Name: Josh Finkelstein

Birthday: Feb 11, 1971

Occupation: About to be a law student


The Challenge

1 Climb 26 routes, no falls, in Thailand

2 At 6 different areas I've never been

3 drink 2.6 beer Changs (large, of course)

4 drink 2.6 cocktails






left: josh en route to railay, with no idea about what his vacation would entail.


Preliminary Report, by Steve Edwards

If Josh ever decides to return from Thailand, he'll probably have more pics and a story of his own but, for now, here's the tale:

I'm super psyched to be getting out of the States again. 6 countries hit during my corporate "2 weeks off per year" seems like I'm being pretty damn efficient with vacation time. My MO for the trip is light and fast and I keep gear to a minimum. One small backpack, with a rope I plan to leave in Thailand. A few draws, gri-gri, flip-flops, a couple pair of shorts shirts, and I'm off.

Including transfers and delays, I use up nearly a day of my trip getting to the modern climbing Mecca of Railay, in southern Thailand. While boarding the plane for the last leg of the journey, I see a guy stretching his fingers. A tell-tale sign signifying 'climber', I say "hello". 

above: josh on tidal wave, tonsai beach. yes, that is sand. the water is just out of the pic, which is taken from a couch, in a bar, beer in hand.
below: climbing in paradise.

Turns out that not only is he a climber, but that we know each other through birthday challenge, as he had submitted a challenge a few years prior. Small world. During our taxi ride--as our driver tries to sandbag us into paying more--we discuss the possibility of doing a challenge in Thailand. Josh had skipped out on his previous attempt due to lack of good support in Boston during the winter. But now we were in Thailand. I was there. And his birthday had just passed. This all sounded just dandy with the air conditioner blowing.

Day One: Climbing in Thailand takes some getting used to. Sure, the climbs are graded pretty soft for the most part, but it's friggin' hot, the humidity is about 100%, girls are sunbathing right next to you and waiters will serve you drinks between burns. Hmmm, not the perfect recipe for doing something requiring a lot of motivation. 

Later in the day I make some comment to our friend Mike, whom, like me, has been climbing since back in the day--the day when climbing was a decidedly fringe activity. As I sip a beer whilst enjoying the scenery I say something like,

"Remember those days when you'd be on road trip in somewhere like bumfrick Wyoming? We'd go for weeks eating out of cans, shivering, and wouldn't even see one girl. Back then, I had dreams about a place like this. And here it is."

By the end of that day, talk about long epics had ceased; motivation diluted by large plates of Phat Thai, plentiful beer Changs, and a bottle of gin Mike had procured for a little celebration in honor of something I can't even begin to recall. 

6 Days Later: I've had one rest day and it's looking as though that's all I'm going to take. I'm tired, sore, and having the time of my life. Each day is divided into a morning and evening climbing session and in between them is one long soiree. I figure I can sleep when I'm not on vacation time. Josh was hammered early on by the pace, but now he's starting to recover, looking more energetic and climbing more like the strongman he is. There's been no talk of birthday challenges since day one. Too much else to see and do than being bothered by something that might make you set an alarm, not to mention miss lunch. 

above: railay bay as seen from the thaiwand wall.
right: jungle climbing.

At some point late in the day, as we're starting to rope up for about our 10th route, Josh quietly says, "let's do it".

"Really? Cool. Tomorrow?"


We then proceed to both take multiple falls off a 6c+, completely hammered. This might mean that timing isn't perfect, given we hadn't fallen of anything this easy so far, but what the hell...

That night, we plan to meet for dinner and go over the strategy. When Josh doesn't show into my 3rd beer, I order dinner without him. 2 hours later I figure he's backed out or found a girl to divert his attention. I walk over to his place, don't hear anything, and peer through the window. He's out cold, still wearing the clothes he was climbing in that day, rope and pack right next to him on the bed. I'm tired too (tired of all the possibilities of it all?), so I turn in with no idea what we'd be doing tomorrow.

I set my alarm, just in case, and Josh is up when I get there... if just. He's still down with the plan, but needs to take a shower, change, and eat. We have a fairly leisurely breakfast and head off across the peninsula, knowing we'd need to tick the guiding crags before the classes get there or we won't have a prayer. We run into our friends Jack and Sarah, having breakfast. Jack asks what number we're on.

"Haven't started."

He laughs, "You guys don't have a chance."

right: josh tryin' to save those guns on a thin 6c slab move.

Ratings in Thailand may be light, but there aren't many easy routes. In total, there are maybe 5 routes graded a 5, which is about 5.9. It's all up from there. We're going to have to climb over 20 routes between 5.10 and 5.11b, all on sight since we also have to go to 6 crags we haven't been to yet, which was was not easy in itself. There are only about 15 or 20 crags total, and we'd been to a lot of em. Thankfully, we hadn't been to 1,2,3 and Muey Thai, the two 'beginner' cliffs. 

As I've been doing this sort of thing forever, I take the lead first. I know a lot of tricks so we manage to fire off routes at a blistering pace. We alternate leads and always top rope when possible. Tricky rope management often allows us to get in 2 or 3 routes in a row. 10 are down before we see another person, then the hoards arrive. In a matter of about 5 minutes, the moderate routes on both walls are completely full up. Our pace is forced to slow, which is okay since we've moved onto 5.11s. By lunch, we've got 15 in the bag. If our arms hold out we'll make it, but this is no given when every routes is overhanging

The problem during birthday challenges is not only your guns. Skin is always a huge factor. Add some humidity and sharp rock and you can whittle away calluses in a single route. Our next crag is short but very steep. On our second route, we come close to falling. The third is really run out, but it's only graded 11a so we don't want to skip it. I offer to lead it but Josh grabs the draws, saying something about it "not birthday pretty hard...". This route turns out to not only be sparsely bolted, but terrifically sandbagged. Josh clips the anchors completely maxed. I'm impressed, and barely scrape up it on toprope. 

left: we're not in wyoming anymore.

Next route a monkey tries to take a dump on my head while I'm belaying. Luckily, I'd just moved. I thought it was a coincidence til we saw the little punk movin' around above us, trying to get in range for more. Monkeys have a bad rep in this area for harassing tourist en mass and we still had a lot of work to do and didn't want to get into a pissing contest (literally) with a horde of monkeys. It was time to move on...

Next up we had to hit an "old" cliff. Bolts are a problem in Thailand. They rust and break in a few years and you have to be careful. In general, you don't climb in places that aren't carefully maintained. In this case, we had no real choice are our other options were underwater at high tide, which is was.


Whilst we had a no falling rule, these routes didn't look too easy and ended up even harder than that. I went first on what turned out to be my worst route of the day. Skin completely shredded, mind worked, and forearms blown, I barely make it to a sketchy anchor. We can tick another route via top rope, so I scope it on the way down. It's supposed to be hard but I think I find a good sequence. Josh follows my lead, agreeing the route sucks. Then I TR the next one. I make it but am maxed and coach Josh into skipping it in favor of another, supposedly easy, route I'd seen in the guide.

Our next cliff is rumored to be sharp. Sure enough, Josh starts complaining right off. The first route here looks so terrible I opt to skip it after watching Josh struggle with loose holds, dirt, and plants. This was his worst route of the day. I take the next, which is actually good, but it's like climbing on a wall of coral. By the time Josh finishes his skin is looking ridiculously thin.

Now we have one cliff and 3 routes to go. With plenty of light, we're going to make it... well maybe. Josh is gasses and his skin is tender as a babies bottom. We head off to a place called "Defile". Confident, we even grap a couple of brews.

The first moves on the "easy" climb there are very sharp. Uh-oh. After finishing, I tr an 6c next to it and find it's easy after a bouldery start. Good luck for us. Josh's skin is screwed but he manages both without a fall. One to go.

Defile Exit, technically our 7th crag, offers us super smooth rock--perfect. However, the 'easy' route is a weird super overhanging corner that requires intricate stemming, hardly what one is looking for in a 26th pitch. Josh grunts and groans but, thankfully, doesn't come off. He's done. I get to opt out of this by swapping routes with our friends Jeff and Jen, so she can climb the 'easier' route whilst I try a 7b for my 26th route of the day. Somehow, I manage to on sight it. Man, I love Thailand!

below: route #26, climbing up into a steep groove.
right: how steep? with the belay nowhere in site and arms failing, josh trying desperately to keep weight on his feet. "damn, maybe i should have indulged in a few more of those 250 bhat massages!"

Off to finish drinkn', we had a relatively mellow--yet drunken--night with Mike, local climber Wee, and a bunch of new friends from all over the world in a bar on the beach with a floor of sand, stools that are hardwood logs, and liberal pours of bombay sapphire for a buck... even better than my dream.

above: our home away from home, the andaman nature center.