting: Chinese and sushi.
RRRG: Oh good….then I hope Naked Fish in Vegas hit the spot for you. :) What are your goals for the future in climbing?
Szu-Ting: I want to climb El Cap by the end of 2012 and hopefully do some alpine first ascents at some point.
RRRG: Awesome Szu-Ting……we wish you the best of luck and thanks for your time!
思婷：曾爬過美國的很多地方，還有台灣和中國大陸。在美國，像是Nevada的Red Rocks、Idaho的City of Rocks、New York的 Gunks、Washington的Index, North Cascades, Leavenworth、Oregon的Smith Rocks、Utah的Moab附近、California的Joshua Tree和Yosemite等。加拿大有Squamish，中國爬過陽朔、富民、南寧，台灣當然是龍洞。我對於我爬過的地方有稍作記錄，有興趣的可以參考：http://www.littlepo.com/climblog
其中，我去過Red Rocks很多次，是一個很棒的地方，有很多難度不高的多繩距路線，很適合傳統攀登的地方。我很懷念Gunks，除了那是我剛開始爬的地方，那邊的岩壁真的超有特色，是一個很棒的訓練場，就算是簡單的路線也有天花板和仰角。不過我現在住西雅圖，最喜灣的是Index，那邊的裂縫攀岩真是獨一無二，我個人覺得比Indian Creek還要棒。
思婷：當然有囉，我現在還是會害怕。我覺得多爬就是了，慢慢就會習慣了。類似的驚險鏡頭看多了，也變得不驚險了。說是這樣說，我還是不喜歡墜落。我看攀岩者和墜落的愛恨情仇是一輩子的。曾經讀過這本有名的書Rock Worrier’s Way，也在室內岩場練習墜落。我覺得最大的收穫還是體驗到，要做「聰明的決定」，繼續爬或者是撤退都是好決定，取決在是否過程中有學到東西，而不是是否完攀了5.12（5.12對我來說還是很遙遠，一笑）
RRRG: 哇，值得給Lynn Hill很大的掌聲。告訴我們你的綽號「小Po」是怎麼來的？
RRRG: 好可愛的故事。談談你的公司，LittlePo Adventures，你是怎麼有這麼想法的？
RRRG: 看來，我選擇Naked Fish是選對了。妳接下來的攀登目標有哪些？
Great video of Little Po:
History of LittlePo Adventures from LittlePo Adventures on Vimeo.
Interview by Christine Cauble, translation by Szu-Ting Yi.