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Friday, December 28, 2012

Guest Post: Rock Climbing at Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

If you are a rock climber, you know that Ko Phi Phi in South Thailand is one of the top rock climbing destinations in the world. Since I was at Ko Phi Phi a couple of weeks back, I did not want to miss the opportunity of climbing here. This post is an account of my rock climbing experience here.

Rock Climbing at Ko Phi Phi
There are 7 major walls in Phi Phi:
1) Drinking Wall
2) Ao Ling Wall
3) Hin Tak Wall
4) Hua-Ling (Monkey Head)
5) Ao Pilay Wall
6) North Face wall
7) Tonsai Tower

Climbing on Phi Phi started in the late 80’s mostly by the Dutch and the French. Phi Phi offers some of the best walls in Thailand with walls of steep limestone overlooking pristine beaches. Some of the best easier grade multi-pitch climbs in Thailand are to be found here, most of which are done over a mesmerizing blue sea. For a beginner, Tonsai Tower on it’s own offers about 20 routes from grade 5 to 7b+ all in a row. 

There are a couple of rock climbing shops around the island who will help you in providing accessories as well as help you in climbing. In case you want to learn, these shops also provide 1-3 day training courses. While searching for these climbing shops, I found out spider monkey and on understanding the demographics, cost and difficulty levels, I decided to climb the Tonsai tower. I took the one day package of 2000 baht that included gear and a lead climber to belay me.

Rock Climbing at Tonsai tower, Ko Phi Phi
The Tonsai tower, located at the end of the Tonsai beach offers close to 25 routes graded from 5 to 7b for single and multi-pitch climbs. This is the only climbing area in Thailand with such a fantastic concentration of easy climbs. This wall is a must. Some of the multi pitch climbing here is steep and unless you know how to back-clip on rappel you can easily get stuck dangling way into the dark.

In the morning I headed to the shop from where we took the equipment and headed to the rocks. It was a 7 minute walk from the main town. I could see the other  rock climbers busy climbing and I couldn't wait any more. After checking map, I figured out that the maximum toughness was 7b. So we started with 5 grade. It was pretty easy but a different experience as there were grooves everywhere and one needs to decide which one to use once one reaches the spot. It took me around  ten minutes to complete the route. The second I picked was 6a. I did it easily within 15 minutes. After reaching the top, the view of the island was beautiful. One could see the two sides of island separating the sea. The afternoon sun lighted the corals beneath the sea and hence the green color literally was remarkably contrasting. I waited there for 5 minutes just to feast on the view.

Climbing at Ko Phi PhiThe third was 6b grade and 35 m high. I was getting tired as I was out of practice for the last three months. I took rest for some time and started the climb. It was really tough and I had to stop at one point as there was no way i could go forward. So  I decided to  change my direction. Now this required proper bouldering and it was tough to move towards the right for 5 meters at the overhead extension. Slowly, I started inching towards the right ensuring that I was getting a good grip.  Finally, I managed to reach the Point for where I cold easily climb to the top. I was just 7 meters below the top when i realized that the rocks were slippery as water was dripping from the rocks. It had rained heavily yesterday and this area was under shadow thereby still wet. It was very slippery and my chalk powder was of no help. I didn't have any other option but to change my route. So slowly i used my feet to get good grip and relied more on the foot and not on the hands. I ensured that somehow even if my one hand slips, my legs would be strongly grounded to support my weight. This last part took some ten minutes to cover. Well it was slightly scary but i managed to reach the point and standing at 35 m I looked at the sea below. I wish I could have taken my camera. The view was again stunning. The next path we picked was 7a. After climbing for 15m I got stuck and realized that I will slip and hence asked my instructor to tighten the ropes to control my swing in case I slip down. I slipped after one meter. My instructor was really good as he managed to make me sway away from the rocks. I tried again but I realized that my arms had pumped up and hence I could not  go further up. I still tried however I slipped this time again. So I decided to stop . One should know his/her limits and  should push accordingly as adventure sports can lead to a life threatening situation.

I came down, unwrapped myself from the harness and headed back to shop. After leaving the equipment, I chatted with the shop guys to understand more about rock climbing. They asked my experience and I told them that it was a different experience from India as the rocks here were loose, difficult to make the route at the start and hence posed a new challenge. Also, there were no such groves, there were holes and holes only. The best part was where I needed to take rest and I squeezed myself in a small crevices , supported myself on my back and rested there for 4 minutes. The area was so small that I could snuggle into it and perfectly fitted into it. I wanted to cover the other routes also, but since time was of essence here, I think I will return in an year, stay for a week or more and try out all routes.

About the Author: Vishwadeep Anshu is a close friend, fellow traveler and an amateur rock climber who in his free time teaches rock climbing to kids at Urban climbers in Bangalore, India. Note: The pictures in this post were taken by Vishwadeep Anshu and is his copyright.



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