Rockclimbing Railay, Part 1

March 6, 2010 at 11:17 am

So Mark and I traveled half way around the world to hang out on beaches and climb huge limestone cliffs in Thailand. Unfortunately, our first few climbs were a little… ahem… rocky.

Kate climbing in Thailand

During our two weeks on the peninsula, we managed to visit most of the main areas of climbing, and tick off a couple classic routes. We stuck to single pitch climbs, and only did about 2 pitches a day before deciding to move on to a pool, bar, or boat.

So, we can’t provide an impressive ticklist from our trip, but I can give a brief overview of each area we went to, and the few climbs we did.

1,2,3 Wall

This was our first stop for the trip because it was easy to find, and covered in moderates. Weeks rented a harness and shoes and we took him climbing for the first time in two years!

Weeks tying in for his first climb in two (?) years

We arrived at about 1p, and the wall was shady and quiet. Within 20 minutes though, the guided groups arrived. The wall was instantly swamped with European tourists and Thai guides, shouting instructions and encouragement to each other at the top of their lungs. If you’ve never been climbing before, this seemed like a fun, party-like environment in which to start. If you’re used to long, quiet days of trad at Vedauwoo, 1,2,3 Wall was a bit of culture shock.

Giggering for Climbing (5.9-) – Our first route in Thailand was a bit of a disappointment. Short, weird, loud, and smooth as glass, this climb has seen so much traffic that there was no friction left on it anywhere.

Make a Way (5.10c) – We found this gem had just been vacated by a couple of Americans. I should note, I’m giving ratings here in YDS, but in Thailand, it’s all French. The guidebook said this was rated 6b. The guys at the base refused to call anything by it’s YDS rating, and the resulting conversation went something like this:

Mark: “Hey guys, is this a fun 10?”
Climber: “This climb is a long 6b.”
Mark: “It doesn’t look like a 5.6.”
Climber: “No, just a 6b. Maybe 6b-.”
Mark: “6b-, what kind of grade is that? What are you talking about?”

Longer routes cover 1,2,3 Wall

Mark put up a great attempt at this long, overhanging, VERY FUN route. He flashed it to the last bolt, but a bad sequence problem left him hanging from a deep one-finger pocket, and then *pop* suddenly he lost all feeling in that finger. He rested a bit on the last bolt, and finished the route strong, even without knowing the state of his finger.

The injury ended up sticking with him. Mark still doesn’t have all of the feeling back in his right middle finger. But he’s gotten used to it, and it didn’t interfere with his climbing on the rest of the trip.

The Thaiwand

View of Railay West and Tonsai from the base of the Thaiwand

After the 1,2,3 Wall incident, we had the hike with Weeks, and the deep water solo’ing day. So, it was probably 4 or 5 days before we were back on the rocks around Railay. And our next stop was the Thaiwand wall – a huge overhanging monolith that hovers over the south end of Railay West.

Primal Scream (5.10b) – There are about 5 climbs on the lower tier of the Thaiwand that are in the 10 range (and worth climbing), and when we arrived around 11a on this morning, there were groups of climbers on all of them. At the far left end of the rock are two 10-ish climbs that two girls had hung a top-rope on, and were running laps over and over on.

Mark and I tried to make friends with the Norwegian girl who was belaying, but she really did not like the idea of us horning in her climbing plans. No, she would not relinquish the climbs any time soon. No, she did not want to let us to lead one while they were climbing on the other. No, she really didn’t want us to hang out and wait for them to get done.

This girl was not nice.

Eventually, we convinced her to let us lead the left climb while her partner worked on the right one. It was a fun route, but nothing too spectacular. They pulled their rope eventually, and Mark and I TR’d Solution 41 (5.10d R) after they left. I thought this one was more fun, but both routes were so close together as to be rather contrived. The cruxy top section of Solution 41 was great fun, pulling on shallow pockets and balancing on little limestone divots.

So, after our first week on Railay, we had climbed four routes at two areas. We had been screamed at by guides, overrun with tourists, frowned at by an unhappy Norwegian and only had one great climb to show for it. So far, Thailand was not living up to expectations.