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Rock Climbing: Hang on Tight

My monthly foray into the differing sports available in Pattaya has led me to the one I undertake with reservations and trepidation. Rock climbing. The very thought of it almost putting me into panic mode, as I have had a lifelong fear of heights.


Having said that, I once spent almost every weekend in the eighties exploring all the old gold mines in mid-Wales. This involved abseiling down shafts I couldn’t see the bottom of, without any worries whatsoever. Rather illogical given my fear of heights. But then I’ve always subscribed to the theory it’s not the fall that kills you – just the sudden stop.


So with my heart in my mouth, and a spare pare of underpants, I set off for my appointed ‘lesson’ at Fairtex Sports complex on North Pattaya Road.


The climbing wall is an impressive 20 metres high, with climbs of varying difficulty and skill. My instructor, a young Thai, who appeared no more than a teenager, and of extremely light build, was awaiting me.


The safety line was already attached to the top of the wall. My instructor set about fitting me with a safety harness, putting my legs through the loops and attaching the various clips and other items. After being kitted up, I now realise why women prefer wearing tights, and why the demise of stockings came about: all the paraphernalia required to hold them up.


My instructor then drew my attention to the various routes by which I could ascend, pointing out the hand hold points of which I should avail myself on the way up. I began to think it was ok for him to just point where to go and what to hold. Just then he stepped up to the wall, and without any safety equipment, climbed half way up the wall, clinging to the face as if he was Spiderman himself.


The safety line was attached to my harness and I approached the wall. Looking up it didn’t seem that high, but I know from experience when you look down, it’s a different matter. The first few feet were quite easy, but gripping on to what are loosely called ‘hand holds’ with just fingertips soon becomes quite painful. If able to take most of the strain with a foothold, you get a little respite. This allows feeling and some strength to return to the fingers, before making the next move.


I felt things were going well, until I encountered a slight overhang. This entailed leaning outwards from the face of the wall. In order to progress further, I needed to not only hold on with one hand, but reach up for the next hold.


Steeling myself for the effort I moved quickly, reaching upward I made the next handhold, but at the expense of the lower one, and so found myself hanging off the wall, and spinning round on the safety line, fortunately being held by my young instructor, who lowered me slowly and ignominiously to the ground.


At my sixth attempt I managed to negotiate the small overhang. If I’d had a flag, I’d have placed it there and made my descent.


Now things began to get more difficult. Footholds that required me almost to do ‘the splits’ seemed to be the order of the day. Handholds became less and less, and needed more athleticism to reach, started to give way to cracks in the rock face that required the jamming of one’s hand in to stay attached to the wall.


I lost count of the times I fell to certain death, only prevented by my young instructor and the safety line. Each attempt sapped more and more strength from not only my fingers and arms, but also my legs; my calf muscles at times feeling like they were on fire, as they attempted to propel me upwards from unfamiliar and unusual positions.


On one of my attempts to scale the wall, with my hand wedged in a crevice, I found I had gotten into a position where I couldn’t extricate it. Worrying that I might have to spend the night there, like some climber trapped by a snowstorm on the North Face of the Eiger, I turned to my instructor for some advice and eventually managed to free myself.


Sadly despite all my efforts, I never managed to reach the summit. The lactic acid was flowing freely through the muscles in my thighs, calves and arms. The tendons serving my fingers had cried enough, and I think my instructor was getting tired of my feeble efforts, arresting my many falls, and was getting a bit disenchanted with constantly saving my life.


Despite my phobia regarding heights, I really enjoyed the experience. Of course, knowing that in the event of falling off the wall someone is there to save you is a great help. It certainly is a sport that challenges you in many ways, not only the need for some physical strength and balance, but also intelligence in planning the best route up, and use of the handholds, crevices and cracks to aid your ascent.


After bidding my farewell to my young instructor I headed off for the nearest massage shop, in the hope that they would be able to administer some restorative therapy to my aching limbs and to ponder what sport I might torture myself with next month.