"Not all those who wander are lost"

Tonsai

Goodbye Thai

P1010870

Hemlock:  We’ll make it.

Meier:  I don’t think so, but we shall continue with style.

-The Eiger Sanction

 

Mid April in Tonsai came and it meant two things.  First, that I had to head for the boarder again for another visa run.  Second, that it was hotter than hell in August.  No joke, I had to start wearing wrist bands because without them my chalkbag just became a puddle of sweat and on more than one occasion I witnessed I stream of sweat squeezed out of Sam’s harness when weighted.  As for the visa, it was quite a pain to deal with.  My departure and visa managed to leave a two day gap so even if I made a visa run I would have to do it all over again just to get the extra two days.  After lots of debating and thoughts of going to China or Laos I decided that it made the most sense for me to stay in Tonsai.  Booking the flight turned out to be more of a hassle than expected.  Every time I tried to book a cheap flight my bank would freeze my debit card, then to get it reactivated I had to call during business hours which was impossible to do from Tonsai.  Eventually I had my brother book my flight, and borrowed cash in time to book my 23 hour bus to Singapore where I hung out for 23 hours before flying back to Krabi.  The two days of travel and limbo were rough, but gave me just enough time to not be illegal when I left.

(Me on Orange Juice, 7b+)

As I reached the top of Banana Ship sirens wailed.  I was getting so close to sending, but fell at the last hard move.  I had no idea why this obnoxious sound had started and just wanted it to go away before my next try, I was sure it was going down.  After a minute of Thai on the loudspeaker it switched to English, telling us that there was a large earth quake off shore and a tsunami was likely.  I was lowered down the route and we headed for higher ground.  Below I could see the people running around on East Railay and moving to higher ground.  We waited.  We waited.  The other people around anxiously talked about waiting longer or trying to get back to Tonsai.  I thought about getting back on Banana Ship.  Apparently my addiction and willingness to take risks is that bad.  Even if there was a tsunami, I figured being a on route could only be good, it’s not like we were anywhere near water level anyway.  Eventually I could see Thai people meandering around in East Railay so I decided, despite the warning still in effect, that it couldn’t be that likely or imminent.  Since I couldn’t find anyone willing to belay I headed back to Tonsai.  Along the way I found herds of tourists gathered on higher areas.  It was especially amusing seeing the group that formed at the top of the jungle trail between Railay and Tonsai.  They looked like a bunch of Y2k nuts thrown onto Survivor.  I think I even spotted some canned food they brought with them.  The tsunami never came, but the next day I did send Banana Ship.

The rest of life was a whirlwind of fun times.  I learned to slackline and got into the habit of spending lots of my rest days, lunch times, and evenings slacklining at Sawadee.  I saw a barrel monkeys, at least 50 or 60 of them, run down the trail 6ft behind me while I belayed.  I swam on chemiluminescent plankton, poached pools in Railay, slacklined over the water, and danced until 6am.  I visited a cave and saw the thousands of wooden penises given as offering to Phranang (Princess Goddess) for good luck on the water (pictures below).  I watched my friends Sam, Theo, Jonas, and Nolan take the top spots in the climbing competition, stayed up until sunrise, watched many fire shows, burned my lip on a flaming shot, and hung out with Kat and Maura while they broke the pancake eating record.  Oh, and buckets.  Many buckets.  I climbed too, sending Orange Juice and Banana Ship (both 7b+) which are definitely two of the best routes I’ve ever been on.  I managed to go deep water soloing on one of my last days there and better yet, I didn’t get charged.  I even got Tyrolean Air (7c), my hardest send.  Tonsai was interesting because some people stay for a couple days, some for half the year, and other for anything in between.  It seemed like everyone I hung out with was leaving in a couple weeks, but it didn’t stop me from making some great friends.  Even now, months later, I keep in touch with many Tonsai folks and hung out with several as I traveled and climbed across the US this summer.  Whether it was someone I hung out with for months or someone I only hung out with for a day and really connected with, I had a great time with everyone and met lots of great people.  Thanks for making Tonsai amazing!


Tonsai Life

The road goes on forever and the party never ends

-Robert Earl Keen

 

I found out the great thing about my unplanned Thailand trip is that my visa on arrival only lasted 30 days.  That meant I needed to either leave or make a visa run.  My initial plan had been a month in Tonsai then some time in Laos and Chang Mai, but Tonsai was just too good.  I talked to a bunch of people and from what I could gather I just wouldn’t be able to do the same kind of climbing or find partners as easily in those places.  I decided I would at least put off the decision for another couple weeks by making a visa run.  Luckily for me I had a couple friends, Jonas and Martin, who were going to do the same.  Thankfully Jonas was in Tonsai for his eighth year and knew the ins and outs. We got up early to catch the first longtail to Ao Nang, found this tourist passed out with a pile of Chang bottles, and rented a car to drive down to the boarder.

We put down our deposit of 10000 baht (about $325) and headed off.  I’d just like to mention that $325 was considered to be able equal to the value of the car and it was a bit much if anything.  It looked like miniture version of the old, small, boxy suzuki SUVs.  We squeezed in with one person having to sit sideways behind the front seats.  We bobbed down the road bouncing all over the place on the lack of suspension.  It quickly became clear that Jonas had serious experience in Thailand; his driving was almost as crazy as the locals.  In some unknown town where nobody spoke any English Jonas managed to order us some fried rice for lunch and we continued on our way.  Countryside, small cities, bamboo huts, bulls in the back of small tucks, and even an elephant on a flat bed truck zipped past as we headed south.  Shortly before the boarder the limestone cliffs began appearing again and we slowed to rubberneck the virgin faces and talk about what looked climbable.  We weaved our way through traffic, around dogs, and made it almost to the boarder sweaty and stiff from the tiny cramped car.  Several hundred yards before the Malaysia boarder was a street market so we couldn’t drive further.  We parked and walked the last bit to the boarder, handed our passports to the officer, walked around the building to the window on the other side, picked up our passports, and back to the car.  We were legal for another 15 days.  We turned around and headed all the way back to Tonsai.

 (Onsighting Wake and Bake, 7a+)

A few days later a friend and I went to The Keep.  We did a few great climbs and realized the tide was out.  Why not go to Low Tide wall?  We thought it was perfect timing to get in a couple pitches before the time came in and it got dark.  Turns out we were wrong.  We watched the tide come in a bit, but didn’t realize how much of our trail back was being flooded until we turned the corner to head back.  Looked like we would be waist deep the entire walk back to East Railay.  We took about 12 steps then it got dark too.  The only headlamp we had was Terri’s very dim one.  To top it off, my ultra-thin flip flops were falling apart and impossible to walk with in the water.  With the tide out its usually a 15 minute jaunt back to East Railay then monkey trail (up and over a small rocky hill between Tonsai and Railay) is the only obstacle back to Tonsai.  Barefoot, in the dark, at high tide…we slogged through the sharp coral and rocks and didn’t make it back for two and a half hours.  With sliced toes and sore feet I went directly to get some food I’d been wishing I had all day.

 

(I loved this spot.  It reminds me of Jurassic Park)

(Monitor Lizard)

 


The Best Day of Climbing

Climbing is like sex, when its good its good, and when its bad… its still pretty good.

-Unknown

 

Thanks to the diagnosis of an intoxicated Korean doctor, some Spanish friends with extra cephlexin, and several days of rest I finally began getting better.  It was more than just my ability to function without pain, my checked backpack unexpectedly arrived, and I began meeting a bunch of great people.  Finally able to walk without pain up to my knee I got down to climbing.  Life became a blur of constant climbing: roll out of the bungalow, breakfast at Chicken Mamas Restaurant, climb all day, dinner at Chicken Mamas, hang out at Sawadee, sleep, and repeat.

(Exploring the lagoon)

(Notice the Thai guy in the tree.  He wore a climbing harness to solo up the 50ft tree, then just uses his rope to lower the coconuts before soloing back down the tree)

(Chicken Mamas!)

Within a couple weeks I even started sending.  It was a great feeling and really one that was new to me.  To line up projects and actually begin knocking them off was something that I had never really done before.  Then, on it happened…The best climbing day of my life.

Previously the best climbing day of my life was one of my last days in Smith Rock when I finally sent Heinous Cling (5.12a), which was my first 12 in the US, after working it for a while then went and crushed Panic Attack (5.12a) on my first real attempt (not quite an onsight since I tried it a couple weeks earlier on TR at the end of the day), and to top it off the hot water in the showers finally got turned back on.  It was a great day.

March 23rd though, was something else all together.  In the morning I sent Tiger Queen (7b/5.12b)  which I had been working on for a while, then we headed over to Cat wall in the afternoon where I sent Kitty Porn (7b+/5.12c) my first ever 12c, then gave April Fools (7b/5.12b) a try and sent it too.  My first ever 12c, and two 12b’s (only had done one or two before too) in one day!  All of a sudden I felt like I didn’t know why I had ever NOT been climbing 5.12, it wasn’t all that bad after all.

Oh yeah, and I cut my hair into a mohawk…

 


Return to Writing

It is fatal to know too much at the outcome: boredom comes as quickly to the traveler who knows his route as the novelist who is over certain of his plot.

– Paul Thoreau

 

It’s been quite a while since I’ve bothered updating the old blog.  I would like to say it’s because I’ve been so busy living life and having wondrous adventures, but that’s not completely true.  This year has been a whirlwind, but I also neglected it between trips too.  No more neglect.

Winter was a trying time for me.  I spent December making snow at Sunday River in western Maine.  Thankfully it was only one month.  I had no friends around, worked a horrible schedule, broke my body, barely got to make any turns, and got paid peanuts.  Thinking about it since then, I’ve come to realize it was probably the worst month of my life and a definite black mark on the last year and a half of pure awesomeness.  I want to especially thank my brother Ian for helping me get out of such a detrimental situation that I was too stubbornly optimistic to walk away from.

The unseasonably warm weather in Maine continued for January and February.  I bided my time, collected the insurance money from my stolen stuff, and spent as much time as I could outside bouldering.  Once I had replaced the necessities of life (rope, draws, climbing shoes, harness,  and belay device) I began looking into the future.  I considered lots of places but settled on Thailand.  The season was right and the flight was cheaper than going to New Zealand.

Thailand had a rocky start.  Actually it was rocky before I even got out of Maine.  First my bus from Waterville to NYC was a no-show.  After an hour talking and arguing with various people from the number on my purchased ticket they just said there’s no bus and denied that you could even buy the ticket online.  My mom drove me all the way down to Portland where I could catch buses the rest of the way.  Two buses, 2 trains, and 8 blocks of walking through NYC got me to JFK just in time to check in for my flight.  I made the flight, but my luck wasn’t better yet.  The flight was delayed leaving so I missed my connecting flight from Beijing to Bangkok, got put in a hotel room with some random dude, and had to argue to even get any food.  By the time I got to Bangkok I was tired and just wanted to get to Tonsai, but since my checked bag hadn’t arrived and it was already too late I went into the city and got a room.  The next morning I tried to figure stuff out (like where the hell was my checked bag), but ended up getting frustrated, going to the airport and buying the next flight just to get there.  After the bus to Ao Nang and long-tail ride to Tonsai my travel time totalled 84 hours and I hadn’t managed to sleep more than 2 hours at a time.  And still only had my carry on.

(Beer in vending machines!  And the original Red Bull)

I made it to Tonsai though, my travel was over and it was AMAZING.  The limestone cliffs are jaw dropping.  I immediately started to climb as much as I could.  In a rare moment of wisdom, I had packed ALL my climbing gear except my rope, which wouldn’t fit, into my carry on bag so all I had to do was make friends with people and use their rope.  Unfortunately, only a couple days after I got to Tonsai I had a tiny scrape on my ankle which got infected.  Pretty quickly my ankle was the size of a football, I had pain up to my knee, and it even hurt to walk.  I called and argued with the airlines several times about my luggage.  They had finally found it, but now were refusing to send it to me in Tonsai despite me explicitly telling them where I would be and getting a confirmation that they would send it.  By this point I was so fed up from travel, lost luggage, the dirtiness of Tonsai, and my infected ankle that I was seriously regretting spending so much money to go to some dingy corner of Asia just to climb rocks (which I couldn’t even do and are found all over the world anyway).  That view changed soon…

(My first bungalow)

(I had a solid 2 feet of space besides my bug net in the bungalow)

(My first house guest)