It was a group of Koreans, whispering to each other, looking impressed, almost astonished, but not by the hesitant man in front of me, miserably trying to live up to the previous night's alcohol-induced boasts of his physical grace.
No, they were craning their necks to see Ms. Lady Who Has Never Climbed BeforeBut Is Making a Damn Good Attempt.
She pensively reached for a hueco in the rock. Her legs, I noticed, were shaking faster than a sewing machine needle and her face was twisted in grim determination. She wanted to finish. She didn't let go.
''You strong woman. You strong woman,'' shouted the Thai guide, grinning. ''Look right. There a hold there. . . Good.''
She made the last move to gain the top, then laughed to herself as the Koreans chuckled and filed away before Mr. Trepidation could start.
She stayed at the top of the climb for a few minutes. From her hard-won vantage point, an expansive turquoise bay rolled away, mingling with one of Krabi's long beaches, a coconut grove and a cloudless sky. The setting sun illuminated the surrounding cliffs and their faces spilled forth a warm, tangerine-colored light.
She smiled one of those toothpaste commercial grins. I knew how she felt. Exactly.
Earlier that same day, at dawn, I fought a similar battle with the rock. Drifting away from the precarious security of a thin ledge, 20 feet high, I reached for a limestone stalactite just beyond my grasp.
Slipping here, I thought, would be bad.
Carrie, a beginner I'd recently met, stood nearby, watching, sensing my nervousness, waiting for her chance to safely follow me after I rigged the top-rope.
My hand found the stalactite and my foot followed, gingerly, feeling for purchase on this ancient, 60-foot tropical icicle. I eased out onto it, seeing and feeling my muscles starting to work. I stood exposed. Sweat ran in tiny rivulets along my skin.
I no longer felt anxious.
I smiled, stopped praying and climbed with the rising sun.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication