Sunday, 29 January 2012

Postcards from Paradise - Monty Pythons Flying Circus

Ben Grasser (mentioned in my last postcard) had recently escaped from Bangkok to open a climbing/adventure camp in the nearby jungle. Located at Kaeng Koi, the Nam Pha Pa Yai camp is a haven for travellers, climbers, and adventurers, and would soon play host to a New-Year/1 year birthday party for a local climbing group. The nearby climbing looked great, especially in the easier grades, and so, with a few days spare before flying to the south, and not being ones to turn down a good party, we decided to pay Ben a visit.

The "nerve center" of the opperation...

Arriving late in the evening, we followed a rough dirt track to a dark and deserted camp. Whilst wondering if we were in the wrong place, a head-torch appears through the black, and introduces himself as Ben. He gives us the quick tour and explains a few necessary precautions, including what to do for a snakebite, and how to check for scorpions in the toilet block. After showing us to our tent, Ben disappears back into the darkness and I start to wonder where it is exactly that we have come. Whilst falling to sleep, my mind is busy... not with thoughts of whether will we enjoy the next few days, but whether we will survive!

The next morning we join Ben for a visit to the Cliff. Along the way he explains a little about his ideas for the place and the work he has already done – it is clear how passionate he is, and the amount of hard work and energy he is putting in to make it a success

After a few minutes’ walk, we arrive at a wide river, with the cliff on the other side and no bridge for miles around. Bens solution is as crazy and exciting as the rest of his project – two giant zip-lines allowing visitors to quickly and easily fly back and forth. We race across, giddy from the excitement, only to be stopped dead in our tracks by the sight of several huge, very hard looking, unclimbed overhangs.

After climbing the best existing lines on the cliff during the morning, the place begins to fill up with guests of the party, including a national Thai TV crew! Seeking a little tranquillity among the madness, I hike to the top of the cliff in search of potential new lines to bolt through one of the main overhangs. Moving around on this big cliff is hard work, but by the end of the day a few new bolts are in place – everything must have a beginning.

Its a tough job, but somebody has to do it!

The next day would prove to be long... especially after the late night shenanigans of the party before. Caroline had a crash course in bolting, and she helped me to finish our new line and project for the day. On first impressions, the route looked easy, then after a little cleaning and a closer look, really really hard. I was not overly confident of my chance of success, but fortunately managed to find several good kneebars, allowing me to shuffle my way through the overhanging madness, flashing the first ascent with a big fight.

Caroline in the beginnings of the upside down madness... Photo - Richard Eden

Caroline followed with the second in a much more relaxed manner – I am always amazed about how comfortable she looks on overhanging collo’s. I called the route Monty Pythons Flying Circus, and at 8b, is one of the hardest rotes in Thailand, outside of Krabi. The name is not only a reference to the upside down acrobatics, but also the giant python who watched me whilst I drilled, cosily curled up in a hole just a few meters away. You don’t see that every day!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Postcards from Paradise - Ban Nam None

Finally I find the way... With the rope bag between my legs, and my backpack on my front, I can take a “comfy” position lay flat out of the wind, as I gun my little 50cc moped, full throttle towards the unknown. The ease and tranquillity of Green Climbers home has been left behind; we are in search of adventure in the East.

The road is long...

After 150km and 3 hours aboard my “hair-dryer”, my ass is numb, but spirits high as we enter the incredible cavern of Kong Lor. A 7km long watercave, navigated in almost pitch black with a tiny longtail boat is an experience in itself – the incredible stalactites in a central chamber being the icing on the cake. We leave the cave at just before nightfall with a new friend. Our guide from the cave offered for us to sleep at his house and eat dinner with his family, which was quite a humbling and eye opening experience.

The next morning we are back on our bikes in search of the small climbing area we had come all this way for. Ban Name None was opened a few years ago by a small team from France, who over a few weeks opened three new cliffs with around 30 routes up to 8b. Arriving at the base of the cliff was surprisingly easy, as the thick jungle we had expected had been recently cut back by the local villages – we could drive our bikes directly to the cliff!

The reason for our good fortune turned out to be the local government, whom have recently decided to make the area an Eco-Park. Climbing is one of the many activities they hope to offer to attract tourists, and work is well underway to make the area as accessible and safe as possible. Its a good plan, and one I hope works – the next step will be to convince the villages to stop stealing the hangers off the first and second bolts, all of which are currently missing.

Wow! Not so ugly... Photo - James Pearson

Steep routes on giant tuffas is the order of the day. Some of the rock is very sharp, and almost all of it is dirty due to lack of visitors. We would often have to aid the routes first with a big sweeping brush to clean off the spider webs, but after this little bit of effort, we were left with great routes with not a polished hold in sight.

James Pearson on the incredible tufas of Ca Baille Dur. Photo - Caroline Ciavaldini

The best routes to seek out are Ca Baille Dur - a perfect 7b on glorious jugs and collo’s, and Gross Slame, 8b - one of the rare routes to breach the blank rock between the lines of Tufa (this one was even more memorable as I Flashed it, perhaps making the first ascent in the process?). The rock continues for several hundred meters in either direction, with mega-impressive features just waiting to be climbed. With time and motivation invested from the right people, this area could become something really special...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Postcards from Paradise - Green Climbers home

Can you see the Katana Lace up hiding in the picture? I promise it is there!

Spot the Shoe... Photo - Caroline Ciavaldini

I am lying on my back, half stuck inside a hole on this giant block of Swiss Cheese, trying to figure where to go next. I squeeze upwards, or is it sideways, limbs twisted and inching slowly... then finally, there it is; the next quickdraw! You would be forgiven I was caving, but no, this is just another strange and funky route in the mega roof of Pha Tam Kam, the newest discovery in Eastern Laos.

Green Climbers Garden is the creation of Uli and Tanja Weidner, a German couple who visited this area during a round the world trip, and never left! Hidden away in the Pho Hin Boun NPA, just 12km from Thakhek, this little paradise holds several bungalows, a dorm, central restaurant/bar, as well as really great climbing.

Uli and Tanja are wonderful hosts, and the whole camp has a very relaxed atmosphere, exactly what you expect from Laos. The best time to visit is November to March, when temperatures actually get quite low. In December and January, it’s not uncommon to need long trousers and a jacket – essentially perfect conditions for climbing.

I never expected to see something like this!

The area in general is Tufa-central, it is quite similar in appearance to some of the cliffs in Southern Thailand, only with some friction, and without the crowds. The main event however is the gigantic roof on the right. 20m of horizontal, gloriously featured Emmental. Huge jugs and slopers, nothing sharp, nothing loose, nothing chipped or glued – this might be the best roof I have climbed in!

James on the finish of Monkey Trail. Photo - Caroline Ciavaldini

The current hardest route is the spectacular Monkey Trail, 7c+ but much harder lines are just waiting to be bolted. Having said that, it is not the hard lines that make this place really special, but the easy ones. It is quite rare for routes in the 6’s to venture into steep terrain, but here you can find 6b’s that tackle almost the entire span, via wonderfully interesting and involved movements – 3D climbing at its best.

The perfect end to a great 1st day! Photo - Caroline Ciavaldini

Green Climbers Home surpassed all my expectations. If the rest of the locations we visit over the next few weeks are half as good as this place, we will be very happy indeed. Tomorrow we will rent a couple of bikes and drive to Kong Lor Cave, where you can float 7km along an underground river, as well as explore some nearby cliffs developed by a French team a few years ago.

Sôhk Dee Deuh

James and Caroline

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Holidays Are Upon Us...

...and where better to spend them than South East Asia. Avoiding the cold and the snow, adventuring in the jungle, and eating mangos on the beach - not forgetting a little climbing.

To make us appreciate the things to come even more, we spent Christmas and New year in a very soggy England, where there are definitely no Mangos - just a LOT of chocolate. Its safe to say that right now I feel like quite the glutton, but luckily Christmas comes but once a year.

In addition to the usual orgy of Tonsai, we plan on visiting a lot of new, relatively unknown areas in Laos and Malaysia which look to hold great potential. Throughout the trip we hope to send little "postcards" about the places we visit, back home to a few special people, including my mum, grandparents, UKClimbing, Caroline's sister, Kairn, and

Here is the first, courtesy of Caroline, about her opening thoughts on the grit. Its all in french, but luckily, Google has your back...

Toucher de Grit avant le grand saut…
Dans la lignée de mes habituelles échappées hivernales vers le soleil, j’ai choisi cette année l’Asie… la belle ! Malaisie, Laos et Thaïlande pour ce mois et demi à voguer avec le courant. Nous avons pris les billets… et c’est tout ! Donc dans 3 jours, Sri Lanka Airlines nous téléporte à Kuala Lumpur depuis Londres. L’occasion de se préparer aux grandes vacances… par de petites vacances. James m’a promis mon premier toucher de Grit dans le Peak District !

Caroline "enjoying" the gritstone classic, Not to be taken away. Photo - David Simmonite

Première virée, Stanage, une grande barre de grit pas bien loin de Chatsworth, le domaine du héro de Jane Austen (un peu de culture britannique voyons, j’ai reçu pour Noel un livre, deux films et trois audio books de l’auteur de « orgueil et préjugés »). Revenons à nos moutons, pour ce premier jour James a choisi un grand classique, des blocs majeurs bien qu’humides et mousseux… avec en hors d’œuvre : Brad pit !!!! Pour votre culture, pit avec un seul t signifie trou profond et sombre !!! Le célébrissime Brad pit est donc un 8B décoté à 7C+ par notre grenouille préférée Marc Le Ménestrel, qui, enfin (!!), a suggéré aux british une alternative à leur bourrinage en no foot : poser un talon dans la rampe de départ ! Quoi qu’il en soit, j ai essayé, pas trop insisté, ca semble chouette, surtout une belle histoire de triomphe français !
Dans un autre registre, facile mais très, très haut, « Crescent Arête », et « Not to be taken away », sont l’occasion de tester mes qualités d’engagement : avec nos pauvres deux crashs pads, et mon pareur auquel je défends de se reculer pour la photo, j’ai bien compris qu’on me faisait faire mes gammes pour le Trad. La journée sera clôturée par un chocolat chaud au camion bar posé sur le parking des grimpeurs. Convenient isn’t it ?

Le lendemain, je continue mon apprentissage avec un footing aux Black rock, maison de "Gaia", La voie où Jean min Trin Thieu s’est cassé la jambe ! Bon… vu du bas… heu… ben …oui, certes, le rocher est pas mal, mais j’ai un peu de mal à saisir le concept du trad extrême, pourquoi n’avoir pas mis de spit si la voie n’est pas protégeable ? Mais parce que c’est la tradition, voyons !!!!

Ok, back to packing, but before I go, here is a video from one of the areas we will visit later on in the trip...