Today was the third and final instalment in my three-day climbing course, and it was one hell of a daunting conclusion. The main topic of the day was multipitching: that is, learning to ascend walls that are too high to climb with a single rope (such walls are more than 50m), and/or that consist of multiple sections, each of which has a different "pitch" or angle. Multipitch climbing is an extremely complex procedure, as it involves a pair of partners taking turns at belaying each other up and down (multiple times, depending on the number of sections that the wall has), switching yourself between various ropes, securing ropes in such a way that they can be switched, and learning a whole heap of new knots and rope configurations. It is, in my opinion, far too complicated to learn in one day; and it's also quite unnecessary to learn, unless you're already a strong and experienced enough climber to actually tackle multi-pitch walls. I barely remembered a quarter of the details of what I was taught today; but nevertheless, it was worthwhile being exposed to some of the more advanced techniques in rock-climbing, and it was interesting to learn how the pros do it.
Yu's an interesting guy: his heritage is 100% Thai, but he's been living in Canada for the past few years, and he's planning to go back there, in the hope of obtaining residency. As such, he speaks much better English than most do most Thais (it's quite rare for Thai locals to have travelled internationally). As my buddy Let was away today, and as Yu just arrived back in Ton Sai (and in Thailand!) this morning, he was my instructor for the final stint of my climbing course today. He's strict and extremely thorough, but he's a great guy and an excellent climber.
Day two of my three-day rock climbing course stepped things up a notch. Yesterday was good fun, but nothing serious: just a few non-technical climbs on beginner runs, where I was teamed up with various people doing no-frills half-day sessions. Today, my venerable instructor Let taught me the most important and the most basic of technical climbing skills: how to perform top-rope lead climbing. It's very different to simply scrambling up carefree, with a rope above your head the entire time: more thrilling, but also far more scary.
For something completely different, this afternoon I continued doing what I started this morning: more fun climbing! We were a group of four this afternoon (plus Let as our instructor): Martina, a crazy Korean guy and his wife, and myself; and instead of the "1-2-3" wall, this time we headed over to the "Diamond Cave" cliffs, up on the northern side of Railay East bay. The climbing continued to be extremely fun, and to pose few real technical challenges. It also, however, continued to be utterly exhausting — by the time we were done for the day, I was wasted.
Like the famous tennis player, Martina is a thin, athletic girl from the fair realm of Switzerland. Martina hails from a small mountain village in the south-eastern region of Switzerland, where she's lucky enough to have been skiing her entire life. She now spends most of her winter months in a ski town in the country's Italian region, where she pays her way by working as a café waitress. Martina is fluent in German, English, French, Italian and Spanish — an impressive repertoire, even by (the not-too-shabby) Swiss standards. Martina climbed with me during this afternoon's session, where she blew us all away by conquering a climb that no-one else could.
This dude's real name is "Let", and he's my main instructor for the three-day climbing course that I'm doing here at Ton Sai. When I told Let that my name was "Jeremy", he had a lot of difficulty pronouncing it — the closest he could get was "Jet Li", and so that is now my official rock-climbing pseudonym. Let's a really nice guy: he's only been rock-climbing himself (let alone instructing!) for the past six months; before that, he spent ten years as a chef in a glamorous hotel restaurant in Phuket. His ability and his fitness levels are remarkable, considering how new he is to the sport; and after only six months of working with farangs, his English ain't so bad either.
If it's rock-climbing you're after, then Ton Sai is the place to be. In fact, there's very little else to do at Ton Sai — or in Railay — aside from lying on the beach: so if you're not into rock-climbing, then perhaps you should be someplace else. Last night I signed up for a comprehensive 3-day climbing course, with Ton Sai-based company "The Rock Shop" — and today was the first day of that course. I've never before been rock-climbing on a natural, outdoor wall; although I did a fair bit of indoor (artificial-wall) climbing many years ago, when I were a 'wee lad (plus I've abseiled down natural cliffs before). It was a sweaty, exhausting introduction to the sport — 9am-6pm, with a 1-hour lunch break — but it was more fun than anything I ever imagined; and I finished the day feeling a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.