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
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:
Don’t be high on a high route here during
a thunderstorm unless you fancy a really
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
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
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
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.
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.”
“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.
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
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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