Friday, January 20, 2012


Anchored long tail boat on Tonsai Beach.

View from the Cat Wall. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Jonathon and I went to Southern Thailand in mid-December for 3 weeks of climbing, swimming, tanning, and vacationing. After 24 hours of travel, we ended up on the famous Tonsai Beach and wondered up the hill to our little bungalow. Within hours we ran into our friend Dylan and the adventures began.

Dylan drinking a delicious coconut shake.

Tonsai is all that its talked up to be. Steep limestone climbing right off the beach, beautiful views, short approaches, complete with reggae blasting from all the bars. And lets not forget the endless fruit smoothies. We began the trip very motivated and were climbing close to 10 pitches a day, with a bit of a siesta around lunch time. As our sport climbing muscles got stronger we started trying harder routes and were only able to do 3 or 4 climbs a day. Also the heat is a bit of a motivation killer.

Climbing the crux pitch on Humanality. Photo Dylan Taylor.

Sending on muscle beach.

Or not

Tufas big enough for sitting on!

Some of our favorite crags were the Keep, the Thaiwand Wall and the Cat Wall. All the climbs on Tonsai beach were pretty great and made for some good people watching too. Although I could do without all the crowds.

The scene on muscle beach. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Hot pan on Christmas Eve! Photo Dylan Taylor.

New Years Eve.

Tonsai Beach

One of the best days was out at Ko Yawabun. It is a half hour boat ride from Tonsai and once we reached the island, you literally climb right out of the boat on a fixed line! This took us to the start of “To the Members” on the ThaiTanium Wall (4 pitches of steep 5.11). The views were unreal and the exposure was awesome. After rappelling back to the fixed line, I took myself off the rope, sent my shoes and chalkbag down with Jonathon and jumped the final 30 feet into the ocean. It was exhilarating! For more info see:

Dylan jugging the fixed line to the base of the climb. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

I love the taste of chalk! Photo Dylan Taylor.

Resting in a cave before the final crux move on pitch 2. Photo Dylan Taylor.

Rich pulling Jonathon into the boat. Photo Dylan Taylor.

The speedy descent! Photo Dylan Taylor.

Our boat driver, Cleft, navigating the stormy seas on our trip home. Photo Dylan Taylor.

We detoured to this beautiful beach on Chicken Island to wait out the squall. Photo Dylan Taylor.

For the final 5 days of our trip, we teamed up with our friend Jeanna and headed to the island of Ko Loa Liang. We left Tonsai in the middle of a massive monsoon. The sky was letting go of heavy, warm rain. We weren’t sure if we would even make it to this next island. However,, the seas were calm on the boat ride out of Tonsai and we made it to Ao Nong soaking wet. We convinced our group to spend the night in Krabi and so we could dry out. We took in the sites and experienced a little Thai culture by checking out a temple and going to the night market.

Hmmm, what to eat....

The next day we took several van rides to a different part of southern Thailand. It reminded me a bit of traveling in Mexico but everything was in Thai and not Spanish.

Random bus stop somewhere in Thailand.

Eventually we turned into someone’s driveway and we were at the dock. The hour long boat ride was beautiful.

Eventually we arrived to Ko Loa Liang. This island has one low-key resort and is capped at 40 people. Upon arriving, I immediately knew we were entering pure tropical paradise.

It was a glorious couple days filled with sea kayaking and climbing. Unlike Tonsai, it was not crowded at all. No lines for climbs and an empty beach. This was my kind of scene. The only downside was the pretty terrible food (I’m the least picky eater I know!) and the quality of the climbing, e.g. I broke a jug and took an exciting 30 foot fall. But it’s all part of the adventure. It was a great way to spend our last couple days in Thailand.

Jeanna and I returning from sea kayaking. Photo Jonathon Spitzer

Final Sunrise on Ko Loa Liang

Good night.

Friday, January 13, 2012

El Capitan - Lurking Fear In a Day

I have always wanted to climb El Capitan. In fact, my subconscious voice frequently told me that you are not a real climber unless you climb El Cap. With that in mind, I made it a goal for myself to scale the 3000 foot walls of El Cap at some point in my climbing career.

Mid-way up. Photo Kate Rutherford.

In 2006, I attempted Lurking Fear with 2 other partners. I knew very little about aid climbing and had only been climbing for 3 years or so. Our team decided to climb the route ‘big wall style,’ i.e. we brought gear, food and water for 4 days and planned to haul our bags on every pitch. It was very slow and I found hauling cumbersome and difficult. I felt comfortable leading the straightforward aid pitches but was absolutely terrified on the traversing pitches. We ended up bailing after 10 pitches, when we realized that we were going to be too slow. I was disappointed but was determined to acquire the experience necessary to complete an ascent of El Cap.

Kate jugging at the start of the route.

Many years went by before I even got back to Yosemite. There were other places to go climbing, injuries to recover from and homework to complete. Finally, this past fall things started to come together for another shot at climbing El Capitan. I had asked my good friend Kate Rutherford to climb with me since she had climbed El Cap 5 times or so and would be a great partner. Kate is pretty hard to nail down so when she said she would be free for a week in September, I immediately bought a plane ticket and planned to head down there.

Photo Kate Rutherford.

We decided that we should try to do it in a day, since Kate hates hauling more than I do and I’m always up for a challenge. Plus, it is pretty pure style to just walk to the base of a formation and go up and over with just the gear you will need on your back. We gave ourselves a little bit of leeway since we decided to sleep at the base of the route and fix the first 2 pitches. It was also a good idea to practice our systems, since I was new to short-fixing and still hadn’t done too much aid climbing since my attempt on Lurking Fear 5 years ago.

After fixing the pitches, I started to have some doubt about this one-day ascent. I felt clumsy and slow while leading. Even jumaring felt tiring. I was worried I was going to let Kate down and ruin our chances of succeeding. I tried to get those thoughts out of my head and think more positively.

Photo Kate Rutherford.

We woke up at 4 am and started ascending our fixed line. Kate had the first block and I did my first lower-out without even epic-ing. I was trying to go as fast as I could so that, in Kate’s words, “the leader can have more fun,” i. e. get a proper belay. I still felt a bit clumsy and slow but my confidence was rising a little bit and I was starting to believe that we could do this.

After 3 pitches, I took over. I remembered leading these pitches 5 years ago and memories of being even more of a gumby came back to me. I thought to myself, that I have come a long way since those days. In the heat of the day, Kate took over and cruised through the A2 cruxes and passed a couple parties. I was jugging as fast as possible and I felt like we were going to do this. We were more than half way and still had several hours of daylight.

Kate cruising the A2 crux traverse pitch while passing another party.

After pitch 12, I took over and tried to navigate us through the wandering crack systems with a mix of free and aid. I took a little fall onto my aider after attempting this incredible difficult ‘step out of your aider free move,’ but regained my composure and eventually found an easier path. Things were going well until I was slowed down my some tiring aid/free climbing on pitch 13. I was so slow and scared and felt like I was wasting precious daylight. When I got to the belay, I remember feeling incredible defeated. I yelled down to Kate to ask her if she wanted to lead the next pitch. To my surprise, she encouraged me to keep going. Kate reminded me that this was my trip up the Captain and that it doesn’t matter if we finish in the dark. These are the moments where the climbing partnership is of utmost value and it is this combination of support and motivation that inspired and pushed me to continue climbing. The next pitch went better and then Kate took over for the final 3 pitches to the summit.

Kate jumaring in the fading light.

When we got to the summit, I was so elated and exhausted. We were dirty, tired, sore and proud. I never thought I would be capable of doing something like that and I realized that for this type of climbing it’s all about your attitude. If you believe that you can climb this huge route with just a windshirt, 3 liters of water, 1500 calories and a rack then you are going to do it. It’s all about being committed to completing the objective. It usually is easy to bail but it’s not as easy to keep going. It is this type of attitude that motivates me to continue to tackle challenging objectives and push myself to try things that initially seem impossible. I can’t wait for the next adventure.

Summit. And very tired!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Gear Review: Petzl Spirit Quickdraw

Climbing on the ThaiTanium Wal, Ko Yowabun, Thailand. Photo Dylan Taylor.

The petzl spirit quickdraws are a great addition to the sport climber’s rack. The thicker dogbones prevent twisting, making clipping easy, and giving me extra confidence when the possibility of falling is increased. This extra burly webbing is also appreciated when the draws are left up for projects so that the webbing is not degraded by the sun and rain.

Racking up. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

The notchless, keylock gates on both caribiners ease the difficulty of hanging, clipping, and even cleaning overhanging routes. For those reachy bolts, it is easy to snap the upper caribiner into the bolt due to the caribiners bigger size and sturdiness of the webbing. When clipping, my hand naturally fits around the lower, bent-gate caribiner and I don’t find myself fumbling to get the rope clipped. The large size of the bent-gate caribiner (20 mm opening) also allows fast clips from small stances. The bent-gate caribiner is also locked into place with a rubber grommet that absolutely prevents it from spinning in desperate clipping situations.

Gotta love it when the draws are hung. Climbing in Thailand. Photo Dylan Taylor.

Since these draws are on the heavier side (109 g for 17 cm and 104 g for 11 cm), I don’t recommend them for alpine climbing or when light weight is essential. But even with 10 of these draws on my harness, I have never felt weighed down. I prefer the 17 cm quickdraw as these can be more versatile, prevent rope drag on wandering climbs, and aid in those height-dependent clipping situations. I have used these draws on sport crags all around the world and they have held up well showcasing their durability. I highly recommend adding one, two or a dozen to your rack! For more information click here.

Jonathon climbing in Italy.