Hot Rock Krabi Thailand

My first climbing experience

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My first climbing experience

Hot Rock Climbing School in Railey was to make it happen: my first climb. Having pondered it for years, savored it, dreamed about, but never got around to actually doing it, there I was. In Railey. After a filling breakfast of coffee and pancake besides the white sandy beach with my assistant Mae, and a peep at the day’s newspaper courtesy of Newspaperdirect, I was excited and ready to follow Luang, his Swedish wife Saralisa and their staff for that half day introductory climbing tour.

Luang arrived in Railey at the end of the 80’s and lived for a while in a cave he reached by climbing. He subsequently started to guide the few tourists who visited the area for some good climbing, developing his profession further and founding Hot Rock Climbing with his wife in 1994. The school is in continuous expansion and is considered to be one of the most trusted in Railey.

We left the shop, located at Bobo Plaza on West Railey, after having been geared up and chosen the right size of shoes, which have to be tight so to be at one with the feet. The harness carries up to 2 tons and it has to be just tight enough not to slip down the hips; we were fitted out with one of them and started to look like proper climbers. The colorful equipment comprises of a couple of ropes, harness, chalk bag, shoes, locking carabineers and a dozen or so quick-draws. Nou informed us that all equipment has been tested; he took time to explain technical features, stressing on safety measures. His English is excellent; we had no difficulty in understanding all his instructions. He speaks slowly and anyone from any nationality with a basic knowledge of the language should do fine.

“Climbing must be fun” said Nou, “so try never to make a serious face”. 70% of his customers are first time climbers. Experienced climbers use their service too as it saves them time to get to the best routes if they do not have a comprehensive knowledge of the area. The day was cloudy and not so hot, good in a way, so we would not sweat too much, but if it rains the rock might get slippery. “In Railey there are safe routes also on rainy days”, Nou reassured us.

Nou is originally from North East Thailand; at the early age of 6 he moved to Chiang Mai, and at 16 he did his first climb with local climbers. He liked the sport so much that when he heard about the top location of Railey he moved to the area. He is now 24, and has 6 years climbing experience. He talks quite a lot and makes you feel at ease; he explained to us that Hot Rock Climbing has 7 climbing instructors; small groups is one of the characteristics of the company, a maximum of 3 customers per instructor. In ten minutes we reached the most popular climbing area called Seaview 1/2/3, a level 5 for a ½ day course considered to be one of the top ten in the world. It is ideal for first time climbers, and a crowd had already gathered there by the time we arrived. Other areas include the nearby Thai Boxing, so called for the position your body must assume in order to tackle the ascent; then there is Diamond Cave, for a 1 day course, and for the best views from the top, Taiwan Hole, included in the 3 days course. Nou informs us that there are now over 600 official routes in the Railey peninsula.

On arrival, Nou unrolled the mat and dropped the 60 meters rope on it; he started to check the whole length of it with his fingers. “Good climbers always check the rope before every climb. I used this rope 1000 times, and still, I check it. If you eat food and some bits drop on the rope, for instance, rats might start chewing it. We need to minimize the risk to the lowest level”. Around this beautiful location, we observed the ease with which other people were climbing, and felt safe.
We learnt how to use the belay plate, a device used to “slack”, or to feed rope, and to make it tight when a climber is leading, or in the jargon, “belaying”. He taught us how to secure the rope onto the harness with a double 8 knot, how to use the locking carabineers, and other useful tips on how to react once we are up there.

A fresh wind cooled our bodies; a few drops of rain wet our faces while we started to wonder what it would be like. It was time to start. Nou lead-climbed the route first, with Mae belaying; he climbed all the way to the top attaching the quick draws to the bolts screwed and cemented onto the rock and fixing the rope through the safety point, or anchor. He did so to prepare the rope for our climb, and at the same time he drew our attention on how he tried to find holes and gaps for good grips.

Mae climbed first and found it relatively easy to get grips and proceed to the top. Once the anchor is reached, Nou asked her to let go and lowered her to the ground.
Some people find this sport natural enough, especially if they do not feel scared at the first attempt. With me it was a different matter: at times I struggled to maintain the grip and to find gaps, some of the points were tricky and the tips of the fingers started to hurt.

Nou began to give me directions and advised me to keep the rope in between my hands, to use the power from my feet and not only from the fingers, and it all became easier; he knows too well where all the gaps are. The rock is flat and bare on the way up; the top is covered by trees and thick tropical vegetation. I made it to the top, and believe me, the accomplishment was rewarding. The view is just spectacular: I was resting on limestone at only 15 meters high in one of the most impressive karst formation I have ever seen, and the whole bay was under my feet. Some birds flew over my head and started to dive for fish, while I viewed boats, swimmers, and the palm trees that line the coast and dominate the horizon below. I was top rope, which means the rope was tense and secured to the bolts and hangers spaced sufficiently so one was never far from me. When I needed to take a rest I could just relax without releasing the grip; if I made a mistake and let go, I would be safe as the maximum falling distance is only 20 cm to the next double-draw.

Perhaps the hardest moment comes when it is the time to let go of the rock. You must learn to trust your equipment, and your belayer too. I knew it was safe and that I was in good hands, and still could not help but slightly worry when I saw the double 8 knot tighten under my weight. Nou made me stop at different levels to collect the quick draws. Once down, he congratulated me and collected the rope. “You must get to trust the gear”, Nou confirmed; “first timers normally feel scared, but once you learn to trust the gear, you forget fear. And do not forget that shoes must be taken off at the end of every climb, and the soles cleaned from sand at the beginning of the next”.

We attempted another 3 climbs, after which our limbs started to ache. Hot Rock Climbing policy only allows the ½ day tour to first time climbers; “some schools care more about the amount of money they can make and take first timers to full day trips, which I find unethical”, Nou stated. I must agree: a full day climb would just be too much for someone who attempts this sport for the first time. Nou told us that, as we have successfully tackled level 5 climbs we could, in future sessions, attempt level 6 and learn how to be lead climber and secure the quick draws to the bolts.
We met Nat, another instructor with Hot Rock Climbing; he is 28 years old and is from the Trang, in the south of Thailand. He moved to Railey 9 years ago, earning a living as a housekeeper. He then started as a waiter in a restaurant and during his time there he worked shifts, climbing in his free time. He did a 2 years training with Hot Rock Climbing. “First time climbers sometimes think areas like 1/2/3 are too easy for them and refuse to attempt it. It is in our policy to let first timers do only ½ day here so to assess their skills on the rock and to see if they have aptitude for climbing. If you decide to go out with us you should stick to what we say, for safety reasons. We teach only small groups so we can take more care of the customers, who get more value for their money”.

We stopped to rest and to observe the buzzing activities around us. Climbers are an easy bunch, with only a few exceptions. They share ropes, help each other to smooth operations in the busy high season when every climbing school takes customers here almost every day and at any time between 9am and 6pm. Experienced climbers head towards harder routes only a few minutes away; if you take a Hot Rock Climbing course and want to continue independently, the instructors are very helpful in giving you advice on equipment and suitable routes.

A Scandinavian child about 7 years old was having the time of his life; his parents were cheering him as he reached a 20 meters goal before being lowered by his belayer. A middle-aged couple was being directed by Hot Rock Climbing staff on how to attempt their first climb. An independent couple in their 60s tried to find a free route to approach, not an easy task in a busy day.

At around 1pm we collected the equipment, hung the shoes to the harness and made our way back to the shop. Nou told us a bit about Railey. Rai in Thai means farm, and Ley means sea. The peninsula was once home to settled farmers who planted rubber trees and the hundreds of coconut palms that today give shade to this idyllic corner of the world, protected from becoming another tourist ghetto thanks to the very quality that makes it a climber's heaven: very little horizontal space!

It had been a wonderful experience, and for this we must thank Hot Rock Climbing for their dedication and professionalism. It had been a fun, safe and exciting 4 hours, we would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for something different. We were provided with all the necessary equipment to ensure our safety and our enjoyment, and the instructors enabled us to give rock climbing a go with safety, and did their best to make this an unforgettable experience for us.
As a final note, an advice for every would-be climber. Before climbing you should follow these guidelines: - have enough sleep the night before. – have a good breakfast on the day of the climb. – do not drink too much alcohol the night prior to climbing. – wear clothes that make you feel comfortable.
Luang and Saralisa live on a sailing yacht and can also offer sailing trips to complement your climbing experience with some sea adventure. Their motto is: “come as our guest and leave as our friend”. Check their website’s guestbook, Hot Rock Climbing is registered at the Tourist Authority of Thailand, has full insurance for their customers, and can arrange accommodation in one of the few resorts of the area, with prices to suit all budgets. Their current rates are 800 baht for a ½ day introduction course, 1,500 baht for a full day adventure course and 5,000 baht for a 3 days complete course.

We parted from Luang, Saralisa and their staff and enjoyed coffee in the afternoon breeze in The New Scholar Coffee House nearby, the perfect place to rest sore muscles from climbing. The limestone rock was there, majestic, looking down on us, waiting for more people to attempt to climb it while the evening reddish rays of the setting sun began to strike it.