Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rock Climbing on Railay, Does it Get Any Better Than This?

Welcome back, as I write this, I am waiting for the boat that will take me away from Railay Beach (too soon!!) and off to Bangkok. I've had a wonderful time here, so sit back and read all about it:

As I discussed in my last blog, Railay is supposed to be one of the top climbing spots in the world (one person was saying he thinks it's #2, after one of the spots in California, forget which one...) and is an area full of everything from serious climbers to tourists here to try climbing for the first time. The schools are all over the place, with ½, 1, 2 and 3 day classes and all offering exactly the same thing. I went with Real Rock simply due to price (4500 baht verses 5000-6000) for other schools, and I was pretty happy with it. Everywhere we went we saw all the other schools, and they all know each other and get along so I'm not sure why you would pick one of the more expensive ones.

While I've done a little bit of rock climbing in the past, it's really been five years since I've done much. That was during the semester I lived in the woods in New York, the Adirondack Semester, but since then I'm struggling to recall the last time I climbed. Sure I climb trees at work, and do some mountain climbing with my dad, but actual rock climbing is very different, and I was very rusty on how it all worked so I needed a refresher and some people to climb with out here. The class was a perfect way to do that.

We started out at 9am on One Two Three wall, one of the closest ones and the area with the bulk of the easier routes. It is a bit of a zoo with so many people around (high season and all) but despite this it was all managed pretty well. It was a mixture of classes and other climbers who were just out with their own gear, and between climbs was fun to watch so many other people.

We started out doing top rope of course, and as soon as I got my hands on the rock again I was loving it. After maybe two climbs and some quick instruction (as well as watching others), I was given a rack of quick-draws and sent up a more challenging route as lead climber. What that means is that I was going up trailing the rope behind me and clipping into the bolts as I went, rather than having the rope setup above from the beginning. It's a bit more challenging and technical, and a lot of fun. This photo is just me looking down from the top of one of the routes.

Just another beautiful day in Thailand! This is Railay East, from the spot we were climbing at. After morning climbing, we would take a one hour lunch break. I thought this was funny, because when they said “includes lunch” what that meant was that they just gave back 100 baht of what you already paid and told you to go buy your own lunch, haha. That system however, is probably better than the alternative. Most times you sign up for something that includes lunch it's just some dish of low quality fried rice, so I preferred their system.

In the afternoon we went to Diamond Cave Wall, and did more climbing. This time again, it was a mixture of lead climbing and top rope, just depending on what routes we ended up doing and if the other instructors had ropes up to the anchor already. The routes we did were rated 6a and 6b, and people seemed impressed I could lead 6b climbs on my first day climbing in so many years.

After a hard days work and almost nothing but Thai food for three weeks, I decided to splurge and get a burger for dinner. I ordered beef, and while the 'meat' didn't look like any beef I'd seen before it was very good. I think I mentioned it last post, but the restaurant here at Rapala where I stayed is about the cheapest place to eat here on the beach, and the food is quite good. I ended up eating almost every meal for three or four days in a row here, haha.

Yep, just another wonderful day out here in Thailand, walking down the beach to go rock climbing! That cliff was our next climbing spot, I forget the name though... (and don't have the map with me), where we did a few routes in the morning. At one point one of our guides was leading, and took a fall. Normally this doesn't really matter, but for some reason the belay device that was supposed to stop him automatically, a Gregorry (sp?), failed to catch and he came all the way to the ground very quickly, maybe 30 feet. At the ground the weight balanced with that of the person belaying him, so he didn't fall to the ground in a heap, but he landed on his foot which seemed to hurt a fair bit. After some climbing we headed to the cave in the cliff, and entered the darkness.

The opening was very large, but quickly we began climbing up rickety bamboo ladders into the darkness.

After a few minutes, we saw light again, had gone through he whole cliff and arrived on the other side, very cool. From here we had this amazing view of Railay West and of climbers coming up the rock from below us. Here we rappelled down, which was supposed to be a 'feature' of the class or whatever, and something people pay to do on it's own. To me though, it was just a waste of time because honestly I rappel out of taller trees than this all the time, and it was just boring. The view was nice though, and for people who have never done it before I'm sure it is exciting.

After lunch we went back to One Two Three wall, and tried some more challenging routes. I had no trouble in the early afternoon, but by the end of the day my hands and forearms were so weak and tired I was useless, and called it a day.

That evening I could feel my hands and forearms were just wasted and my fingers cut up from the sharp rock. Rock climbing involves so much hand strength and little muscles you just don't use in anything else, so two days of climbing with no prior training I knew I couldn't climb the next day worth anything. This left me with a decision: take a day off from climbing, finish the class the day after and miss out on meeting Nick, Ellen and Chris in Phuket, or not finish the class, on the day we would learn about multi-pitch climbing, and just go to Phuket. I felt bad for not meeting up with my friends, but honestly the decision wasn't that hard to make, haha.

So the next day I slept in and took care of some business. Walking around the beach, I asked about prices from Railay to Bangkok, and got a ticket for 500 baht (they ranged from 5-600). That includes taking a longtail boat to Krabi Town, a van to the bus station, and then an overnight bus to Bangkok, a pretty good deal really. I also did some laundry (the tried and true plastic-bag method) and left it to dry on the deck of my bungalow.

With rest being the order of the day I went back to the beach and just lazed about as the sun was going down. I've been to a lot of different beaches on this trip now, and the beach here is very nice. Unlike some beaches, there are no people harassing you trying to sell you things, there are no rocks in the water, at low tide it is still deep enough to swim easily, and of course the views of the surrounding cliffs are amazing. I then finished the day by eating dinner, reading my book and going to bed early so I could get the most out of climbing the next day.

The next day my hands were still far from back to normal, but felt a lot better and I was ready to go. We headed back to One Two Three wall, and after an easy warmup, I lead this climb here that starts off with a good little overhang. I've always dreamed about doing some cool overhang climbing like this, and I was pumped to have a chance out here! The first few moves were pretty hard, and since I was leading and the first bolt was a ways above me, I was unprotected (no rope to catch me) but it was a blast. Also, pictures like this make me realize just how much hair I have now, haha.

And farther up the same route, where it gets a fair bit easier. Let me just say climbing on and among stalactites is pretty awesome!

After lunch we got to learn about what I was most excited to do, multi-pitch climbing. What that means, is climbing with a partner up long stretches where a rope isn't long enough to do it in one shot. So instead, the first person climbs up to where the anchor is on the cliff, clips in, and then belays their partner from above. Once both people are up the wall on the anchor, then the process is repeated and you belay your partner from on the rock face. I'd never done this, and had no idea how to set it all up so it was pretty exciting to learn and practice it. I wish we had more time, but we only did one 'multi-pitch' climb and it was really just stopping half way at another anchor, tying in, and then going on to the next anchor that could have been done in one shot in the first place. Oh well, I suppose I should have expected that, but I was expecting to get to do more...

After that, I wanted to do a few more climbs, and the guide pointed to a route and told me to do it. Of course I did, and as soon as I got down he said “Now that one, no rest!” So I went up the next one as well without stopping. I thought that would be my last climb, so I went all out, going hard and fast up the rock. Then the sent me up another, directing me up a pretty hard section where I fell once or twice, but made it. I got down, and they said “Do this one, only two minutes!” So I did a bit of a speed climb up that one, thinking it would be my last. Rather exhausted, I got back to the ground, and then they wanted me to lead one of the hardest routes on that particular wall. I had done that climb before, and found it very difficult. Now it was my third day of climbing, at the end of the day after just racing up four other routes, and I was very tired but game to try. I didn't think I'd be able to do it, and took one fall, but made it up, feeling really good. That turned out to be my last climb, and it was a wonderful way to end the course and my time climbing at Railay.

In the evening, I showered, shaved and decided to splurge for a personal pizza for dinner, after all I deserved it! It was very good, but to be honest hardly worth the price of more than two of the Thai dishes. Oh well, part of the reason is that cheese is expensive out here since they don't really eat dairy out here. Anyways, I went to the bar (The Last Bar, probably the best one on the beach along with Ya Ya) for some live music and a fire show (yah, they are everywhere, just about every night) with some of the better dancers I've seen. After one beer though, I was ready to turn in, and did just that.

And this brings me to the end of my brief time on Railay Beach. It's sad really, because it's been probably the best place I've been on this trip and I wish I had more time. I could spend a month here easily, because I think I've caught the rock climbing bug a bit. If only I'd come here straight from Phi Phi instead of going to Koh Lanta, I would have had another nine days here! Oh well, no point in looking back with regret, I have enjoyed every day of this trip immensely, and this is minor in the scheme of things. I do think I'll be buying some rock climbing gear of my own when I get home though!

Well, that brings me pretty much up to date. Next as I said is going to Bangkok to meet Brendan and his friend, and then into northern Thailand. As always, the future is bright!