It's 6 a.m. The sun just cleared the horizon and already feels warm on my bare chest. It's a comfortable 75 degrees, a coolness that won't last.
About 20 feet below the narrow ledge on which I'm balancing, the Andaman Sea is slipping in to reclaim a blackened, razor-sharp coral reef. In the distance, gibbons wail from their lush jungle sanctuary, a dazzling emerald green. The beauty and serenity of southern Thailand is palpable, relaxing.
But I'm anxious, distracted ... uptight.
So I take a deep breath, drift away from the ledge, and pray.
From San Francisco, I traveled 17 hours by plane, 12 hours by bus, three blocks by taxi and 45 minutes by boat to climb the isolated limestone cliffs and towers of Rai Ley beach, Krabi Province, Thailand.
The willingness to endure such a lengthy trip is not only a measure of the beauty here but also testament to the quality of rock climbing. In climbing circles, Krabi is considered one of the best winter places to climb in the world, enticing the beginner and challenging the expert.
While residents of the States or Europe suffer through the winter's Arctic chill, temperatures in Krabi hover in the 80s and 90s. The sea feels like bath water. And the white, silky sand of the province's renowned beaches burns away any stubborn, trace memories of snow.
I've climbed in some beautiful, awe-inspiring locations, such as the Adirondacks of upstate New York, the Sierra, Joshua Tree National Park and Nevada's Red Rocks NCA. I've met people who have climbed in many more. But Thailand is Thailand. There aren't too many places where one starts climbing straight off the beach; or, even better, from a rolling boat, ending with a rappel into a blaze of shimmering turquoise water. It's a novel experience hard to beat.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication