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Climbing into caves and abseiling

June 15, 2011 3 comments

Towards the end of Mr W’s second day of climbing school his instructor asked if his girlfriend and I would like to join them climbing up to a cave high in the karst (mountain) at the west end of Phranang beach and

then abseiling down to the other side onto West Railay beach. This was extra-curricular and not something many people get to do in Railay. Charla was up for it and I felt I would be letting the side down if I didn’t go.

Climbing, abseiling and most type of adventures are not really my thing – I am happy to leave others to get on with it – so having agreed to this I was a little apprehensive especially as the instructor, Tar, detected my anxiety and tried to frighten me more by telling me how dangerous it was! I laughed outwardly feeling my heart in my mouth as we approached the mangrove which we would need to navigate to get to the karst.

Mangroves are pretty from a distance but quite claustrophobic and full of mosquitos close up. Add to that the salty marsh they sit in and you are wading through a mush which is opaque and you have no idea what you are stepping through. At the end of the mangrove the karst came into view and i saw the wooden planks wedged into the earthy foothill of the karst to aid the steep climb. So far so good.

Me being lowered down the karst

At the top of the steep 5 minute climb we came to a clearing at the first ledge of the karst and headed left out of the trees and came out on a large rock jutting out and underneath us the big velvet sea – this was around 4 pm and the sun was shining from the west straight at us and the view was dramatic. We rested for 5 minutes to catch our breath and take a couple of photos whilst Tar continued to tease me about what was yet to come. He got a couple of torches ready and as we turned around we were faced by the huge opening in the karst leading inside to it’s core. It was clear we were the only people up here! As we scrambled in, the light faded until darkness totally enveloped us and Tar turned his torch on.

Interestingly enough, whilst the natural light was around, it was really just a careful scramble around big rocks, but as soon as we got deeper into the dark cave, we really did need the lights as we started to climb inside. At the steeper climbs, previous climbers had erected rickety ladders. With just one torch, usually we were walking or climbing in pitch dark fumbling around and taking the lead from the sounds of one of us ahead.

At a particularly steep climb looking up I could see a faint light – a glimmer of hope! And at the top there was a narrow tunnel, squeezing through which you came out on another viewpoint – this one was breathtaking as it took in three beaches facing three different directions. Phranang, West Railay and Ton Sai beach. Stunning as this was, we were getting a little concerned about the time and how it will be dark soon and we were still to reach the higher point of the cave where we will set up the abseil for the four of us and then at the bottom of which we had to wade through another mangrove forest before coming out at Railay beach.

We rushed up this time and Mr W was the first to abseil down. With just two harnesses between the four of us, Tar had to pull up the rope with harness each time to let his girlfriend and I reppel down. I was next to go and without any hesitation climbed into the harness. Tar told me to face away from the opening and lean out. I have many a time imagined what I’d do if in this situation, and I am happy to report that I just did whatever he said. There was no time for girlie whining and time was of the essence.

When we had all abseiled down we found ourselves on another ledge facing north this time with Railay beach far below us. The evening had set in and there was limited light so we packed the rope and other equipment as quickly as possible and headed down. First we had to climb down a steep bit of the karst using just the rope which hung down a side of it. This brought us into the mangrove forest which on this side of the karst was rather dense and came quite far up the side of the karst.

Inside the mangrove is like being in a steep, slushy jungle. It was very slippery and it was all we could do, hanging on to branches and vines, not to fall down into the sea below. At this point his girlfriend and I casually enquired how far it might be to the beach given that we could hear the sea way below us and couldn’t see the lights of the beach. He said 5 minutes.

At the bottom of the abseil!20 minutes later, the sun had long ago set and the only light coming through was moonlight and this time more urgently we asked Tar if we were close. We had rashes from brushing past bushes and rope burns and just wanted to be out.

“Just 5 minutes ahead”, he said and this time he was truthful as we began to see the lights from the resort at the corner of the beach. We kept heading towards the lights and waded out of the sea onto the beach where we promptly threw our backsides onto the sand and breathed a sigh of relief. Anyone at the beach who saw us must have seen these creatures coming out of the sea totally drenched from head to toe. We were swimming in our own sweat!

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