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Climbing at Crazy Horse

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Clinging desperately on less than positive holds as thunder bellowed and a downpour threatened, I wondered yet again why I do this for fun. Focusing on the task at hand, I managed to heave myself up and onto what could almost be described as a ledge. The nature of the rock changed again, and after a balancey, exposed traverse I inched my way delicately to the top. As I descended, breathless and exhilarated, I remembered why I climb.

Krabi is meant to be a climber’s paradise, but it had left me wondering whether I still wanted to climb. After eight months off with a tendon injury, I had been looking forward to spending a couple of weeks climbing intensively, building up my strength and recovering my technique.

It didn’t really pan out like that. Sustained, strenuous climbing under a blisteringly hot sun was beyond me, but that’s all Krabi had to offer. Repeated failures in front of huge audiences demoralised me, and when beginners bounded almost effortlessly up the same routes that had defeated me, my humiliation was complete. Climbing is a head game, and my loss of nerve was a far more serious problem than my atrophied arms.

I left Krabi depressed, but as is so often the way with climbers, a little distance worked wonders. By the time I reached Bangkok, I was eager to be back on the rock, sure that next time it would be different. Caelen tried to dampen my expectations a little – the fear would resurface and I couldn’t let it put me off.

Enthusiastic and ready to go, we headed to The Peak climbing wall almost as soon as we arrived in Chiang Mai. We knew little about Crazy Horse Buttress, only that it was near Chiang Mai and that The Peak managed access with the local landowner. We would need a permit from them to climb at the crag. Our excitement soon turned to disappointment. The Peak didn’t issue permits to independent climbers, we were told, all that was available was inclusive day trips at $35 a head.

$35! Each! We couldn’t believe it. We’d been looking forward to climbing in Chiang Mai ever since we’d left Krabi, but now it seemed to be beyond our means. We turned to leave, but a thought struck us and we went back. In response to some direct questioning we learned that we didn’t need permits at all and could go on our own. This was the answer we wanted to hear, and we chose not to ponder on why the information had not been forthcoming before. We hired a moped, bought a map and were ready to go.

Our directions were perfect. 30k or so east of Chiang Mai we found the dirt road, and made our way bumpily up to a clearing. Parking the bike, we followed the trail to the base of the crag. We hadn’t managed to obtain any information on the routes themselves, and this made us a little nervous. They were bolted, so at least it was easy to see where the routes were. Up to now, though, we’d always had a route guide to give us some idea of how difficult each route would be. As a result, we’d failed to develop a crucial climbing skill – the ability to read a route from the ground. Climbing at Crazy Horse without a route guide added to the adventure, to be sure, but we risked misjudging things and having to sacrifice expensive gear if a route turned out to be beyond our ability and forced a retreat.

Erring on the side of caution, we picked a couple of easy-angled routes to begin with. A little more challenging than they looked from the ground, but easy nonetheless. Confidence building, we moved around to some rather more vertical rock. Shading our eyes from the sun, we followed the line of bolts up the rock, picking out the route, charting the crux moves and generally pretending we knew what we were doing.

Halfway up the route, it was clear that we didn’t. Caelen was leading, it felt harder than it had looked from the ground, and we had no idea how hard it was b graded. Was it way beyond our limit? At least I could speculate from the ground – Caelen was at the sharp end of the rope, steeling himself for a precarious move and hoping he wasn’t about to fall.

Twenty minutes later, our roles were reversed and I was the one clinging to the rock wondering why on earth I had voluntarily put myself in this position. I glanced over my shoulder across the valley. It was a beautiful view, but I was more concerned with how quickly the black rain clouds were moving towards me. Maybe it would start to rain, and I’d have an excuse to come down? I stopped myself abruptly. I’d never reach the top with such negative thinking. I took a deep breath, smiled and pictured myself topping out - anything to create a positive mental attitude.

Buzzing with success, I arrived back to earth babbling about the climb. Caelen, ever practical, was having none of it. The faster we packed and left, the nearer we’d be to Chiang Mai when the storm hit us. Little did we realise that the most nerve-wracking events of the day were still ahead – Ireland v. Germany and that 90th minute equalizer.

Pictures - click to enlarge
Picture of the view from crazy horse near Chiang Mai Thailand travelogues
Photograph of limestone crazy horse near Chiang Mai Thailand travelogues
View from the top

Limestone is crazy stuff

Picture of a limestone cave crazy horse near Chiang Mai Thailand travelogues
Photograph of Caelen contimplating the climb crazy horse near Chiang Mai Thailand travelogues
Limestone tunnel

Caelen contemplates the climb

Picture of insects crazy horse near Chiang Mai Thailand travelogues
Photograph of easy climbs crazy horse near Chiang Mai Thailand travelogues
Distractions for the belayer
Easy routes