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Adrenaline magazine - July 2008


Climbing the Thaiwand Wall, Railay, Thailand


by Sam Lightner

Railay’s Thaiwand Wall is as beautiful as the face that launched a thousand ships. Its perfect 200-metre multihued form rears up out of the Andaman Sea and from it drip stalactites like the wax from a candle. It’s obviously a debatable assertion to claim that Railay’s Thaiwand Wall is the finest crag is southeast Asia, but I doubt whether there are many climbers who have experienced it who will mock the assertion. This chunk of rock is special in lots of different ways.

Firstly, it is hollow; non-climbers can ascend fixed ropes and ladders all the way through it from behind, starting from the northern end of the incomparably beautiful Phra Nang beach and emerging 30 metres above the equally stunning West Railay beach. The only piece of equipment needed is a torch.

Secondly, the view from its middle- and upper reaches is simply sublime, the buttressed ramparts of Tonsai’s Sleeping Indian Wall framing the beach in an almost impossibly lovely rock amphitheatre.

Thirdly, this place has routes for everybody, from‘rock-faller-offers’ and intermediate crag-hangers through to the rock gymnasts many of us so
admire and wish to emulate.

Fourthly, the rock here is just gorgeous, like a nonexistent volcano had poured multicoloured lava all down it, while leaving often tiny and sometimes agonizingly sparse holds along the way.


thailand fishing


This spire’s impressive size and angle kept climbers at bay for some time. Nowadays, people hear of it from friends or see pictures in magazines and can’t help but be drawn to the wall. The Thaiwand is best known for its high routes, but there are also some great short routes to do along the base of the wall. The Thaiwand was christened by Sam Lightner and Greg Collum out of reverence for the Eigerwand which, like this spire, absolutely dominates the sky above a beautiful place.


Thailand - Thaiwand Wall Climbing Hazards:

1) Thunderstorms. Don’t be high on a high route here during a thunderstorm unless you fancy a really electrifying experience.

2) Overhanging Descents If you venture onto the bigger routes, you need to know how to descend as well as how to climb an overhanging wall. Just tossing the rope and abseiling might leave you dangling in space, so if you don’t fancy treading fresh air while spinning like a marionette at the end of your rope, learn about back-clipping before you ascend.


Thaiwand Wall Climbing Legend, Thailand

If you look very carefully across from the Thaiwand onto the most easterly reaches of the rocks behind Tonsai, you can see a large inaccessible cave about 100 metres off the ground. There is a brown, boat-shaped object in there that is claimed to contain the remains of a king of Thailand and to be filled with gold treasure. Don’t believe your Thai guide if he tells you that a storm washed it up there, he’s just trying to find out how gullible you are.

Thaiwand Unlocked – With Unexpected Help

The following extract from Sam Lightner Jnr’s excellent and highly recommended book 'Thailand – A Climbing Guide' relates how he and Greg Collum opened the Thaiwand Wall up for climbing. Some of those readers who love this, probably the most sublime piece of limestone the world is ever likely to see (OK that’s hyperbole, but this particular magazine editor really does love that rock-face), will maybe echo the editor in saying “thanks very much” to Sam and Greg for their efforts that day.

climb koh lao liang thailand
I had a hangover that could have killed a water buffalo. This was normal. What was not normal was the place I had chosen to sweat out the Mekong Whiskey haze. Greg and I had got up early, still buzzing and spinning, then spent two hours thrashing through untouched jungle, clawing over the razor-sharp rocks of southern Thailand until we reached the rock-face. We had spent the next eight hours on the northwest arête. We’d gone back and forth and up and down in order to avoid slicing through the rope and being grated like Parmesan all the way down to the Andaman Sea. Now we’d crossed over the arête near the summit and were contemplating an unknown number of abseils back down to terra firma. It was 6pm; we had only three ropes, a small drill, and no safety gear left. In 30 minutes it would be dark, and in our stupor both of us had forgotten headlamps.

All things considered, the hangovers were theleast of our worries. Greg did the first abseil, dropping over small bits of orange and white rock mixed with the dreaded dark gray sharp stuff, not saying a word as the rope popped across the daggers. He slipped under a huge overhang and swung out over the darkening jungle, then back in, and clung to the wall. Moments later he began drilling and then secured a bolt in the rock. I fixed the rope and headed down. Twenty minutes later I was on the sharp end, swinging wildly over the dark jungle at the bottom of the rope. I got in an anchor and Greg descended.



climb koh lao liang thailand

climb koh lao liang thailand

We had already decided that we would assume that three full-length ropes would make it to the ground. Greg, when he came down on the second fixed line, committed us to reaching the ground or to spending the rest of our lives on the wall.“Bleakness - I see a bleak future for us.” Greg then admitted that he now had doubts about our reaching the ground. I thought we would but had to concede that getting close was not an option. At that time, the only two climbers capable of mounting a rescue on the entire continent were the two of us, so if we ended up not reaching the ground it would be a long wait. Still, we were committed. I told Greg again that I thought we would make it. He agreed that I should go and see. In pitch black I descended from the cave, sliding down about 8 metres until I reached a ledge. Below there was no sign of the ground, just darkness. Maybe Greg was right.“What do you see?” he said calmly. There was not a hint of wind, so no need to yell.“Bleakness - I see a bleak future for us.”


“Hmmm.” “Oh, well” I replied, “I’m going for it.” I heard him laughing, but it wasn’t a reassuring laugh. The wall quickly disappeared into darkness and I was twisting in space. After 20 seconds of descent, I pulled up the end of the rope and tied a knot in it to prevent me from abseiling off its end, then dropped it. Twenty seconds later, I was at my knot. I hung there for half an hour, trying to come up with excuses to lay on the blond Italian who was now waiting for me at Coco’s, only 300 metres away. Nothing would work, I’d just have to clip my karabiners on a new project. if I ever got out of this.

I guessed by looking at the nearby trees that I was perhaps 9 metres above the ground. In the faint starlight I could see the wall, but there was just no way to reach it. I’d stopped swinging far above, and basic Newtonian physics dictated that I wouldn’t reach it unless someone came along and gave me a shove. On a high spire in southern Thailand at 8pm on a February night in 1992, that wasn’t very likely to happen.


thailand fishing

The above image is of the mag editor, Simon Ramsden, on Thailand's Thaiwand Wall

Then it hit. There hadn’t been a sparrow’s breath of wind for days, but suddenly I was pushed by a gust. I swung a bit, then it hit again. This time I worked the swing like a kid on a playground swing. Moments later, I was clinging to the wall, and the wind quit blowing. I tied off the rope, climbed down and yelled for Greg. We spent the next three hours crawling through the trail-less jungle, using fireflies and an occasional star as the only light source. We spent the next two days recovering, then we began chopping a trail and scaling the ropes. The Thaiwand had been climbed. Those ensuing weeks were a lot of fun, but they might not have been. I’m pretty sure that at its end, ‘someone’ gave us a little help.

Click here for more information on climbing on Railay/Tonsai. Other great climbing destinations in Thailand are Koh Lao Liang, Koh Yao Noi and Koh Phi Phi.


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