Southeast Road Trip, Part 1: Horsepens 40

David and I decided practically last minute to take a road trip to the southeast. We were super excited because neither of us had been there and we had heard of the many amazing places to rock climb. Although our trip was short, we were able to climb a few days in one of the best places in the SE, Horsepens 40, just outside of Steele, Alabama (about an hour from Birmingham). Our friend Erwin was in town visiting family as well, and he was able to sneak out and join us the first day for an afternoon on the beautiful boulders.

Day 1:

The temperature was in the high 30s. Burr!

Getting ready to crush! Ha ha ha

The rock is slopey sandstone. Sticky. Yummy.

Erwin warming up

This is a lot harder than it looks! I should probably lay off the donuts.

Two tiny holds to another tiny hold

My turn

David tops out!

Day 2 (my birthday!):

Starting the day off with a good birthday breakfast!

The rock is SO weird looking.

Finding my own beta on Growing Stone V2

David cruises up the problem after a few tries. I’m so jelly.

One of the coolest formations we bumped into!

A view on top of Chandler Mountain

The Belly.

After breakfast at Sawasdee restaurant, we met up with Phil, Bambos, and Lee at Joy bar, then walked over to Phranang Beach with our gear. I was a bit nervous, okay a lot nervous, because we had to wade in high tide to get over to Phranang Beach. The only reason I really cared was because I had my Nikon with me, and I didn’t want to get knocked over by a wave and submerge it accidentally. “This is why you got insurance, this is why you got insurance…” I kept telling myself. Only the bag got wet thankfully, and we were greeted on the other side by a beautiful sandy beach, sun, and a spectacular view of sheer limestone cliffs and the Andaman Sea peppered with little islands. We walked towards the cliffs, and ended up at a wall (I forgot the name), at which Bambos and I both lead a juggy but fun route. I was surprised at how easy it all came back to me after many years, and it felt really really good to get to the top. Everyone else jumped on and even David was completely awestruck with the view.

We moved on and explored Phranang Cave itself. It was huge, dark, humid, and full of bats. With only two headlamps (thank goodness we brought them!) and the light from Bambos’s point-and-shoot, we managed to scale several sets of rickety bamboo ladders, static ropes, and dusty scree right through the middle of the rock clear to the other side, which faced Railay West.

The funny thing is that one we popped out at the viewpoint, there was an anchor set up waist-level with rope running through it that went over the edge. We actually popped out at the top of someone’s else’s route! The view was amazing. The kayakers below were so tiny compared to the vastness of the sea.

We slowly made our way out, then crossed Phranang Beach. By this time the tide had gone down a bit, so I wasn’t so worried about my camera. We were all spent by the time we reached the Stone Bar and Restaurant, which is a cool place to eat because it is surrounded by cliffs and we were able to watch some people climb a nearby wall while we ate our yummy fried shrimp wantons! Afterwards we managed to fit in one 6b climb before the mosquitos tore us to shreds at dusk.

We showered up and met back down at the Joy Bar, which was much less rowdy than the night before. David and I caved and ordered french fries from Mom’s Kitchen instead of Thai food. This set us over the top after an I-don’t-think-I-feel-well-Imodium-literally-saved-my-ass-while-we-hiked-around kinda day and we each consequently developed a serious case of “The Belly”. NOT. GOOD. I mean really, really, really bad. We both hit the toilets, quickly said goodbye to our new friends, made the horrible uphill trek back and didn’t make it to our bungalow before hitting the toilets again! We laughed but mostly cried talking to each other through the stalls. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say we both agreed that going through something like this together was far more tolerable and downright hilarious as opposed to going through it alone. Nuff said. If there was a time to take our prescription antibiotics, this was it. Z-Pack, I LOVE YOU!!!

Rainy days, Sang Som, and thousands of wood penises

Today was a really wet day, and I was a litle disappointed. The good thing about rainy days is that it forces you to rest, although being restless is something that I am naturally good at, so it was especially  hard. We didn’t realize when we got up…our resort’s kitchen is closed during low season! Aside from the free coffee and tea, we were on our own for grub. Not too bad until you realize that you have to trek all the way down steep slippery steps then down a rocky trail, past loud pumps and a pile of trash just to get some toast. Garden View Resort will be really nice…in a few years!

At coffee, we met Susan from London, who quit her job and moved to Ao Nang with her Thai boyfriend. She was older and seemingly free-spirited, having quit her stressful job at the onset of the recession in search for a more fulfilling, stress-free life. What she didn’t realize is that getting a teaching job in Thailand is very difficult. The company that places English teachers in schools stopped calling her because she refused to work 10 hour days 6 days a week. “This is how Thai people work” is what they would say to her, which is true. Thai people, as we are finding out in most of southeast asia, normally work 6-7 days a week, with only a few days off a month.

We ended up eating breakfast with a guy named Josh from Minnesota, who boarded a plane to Bangkok the day after he turned in his master’s thesis. Do you see a running theme here? People wanting to get the hell away from their normal lives! Anyway, breakfast was good ­– fried eggs with rice and soya sauce — yum. Tooled around a bit, ate greasy Paad Sa Ew at Sawadee restaurant, then walked over to 123 Wall and Muay Thai Wall to watch people climb.

Thai climbers are in amazing shape and know the area like the backs of their hands. All of them learned to climb on these very cliffs. How amazing is it that their neighborhood crag is home to some of the best sport climbing in the world??  We thought about hiring a guide, but honestly I didn’t want to be climbing around other gringos such as ourselves, so we moved on.

Later we went to  Phra Nang because we heard there were some quieter places to boulder. There was nice long 7a traverse along one of the walls which was nice and tweaky (it’s all limestone here).

We did a little exploring and found a “shrine” in an area in which the locals call Fertility Cave. In short, there were a bunch of small statues and wood carvings of penises stacked on top of each other, of all shapes and sizes. Although it’s not at all realated to their religion, some Thais believe that they will be blessed with the ability to conceive if they pay a visit to the area.

It started to rain a bit more, so we headed back. On the way we stopped at the tiny Joy Bar, which was barely big enough to fit 15 people standing. There was a large seating area beside it, but everyone was just hanging around the bartender, who played some awesome downtempo music on his laptop. We thought we’d just pop in for a drink, but ended up staying for 5 hours, talking to various people — Mathieu and Marlene from France, who actually lived in the Caribbean, Lisa from Australia, Sabina from Austria, Phil and Adam from London, and Lee and Bambos, who were also from London.

Quite a night with plenty of Sangsom (Thai whiskey) and Cokes flowing. We even had DELICIOUS rotee (Thai crepes) with banana, smothered in nutella. Best bar food ever! I even showed everyone our house on Google Earth! Talking to Lee and Bambos, we found out that we all were in Railay mainly to climb, so we decided to meet up the next day to set out and explore the walls. Lucky for us they brought rope, draws, harnesses, and a trusty guidebook. Woo-hoo! I love it when everything falls into place and we get to hang out with some really great people in the process 🙂 We practiced our horribly limited French over a lovely dinner with Mathieu and Marlene, then trekked back to our bungalow to turn in for the night.

Railay – Same same, but different

From Chiang Mai, we flew down to Krabi with a short layover in Bangkok. Once in Krabi, we were met by our driver and started heading down to the coast, where we were to take a longtail boat to Railay. As we were driving, we could see the tall vertical limestone cliffs…like nothing I have seen before! So magestic and ominous at the same time. My mouth was drooling at how many potential climbing routes are there, waiting to be discovered. And although it would be wonderful if someone developed them, I can appreciate them just as they are. Just amazing.

We got on out first long tail boat ride to Railay, which was only about 10 minutes from Krabi. We landed at Railay East at low tide, which basically meant we had to wade in the mud and water with our packs over our heads to shore. We checked into Railay Garden View Resort, which is a year-old development built on the farthest end of Railay East, past the Last Bar. The trail is still being developed, and the actual bungalows are perched high up steep steps in the jungle, which was a bit of a problem at times coming back in the dark after a long day. There is no AC and only cold water is pumped in from the Andaman Sea. Needless to say our showers were nice and brisk!

After we checked in we walked over to Railay West, which is only a 15 minute walk to the other side of the peninsula. Railay West was more of a beachy beach, and developed with newer, fancier accomodations. Along our walk we decided to change our overnight train back to Bangkok in a few days to an actual flight on Thai Airways. We decided we were done with the 14hr train rides! Once we made arrangements online, we were able to relax. We sat on some woven mats and were able to catch the somewhat overcast sunset, Chang in hand and Paad Thai in our bellies.

Railay has an overall chill vibe, and reminded me a lot of my trip to the Philippines in 2004 to the little island of Boracay. Laid back atmosphere, carefree attitude, cool breeze, dredlocked locals, reggae music, and local beer.  Many of the locals live in nearby Ao Nang and Krabi town, because Railay is too expensive. Whenever I ask them what they think of Bangkok, many of them respond in the same way. “Too many people. Too much pollution.” They all prefer life on the coast.

The storm clouds rolled in soon after the sun set, and we relocated under the thatched roof of the Flametree Bar. We sat for a bit perusing the walls lined with books in all languages and sketches donated by fleeting tourists, then made the hike back to our bungalow by headlamp.