Having spent some time in Moscow I followed both my friends’ advice and my own inner feeling and decided to go to the outdoor climbing area of Tonsai located in Thailand near Krabi.
Many people come to Tonsai just to take a break. Probably not just many, but all. To take a break in all senses of the phrase, but everyone understands it in their own way. Some people just want to take a break from the city hustle and bustle and breathe out here, some people just decide to slow down in their cross-Asian tours and settle down here, in the most international and cosmopolitan place I’ve ever seen. It is not common to stay here for just a couple of days – the way here is too long and hard and the adapting to the local climate is too awkward. One can’t get here by land, people come here by boat only, although it is not an island. The place has tangible atmosphere of solitude and isolation enhanced by those ghostly walls. Although you are cut off from the big land here, all the people who come and go seem to connect this little place with the whole world with its thousands of countries, cultures and languages.
I also came here to take a break. I needed a break from all those deadlines set by my doctors, circumstances and business. I just wanted to climb. To devote all my time to the activity which had fascinated me so much before the injury and had filled my body and soul with positive energy during the rehab period.
Tonsai is the place with an enormous number of 7а-8а routes, that’s why it attracts a lot of “average level” climbers every winter. They are already not amateurs, they are people who can climb well, who train regularly and who are hooked on this, but still they are very far from professional or competitive rock climbing. Amateurs stick to the rocks around the neighboring Railay beach, while real sportsmen don’t climb in this scorching heat and they don’t choose places where there are no routes harder than 8b+.
I went there alone, but not even once in 2.5 months was I left alone – I always found a buddy for climbing. And this can be considered as the biggest advantage of Tonsai in particular and Thailand in general. The second biggest advantage personally for me is the big number of evenly overhanging routes which let you climb with lead absolutely safely. Sp that’s what kept me occupied for those 2.5 months.
To everybody’s delight (and mine of course) a new sector was opened last year –
The Gibbon Roof. It is a 15-meter high ceiling with excellent crags from 7а to 8b. A safer sport for my injured leg can hardly be imagined! And it is in shadow all day…
The main point to consider when choosing a route, sector or time of day for climbing is definitely the heat. At first it seems so horrible that you can’t climb full on. You have to adapt – start to climb at 7:30 in the morning, when you start to sweat only while climbing but not when you are adjusting the harness and the sweat doesn’t bother your vision yet. On Tonsai you will eagerly have the bushy eyebrows of Frieda!. The only salvation for the climber is wind here.
The grades of routes are just some letters and numbers, reflecting the difficulty of some routes as compared to other. But as it turned out all the amateur rock climbers are magically attracted to the letter-number combination of 8a. When going to bed in the evening you can’t stop thinking that tomorrow is going to be the big day when you finally send your first 8a. And that’s what happens this next day after all those thoughts:
But with the help of my stubbornness I finally conquered that route the next day after sunset
It is interesting to know what letters and number attract Americans and Australians who have a different system of route classification?
All went well after the first 8a. I found out that I had lost 5 kilos of weight while in Thailand and started to weight as much as I used to when I was 16 years old! Having learnt that my second and third 8a routes went much easier notwithstanding the scorching heat and streams of sweat going down from me.
The sea in Tonsai is extremely boring. In this respect it can be compared to the Azov sea only. Even the lovely views don’t save it!
Half of the time it is just impossible to go to the sea – the tide bring the water 100-200 meters away from the beach baring the dead reef and mud. When the level of water is average, you can go into the sea but can’t swim because the sea is just knee-deep for about the same hundred meters. Several times my stubbornness turned out to be stronger than my common sense and I went through this hundred meters scratching my knees and elbows against the reef only to find a dozen of chaotically rushing speedboats, almost going on the heads of few desperate swimmers like myself.
If you want to enjoy the beauties of the Thai underwater world, you have to rent one of those speedboats and go away to some islands. There you can see as deep as 10 meters, and the depth of the sea there is up to 15 meters, but the traffic doesn’t go down…
All in all, one could think of freediving only if a total change of location was to take place. One can go diving there, but it costs a fortune to get to the really beautiful places and the trip there takes about two hours one way.
The Andaman sea, washing this part of Thailand, is very popular among yachtsmen. The idea of combining rock climbing with yachting next year never left me during my time there. The point for this idea was also that every year there appear more and more climbing routes on other islands.
I don’t have big demands in terms of service, so I can feel at home in different parts of the world, especially if I stay at that place for more than two months in a row. But the Tonsai peculiarities didn’t give a chance to totally relax even for me. My home for the time was this straw hut for 7 USD a night on average.
The plan for the future is to get some personal accommodation of my own. It should be of much higher quality and in some place with perspectives of development, and you don’t have to pay for your own place… Camper van in Europe or US for example
I haven’t breathed such bad air as in Tonsai for a long time. One can find such spoilt air in Europe in the biggest post-soviet cities only. The jungle, the closed valley and new fences on condition that there is hardly any wind there make the air of Tonsai a horrid mix of exhaust fumes of dozens of generators, motorcycles, speedboats and smoke from plastic fires. There are also unattractive gutters instead of civilized sewers full of household waste to top it all off. And all this stuff goes directly into the sea just in the very middle of the beach under the main climbing sector.
I don’t want to finish my story with these details, so I’ll tell you what new and positive things I have encountered during this trip.
• I’ve met and climbed with some awesome people! Thanks to the Moscow mafia:Ксюха Пантелеева, Ксюха Овечкина, Володя Белоусов, Игорь Савельев, Денис Сушко, Таня. The Yoshkar-Ola mafia: Игорь Антышев, Леха Бахтин, Вадим Савельев and co. the Samara mafia: Степан и Аня Дятковские and co. The Belorussian mafia: Лариса and co. The Irkutsk mafia: Дима Черепанов, Саня and co. The German mafia – Hans, Sven, Viven (Vivi, thanks for the pics!) and Tom from Sweden.
• I’ve done my first real 7с+ with lead (Voodoo Doll and Phet Mak)
• I’ve done first my 8s (Sex Power, Captain Crunch, Art and Sport (8a+?))
• For the first time I’ve done 7b on the first attempt (the guide says it is 7b+, but this is hardly possible)
• I’ve climbed the best route in the region up to me (Half Dragon 7b+, Phra Nang beach)
• I’ve spent 2.5 months on the rocks
• I’ve got my climbing dreams and ambitions back
• I’ve walked around with crutches using my left leg as the healthy one
• I’ve visited Thailand, Malasia and Jordan
• If you are completely new to rock climbing, don’t even think of buying any climbing programs from local clubs and instructors. Unless you get some recommendations from really reliable and trustworthy friends. I myself witnessed a suicidal climbing training course for beginners under the supervision of locals with plain dangerous elements.
• Bring electrolite powder to add to the local drinking water
• Make a stock of disinfectants and treat any minor scratch, especially after swimming. Just forget about the common belief that sea water cleans all wounds and provides quick healing.
• Stock plenty of chalk. If you’ve run out of it, buy it at Tonsai Basecamp only. In other places all you can get is just some useless white powder and you’ll never return the money for it.
• Get used to getting up early and climbing in the early morning.
Enjoy your climbing and look for resting places!