Krabi, November 2003

I made a return trip to Krabi in the month of November with Thin Man, Joel and newbie LY. A little wiser from Fearless Leader’s experience, we took the bus from Kuala Lumpur up to Hatyai which took about 9 hours as opposed to the train ride which took about 13 hours.

My only gripes about the bus was the unreliability of the service. We weren’t sure up until the day we were leaving whether we were departing from Pudu Station or Jalan Duta. If you know anything about the traffic between those those places at the hour we were leaving, you’d realise that if you’re in the wrong station, there’s no way you’ll make it to the other station in time before the bus left.

There was a second group taking the bus departing after ours. It was supposed to leave the station half an hour after us but by the time they started moving, we had already been on the road for a couple of hours. So much for sticking to the schedule. I still can’t say which was better – the train that takes four more hours to get to Hatyai or the bus service that is about as reliable as our taxi services…

When we arrived at Hatyai, there were no vans leaving so we had to wait a while before we could get one. We took a short tour of the city which was still mostly shut at that hour and decided to make a breakfast of Bakuteh. The van took us to Krabi town where we had to take a 45 minute long boat to East Railay. This was a stupid move on our part because we were staying at Tonsai. In low tide, it is a very long walk from East Railay to Tonsai.

What we should have done was take a van to Ao Nang and a 10 minute long boat ride from Ao Nang straight to Tonsai. Since I’d only been there once before, I didn’t realise this was an option until I made my third trip out to Railay in February the following year.

By the time we got to our cabins, there wasn’t sunlight left to do much but look around for places to have dinner and chill until the rest of the crew arrived.

During the November period, the high tide is usually in the morning and low tide in the afternoon. Most of the climbing walls at Tonsai are not really accessible during high tide. We headed for dry land at Firewall on our second day and did the classic route – “The Groove Tube”. A nice and easy chimney, it’ll get anyone warmed up and in the groove.

I led two more routes in the area, both of which have no name in Wee’s climbing guide book. The 6b was poorly bolted because I found myself in a tangled web of rope by the time I got to the anchor. There is a nice little head jam halfway up that provides a no-hands rest, although it’s much better if you’re wearing a helmet. I discovered it by accident when I was studying the holds above me and heard the resounding echo of my helmet clanging against a hollow stalagtite just behind my head.

“White Hot Hernias” was quite a pumpy route, but I felt it was something I could have projected, given a few more attempts at it.

The highlight of climbing at Railay in November is the opportunity to see some really great climbers projecting routes in the 7s and 8s. We saw an American guy working the “roof” routes at Tonsai and it certainly looked like he was eating the 7s for breakfast. We saw him there again the next morning working on a project, which I think was either the 8b route without a name or “Old Chicken Makes a Good Soup”.

We joined the rest of the crew on Day 3 to climb at Escher wall. There were a couple of interesting routes in the cave and a few easy ones along the main wall. We had a mini accident when LY decked on his first attempt to lead climb. Our mistake was in allowing a newbie belayer and newbie leader to be at opposite ends of the rope. LY came out okay because he landed on BQ who didn’t look so good after the fall.

When everyone checked out okay, LY asked Thin Man the name of the route he had decked on. Thin Man hesitated, “Erm, are you sure you want to know?” Since LY was insisted, Thin Man replied, “Er, it was called ‘Short ‘n’ Easy’.” May it was better if he hadn’t asked.

Escher Wall was also my first shot ever on a 7a+. Joel lead “Don’t Grab the Krabi” and left the top rope up for the rest of us to try. Most of the route was probably about a 6b grade and the crux sequence was a few moves before the anchor. WIth loads of rope assistance from Thin Man, I finally made it up my first 7a+. It was a combined effort of my climbing and Thin Man’s pulling.

After dinner, Joel and BQ made an attempt at night climbing on “Tidal Wave” at Tonsai wall. I wondered at the wisdom of that considering it was a project route. Needless to say, neither of them made it very far that night. Eager to give it another shot, Joel woke up early the next morning but the route remained as elusive. I think Fai was the only climber in our group that completed the route before we left for home.

Day 4 saw us climbing at Dum’s Kitchen. We did a total of about three routes (Schlinger Moritz, 6a; Schlinger Max, 6b; and a third with no name, 6c) before the rain came in. We waited out the rain at the bar next to Tonsai (I think it was called The Last Bar) before tackling “Stalagasaurus”, 6a+. Last I heard, this route is no longer a 6a+ because the stalagtite that made it easy broke off while someone was climbing it.

This was probably the first day I noticed improvements in my climbing since I was last in Krabi 6 months earlier. It had taken me forever to climb “Stalagasaurus” back then, and I had also cheated by skipping the overhang at the start. This time, I did it all the way through and it felt “easy”.

On Day 5, we climbed at Thaiwand Wall. It was another exhilarating day for me. “Circus Oz” that had freaked me out so badly the first time I led it, was a breeze. I also managed to red-point “Primal Fear” which I wasn’t even able to complete the previous trip because I couldn’t make it over the ledge near the anchor. It felt strange that I was now giving beta on this route.

I also top-roped the route to the right of “Primal Fear” called “Solution 41” and nearly free-pointed it if not for the final moves at the crux just before the anchor. “Solution 41” was a route I posed on during the previous trip, pretending to climb it when I was struggling to hold myself in position just for the photo! To think I had improved so much during 6 months that I could now climb it!

On our last night there, we decided to check out the nightlife at East Railay. The place had changed dramatically in 6 months. There were new stalls and bars that weren’t there the last time I visited.

There was also a coconut tree climbing competition where you could win a free beer if you could make it up to the top. A lot of people tried the “hugging” technique but didn’t have the staying power to make it to the top. Thin Man made it up using his climbing shoes and scored himself a free beer.

Here are some photos from the trip:

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