By Tod Bloxham
Climbing in Thailand is like Superman climbing at Disnyland; the rock is shaped like something out of a climber's fantasy, the routes have big moves to big holds and everyone is climbing like they are invincible. It really is something of a climber's dream.
This winter Edgeworks climbers have been all over searching for places to climb while the Northwest endures a long cold winter. While some Edgeworks climbers found bliss in the cool boulders of Bishop California, others ventured further south to the warm granite of Joshua Tree. In search of an endless summer of climbing, a small crew of 6 climbers went even further around the globe and found the warm beaches and steep limestone of Southern Thailand, and they found paradise.
For our crew of 6 (Justin Johnson, Joe and Lisa Ferazza, John McGoldrick and Tod and Michelle Bloxham), traveling to Thailand for climbing of course was not like our average climbing trip; not only were we traveling for 18+ hours straight, crossing the International Date Line, and traveling through Japan and Singapore, but when we finally landed in Bangkok we then had to begin our domestic journey to Southern Thailand in search of the warm waters, beaches and the climbing that we started our trip for in the first place.
Once our last flight landed in Southern Thailand (Krabi), we still were not done; we then braved a 40 minute taxi ride (which is an adventure in its own!) to take us to the tourist town Ao Nang where we were dropped off on the beach. From Ao Nang we waded out into the water and climbed aboard a longtail boat that motored us through the maze of steep cliffs and sea-stacks to the tropical beaches of Tonsai and Railay. Both of these beaches are accessible by boat only.
By the time we reached Tonsai our minds were now completely blown away, not just from the traveling, but from the realization of where we were and how incredible a place it is. To put it mildly, it is a climbers paradise; over 75% of the people at Tonsai are there to climb and climb they do!
The rock in Southern Thailand is limestone and is part of the world's largest coral reef, stretching from China down to Papua New Guinea. Limestone is an organic rock in that it forms itself in ways you would not think is possible. The limestone in Thailand is very porous and as water soaks into it, it dissolves the rock (often times making odd shaped pockets and caves). When the water (with it's dissolved limestone) finally finds a place to drip from on the overhanging walls, the water evaporates leaving the limestone to reform in long odd shaped stalactites and ribs (aka tufa). The improbable shapes of the stalactites and tufa make for some amazing shapes of rock to climb. It really looks like someone from Disneyland went crazy with the rock.
With over 700 routes to choose from we wasted no time finding incredible climbs. Most of the climbs are a short walk from your bungalow to the beach where belaying right off the beach is the norm. The climbs are at all grades with many super classics visible from most anywhere on the main beach. Everything is bolted and range from short single pitch routes great for top-roping, to long multipitch routes that over look the blue warm waters of Railay Bay.
One of our favorite climbs of the trip was a 4+ pitch climb called Humanality that started at the bar located on the beach, climb through a cave which exited 50' above the bar overlooking the roof, climbed out of the cave up and through a series of stalactites and then up ribs of tufa. The highlight of the climb is where you realize that you will have to lean out away from the wall and catch the bottom tip of a 60' stalactite (your body is now stemming with both hands on the stalactite and both feet on the main wall); you then climb stalactite for 15' then lean out again and fall back to the main wall. The feeling of letting go of the wall to catch a massive free hanging stalactite behind you is completely unreal! After all is climbed you then have four rappels down to the ground with the last one landing you right in the bar!
Deep Water Soloing:
One of our side trips was to go Deep Water Soloing; essentially climbing unroped above deep water as high as you feel comfortable or have the ability to and then jumping or falling into the water. Southern Thailand is famous for Deep Water Soloing and it's not hard to find a guide and a boat to take you out to a few sea stacks, latch onto the wall from the boat and then begin climbing up the crazy limestone formations. Other than the pure fear of falling off the wall into water, the climbing is exhilarating, the many roofs and stalactites make for endless routes. At one point John climbed up two different stalactites and ended up 70'-80' off the water; with very little encouraging he made the jump into the water look easy. It was scary to just watch!
Our trip to Thailand was about as memorable as you can make it; we enjoyed the climbing, the friendly Thai people, the warm beaches and most of all we enjoyed the company and strong friendships of each other. What's amazing is that not very long ago none of us knew each other and in a short time we have traveled around the world as friends in search of the climber's paradise!