The Prostitute and the Pugilist
December 14, 2006
The prostitute wore a cowboy hat. It wasn't a hat that a cowboy would ever wear, but rather one of those barely brimmed, straw woven numbers that couldn't keep the sun out of your eyes on a cloudy day. The sort of hat that might form the only clothing on a dancer at a bar in Las Vegas. In four inch heels and a sleek, low cut pink and white dress that would make Redd Foxx blush, God bless his smutty soul, she was hard not to stare at. Her two companions appeared to be from Eastern Europe, but she looked as if she would have been completely at home working at some Cowgirls Inc club in Miami. I was tempted to take a picture of her, as the contrast with the others in the airport would have made for a picture of ridiculous proportions. But people on their vacations do not like to be made fun of, so Mike and I contented ourselves with quite jokes instead. She wasn't, of course, a prostitute. She was only dressed like one. I'm sure she didn't mean to give offense to the local people, but she did nonetheless. At least she had the body to wear such clothing and not give offense to the Western eye.
Mike and I were greeted by a blast of hot, humid air as we left the airport and stood among the other tourists waiting for a lift to Ao Nang. The local taxi mafia apparently had convinced the airport to not allow general pick up, meaning that we had to buy a ticket inside the airport at a fixed price: 600 baht for the short ride. Of course, we could have walked out to the road and eventually flagged down a ride, but it didn't seem like a terribly great use of our limited time. Mike returned with the ticket and we quickly sped away from the airport toward the port town of Ao Nang. The lush, green countryside rolled by, its palm plantations broken frequently by massive limestone towers. It was for towers like these that we had come to Krabi, or more specifically to Ton Sai and Railey. In the world of sport climbing, Ton Sai and Railey are recognized as being the one of the best destinations in the world, if not the best. With warm weather, cheap living, easy access, and preternatural limestone, Ton Sai and Railey draw the best climbers in the world. And me. Whether or not I'd be able to climb much was somewhat in doubt, as the area isn't exactly geared toward beginners.
Ao Nang was a place that I wanted to spend as little time in as possible. Every sign in English. Speedos and black socks. Big bellies. Hoards of Euros on scooters. Might as well go to a Greek isle. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait for very long to escape. Our driver dropped us off at the long tail ticket stand and . for 60 baht each we got tickets on the next boat, which would leave only when full. Ton Sai was not accessible by road. Four beaches make up the area we were heading to: Ton Sai, the main climbers hangout, Railey East and West, and Phra Nang, home to glitzy resorts and a sacred Buddhist cave. Within a few minutes of arriving, the boat had enough passengers and we were off across the Andaman Sea.
The sight of the aquamarine water and the smell of the salt air completely drowned out the roar of the unmuffled motor of the long tail, for me at least. This had all the makings of Paradise, I thought. We rounded Ao Nang Tower, a prominent rock formation that had several difficult routes on it. Climbing it would have to wait for another trip, however. We could spot several climbers on it, with a long tail at the bottom waiting for them to return.
On the other side of Ao Nang Tower, Ton Sai came into view. On the far right was Ton Sai Wall, location of some of the hardest routes in Thailand and a mecca for climbers. Humanality, a five or six pitch route, ran up its left side and was so aesthetically appealing that I almost forgot that it was out of my skill range, even if just by a little bit.
It was low tide, which meant that the long tail couldn't drop us in front of the resort where we had reservations, but rather had to follow a narrow channel on the far left side of the beach, directly underneath Fire Wall, home to some of the best low level routes in the area. Indeed, perhaps the most climbed route, a French 6a (5.10a) called Groove Tube, was located there.
Mike and I were the only ones to hop out of the boat and into the mucky sand, the rest of the passengers being destined for Railey or Phra Nang. The sun was shining brightly and the reflected light off of the white sand beach quickly brought a sweat to my brow. I didn't especially care. How could anything trouble a person in a place like this? A few people were laying about on the beach. A few floated in the Andaman. A few sipped beers at beach side bars. But most the place was quite, with its temporary inhabitants out on various rock walls that got shade in the afternoon.
The Ton Sai Resort was the poshest place in Ton Sai. Mike had made reservations at the best place he could find, no longer willing to put up with mosquitoes, fans, and shared bathrooms. 2200 baht a night was a fortune in Thailand, but got us a solid bungalow with our own bathroom, air conditioning, a porch where we could lounge, and satellite TV. We could have payed much less for a thatched bungalow set somewhere in back, but both of us had incomes and paying $30 a night each was well worth it for our seven days here. Plus, the restaurant had an exceptional view of Humanality. It took us about ten minutes to re-gear and head out for Diamond Cave, where many of the easy routes were located.
Although it is possible to walk around on the beach, it is faster and shorter to take an inland route over a small pass to get to the wall. In the heat of the day, I was quickly soaked in sweat during the hike over. After getting lost a few times, we finally figured out the correct sequence of turns and found the wall. Given that there are a number of easy routes, Diamond Cave is popular with the local climbing guides. I was expecting a zoo, but it was much better than expected: It was the later portion of the afternoon and there were only a few guides and their clients. We didn't have to wait in line for anything and simply jumped on, with Mike acting as the rope gun. That he was able to speak to the guides in Thai seemed to help, as we got many friendly tips and advice on which routes were the best to climb.
We climbed several French 5s (5.7-5.9) and then hopped on a 6a called Keep the Jam, Man, which served as my introduction to Tufa wrestling and began the loss of skin on my legs. A tufa is sort of like a stalactite, but still completely attached to the wall. I moved up slowly, trying to keep my feet in good position, until I reached the tufa, nearly at the anchor. I moved into the depression next to it, then swung out onto the tufa itself, grasping it tightly with the insides of my legs. In shorts, on sharp limestone, this isn't exactly good technique, especially when you take a fall off of it. I made several more attempts, with the last one getting me above the tufa, but falling off after a deadpoint resulted in something less good than I thought it was. I came down, knees bleeding. Matt, an American, was climbing the route next to me, though having little success. It looked hard. After failing on a 6a+ next to Keep the Jam, Man, and loosing a little more skin, Mike sent the route Matt had been on, taking a bit of a fall just before the very end. A last 5 finished the day for us. We chatted with Matt and his friend, and guide, for some time before deciding that it was probably time to return home as light would soon be failing.
Rather than return via the inland route, we decided to drop down to Railey West and try to go around at low tide (of course, if we had thought about it for a while we would have realized that the tide was now coming in). While Ton Sai wasn't exactly a low key destination, it was worlds different than Railey West. The beach was populated by sun bathers, the bars by Euro families and people on their honeymoon. Nary a dreadlock to be seen. We crossed the beach, admiring the feminine form, and reached a decision. The tide was clearly coming in and we couldn't walk around. Figuring there was a trail somewhere across the forested rocks above the water, we bushwhacked up what seemed to be a trail, fighting our way through the brush and very sharp rocks. After ten minutes of not-so-pleasant hiking, Mike found a way down to the water and we waded the rest. The cuts on my knees and thighs stung for a moment in the salt water, but the warmth and gentle motion of the water quickly took over and the wade was the perfect end to the day. Almost. We emerged onto the beach at Ton Sai beneath the huge wall of Dum's Kitchen, dropped gear, and took a proper dip in the Andaman.
The sun filtered down through the clouds, illuminating the islands off the bay in a wonderfully warm yellow-pink light. Floating in the waves, buoyed by the salt, it was hard not to use words like idyllic and paradise. The serenity of the place got under my skin like some sort of awful tropical insect, permeating my whole being with a sense of well being and tranquility. My body knew that it was tired, but in my mind there was no body, no tired, nothing other than the sweet light and the promise of more days just like this one.
After washing the salt off and getting into clean clothes, we headed out into the blackness of the night in search of food and Chang, for both of us were ravenously hungry. At a beach side restaurant we flipped past the pages of tourist glop, such as enchiladas and macaroni and cheese, and found a wonderful selection Thai food. We ordered up a storm of food, polishing off plate after plate after plate of delicacies such as prawns with fresh lemongrass (edible!), while drinking down 6 liters of Chang and talking about climbing, women, and old age. Walking home was difficult to do, but we managed to pick up a couple more liters of Chang as we stumbled our way back to our bungalow in a fine display of Brownian motion. Mike went to sleep (passed out) almost immediately, but I stayed up for a while on the porch listening to the sounds of the jungle and pondering something. I couldn't figure out what I was thinking about, or even give it a name. The hot day and given way to a pleasant night and sitting on the porch, swilling more Chang, seemed like the perfect thing to be doing at that exact moment. It didn't bother me at all that I couldn't give form to the problem, or question, that I was pondering. Indeed, it didn't seem so much of a question that I was thinking over, as much as a state of mind, a state of being. But that was as far as I got before the accumulated effects of 7% beer took over.
"I'm only drinking fruit juice today."
Mike, feeling the affects of the previous night's indulgence, said over breakfast. I smiled, sympathized, but knew that when the evening came and the climbing was done, I'd have some Chang. It isn't like Chang is something to be lusted over. It isn't even any good, sort like what Budweiser would be if it was 7%. But it feels right and there isn't anything better. And one cannot be on vacation without drinking beer.
We headed out in search of 1-2-3 and Muay Thai, two adjacent climbing walls off of Railey East that had a number of easier routes on them. We took the inland route up and over the pass and down to Diamond Cave, where the climbing was in full swing, with many more guides than yesterday. We continued along to Railey West, made a left and went back overland to Railey East. The tide was out and the beach was a mess. Nothing but mud flats with a few rocks around some mangroves and stranded boats.
After getting a bit turned around, we found Muay Thai and headed up a short path to a mostly deserted section of rock. There was one other party climbing, but nothing like the hoardes that I had expected. Mike quickly led up an easy 5, though one with a dubious looking anchor at the top: Rope lashed around a stuck, dead tree. It obviously didn't prove fatal. I ticked off a 6a, the first of the trip, cleanly, and then fell off a harder 6a+. All three climbs had been done in rapid succession and I was tired already. Not so much physically, but rather mentally. The repeated problem solving and thinking about body control was wearing me out much as I used to get worn out doing mathematics research. I grumbled, but climbed another interesting 5 with a tube and the usual tufa thrown in for some skin loss. Next to us, a guide was finishing up a much harder looking route that took him off the wall and onto a stalactite, moving in ways that I didn't think possible.
I needed a rest. Mike and I dropped down to the beach and I relaxed under a cabana, drinking water heavily to replace the sweat that I had already lost this morning. Mike, being the more experienced climber, wasn't remotely tired and spent the next half hour scanning for routes close by, eventually settling on some harder 6b routes that I belayed him up, but declined to follow.
Feeling better after the rest, we moved over to 1-2-3 Wall, where the scene was a zoo. Ropes hanging everywhere, Thai guides shouting help to faltering climbers, and plenty of athletic women in bikini tops.
Mike and I found two 5s that looked interesting. The problem with the French system of rating climbs is that it just isn't fine enough. A 5 can be anything from a 5.6 to a 5.9. Easy, or hard: You don't know until you try it. However, these two looked like they would be on the hard side. Both started with classic gym boulder problems at about the V1 level. Hands on jugs high in the air. Find something for the feet underneath the lip of the rock. Go up and get some more jugs. Move feet up, repeat. However, after the boulder start, the routes turned sweet and easy, with no difficulties whatsoever. This sort of a start would become standard over the next few days. The Athletic Start, we called it.
I belayed Mike on a few harder routes, including an absolute monster called Short but Savage. It was short, indeed only about 13 meters. But it began with a V2 boulder problem, followed by some vertically oriented, weeping rock that was featured, but not juggy and certainly not restful. Mike moved up through the route to just below the anchor. And there he sat, clinging to the rock and trying to find something that he could lock off on so that he could clip into the anchor. A minute went by, a minute of muscle-battle, before he finally came off. He shook out for a few seconds, got back on the rock, and immediately clipped, bringing forth rather a lot of teasing from me. Our hunger got the better of us, for we hadn't eaten since the morning, and we went off in search of sustenance.
The tide had come in and gone out in the time we had been climbing, giving Railey East again a dumpy, depressed sort of look to it. One of the most expensive resorts in the area was located just next to the Muay Thai and 1-2-3 Walls, and I wondered if its guests thought their 50,000 baht a night rooms were worth it when they looked out their windows at such a time.
At the far end of Railey East we found a yam stand. Yam is the Thai word for salad, but it hardly carries the same meaning in Thailand as it does in the West. Yams are usually the hottest dishes you can get. The classic Som Tom, a yam made from shredded green papaya, some tomatoes, dried shrimp, peanuts, and lots of chilis, is a classic. The yam stand brought forth an excellent som tom in the Isan style, complete with mashed up freshwater crab for flavor. A huge yam talai, mixed sea food salad, was culinary perfection with large prawns, bits of sea crab, squid, and some sort of whitefish, mixed in with bits of vegetables, including mass amounts of incendiary Thai bird peppers (phrik kii nu, which translates to something moderately obscene in English). If salads in the west were like this, there wouldn't be any problem getting people to eat more vegetables. Sated, we made our way back across the pass and down to Ton Sai, where Mike rested and I set out for the Andaman and a little dip in the warm sea.
As I floated easily in the highly buoyant water, I did little other than contemplate the change in the lighting. Because of geography, there woudl be no direct sunset at Ton Sai. There would be no garish light show. But there would be a subtle, sideways display of nature at the end of the day.
Rather than the pink-orange-red progression of a sunset in full view, Ton Sai would get a yellow-gold change, with the water picking up a Midas aspect. It wasn't like dating a prom queen. Instead, it was going out with her refined sister.
I floated for twenty minutes, paddling only occasionally, until the lure of watching some good climbers on world class routes took command. The large number of pretty gawkers in bikinis held some sway over my decision to leave the warm sea for the equally warm beach.
I walked over to Ton Sai Wall where a woman was leading a steeply overhung route. She was on the easy section, it appeared, with the harder stuff to come. I might have made it off the ground, whereas she was cruising, for now at least.
She was powerful, of that there was no question. It was easy to see the striations in her forearms as she locked off on small hold. The muscles in her legs could be seen, at least through my lens, to flex and unflex as she moved off of one hold and onto another.
The power in her back and stomach was simply absurb. If I had a larger lens, I imagined that I would have seen rippling strength in elbow or finger or some such place where one would not expect to find power.
She moved onto the nearly horizontal section of the route, and slowed down significantly. Now was the time to exercise her mind as well as her body. Her footwork became more complicated as she sought for ways to keep her whole body on the roof, and to find ways to use her legs enough to give her arms and shoulders a rest.
After being stuck in on a single move for a minute, she figured it out and, without coming off, swinging, or in any other way looking anything but graceful, she pulled through and move to the edge of the roof. Two moves separated her from the anchor. Onto the lip and over it. I had been watching this display of athleticism for nearly 10 minuntes. 10 minutes on a route barely 15 meters tall. I would have been done after 30 seconds, but she battled on. She made the lip, body shaking, and then fell off, almost within grasping distance of the anchor. She hung for a minute, then was lowered down. It was a flash or nothing for her.
Another climber, presumably from the Hong Kong Sport Climbing Team, judging from the bags sitting around the belayer, was giving a run to another stupidly overhung route. He, however, was a bit less patient than the woman I had just watched.
He moved quickly to the start of the heavily overhung section, feet frequently leaving the wall only to be pulled back on by massive core strength. The third or forth time it happened, his arms gave out and down he came.
The routes on Ton Sai Wall are, for the most part, short and massively overhung, some with genuine roofs. Dum's Kitchen on the other hand sported long, slightly overhanging, and, by my eye, much more difficult routes. The wall was named after a local Thai guy (Dum) who cooked up food underneath a sheltering ledge. Nothing here looked even remotely easy, though I was told there was a polished 6a+ floating about.
A Thai climber was on a 6c (5.10d-11a), working methodically up a flake on the wall, his line obvious from the massive chalk marks. He'd fall occasionally, then get back on and work his way back up. Fall, back up. He wasn't giving up. When he finally mastered the end of the flake, he encountered, as it seemed, the crux of the route.
Unable to statically move to the last hold and get to the anchor, he repeatedly tried to deadpoint to a sloper, slapping it, then slowly sliding off and falling several meters past his last bolt. He tried and tried and tried some more, but each time the result was the same. Slap, slide, fall. I wondered how many times he'd try it, but moved off to watch another climber when I saw him take a huge fall.
I had seen the fall out of the corner of my eye. A body coming far down, accelerating under gravity, until the rope began to stretch and slow his downward progress. He was high on a route that looked not only blank, but also was mildly overhanging the entire way. A long route, perhaps 35 meters, he was a long way off the deck and presumably running out of juice.
After a fall he would shake out for a while, then re-climb with the boost from rope stretch to his previous high point. A bit more work, then a fall. Repeat.
My belly told me that it was probably time for dinner, so I returned to the bungalow to find Mike studying the guidebook for tomorrow's climbing. I could feel my climbing improving and we decided to tackle the Groove Tube early in the morning before any one was on it. If we were to try the most popular climb in Ton Sai, it would have to be early before the sun struck the wall. Plans were solidified at a beachside restaurant that was grilling up massive amounts of seafood. Thick barracuda steaks, huge prawns, and delightfully tender squid came to us, along with our favored dish of kung plaa. Made in a ceviche style, it had large amount of yet more prawns with fresh lemon grass. Unlike the lemon grass that I had had in the West, dry, tough, fibrous, the fresh stuff was completely edible. Mike kept to his promise of drinking only fruit juice, but I put away a liter of Chang and then another liter back at the bungalow.
I was getting better on the limestone, with the improvement coming not from power but rather from foot work, technique, and some confidence. I could do that move. I can do this one. Now, just do it. Sport climbing is an interesting activity, I mused. You need physical strength, body control and balance, problem solving ability, and the confidence to carry out what you think is correct. Problems on the wall are not simply physical ones, nor are they purely mental. Rather, they blend the physical and the mental in a way that most sports do not. I liked it.
There is something morally objectionable about waking up with the sun when you're on holiday. It wasn't that I was hung over or especially sleeping. It wasn't a tiredness issue. On vacation one isn't supposed to have a schedule. I grudgingly pulled myself out of bed at 6 am and scratched myself. Mike and I were going to hit the Groove Tube this morning and we wanted neither crowds nor the sun blazing on us. That meant an early morning start, something I didn't especially want to do even if I recognized the necessity of it.
We walked the beach to the far end of Ton Sai and poked about in the ruins of a former bungalow operation for a while looking for the access trail up to Fire Wall, which loomed overhead. We were headed up the wrong trail when two local Thai called to us and pointed us in the right direction. A little rope assisted scrambling got us right to the base of the famous climb. It is a rarity in climbing when the name of a route has anything even remotely to do with it. Names like Royale with Cheese or Berger Went Home don't convey that one route will have a lot of low traversing on jugs, as opposed to a small pocket - footwork climb. The Groove Tube was, well, a tube, looked at from a surfing standpoint. However, the first ten feet was a standard Ton Sai V1 boulder problem: Hands high on jugs coming off the overhang, find feet underneath, move in balance.
Once off the deck, the rest of the climb was pure honey. The tube was so covered in features that stemming up it was almost difficult: Too many options made for indecision! As I made slow progress up the tube, moving from one side of the tube to the other to move, then back into the middle, it was very clear why this particular climb was so popular. It was athletically pleasant, never desperate, and, for its rating, rather soft (6a). After a bit of overhanging nonsense at the top, a final bonus was to be had: An incredible birds eye view of Ton Sai Bay at first light. The anchor was at a genuine ledge and I hung out on top for several minutes pleased with myself and watching the warm water of the Andaman turn from steel blue toward its normal hue of aquamarine. Although I didn't like getting up, the memory of the traumatic event was long gone.
The sun was reaching Fire Wall, though we could have climbed for another hour without too much difficulty. But both of us operated in the spirit of compromise: If you get up early, you can't skip breakfast. We dropped back to the beach and strolled back to the resort, where a large buffet breakfast was spread out. Apparently people do not do such extreme things as we did, as the resort staff was shocked that we had already sent a route this morning. It made me feel tough. I couldn't get off the ground on anything at Dum's Kitchen, but I could wake up at 6 am. Take what victories you can.
After stuffing our faces at the buffet, we set out for some new walls, though not passing up an opportunity for me to display bad form on an easy 5 on Diamond Cave Wall. It wasn't so much that I was especially ungraceful at that time, but just that after the excellent climbing in the morning it was a bit of a let down in comparison. When I left the ground there were only a few other climbers. Mid way up I looked down and the ground was a zoo of guides and clients. Lines were already forming. We were gone in a hurry.
We found our way down to the beach and over in the direction of the Thaiwand, but veered off to the left to visit Wee's Present Wall, which was almost completely deserted. After a warm up climb, Mike led a 6b+, far our of my range, but he encouraged me to give it a shot. After an interesting, athletic start in which I strangled a rather massive tufa, the line led up through a minor ledge system, onto a face, and then into a, gasp, crack. Such things just aren't supposed to exist on the limestone of Thailand. The novelty of laying back on a perfectly sized crack, in Thailand, was just too much. So was my exertion level. 18 meters off the deck, and 2 meters from the top, I had nothing left and came down. It was probably for the best, as the actually hard climbing was the final two meters.
By this time several more climbing groups had shown, but there was still plenty of space and a sense of peace. And then the Germans showed up. Mike led three moderate routes, but we pulled the rope after each as I didn't feel like climbing at that exact moment. We quickly bugged out and went to explore a cave system that burrowed deep into the wall. The cave system went quite far in, but we would have needed to do some rappels to get further along. I was happy with the coolness.
After a long break, during which I was able to get my head back into sorts, we headed over to the Thaiwand, location of some of the most famous multipitch climbs in Thailand, including the highly regarded Lord of the Thais, a 5 pitch, 7b (about 5.12b); unfortunately many, many grades above what I can do. We scrambled up, with the help of a fixed line, to the base of Thaiwand and were rewarded with an excellent view across the bay to Railey West, Tiger Wall, and Ton Sai. It was hard to think of a better place to escape from the cold, wet winter of the Pacific Northwest.
There were many climbers, but no guides: Everyone here was independent. And, though, crowded, there were no lines for any of the climbs. I was climbing well after my meltdown next to the Germans and cranked through two very nice 5s before setting my sites on a long 6b called Monkey Love. The rock was just perfect, with just enough of a hold everywhere you wanted one, and enough body movement and balance to keep it from being a pure jug haul. I was cruising to the top of the 25 meter route, trying not to do anything stupid, which is my usual downfall. Slowly my forearms began to swell, my hands becoming less and less sure, and, two meters from the top, off I came. I got back on the wall several times, but couldn't get up the last stretch to the anchor and had to come down, quite done with climbing for the day.
Mike had plenty left in reserve and hit a few more routes before we packed up and headed back toward Ton Sai for a late lunch and the requisite swim in the Andaman. We were in a good groove, I thought, and it was really hard to imagine any way to improve on our days. Up early for some climbing while the day was still cool and most climbers still asleep. Leisurely breakfast, then more climbing until the middle of the afternoon. Plates of som tom or laap kai or yam talay with fresh juice and a beer. Swim in the emerald sea. Mass amounts of fresh seafood a couple hours later. Russian soap operas on the satellite TV. Somewhere back at home it was nearing daybreak. I'd be asleep, getting ready to do something really fun, like work a crossword puzzle while drinking coffee and complaining about the weather to whoever would listen. Instead, I was devouring barracuda that had been alive a few hours before, grilled up perfectly and slathered with a fiery green sauce (like salsa verde, if such a thing actually tasted good). A platter piled high with grilled prawns was emptied quickly. A panang kai , so thick with coconut milk that I could have used it as sunblock, didn't last much longer. I suspected that if I stayed here long enough, Thailand would eventually lose its magic. I would notice the heat more. I would tired of being able to talk to someone only about food. I'd miss glaciers. But, right now, one of my two homes seemed much nicer than the other.
Breath. Just breath. Tough it out for another meter. I rallied and got three of my fingers into a nice, deep pocket. Feet. Put your feet somewhere, I told myself. Come on, put your feet somewhere. Anywhere. My hand was slipping. My feet were someplace where they never should have been. I could almost reach the rings on the anchor. I made a desperate grab for something, anything, and promptly fell. I was a meter from sending my first 6b (5.10c) outside. I hung 24 meters or so off the deck and looked down at Mike, who just shook his head with something of a smile on it. I made an attempt to get back on, but had nothing left.
When I got back to the ground I found that Mike had made friends with a tall, lean, muscular Australian named Derek who had gear, but no climbing partner. Mike offered to belay him while I sat and rested, happy yet a bit frustrated. Later, I was able to take some photos of a Thai guide climbing the same route.
Derek tied in and looked at the start of the route, a standard 123/Muay Thai boulder problem. Big power, a long reach, and agile feet got him smoothly through the first 4 meters and onto the narrow, inclined ledge. I remembered sweating a bucket just to do that. Derek barely noticed.
Moving surely, Derek worked his way up and off of the ledge and short section of face climbing with plenty of things to work with. Above that, I knew, was the blank section. I had taken a lot of time moving up it, search for anything to help and eventually getting up only by balance, not by power. Derek had, perhaps, better eye sight than I did as he took a look, chalked up, and cruised by it to the waiting jugs overhead.
This was where I had begun to lose strength, climbing as efficiently as I could yet not well enough. A system of pockets and underclings provided plenty of places for the hands, and there were enough places to stem that I had been able to shake out and rest for a bit. Derek needed no stinkin rest. I watched him move higher and higher until he reached the last set of pockets a meter below the anchor. I had gotten them, but couldn't get the rest of the climb. Before I knew it Derek was done and on his way down.
I was well too aware of my short comings as a climber to feel anything but happiness when he reached the bottom all smiles. By now 123/Muay Thai had reached zoo status, with loads of climbing guides, their clients, and few independent climbers like us. We moved off to the far end of the wall, which for some reason was more or less deserted. The climbs here were short, but fun, and right at about my level of comfort.
The three of us ticked off a few 6a and 6a+ routes before lines really started to form. The 6b, our first climb of the day, had taken a lot out of me. As had all the climbing during the previous days. I was tired mentally and tendons running down my arm were beginning to hurt, even through the haze of Vitamin I. There were a couple more climbs here that we wanted, but it was clear that, with the crowds, we wouldn't get them. And so we socialized. I spent some time gawking at the fit women scaling the walls, but Mike, being married, of course kept his eyes pointed in a different direction. I live in a place where the amplitude of the female population is more in line with the ideals of Reubens than my own. Unfortunately, most were with their boyfriends.
A large percentage of the climbers in Ton Sai and Railey were with local climbing guides and I had had many opportunities to see their dynamic. At first thought, it might seem like an ideal job: You get to climb all day and get paid for it. The guides were massively strong, had no body fat, moved like proverbial cats, and always had a smile and good word for everyone, even people like me who were floundering on routes that they were waiting to get on. They were very good at what they did. But upon further reflection, the job seemed like it might become a bit boring after a while. I couldn't imagine climbing any of the routes I had 50 or 60 times and still finding them fun or interesting. One guide I noticed climbed in bare feet, perhaps as a way to amuse himself. They led a route, hung the rope, then came down and gave words of encouragement to their clients. These words had become honed over time to the fewest possible, and I suspected that some of the guides had climbed the routes so many times, and watched so many clients, that they could have given the correct advice over a cell phone while sitting back at one of the beachside bars in Ton Sai. "Right foot up!" "Left foot up" "Pocket above you!" All, of course, were screamed in a high pitched, lilting Thai accent that carried up the wall, and around its base, surprisingly well. Apart from their duties as rope guns, they occasionally would winch a client up through a hard section, or give them a boost on a tough boulder start. In the photo below (a 3 campus move boulder start, about V2), the guide practically lifted the climber up by his harness to a point high enough for his feet to grab something other than air. Never a frown, never a grimace.
Derek went off to climb with one of the climbers we had been chatting with a Mike and I left for an area further down the beach called Duncan's Boot, where we thought there might not be too many climbers. And correct we were. The boot was in a sort of amphitheater away from the water and significantly cooler than the water side Muay Thai. We found a route that we thought was a 6a, called Karaoke. A short 12 meters. I was sure that I was going to school it. Mike led it and I pondered it. Looked a little pumpy, eh Mike? He grinned and said that I should try it, but to be aware of the massive swing that I would take if I fell. The route moved up, a bit left, and then way right. I wouldn't hit the rock face, but I might hit the walls on the other side of the amphitheater if I blew in the wrong place. I started up the rock, engaging in what Mike would later call pure thuggery. A thuggish start, as opposed to an athletic start. It wasn't going well. I apparently didn't have the raw, brute power to get through the completely overhanging, though nicely jugged, route and peeled off four times. I had gotten high enough to not smack into the other rocks and the wild swing was actually fun. At least for me: Mike got dragged around on the bottom side. We decided to return to Ton Sai for some lunch and then climbing at the Nest, an area we hadn't been to yet, but one that got afternoon shade and was just down the beach from our bungalow.
We made our way up and over the spit of land that separates Tonsai and Railey on an actual trail and stopped in at a beach side restaurant for a quick meal of som tom and laap gai before heading to the far end of Tonsai to climb at the Nest. Nature had other plans for us, as half way down the beach the heavens opened up and a light rain began to fall. No worries, we thought. A short stop at a bar for some fruit juice will surely do the trick. Our short stop to wait out the rain turned in to a several hour affair as a mini-monsoon swept in, dumping enough rain that the bar flooded and we called it the end. The fruit juice turned to beer when when we returned to the bungalow during a lull in the maelstrom. A filthy monkey had decided to hang out on my nice white shirt that I had left out drying on the porch. However, I mused, if this was the worst thing to happen during the day, life couldn't be very difficult.
I was tufa wrestling, and I hadn't even had breakfast yet. The tendons in my arms screamed at me. The skin on the insides on my thighs begged for a reprieve. On I went, another foot or two higher, until I peeled off. It was my fourth fall on the route, and I was spent. I wasn't getting up this route, even though I was one move from getting to a much easier stretch, a cruise to the top. Tufa wrestling isn't much fun in general, and this one was nastier than most. This one had few hand holds, and even scarcer foot holds. Those that existed required technical grace to use, and I had neither technique nor grace. I bowed to the inevitable and belayed Mike as he smoked up a few routes on the Fire Wall and taking photos of the local monkey troop.
Two playful young monkeys let their enthusiasm for play get the better of their judgement and a frolic turned into an all brawl. It raged on the porch of an abandoned bungalow until a large, stern adult came over and looked at them, sending them into nice mode quickly. I snapped a few photos until it became clear the adult was a little annoyed by our presence twenty feet off and went into a rampage of plank shaking. The natural world is so easy to read.
We ate breakfast and rested for a while before making arrangements to go on a snorkeling trips to the islands in the area tomorrow. I needed a rest day and you can't go to the tropics without going snorkeling. HD Thoreau wrote that. With the coming of the afternoon we headed to the Nest to try to get some climbing, hopefully with better results than in the morning. The Nest was located in the same area as Fire Wall, which made it a short walk. Mike led off on a difficult 6a+ which swung far around in a crazy line and had an awkward belay ledge. Rather than risk a fall, with a nice, big pendulum swing into the rock, we pulled the rope and moved over to something that looked a little more feasible, a sweet 6a called Wacky Weed.
However, there was an especially nasty boulder start problem that took me some time, much shouting (and whining), and a little skin to surmount. The tendons were hurting and I was having some difficulty even scratching myself, but after a rest on a ledge I moved upward through an easier section and onto a tufa. More wrestling and a fall. As I hung on the rope pondering, I realized I had rather more blood than normal streaming off of my knee. I made several more attempts on the route before I realized that I couldn't raise my arms up from my sides without intense pain. I did leave my initials in blood on the route and came down. I was finished. Toast. The tendons running down my upper arm were inflamed and hurting. I needed Vitamin I very badly. We left the area to return to the bungalow just when another group started up wacky weed. From a bit further back, we watched the woman lead up the route, moving well, until she came to near where my bloody initials were. And then fall repeatedly. I needed Vitamin I badly.
We ran into Derek, however, on the way back and stopped to talk for a few minutes, each an eternity in agony for my tendons. Derek had taken the day off was seeing something of the area under foot power only, a mode of transit that I highly approve of. Derek, however, called a beer a behyr, spooking Mike something awful. We quickly retreated to the bungalow where I could get some badly needed ibuprofen.
Within twenty minutes I could relax and was, if I didn't move, pain free. How people did anything athletic in the past without its aid is beyond me. With lots of time on my hands, I set out to take some photographs, intending to shoot anything other than climbers at Tonsai Wall or Dum's Kitchen. I've got enough climbing photos, I pronounced to Mike before setting out for the beach.
With the afternoon (and clouds), the sun was off of the walls and there was plenty of activity about. I ignored the climbers and headed to the water. Hmmm. Boats. Can never have enough pictures of a long tail, shot straight on the prow with a wide lens. That's a classic that never dies.
What else? Ah, a pretty, fit woman in a bikini. Another classic that you can never have too many of. Although there were climbers in the background, I considered the bikini woman to the subject of the photograph, thus not violating my rule of shooting climbers. Out of respect for her no-doubt chaste nature I shot from far back (ok, my lens wasn't long enough).
Scratching my head, and wishing for a longer lens, I tried to think of something that I hadn't taken a picture of before. Not being very creative, and having a lazy nature, I fell back into "classic" mode. Why not yet another picture of a kayaker in the distance, shot so that most of the photo is the Andaman? Oh, the technicalities of such a photo are beyond mere mortals (point camera at water, push the button), but it is a classic and, once again, you can never have too many photos of kayakers.
I was really straining to find something to take a picture of that I hadn't already when I realized that I had been taking pictures on the beach for several days now. If I wanted to shoot something new, I would probably have to go somewhere else. But I liked Tonsai and, as mentioned before, have a lazy nature. Wait! There are some kids in the water. Every one likes kids...
I gave up on my vow not to shoot climbers and went over to Tonsai wall to hunt up someone on rock. It didn't take long to find a willing subject (out of ear shot). He had just started up the interesting part of a steeply overhung route and was climbing, as most do here, well.
Most climbers at Tonsai and Railey had the same, standardized body type, and this Euro was no different: Average height, 3% body fat, tattoo on back or biceps. One might try to differentiate based on race, but everyone was so tan that this was difficult to do.
As the physical qualities of the Tonsai climber are so uniform, the only hope of differentiating them (short of asking their name), is via climbing characteristics.
Upon first glance, such an attempt at differentiation seems hopeless, as the Tonsai specimen shares a uniform characteristic as well: They are all vastly better than I am. Frustrated by my initial attempt, I dove head first into try to solve such a worthless problem, my lazy nature preventing me from working on things of value, but having no sway over me when I try to stick my head in the clouds.
If they are more skillful, stronger, leaner, and better balanced (women in addition to men), then what is left to distinguish them? After watching for a while, I decided that I might have found the key: Speed and persistence.
Some climbers powered up a sequence of moves that they had memorized from previous days, working a route until they discovered a few of its secrets. On new ground, they then promptly fell. Occasionally they would give the new spot another try before coming down to try in another hour. They laid siege to the route. Other climbers were methodical, slow, careful, and persistent.
Rather than work a single route for days (weeks?), rather than have a project, they attacked a route slowly and carefully, taking it apart piece by piece in one fell swoop. This specimen is the pugilist, as opposed to the brawler.
Equipped with massive power and endurance, the pugilist was strategic, thoughtful. At every opportunity they found a spot on the wall (or roof) where they could rest, even if it meant twisting their bodies into positions that would make a yoga instructor gape.
While resting, they looked and thought, planned a move or two ahead on the virgin (to them) terrain, scanning for places where they might again be able to rest on the rock.
With a plan, they moved up with security, never reaching hard for anything, never deadpointing. All moves were done statically and under control.
The clipping of a bolt was never desperate, never a dramatic affair. The brawler seemed to be frequently in need of clipping, with big reaches and shaking arms. The pugilist worked into a solid, strong stance and then causally clipped.
When the specimen reached a roof, another distinction could be seem: The feet were frequently at or above head level. While this might seem an awkward way to climb, it gave the pugilist plenty of leverage once they got their upper body to the lip of the roof. Then they just stood up. The brawler would reach high, instead, swing their feet off the rock, and eventually (sometimes) get back on, burning huge amounts of energy.
Moving through preposterously overhung sections, I was amazed by the pugilist's ability to take long rests through nifty foot work. Locking the legs into strange, unnatural positions allowed them to take an arm off the route and shake the swelling out of their forearms.
It had taken the pugilist that I had been watching almost 15 minutes to work up the massively overhung route to within a few moves of the top. He hadn't fallen yet and there was no twitching in sight.
Moving slowly, almost imperceptibly, he cleared the roof and moved onto the final stretch. A short sequence of moves separated him from the anchor. He spent almost five minutes on the problems at hand.
A last, nifty toe hook at the very end gave him the last bit of stability needed to reach up and clip the final bolt. Done. It was a long, but relentless, assault upon the rock. There was nothing desperate to his climb. That seemed to be the separating principle.
And as for me, it is clear where I fit in to this scheme that divides Tonsai climbers into pugilists and brawlers: I was a spectator. For, one has to be able to climb something other than beginner routes to even get in the ring here.
A morning without leaving blood on a rock wall was a good morning indeed. A warm, sunny morning on a long tail heading out to an idyllic island to go snorkeling was even better. Mike and I were joined by two Catalonians who, along with Kitty the guide and a silent pilot, made up our little group for the day. The island we stopped at had the benefit of a beach, giving the Spaniards a chance to start snorkeling with ground under their feet. The white sand beaches and clear water, and its proximity to Railey and Phra Nang meant that it was popular with the luxury crowd, but for good reason: There is hardly a more perfect locale.
We had about an hour here before we would move on, so Mike and I donned our gear and headed out through the soothing water, eventually getting far enough away from the main area, and deep enough, so that we could swim with actual fishes and see real, live things growing on the bottom. At times we swam together, other times floating apart. I paddled about and pondered moving to Thailand permanently. Becoming an expat.
I wasn't sure any more if the feeling of perfection would fade with time. No place is perfect, but Thailand seems pretty close. A beautiful culture. Spectacular class food. World class rock climbing. Amazing beaches and diving. Terrible beer. Hot and humid. Awful coffee. Lack of glaciers and alpine climbing.
Every place had its negatives, but Thailand was the first place that I'd been where the downsides didn't seem to matter terribly much. Chang and Singha are not that bad when it is truly scorching out. Air conditioning works miracles. I could import coffee from Laos. The Himalaya was a short plane ride away.
We moved from island to island, all mostly deserted, swimming with schools of fish, including large barracudas, just like the ones we had been feasting on at night in Tonsai. We finally ended up at another beach island where we ate some lunch and milled about on the beach, making incessant jokes at the porker Euro women sun bathing nude. Most outweighed me by a good seventy pounds. Like a car wreck along the side of an interstate, you're horrified to look, but can't stop.
After lunch and more swimming, we left Rubens' women and toured about for a while before spotting Kitty and the boat. Clever as he is, Mike managed to step on a small sea urchin, getting three spines in his food for his efforts.
We only had to pick up the Catalonians, who were twenty minutes overdue. On vacation, I've got little sense of time and was happy to sit in the boat doing nothing. But Kitty and the pilot had other things to do with their day and needed to get back. After forty minutes they finally showed and we were able to start back to Tonsai.
The day of leisure had done me much good. The tendons in my arms no longer hurt and I was about as relaxed as it is possible to be and not have just smoked a large bowl of opium. As the long tail blazed across the Andaman, I thought again about leaving the States for a life in Thailand. The musings of a person on vacation, no doubt, but still very real to me. I had the beginnings of an interesting life in Washington and to start again in Thailand seemed to be just a pipe dream. Perhaps it was better to have it as the Other place. The place that is always there, that I can always go to. The place that is unspoiled by my continuous presence, that is always new and different and foreign. The place that isn't my every day. The barracuda was especially good in the evening, even if the Chang was still just Chang.
The zoo was empty. The light was still pale and the air still cool at Muay Thai and 1-2-3. It was the last day for Mike and I and we had a hit list of some of the classic, moderate climbs. I had dosed on Vitamin I and was feeling strong when I left the ground for 30 meters of Massage Secrets, a 6a+ that everyone raved about but that we hadn't had the chance to climb yet. Originally it was part of a 3 pitch climb, but now most people only did the first two, run together for a good long route. I cruised through the first pitch, complete with big jugs and easy moves to reach the spot where the first belay ledge would normally be. The character of the climb changed and I had to more thoughtful, more smooth. I thought about the pugilist from yesterday. No rush, no frantic moves. Gain elevation slowly, resting whenever possible. Smaller pockets littered the route, providing plenty of hand holds and, later, foot holds. I reached the anchor feeling like I might actually have made some progress during my short time here.
On the ground I was bursting with joy, but gave Mike the usual, "Well, yeah, that was a fun climb. What's next?" routine, as if I hadn't done anything especially nice. Since we were here, and it was still empty of people, we ticked off King Cobra, a big, juggy, easy, and short route (12 meters, 5), laughing all the way as we remembered the scene between two climbers a couple of days ago. The lead climber had just reached the "crux" of the climb, a couple of meters below the anchor where she had to move her body laterally for once.
Lead: "Take! Take! Take!" (Said while standing on huge ledge, no slack in rope)
Belayer: "You want slack?" (Said while standing 8 meters below her)
Lead: "Take! Take! Take!" (She hasn't moved, still no slack)
Belayer: "Slack?" (He gives her a few feet of slack)
Lead: "(string of unprintables) No slack, you idiot!" (She still hasn't moved, except for twitching in rage)
Belayer: "You want me to take?" (Takes in rope, almost pulls her off the huge ledge)
Lead: "Slack! Slack! Slack!"
Mike and I launched into our imitation as well as we could remember when I reached the huge ledge, laughing hysterically. Of course, when someone could get hurt it isn't especially funny, but she had been safely lowered down after declining to finish the route and the only thing that was hurt was their relationship. Comedy over, we left Muay Thai, still empty of climbers.
The next target on the hit list was Mai Pen Rai, another 6a+ running for 25 meters. Translated as Thai version of Never mind, it was located next to Princess Cave, one of the most scenic formations in place high in the scale of scenic wonders. Located at the far end of Phra Nang beach, we had to cross through inland on an excellent path running along side the mega resort, passing only Thai cleaning women, and out onto one of the world's most renowned beaches. Empty, of course. For, tourists, like climbers, tend to sleep in on their vacation. We made our way to Princess Cave and then into the water for a knee deep wade around and in to the Defile, home of Mai Pen Rai and one of the very first climbs put up in the area. The Defile was a narrow slot between two rock formations, completely in the shade, but with light streaming in at the top. Mai Pen Rai led up one of the faces and in to the sun. Unlike most climbs at Ton Sai and Krabi, this one was thin at the start. Fifteen feet of balance and skill, devoid of thugishness. Above it looked more Thai like, but the first 15 feet, well, sort of spooked me.
Mike led the route without problems, leaving a few draws on the rope to keep me from swinging too much if I happened to fall off. Clever. The route began by stepping off a large boulder with 15 feet of empty space under the feet, and only small crimpers for hand holds, not much else for feet. I moved slowly and in balance, locking off before searching for a hand hold, thinking hard before moving my feet, controlling my body. I moved up and over, unclipping one of the draws before getting in to trouble: My hands were not where I wanted them to be and the holds were too small to switch. I could see a beautiful pocket just waiting for one of my fingers, but couldn't make it to it. Failing to find anything else, I tried to match my hands, my body swung as I moved, and off I came. Down the 10 feet I had gained, and then down the 15 feet from the top of the boulder, my feet lightly touching the ground. Mike was suspended several feet in the air. I forced a smile as he lowered himself down and decided to belay from the bottom instead of the boulder.
Lesson learned, I got back on the rock and nailed a strong sequence through the blank rock, cruising up right, then left, then right again, cleaning the draws and making the jug haul with relative ease. Even style. Emboldened by my success through the technical section, I forgot about the different styles of boxing and enjoyed the easy haul up the rock face and into the sun. With one move left, I became confused. I moved one foot up, decided against it and came down. The other foot somewhere else. Repeat. There were huge things everywhere, but I couldn't seem to make a decision and stick with it. I was the donkey in front of two piles of hay. I could hear Mike murmer something twenty three meters below, but couldn't make out what it was. I didn't need to. I knew it was something like, "Don't be such a moron!". My brain lapse, fortunately, ended, and I just stepped up to the top, breaking through for a huge view of Phra Nang and the Andaman. Mike held me at the top as I gawked for a few minutes, enjoying the view, before lowering me back down.
I actually felt some notion of pride in climbing Mai Pen Rai. I was proud to have done so well on the lower section and couldn't keep it concealed this time through. But we had more on our hit list and had to move on. We waded back through, now up to our waists, and out onto Phra Nang, which was seeing the first of its many sun bathers, having finally left their expensive resort for the beach. Escher World was on the other end of the beach and we found several climbing parties on it, though not where we wanted to be. In a side nook, there was a sequence of excellent looking climbs, including the fabulous As Far as Siam, a brute of a route running for 15 meters at 6a+. This wasn't going to be a balancing act, nor would it be graceful. This was going to be power and clever foot work. As if to emphasize this point, Mike almost fell only a few feet off the deck when he grabbed a hold in the wrong way. When it was my turn I put on game face and tried to forget everything except Mike's last warning: "Watch your feet. Keep them high." He smiled slightly as I left the ground. I pulled up and through the easier bottom section until I reached a crack too wide for feet, but with hand holds about. I started up through the crack, burning much arm strength but determined to fall only when I ran out of juice. I would not fall early to fall nicely. But fall I did when my feet blew out. Hanging on the rope, I could see my mistake. Without many foot holds, I was reduced to, smearing the fall with my soles of my shoes, just as Mike had done. The mistake that I had made was in moving my arms too far from my feet. With the feet and the hands close, the body forms a tight V shape and you stick to the wall, assuming you can hold on, that is. With the feet and hands far part, you get less force on your feet and off they come. It was simple physics. I climbed back up to the crack, thought about the pugilist, and started up through the crack once again.
As I pulled myself up and onto a ledge at the top where the anchor was located, I couldn't help but feel proud once again. Pride, in the end, was a negative emotion. I knew this, but felt it nonetheless. The route had almost everything: Power, technical skill, body control. And I had been able to do it. I stayed at the top, standing on the ledge that held a view of the sea, wondering why I was going to leave tomorrow. Several minutes passed before I called to Mike and he gently lowered me over the lip and back down to terra firma. Mike quickly dusted off a 6b next to our route, but I declined to climb it when he mentioned the finger crack smear at the top. I had no such skills.
By now, several of the other climbers had come over to chat and to look at the routes, as the rest of Escher World was now being pounded by the harsh sun of the tropics. It turned out that all seven of them had banded together over the last few days to climb. Two had been here for some time and clearly were much more capable than I. One was called The Kid, and seemed to have the reputation of being a strong climber. She was on loan from her parents who preferred lounging to climbing. An American in his 50s and joined as well. Two thirty something women from Texas and a German man rounded out the crew. The two Texans and the German laid siege to Mike's route. The first began the climb and reached just below the start of the finger crack before coming down.
Good natured taunts greeted her at the bottom before the German gave it a run. He would do it, it looked, as he blasted through the bottom section without issue. And then he hit the same spot the first had, floundered, but didn't fall. After spending time looking at the issue, he declined to go above his bolt and was lowered down. Next Texan. One bolt higher. First Texan. One more bolts. There were still laying siege when The Kid started on the route I had just finished. She moved well through the lower portion before reaching the crack that I had fallen off of initially.
Her legs and arms began twitching as she struggled through the crack, but was determined to give it a shot. She wasn't going to quit, even if she had to take a long fall in the process. As she started moving her hands up the crack, it was like watching a replay of my climb: Her hands were moving away from her feet and it was only a matter of seconds before the inevitable happened. Desperate for the next bolt, she reached for a quickdraw and clipped the wall. Her body shaking in exhaustion, her belayer screamed for her to grab the end of the draw. But The Kid wasn't to be deterred. She reached down for the rope and began pulling it up so that she could clip the draw dangling above her head. I began to wince knowing what was coming. She put the rope into her teeth, grabbed some more slack and began pushing the rope higher. Her body extended completely, her feet blew, and down she came. A long way, through the trees, almost decking. Her feet had been four feet above the previous bolt and she had a lot of slack in the rope when she blew. With that much line paid out, and rope stretch, she had come a long ways down and was bleeding from her knee and elbow from hitting the wall on the way down. She was otherwise ok and declined to quit, once again. The Kid was tough. Although she gave it a hero's try, she was clearly spent and took another winger, though not as bad as the first, after making the clip on the draw she had hung on the first go around. Her belayer, and the others, convinced her to rest for a while before trying it again.
By this time Mike and I had been sitting and talking with them for almost an hour and the German was beginning to get annoyed with our presence, asking us if we were going to climb today or just watch them. The three of them were still assaulting the wall and had cycled through completely again. His frustration was evident. I'd be frustrated too. We mentioned our morning activities, said our good byes, and took off for the cave. Escher World is on the backside of the Thaiwand. Like limestone the world round, the Thaiwand was hollow inside. From Escher World, a cave led up and into it, requiring a headlamp, but otherwise being great fun.
Aided by a sequence of ladders, we climbed up and through to the other side, where we could look out once again onto the Andaman, Railey West, and Tonsai. It required no technical skills to get here, but it would to get down. The Lord of the Thais, perhaps the ultimate multipitch climb in Thailand, ran up past the cave mouth and I almost drooled at the thought of one day being able to climb it. Not so much for the accomplishment (running at 7b, it was far, far beyond what I could), but for the aesthetics of it. The cave was cool and the salt air of the Andaman was blowing nicely at this elevation, providing an almost idyllic spot to hangout. But we had been hanging out for long enough at Escher World and had several hit list victims on the Thaiwand. We tossed our rope and rappelled down the other side to the base of the wall, right into a throng of climbers.
We puttered about looking for the two climbs, but found climbers on each, and a group waiting for each as well. There was no sense in sitting around and waiting, especially when there was lunch down below. We wouldn't get another shot at the Thaiwand, but I suspected that I might return here some day, some day soon. Perhaps even with enough skill and power for The Lord of the Thais. Our hit list was now empty, but there was plenty of day light left and we had not yet been to Cobra Wall. Sitting at the far end of Tonsai, we had been meaning to climb it for a while and had been rained out a few days ago. Today was our last shot and it was in the shade now. After lunch, it was finally our time.
Mike led a hard 6a+ which I declined to follow due to the rather precarious belay ledge and the huge pendulum into a tufa that I would take if I fell on it. Crashing into a rock wall is never a good thing. We moved over to a better spot where a 6a+ was located and where a party was just finishing up. With a fixed line running along the belay ledge, Mike could be securely anchored in if I took a fall. Mike led up without issue and came down, just as a group of three Euros approached and crowded around to watch me climb. "Climb extra slow," Mike advised me. Snake Whiskey ran for a long 25 meters and, except for some stupidity on my part at the start, was an absolute dream of a climb: Long, featured,sporting. Requiring none of the balance of Mai Pen Rai or the power and skill and As Far as Siam, it was simply climbing. No worries, no issues, just move your body and enjoy. I did climb extra, extra slow, even for me, and on the way down found that the Euros had already started up.
The two 6a's next to us were full, with lines, and we decided to call it a day. It was a fitting end to the best climbing day in Tonsai so far, with difficult, fun, rewarding climbs attempted and accomplished, and there was no reason to move to another area for weaker, less pleasing climbs. Or harder, more frustrating ones. The time was right.
As the late afternoon began to merge into early evening, I didn't reflect, while lounging in the Andaman, about the time I had had here. I didn't ponder over metaphysics or the structure of society or about things back at home. I didn't philosophize or analogize. I didn't attempt to discover the mysteries of the natural world or about how society should be organized. Instead, I just floated and looked out to sea. Floated in the warm, embracing Andaman. I knew that there were piles of excellent food to be had on land, and many liters of Chang, and Russian satellite TV. But I stayed a bit longer in the water, just watching the light dance on the horizon.