04 Jul Conquering fears: Rock Climbing in Railay
You know how they say that you should do something that scares you everyday? Well, today we did something that scared me as much as seeing the face from the exorcist when I close my eyes in the shower.
We traveled to Railay mostly for one thing: to try rock climbing, you know, on actual rocks for the first time. Most of the people we’ve met here are also in this tiny island just to try this heart-pumping activity. Surrounded by karst peaks, there’s no shortage of walls to choose from. And with limestone cliffs growing out from the sea and stretching on forever, it’s also strikingly beautiful.
I hadn’t had a great first impression of Tonsai. You can read why here, but on our second day I woke up, if not excited, then determined to have a great time rock climbing. Featured on one of those “100 Adventures You Have To Try Before You Die” lists, it was something I wasn’t going to leave Thailand without trying.
When we arrived at Basecamp Tonsai, the climbing school, we learned that three people had to cancel because they were “puking their guts out”, sick with Tonsai Tummy.
I mean, seriously?!
I tried not to dwell on the thought of me getting sick so, instead, I imagined what rock climbing would feel like, how difficult it would actually be. This just made me more nervous, so I focused on counting the mosquito bites on my legs.
You see, in Thailand everything flows at its own rhythm. We were supposed to leave from Tonsai to Railay at nine, but we left somewhere around ten. As we were walking towards the beach, our guides suddenly decided that it was a nice day to go inside a cave. They weren’t carrying flashlights, though, so they asked us to run back to our rooms for our own lamps, cell phones, anything, really, that could potentially prevent us from slipping to our deaths in said cave.
The chill vibe that the people of Tonsai give off must be as contagious as Tonsai Tummy, because now that I think about it, I should’ve freaked out at the thought of going inside a cave, just because our guides felt like it and totally unprepared, but somehow, I didn’t.
After a longtail boat ride to Railay, and a short hike uphill, we reached the first wall of the day. At the sight of it, my stomach flip-flopped. It looked nothing like an indoor climbing gym. It was certainly scarier.
The guides seemed to be under the impression that everyone had done some climbing before. Feeling shy and slightly intimidated, I confessed that this was my first time climbing outdoors. They seemed surprised at this revelation, but proceeded to quickly show me the eight knot. Thankfully I’d already done that knot when climbing indoors, or I would’ve been lost.
There were five routes and six of us so as everyone, except me, had done some climbing before, they all went ahead of me. I watched and analyzed what everyone did. I wanted to memorize every movement, every step, every rock.
Too soon it was my turn.
I lathered my palms with chalk, and before I could panic or think too much about the million ways the rock could hurt me, and eventually kill me, I took the first step.
Then the next, and the next, and the next.
It didn’t matter how long I’d watched the others, I needed to create my own path. The challenge of figuring out where to put my foot next, or finding the perfect grip on the crack, pumped me. There were some sections where I got stuck, but eventually I had some “aha” moments when the rocks rearranged in my head and the step ahead became visible.
When I looked up next, I was two moves shy from touching the ring. I took them, eager to complete my first climb of the day. It felt amazing to reach it.
I was busy internally celebrating when my guide yelled from below, “turn around!”
This is a rock climbing paradise, and when I turned I understood why. Over my shoulder I could see the bluest water surrounded by jungle and naked hills. If every time I climbed I’d be rewarded with these views, I couldn’t wait to climb again, to go higher, to explore other angles.
On my second wall, I even stopped midway just to catch another glimpse of the ocean.
“Amazing views,” I called down.
“Better views more up,” came the voice from my guide.
We all did the five walls before moving on to the cave. I was so hyped at this point that I’d completely forgotten about it. As we neared it, I was nervous again. I could trek through a pitch-dark cave with only the light from my phone and in flip flops, right? Right?!
After a short-but difficult-hike we all scrambled out of a hole and we stood on the verge of a precipice, with unparalleled views of the Andaman Sea. With no explanation, and since I was the first in line, the guides “volunteered” me. They attached me to a harness and I realized that we were going down rappeling. I didn’t have much time to think about it. I sat, suspended mid air, and began my descent down a karst. In an island. In Thailand. I mean, talk about a dream.
After lunch we went climbing in Railay. When the walls appeared, I joked that we should try to climb one of those. I was obviously kidding since they looked way more advanced than what a half-day of climbing could guarantee. My laughter was short lived when our guide informed me that these were, in fact, the walls we were climbing next.
The views weren’t nearly as stunning here, but the walls were twice as difficult. I had to push myself harder than I had all day. I needed to focus on each step and plan every move with precision. I was sweating more than I thought was possible, so much that my hands were a slippery mess, making it almost impossible to get a good grip on the rocks.
If touching the first ring of the day felt like such a sweet victory, I can’t even explain how it felt to touch the ring of one of those walls.
And we climbed three more.
On the last wall I attempted, legs shaking, mind doubting, I almost gave up. But my guide didn’t let me. He encouraged me from below, and he yelled tips on how to make my next moves. I would’t have completed it without him.
I made it all the way to the top, albeit sweating, cramping, and feeling like my muscles had turned to jelly. But I did it. I finished every single wall I attempted to climb that day.
Boy, what a rush it is to conquer your fears and actually enjoy yourself while doing it.
Have you tried rock climbing? Did you like it? Where and how have you conquered your own fears? Talk to me in the comment section below.