|Preliminary Report, by
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
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".
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
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
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
"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.
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.
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.
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
|below: route #26, climbing up into a steep groove.
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.