Published: August 9th 2009August 1st 2009
Sawadee mis amigos!
Guess what I did...more cool stuff! After the flurry of Bangkok and the onslaught of Phuket, Kristi and I were in the mood for something with a mellow nature vibe. This led us to a place called Railey in Krabi (Tonsai to be more precise). This wonderful town is known all over the world for having some very excellent rock climbing. Although not an island, it very much feels like one as it is surrounded by impassable mountains and cliffs that cannot be accessed by vehicle. This is good news as it means there are no cars or motorbikes to honk or sell you transport. The longtail boat ride into the area was immediately inspiring. Dramatic limestone crags and pinnacles exploded directly out of the water and reached towards the sky. Each of these mammoth rock formations were quite dramatic and unique. Wandering around our new home continued to impress us. The only reason people looked at us was to smile or say hello. Nobody was bothered to sell us anything. The area felt nearly abandonded. We would wander into an area of secluded jungle huts to find Zero people...not even someone to rent us a room.
This was a bit confusing as it was absolutely stunning in all directions! Rugged jungle paths dotted with authentic jungle bungaloos, white sand beachs with gentle turquoise waves, funky colorful rock climbing shops just waiting to show us the secrets of the rocks and massively laid back beach bars filled with hammocks, cushions and reggae. It was 10 times the paradise of the more touristy areas yet nobody was there to clutter it up. Score!
We budgeted 4 days in the area so we decided to sign up for a 3 day rock climbing coarse. Our research pointed to a school from a guy named Wee. He litterally wrote the book on rock climbing in Thailand. We were the only 2 people in the course so we got prime attention. We started with a tiny bit of theory and then we started scrambling up some amazing rocks. These were the same rocks that are towering over the ocean from the beach. It was fabulous to climb in such a beautiful place...it definitely beats our normal gym climbing. Overall I would say we did quite well. We clearly had some basic skills and strength from our training in LA. Awesome!
The biggest challenege of the course was our 1st attempt at Lead Climbing. Up until that point we had only done Top Rope climibing. This is where a pre-existing rope is anchored to the top of the climbing area that another person holds you with in case you fall. This has has two big benefits. 1) You never feel too scared to make a difficult movement as you can be sure that you will not be punished with falling 2) if you are struggling at a particularly difficult section, your rope helper can pull down on the rope a bit to give you some lift. Lead Climbing does not have a top rope. Instead you are equipped with an assortment of small metal clips that you must clip into metal bolts that are placed strategically on the rock. Each successful clip acts essentially like a temporary top rope from that point on the wall. If you fall, this bolt will catch you. The scary part is that if you climb higher (but not high enough to clip into the next bolt), you will fall back down to your last clipping. Yikes!
But we felt strong of mind and body
so we gave it a shot. The 1st time leading up one of these giant rock walls was quite intimidating. Suddenly each movement felt absolutely critical. A movement that was previously a comfortable shift of body weight or moderate reach now felt like an impossible challenge that I wanted to abort. But the Extra scary thing is that there is no Abort! Once you are above your last bolt, it is quite difficult to back out of a climb. Your best bet is to try to make it to the next bolt and rest. This is best done by moving swiftly and confidently up the wall so as not to waste energy grippng and sweating and fretting about your next movement. Doing this will drain your strength and make it nearly impossible to continue moving up. But moving too quickly and choosing a bad hold or a dead end route can be equally as problematic. So a balance of speed and inteligence is the best strategy. With each successive climb, we felt more confident and the terror slowly subsided. After 2 days of climbing, we felt like relative Masters of the Beginner/Intermediate Rocks of Thailand! Detecting a sliver of bravado,
our instructor jacked it up 1 notch for our last climb. He said you cannot use strength to power through this route but that it requires technique. Lemme at it! As we were roping up he told me an interesting story about a trip he took with the owner of the shop while he was doing his training. He was climbing a particularly difficult route with Wee belaying. His foot slipped and he began to fall. He fell 15 meters straight towards the rocky ground along the sheer cliff until Wee tightened the line to stop his fall. This obviously scared the shit out of him but Wee was doing this to teach a lesson. Don't panic when you fall, the ropes and the bolts will save your life. Removing this fear will enable you to climb with the confidence and speed that more difficult routes require.
I responded with "Oh....cool story...ok....I guess I will start climbing now."
Sure enough this route was siginificantly more difficult than previous climbs. Normally our instructor did not shout too many climbing tips at us but instead let us make our own decisions. This time he unleashed a flurry of quick and decisive
commands for each limb. "Left foot higher! Under-cling left hand! another under-cling right hand! Kick your right foot out....now shift your whole body!" Miraculously I was able to obey many of these commands instantly and correctly even though I was barely processing what he was saying. Eventually I got to the toughest part of the climb and did not feel capable of following his advice. "Shift your whole body right" is quite difficult to do on a flat vertical wall with what felt like no holds. I hesitated and my energy quickly started to plummet. My hands were greased with sweat. I knew I couldn't hold on much longer so I reached for a Quick Clip to connect to a bolt above my head. I needed to keep my body as close to the wall as possible to maintain the awkward muscle tension that was keeping me connected to this rock. I slowly carefully reached my hand up to clip in but I just couldn't reach it. With one last surge of energy I lunged for the bolt.....SWOOOOOOSSHHH! In what felt like an instant and an eternity, I slipped off the wall and descended head first towards the ground. The
falling seemed to continue much longer than I expected but I felt strangely calm. Just as my vision was able to make out the people below, the line tightened and my plummet quickly and safely came to an end. What a rush!! My instructor was in complete control of my fall the whole time. He smiled and made sure I was OK. I said yes and went back to climbing. A few less dramatic falls and some of my hardest climbing moves later, I made it up the rock! YAAAAHOOOOOO! It was a true feeling of triumph. After getting back on the ground, I realized his crazy falling story was not coincidental. He knew this was just at my limit of climbing and prepared me for a bonus lesson about how to handle falling. That was the moment his tip doubled. :) Our instructor was awesome. He knew each crack of every rock. He knew exactly how much to help us and when to let us struggle a bit. The course ended and we were said our goodbyes.
One last adventure before leaving our Rock Climbing mecca was to try the world famous Deep Water Soloing. We hired a
longtail boat and guide to take us out to the giant rocks further out into the ocean. The idea is that you climb these sharp monster rocks WITH NO ROPES because if you fall, the deep water below will catch you. Just getting onto the rock is a challenge as the wobbly kayak below you is smashing you into the sharp underhang that you must basically do a pull up on to get started. Once on the rock, your safety boat paddles away and you are alone with your challege. The hilarious guide just shouts barely understandable english tips about...."Higher...More higher....follow the chalk". But the courage must come and the body adjusts. The climbing was challenging and fun. One interesting element that is quite specific to this form of climbing is the fact that the higher you climb, the farther you have to fall/jump. Ideally you want to fall in control with a firm 2 foot pushaway from the rock. This will ensure that you land safely away from the wall and into the deep water. I climbed to what felt pretty damn high and turned around for my descent. As always, this provided a nice smack of fear and
loud heart gulp. Our goofy guide started singing the Bob Marley classic "Everything gonna be alright". This actually worked to calm my nerves and I took my first leap of faith. Awesome. We did a full day of this form of climbing. We had one injection of drama when I decided it would be cool to bring my waterproof camera up the wall with me. Sure enough as I did my big final plunge, the camera got loose and sank to the bottom of the ocean. CRAP!!! I quickly geared up a mask and fins and tried to freedive down to it. I had done a bit of practice with free-diving in Indonesia but was wishing I had taken the 3 day course. The course promised that in 3 days they could train me to go to 30 meters for 3 minutes on 1 breath. I had no where near that skill but I was quite satisfied to go about 10 meters to see the bottom. Unfortunatly by the time I reached the bottom I was out of air and could not spend any time looking around. I tried this several times but could not find it. The problem was
made a bit more difficult by the fact that this particular area was swarming with tiny little jellyfish. Each swoosh of my arm would litterally send 10 or 20 slimy little guys slithering across my body. Eewwww! But their sting was super super tiny so it was actually not a real problem. Eventually I gave up and we boated away to eat lunch on a nearby island. I was quite bummed about losing the camera and some pictures. After lunch we returnd to the same area and I noticed some scuba diving boats parked nearby. I swam over to one of them and asked if I could rent some gear to go find my camera. They smiled but said they did not have enough tanks. Shortly thereafter a few divers surfaced from below....and....you guessed it.....THEY FOUND THE CAMERA! Celebrations abound! Although it is a waterproof camera to around 10 meters, maybe it was sitting at 12 meters for the last 2 hours? The moment of truth came as I pressed On and took a picture....IT WORKS!!
Needless to say, Kristi and I absolutely love this place. I suspect we will be coming back as the trend for many of
the climbers we met was to return every year for at least a few weeks to indulge in this fantastic place to climb. I hope all of your lives are full of smiles. Next up, Koh Phangan and the Full Moon Party!
There are more photos below