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Climb on! Ton Sai, Thailand

Joanne 2008-01-13
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/24 at 12:28 [CIMG4570]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/29 at 12:08 [CIMG4836]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/30 at 13:55 [CIMG4860]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/30 at 14:01 [CIMG4866]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/30 at 14:03 [CIMG4867]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/30 at 14:03 [CIMG4869]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/31 at 14:59 [CIMG4914]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/31 at 15:29 [CIMG4927]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/25 at 16:51 [CIMG4677]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/12/29 at 14:27 [CIMG4852]

Every climb begins with the climber and the belayer (the person the climber is attached to via rope and harness) doing a little routine check of each others equipment set up. The climber will then signal his readiness to commence by saying,  "climbing" and if the belayer is prepared, will respond with, "climb on".

These 2 little words ensure that the belayer, the climbers lifeline, is ready to take up slack in the rope centimeter by centimeter as the climber reaches new heights over head. When the belayer is doing his job properly, should a fall occur, the distance that the climber free falls off the cliff is minimized so that only 1/4 of his life flashes before his eyes instead of his whole life.

From the moment you hear the words "climb on" and make contact with the rocks, EVERYTHING  changes.  Suddenly, all you can see is a few feet in front of you,  your hands grasp for their next hold, nothing suitable to close a fist on?  What about a few fingers or their tips? The same holds true for your footing.  All fissures, holes and out jutting rock of any size become fair game for toes, heels, or any part of your body to make contact with, securing yourself just long enough to make your next move.

With heart racing and adrenaline pumping through every cell of your body, you are constantly evaluating if it is best to reach, grasp, shimmy, pull, push, move upwards, sideways, diagonally, or a combination of any one of these maneuvers to advance just one more centimeter.

Mentally, the right and left hemispheres of your brain are having an all out boxing match. One side is telling you to quit while you're ahead, or while you still have a head and get your feet back on solid ground. The other side, the side that is thirsty for a little shot of adrenaline, urges you to continue on your quest to conquer this climb.

The hemisphere that dominates depends on the challenges presented by the rock terrain currently in your path. Are there good hand or foot holds available? Charge on!! But within moments the tables may turn. Suddenly,  you find yourself in a precarious contorted position seeking frantically for the next move while fatigue is quickly setting in. Whichever muscle group happens to be working the hardest at this very moment is sending you unmistakably clear signals, it can not sustain this position for much longer.  Now you must do the unthinkable and move a hand, foot, elbow or a knee in order to quickly reposition yourself in an attempt to find a way to gain a more secure spot and give your shaky muscles a much needed rest.  There is no obvious foot or hand hold, physically you are spent, you are fully aware that there are but a few precious moments left until full exhaustion sets in and you will fall off of Mother Nature's limestone jungle gym.

In this very moment, mentally, it is clear which side of your brain is winning the argument. You have gone as far as you can, this climb has come to an unfortunate early end.  But then, you find what you have been looking for, the right combination of push and shimmy or maybe a diagonal maneuver and pull, whatever the magic bullet was, the immediate goal of advancing a centimeter has been achieved and not a second too soon. This is a victorious moment, the climb shall continue.

No matter how challenging mentally or physically a climb was, the moment you reach the top, the obstacles become a distant memory.  The reward is an awe inspiring birds eye view of the surrounding majestic karsts, green lush tropical forests and inviting crystal clear waters.

When climbing, the goal is to meld yourself with the rocks so that you may become an extension of them. This intimate union imprints itself on your body as a collection of  bruises, cuts and scrapes.

Descending is the opposite. A thumb width rope passes through your harness, an anchor in the rock above and the belayer's harness below.  The transition from clinging to the rock for dear life to  letting go of it requires overcoming the screaming voice of logic in your head telling you not to.  Inevitably, the voice of reason is ignored. The belayer controls the speed of your descent by giving slack in the rope while you are  leaning all of your weight back away from the cliff. Suspended by the rope and your harness, your feet making the occasional contact with the wall to push off of it, the descent begins.

Any trepidation that was present just moments before leaning back turns into pleasure. The combination of being lowered while intermittently tapping your feet against the wall is what I might imagine walking in a low gravity environment would be like. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Watching from down below with both feet planted firmly into the ground, it is without time pressure and great advantage that the observer sees the route in it's entirety. From this perspective it is easy to visualizes what you think the next maneuver should be for a smooth and successful climbing journey.

The challenges that the route entails can not be judged until having experienced them first hand.  As the saying goes, until you've walked a mile in someone else's shoes...

Speaking of shoes, climbing shoes are purposely worn 1-2 sizes smaller than your shoe size, giving your painfully  curled under and often blistered toes greater melding capabilities with the rock. I assure you, while I would NEVER  want to walk even a few blocks let alone a mile in these shoes, after having had these  adventures, I definitely  want to "climb on".

If the idea of chalk, harnesses and ropes is all to cumbersome for you, then there is always the option of deep sea soloing- kayaking to a cliff and climbing without any equipment as high as is desired, or as you can, then jumping off or falling, whichever comes first, into the deep blue waters down below.  Deep sea soloing is not as dangerous nor as scary as conventional rock climbing.  The waters underneath offer a much softer and more refreshing landing than land bound cliffs.  Well, that's what I kept telling myself when we tried it New Year's eve with some friends. As the song says, what goes up, must come down - sploosh!