Text by : Paul Stretton
Photos by : Paul Stretton & Pamela Huxley
It was with slight trepidation that I agreed to go along with Pamela
to write an article on rock climbing on Railay with Hot Rock Climbing
School. I was fully prepared to come in a purely supervisory capacity,
take photos and make encouraging noises, but it was not to be.
Oh dear. I was afraid this was going to happen. There is no way I can
live so close to the rock-climbing mecca of the world and not get roped
into having a go. I had tried it before, once, and it was not my finest
hour as I found myself frozen and trembling, stuck to a sheer cliff
face I don’t know how many meters up in the air and suddenly finding
religion. I finished that day with mixed feelings: I was glad I did
it but not convinced I would ever want to do it again, if you know what
We took a longtail boat from Ao Nang beach and were soon standing in
the Hot Rock Climbing School shop in the main ‘Flame Tree Plaza’ street
on Railay West side. Jay, who was to be our guide for the day, warmly
greeted us. He asked us about our previous climbing experiences, and
before I knew it I was stepping into my harness and trying on climbing
Pamela is a seasoned climber and was looking forward to the whole experience.
I slapped an inane grin on my face and babbled incessantly all the way
to the wall on the east side of Railay. I was put at ease a little by
the arrival of Aor an aspiring Thai journalist based in Koh Yao Noi.
She said she had never tried climbing before so at least I didn’t feel
like the new kid on the first day of school by myself.
Once at the wall, we were greeted by a dozen or so other climbers from
all over the world. I heard accents from USA, Australia, Russia, the
UK and Japan all within a few minutes of arriving, proving Railay’s
international reputation as one of the premier climbing destinations
in the world.
Jay went through the basic skills such as how to tie a non-slip knot
properly. I asked him to show me again. And again. And again… Then the
fool put his life in my hands by letting me ‘belay’ him as he climbed
the ‘nursery’ wall for beginners. The belayer stands at the bottom of
the wall with the other end of the climbing rope attached to their harness
and gives slack or tension to the rope, as the climber needs it. They
are also responsible for the climber not plummeting to the ground if
they should fall off. No pressure then. Of course, Jay is a seasoned
pro and could probably claim the wall in his sleep, so he was up and
down in no time at all. I was already starting to feel more confident.
On to the grown-up route, Jay flew up the wall to clip the rope through
the steel ring at the top and came back down. It is this end of the
rope that is attached to the climbers harness to support them if they
lose their grip or nerve - whichever comes first. Pamela was the first
of us to go, and she attacked the wall with the ease of someone with
the luxury of long legs. The Muay Thai and Yoga classes were clearly
paying off and she was like a spider up the wall to touch the ring at
the top before I barely managed to get my shoes laced up.
It was finally my turn. I took a deep breath and started up the wall.
I was using my arms too much to try and pull myself up, rather than
my legs. This had the effect of exhausting me very quickly and I even
reached the point where I could no longer lift my arms above my head.
To compound this, I also made the grave error of looking down; take
it from me, this is not a good idea. I then tried to concentrate on
just the wall in front of me and trust that the rope attached to my
waist can in fact hold my weight. I made it to the top of the first
ring without incident and leaned back as Jay lowered me down to earth,
where I arrived with jelly legs and a stupid look on my face. I had
Aor was next and she did extremely well for never having done it before.
Jay was very patient with us all and encouraged us all the way up to
the top of each route that day.
Our morning session came to a close and it was with regret that we returned
to the shop. I realized that I had actually enjoyed myself this time
and I was glad I decided to have another go at Rock Climbing. I am still
not fond of heights, but I would happily go climbing again, especially
under the expert and patient supervision of the staff at Hot Rock Climbing