Climbing Mecca

Trip Start May 08, 2006
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Trip End May 06, 2007


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Thursday, April 12, 2007

'Hat Ton Sai' - A name that will forever be synonymous with rock climbing, near-death experiences, partying, eating, and obscene amounts of chilling. All will become clear.

We were excited. "A climbing mecca" they say, "completely surrounded and contained by limestone cliffs with its own beach, its own beach-side bars, and bungalows set in the heart of the jungle". The smiles were beaming as we (finally - after much fare searching by our bus driver) arrived in Ao Nang and got into the longboat that took us to our new home. We took stock of the beautiful surroundings and then made our way into the jungle where we found 'Dream Valley Bungalows', a nice little resort with fan bungalows in beautiful settings for 300 baht each. Well originally they were 400 but Carsten told them we would stay for a week and used his German charm to slice off the extra 100 they were asking for. We walked around the corner, and were presented with a lovely little wooden house on stilts with its own balcony. I was too excited about the balcony to care what the inside was like but it turned out to be fantastic, so, first thing's first - toilet break. I wasn't sure quite what was going on. Where's the handle? I thought, and after a good minute looking for one realised that there was no water tank, there was no toilet rim, and there was no handle. What the...? And then it dawned on me. The bucket took on a new meaning. Before, you only used it to ladle the water into a smaller container but now you had pour the water down the toilet as well - a 'manual flush' if you like. Utter fascination when it actually worked. I'm sorry about all the toilet references in the recent blogs but I like to write about things that catch me off guard, and when something like going to the toilet is second nature to you then all these new ways of doing things are pretty momentous.

Anyway we got settled in, went to get some food, and checked out the climbing shops to see how much the gear was to rent. I wanted to buy some climbing shoes but all the Thais have such small feet that they had none in stock for an ogre like me. After a chilled out evening we went to bed and got up at 8am for a half-day of climbing.

All of the cliffs have set climbing routes complete with names and bolts in the wall to attach your quickdraws to. The way it works is that one person 'leads' by climbing up with the rope attached and clips it into the various bolts of the climb as he makes his way up. Once he reaches the top he uses a sling to secure himself to the anchor (the top bolt if you like), detatches the rope from himself, puts the rope through the anchor, and re-attaches the rope. Then you're left with the climber on one end with the rope going through a hoop and the belayer (the bloke who keeps him safe) on the other end. This is called a top-rope configuration.

Top-rope is about as safe as you can get, as the rope is always tight and if the climber lets go of the rock then he won't fall more than a couple of inches. When lead climbing however, if you let go of the rock you will fall to wherever you clipped in the last bolt. A lot of the time this isn't a problem because the walls overhang and you just fall into open space, but sometimes a climb might not be so well protected and you could end up smashing yourself on the rocks... Which is nearly what happened to Carsten. Different climbs have different ratings depending on their difficulty. 4 and 5 are fairly easy, then you have 6a, 6a+, 6b and so on. From climbing various routes in Hat Ton Sai I was pretty much maxed out on a 6a. Carstens been climbing a fair bit longer so he maxes out on a 6a+. The climb we decided to do (before we knew our limits) was a 6a+, and a new route not even in the guide books. Carsten had to lead because I had no training so he set off up the rock like a seasoned cat-burgular. About half-way up it was getting tough. The holds were dirty because it had hardly been climbed before and Carsten was having trouble clipping in the next bolt. I gave him some slack so he could clip it in easer and before I knew it he let off this almighty scream and fell head-over-heels in what seemed like slow-motion. I pulled the rope as tight as I could before he had used up all the slack and pretty soon I was being launched into the air off the rock I had been precariously perched on. I heard a thud above and just thought oh shit. Somehow he'd managed to come down head-first (which is extremely rare) and slapped his back on the rock about half a metre away from the rock that was jutting out below.

"Are you alright?!"
"Yeah..."
"Have you hit your head?"
"No"

Immediate relief. There was Carsten, visibly and understandably shaken, suspended upside-down from a bolt in a wall, and there was me, hanging about 3 metres from the ground and pissing myself with uncontrollable laughter. It wasn't the right thing to do. I should have been sympathetic, empathetic and very serious given the situation, but there was nothing I could do. For some reason I found the whole thing absolutely hilarious. I slowly belayed myself down to the ground and gave Carsten enough slack so he could put himself the right way up and rest on the rock for a minute, and then lowered him down.

After some rest and nicotine he started to come round again and we collared a couple of passing Germans to climb up to the top for us. If we didn't top-rope the climb then the quickdraws would be stuck up there so the dude kindly obliged but still didn't clean up the quickdraws. One of us was going to have to get them. I got about halfway up without too many problems but the crux (the hard part of a climb) was too tough. I tried and tried but my forearms just would not work any more. Carsten was going to have to do it. Fair-play to the guy, after nearly cracking his head on a rock, he still got back up and did the whole thing which in my book is worthy of the title of "Legend".

The rest of the week we did a lot of eating, chilling, and a couple of 5 climbs as well which were loads of fun. The final highlight was a birthday party for 'Dickie' who was handing out flyers since it would co-incide with the closing of his bar for the season. He owned a fanstastic Shisha bar in the jungle, and a night of socialising, dancing and drinking ensued. What a week.
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