Exotic Rock

On the Rock
  |  Gorp.com
Page 3 of 4   |  

Before setting foot on the rock, expect to be nervous— there's no way around this, so don't try. The best way to find confidence is to take it from the others around you. Notice how the experienced climbers have no qualms about scaling the rock. It's because they understand and trust the equipment. Most accidents in this sport happen because of pilot error, not equipment failure.

So listen intently as the guides thoroughly explain the equipment and the concepts that make the sport safe. Be sure to voice any doubt or confusion. Because they do it everyday, some Thai guides are quick with explanations. Don't accept short shrift.

Your comfort level on the rock proportionately increases with your trust and understanding of the few pieces of equipment used, namely the harness and rope.

In short, if you slip, the harness and rope arrest the fall after a few feet maximum. The rope is tied to the harness, run up to an anchor, then down to the guide who keeps it taut to stop any fall. This setup is called a top-rope.

Some guides start clients ''bouldering,'' or traversing along the cliff base a few feet off the sand, to give clients a feel for the dynamics of climbing. Probably the most confounding thing about climbing for the first time is that all the prep work of the guide is usually temporarily forgotten. Coincidentally, this happens when it's your turn to climb.

It's a sinking feeling similar to the moment before a speech, when one forgets the too-practiced opening lines. It's a fleeting panic, usually sobering, and sometimes humorous to onlookers.

The first-timer stands at the base, looking up, too puzzled, probably thinking with creeping fear: ''You mean you want me to go up there? The last time I went up something that steep, I walked through two sliding doors, heard a bell and pressed the button for the tenth floor.''

''Mai pen rai,'' says the guide, grinning. (He's heard it before and knows how to deftly deliver the proper words of encouragement.) ''You strong man. You Superman. Mai pen rai. Just climb.''

''Mai pen rai'' is a phrase as synonymous with Thais as ''Just Do It'' is with Nike. It's a stock answer for any vexing situation that means ''no problem.''

I watched a similar scene unfold before me. The guy was a first-timer, the type who invests a lot in seeming macho and loathes not being able to hide trepidation. A few feet away, directly behind the guy—who didn't want his name used for fear of mortal harm to his reputation as a human male—stood his worst fear, a gaggle of about 30 tourists.

A bad time to get performance anxiety, I thought.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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