On Belay

19.January 2010

Thailand

Learning To Climb, Railay-26 My heart is pounding, my breathing is heavy, and my palms are sweaty which is not a good thing as I am trying to hold on for dear life to the teeny tiny handholds that keep me on the rock face some 10 meters from the ground. I struggle and struggle to maintain my grip, my feet scrabbling to find a better outcrop but to no avail…I cannot keep hold. All my limbs give way at once and I am suddenly dangling high above the ground.

We had not practiced ‘falling’ and letting the rope, and the person on the ground belaying, catch us and so I was momentarily petrified. I let out a little yelp and then whimpered a bit until I realized that I really was safe, that the smaller-than-me woman belaying really could hold me up there. And so I grabbed onto the rock face again, replacing my hands and feet where they were, and tried again…and fell again…and tried again…and fell again…and so on…until I finally reached the top and we all gave a cheer.

Going down was the most fun. I just sat back on the harness and jumped against the wall as Helly lowered me to the ground. Then there were ‘high fives’ all round and it was my turn to belay.

It was almost more scary to be the belayer than the climber as now I was responsible for holding a person up there. Luckily Helly is smaller than me so I didn’t have to worry about the reverse weight difference – although I do understand the mechanics of the belay and realize that I could hold up someone heavier than myself it was just better that, for the first time, I was the heavier one.

Learning To Climb, Railay-1 ‘Climbing’, she said. ‘On belay’ I replied, and up she started. I took the job very seriously and watched her every second, keeping the rope taut, and making sure she felt safe. This being in contrast to some other belayers around who, obviously more experienced than me, felt comfortable to chat and smoke and hang out while, at the same time making sure their climbers were just as safe as mine. I was exhausted by the time I finally lowered her to the ground and was probably sweating as much as she was, only mine was from stress not exertion.

We moved to a more difficult section of the wall for our second climb. I got a boost up the overhanging start and then I was on my own again. This one didn’t go as well as the first. My arms were tired from the first climb and belaying, and I just couldn’t see the handholds when I needed to, even with Tsu (our instructor) pointing them out from below. I got to one point and, despite repeatedly trying to get past, I just couldn’t keep on and so, reluctantly, they  lowered me to the ground. This time, instead of high fives all round, it was the ‘nice try’ handshake…not the same at all and I was disappointed.

My observation of climbing in the past was that there always seemed to be a lot of hanging around involved. I had seen groups of climbers all lounging around under a rock face, faces tilted up watching one or two climbers above and wondered why more of them didn’t get up there. Well, now I know it’s because they are exhausted! I hung around down below, my face tilted up watching for a good while until my arms stopped shaking and I could feel them again.

Learning To Climb, Railay-15 Jason went first on the third climb and I could see that he was taking to climbing quite nicely. The puzzle part of finding the way up appealed to him and he looked far more graceful at it than I felt when I was on the rock face. He seemed to climb quite quickly and soon was back on the ground, making it my turn again.

I climbed the first part without too much trouble, finding the hand and foot holds quite easily. There came a point at about the halfway mark that I realized that I was going to have to straddle a rocky outcrop to make it to the top. I was quite off center by then and knew that if I fell off the outcrop it would be a long swinging fall and so I decided that I was not going to fall off…I would hang on no matter what. I listened to Tsu’s directions and threw my left foot around the outcrop to some unseen foothold – it held. I then reached around with my left hand until I could feel a suitable handhold. I took a deep breath and, on the count of three, hauled my ass around that outcrop and hung on for dear life. I made it and did a small victory dance…in my head of course.

It wasn’t over yet though, and the hardest part was still to come. Right before the top Learning To Climb, Railay-29was a piece that looked, to me, to have nowhere to hold onto. Following Tsu’s instructions again, I tried and tried to make it up the section but I kept falling off time after time. I was frustrated and tired but also very determined – I needed to have a  successful climb to finish the day. Tsu was also determined to see me finish it, and so we kept at it. I can’t really say that I climbed that portion of the wall…Tsu would have me pull myself as far as I could and, even if it was just an inch, he would hold me there so I could reach the next inch…until I was past that portion and could hold myself up again. It was enough though and I was able to climb the last piece myself to touch the ring at the top. Wooooo-hooooo!! High fives all round.

We were exhausted after our day of climbing, our muscles are still sore days later and my hands are raw from grabbing and clawing at the rock…bring on the Thai massage!!

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7 Responses to “On Belay”

  1. Mom & Dad Says:

    Sounds like the uncoordinated pushups of years ago that always made us giggle, are starting to pay off. Sounds like you had great fun and beat the cliff wall. Hope you have now recovered. LUV ME

  2. Mom & Dad Says:

    I am so proud of you and very envious, you must be having a ball. Love Dad.

    • Gillian Says:

      Mom and Dad…you guys are the best! No my ‘uncoordinated pushups’ have not improved…thank god i never need that much coordination!! I love you and miss you!

  3. nico Says:

    Gillian, I subscribed to your blog a while ago as I’ve been preparing for my own travels. I’m an avid climber, and I can’t wait to climb in Thailand. I know that feeling of NEEDING to finish a climb by the end of the day. That’s what makes it addicting! Very glad you got to give it a try!

  4. Dawn Says:

    Where did you climb?
    Any reason is a good reason for a Thai massage.

    • Gillian Says:

      Good question Dawn…I didn’t realize I hadn’t indicated. We were in Railay in Krabi province…stunning!!

  5. Dirk Says:

    Cool. You’ve inspired me. I used to climb a lot, but haven’t at all since we moved to the coast. I may get my ass in gear and do that.