Imagine your body, your mind and breath totally engaged and your adrenalin so high, you can think of nothing else but hanging on, fighting your fear, and plotting your next steps. Whatever bothered you 10 minutes ago is irrelevant. That’s what I went through recently as I embarked on learning how to rock climb on a trip to Thailand.
Climbers come to Railay and nearby Ton Sai all year around, some staying for months. Not surprising, since it’s one of the world’s top climbing spots. There are hundreds of routes for every level climber, the climate is ideal and the views over the Andaman Sea are truly breathaking.
Many travelers who’re not climbers decide to take lessons while they’re here. That includes me. With climbing schools on every corner, the lessons are remarkably easy to set up. There are half day and full day lessons, as well as 3-day courses. The instructors provide all the equipment, insurance and plenty of moral support.
Climbing is for all ages but being in good physical shape is key. Mental preparation is even more important. You have to remain focused and calm. You also have to learn to trust a rope. If you slip (and you inevitably will), you may bounce against the rock but not fall to the ground. You also have to let your legs do the work, not your arms. And lastly, have three points of contact with the rock at all times.
During my first lesson, my instructor, Sarut, took me to several different climbing points to test my ability. As he belayed me from below, he told me where to grip. He had climbed every route hundreds of times and knew every possible groove, every crack, every cranny. I quickly learned that the smallest hole can be hooked onto; the tiniest protrusion can be used as a step. I listened to my breath to relax. But I couldn’t stop myself from being scared, imagining falling. When I started feeling tired or too scared for comfort, I asked Sarut to lower me. He encouraged me to “step” away from the rope, to lean back into my harness, as if it were a seat. It was a peculiar feeling because I was suspended in front of the rock high above the ground. He left me there to adjust to the sensation and then slowly lowered me to the ground.
When my feet hit the ground, I was drenched, a bit shaken, but thrilled from what I had done. The adrenalin was so high I couldn’t wait to climb again. Ten climbs, at least 20 solid bruises and 2 lessons later, I was hooked (no pun intended).
Looking back at this experience, I wondered how anyone would think of climbing these rocks. But people see water and they learn to dive. They look at the sky and want to fly. They see a mountain and they want to scale it to the top.. “What do you think drives people to do something this dangerous, I asked Sarut. “Passion,” he said matter of factly. I couldn’t help but agree with him.