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Climbing in California with Chan Yuen Li


Climbing with Chan Yuen-Li

Words by Pelorus

Chan Yuen-Li is undoubtedly an exceptionally driven individual and this much was made abundantly clear during our recent interview. She set out to do things a little differently, carving her own adventurous path in an effort to uncover truly extraordinary experiences. The result? She was single-handedly responsible for introducing two new sports to Malaysia – rock climbing and adventure racing – an incredible feat by any standards. Pelorus spoke to her about how it all began, where this passion has led her, and why she began her own sustainable-waste initiative.

How did you get into rock-climbing?

Growing up in Malaysia, I was always surrounded by this expectation of what it meant to be a girl, what box I should fit into; I was not supposed to climb trees or be adventurous. I felt like I needed to break down these social boundaries, so I decided to explore where no one had been before. One day when I returned to Malaysia, I gathered some equipment and began to climb. I remember vividly, climbing with my buddy and fire-fighters arriving to ‘save’ me! No one had seen a rock-climber there before and no one knew what it meant. As a result, I was able to define an identity for myself. I was no longer just a ‘tomboy’ but instead, I became Malaysia’s only rock-climber.

How did things progress from there?

I realised that a local lack of equipment was holding people back from experiencing rock-climbing for themselves. So I set up a business to sell climbing gear and which funded the development and bolting of new climbing routes. This meant I was able to explore regions that few even knew existed. After I had climbed all there was to climb, I considered the idea of having an indoor space to use. I built the first indoor climbing gym in the country; success came slowly but surely and my business began to flourish.

In 1999 I captained the first Malaysian team to take part in the toughest adventure race in the world, the Eco-Challenge. Adventure races are team endurance events that involve a multitude of non-motorised outdoor sports such as hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, horse riding, and climbing across a 500-mile-long course in which teams navigate using maps and compasses.  We went on to race in four world events including the world championships. Based on my racing experience I then went on to organise Asia’s first adventure race series, with events across South East Asia. My business developed around these races and the indoor climbing gym that I started, which was the first in Malaysia.


Tell us more about your green technology project.

Well, it all stemmed from my passion for the environment and nature. Landfill and methane is the fourth biggest cause of global warming and I believe it is integral that we radically change the way we look at waste.

My partner and I had the opportunity to improve and develop a revolutionary waste disposal machine that uses zero energy and turns rubbish into ash, producing zero pollutants. This machine will enable decentralisation of waste disposal, dealing with it at a community level to implement change. Most compelling of all, the waste is reduced to elemental carbon, a type of biochar that can be used for soil amendment. This has huge potential for carbon sequestration, which is what we have to do to halt climate change. I cannot think of any other work that is more important for me to invest my time and energy into.

We have to protect the wonderful natural world that surrounds us – otherwise, it might not be here for us to explore in the years to come.

What does your company do?

Nature is our greatest teacher – a place to explore potential and discover purpose. We provide extraordinary adventure experiences for schools, corporate groups, and individuals who want to embrace adventure, impress themselves, laugh at themselves, and even surprise themselves.

As the leading adventure company in Malaysia for over 20 years, we are the driving force that established Gopeng, Perak as one of the top adventure destinations in Asia. We lead by example, train our staff to the highest certification levels, and work every day as guardians and stewards of our precious natural resources in our local community and beyond.


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