Epic Day in Krabi

After the first day of snorkeling/kayaking at Hong island, I took it easy for almost a week with new friends at the Pak-up Hostel. This hostel is amazing; think college dorm on steroids. A living space with comfortable beds, powerful showers, even trendy minimalist decor, populated by hordes of beautiful young (mostly western) travelers, and not one but two bars built right in to the hostel. Oh, and beds were $7/night. It’s not the kind of place that would justify a trip around the world on it’s own, but at the time it was a very welcome change from isolation in Sumatra. Activities for the week included soccer games with the locals, listening to an amazing Thai guitarist, and lots of masaman curry.

The hostel was great, but I had my sights set on one more big-ticket activity before leaving: deep water solo rock climbing. ‘Solo’ rock climbing is climbing without protective gear like ropes and harnesses. Normally this is indisputably insane, but when performed over deep water the activity becomes acceptable territory for run-of-the-mill adrenaline junkies. I may not be a true card-carrying member of that group, but I had to try deep water soloing because it’s so unique. There aren’t too many places in the world that have the right conditions.

Just to spice things up, I decided to start my deep water solo day with a dawn climb up the 1237 steps to Tiger Temple. I set out on my bike for the 5 mile ride at 4:30am, and after a few wrong turns in the dark found my way to the stairs. The really serious stairs; we’re talking significantly better than a 45 degree angle most of the way up. I was befriended by a stray dog at the bottom of the stairs who followed me all the way up, braving roving bands of malicious monkeys to reach the incredible view on top. Since I was alone, I made it a workout (17 minutes, 1.2 stairs/second, oh yeah!) and ended up at the top with a huge sweat.

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View to the west from the top of Tiger Temple

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Big Buddha at Tiger Temple.

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View to the east.

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View south to Krabi river, in the upper left of the photo, and Krabi town on the west (right-hand) bank of the river.

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Close-up of the river and town.

On the  way down the mountain, I ran into four girls I knew from Pak-up hostel.  I met two of them near the top.  Looking harried, they said that the other two girls with them had turned back after monkeys attacked, stealing all the food they’d brought with them.  I didn’t witness the battle, but I can imagine it was terrifying.  The monkeys are seriously scary.   On the way up, I’d passed two groups of about 20 monkeys.  They just sit on the railings of the narrow stairs watching as you pass, close enough to reach out and touch them on both sides, sometimes baring their teeth and sometimes running along behind you for a few yards.  I met the other girls near the bottom and they confirmed the story.  Kudos to the others for carrying on in the face(s) of scores of angry monkeys.

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On the boat heading for Ton Sai.

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David, my young German partner in crime. Hanging out at the hostel all week, we both had our sights set on the deep water solo trip. In the end we managed to also convince Erin and Carla to go along with us.

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Long-tail boat pulling in to Ton Sai beach.

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The four of us from Pak-up hostel were joined by a large group of what were clearly seasoned climbers (easy to spot; look for lanky guys and gals with bulging tat-covered muscles).

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Erin was the first to make it up and jump.

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Carla was the most experienced climber and it showed. Look at her, so relaxed up there. Not fair!

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Though he'd never been climbing before, it turns out David has a natural talent for the sport...

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...And a giant pair of cajones to match.

Originally deep water solo climbing had sounded to me like a fun, safe way to try climbing without the restrictive ropes.  In reality, all but the lowest routes here are are high enough that water doesn’t look so safe anymore.  A height that would be fine to jump from is not fine to fall from after missing a grip on the wall and tumbling into an awkward bell-side flop. This place would really be better appreciated by certain of my other family members (just about all of them, honestly), but at least David was there taking full advantage.  I took it easy and didn’t try any difficult climbing moves except low down by the water.  I did take some of the easier routes up to jump a couple of times.

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David was impressive, but our Thai climbing guide...I don't even know where to start with this guy.

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That's right, he's so high up I couldn't even fit him and the water into a single frame.

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The drop was at least 50 feet.

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And just to get up to hang from the stalactite, you have to climb that overhanging part on the right in this photo. I didn't get photos of him in action there, but it was a thing of beauty. If I hadn't seen him do it, I wouldn't have believed it was even possible to lay down on an upside-down surface, much less look relaxed doing it. What do you even call that...laying up?

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After lunch we moved to another climbing site. This one was much crazier because the easier climbs were not close to the water like before. This time, you had go up about 30 feet just to get to the 'bottom' of the climb.

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Yet again, David was a champion. He was the first to leap from the epic 55 or 60 foot drop, out-pacing the hardened climbing bums with sheer ball-power. Last words before jumping: "I'm so fucking scared!" Imagine his German accent for full effect. Or even better, think how Arnold Schwarzenegger would sound saying it in character as 'Dutch' from Predator.

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I did not do this jump.

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As the afternoon wore on, I decided to give the higher climb a go. That's me hanging from the bottom of the rope. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, that's as far as I got because at this precise moment the sky opened up and it was as wet above water as below. I hadn't had anyone take photos of me in the morning thinking I could do it in the afternoon, so this is the only evidence that I was anywhere near deep water soloing at Ton Sai. Good thing you all believe me...right?

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Sunset was beginning when we got back to land. Looking back out, we could see the storm that cut my climb short. Check out that wall of rain on the left! Storms are serious business in Thailand.

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5 thoughts on “Epic Day in Krabi

  1. Ryan was LOVING the idea of free climbing combined with jumping in to the water…really appreciated the photos. Peg

    • Yeah, I was thinking that of all the Whitakers I’m the least qualified to be deep water solo climbing. Ryan, Dan, Taylor, Sam, or any of the other cousins could really have taken advantage of that crazyness.

  2. Holy crap. That solo climbing looks amazing. I would love to try that. I wish I could have been there with you for this one. If only there was a place to do this around here. Then I’d be in business.

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