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History of Climbing in Thailand
While no one knows for sure when the first climbing in Thailand began, recent history begins in the 1980s when Pra-Nang Bay in Southern Thailand was known only to a few adventurous travelers, and as a relatively unexplored beach destination at that. Few dared to venture outside the safety and comfort of Phuket Island’s giant beach resorts. But seeking new adventures, travelers eventually made their way across the bay to Phi Phi Islands and a small fishing town by the name of Krabi.

Theories About Discovery

Equally unclear as Thailand climbing's origins is who should be credited with realizing the potential for rock climbing in the Pra-Nang Bay. A few tales have been passed around about the discovery of these fabled cliffs. In one version it was tourists traveling to the Phi Phi Islands for pristine scuba diving and saw the potential, returning home with stories and pictures for their climber friends. Another version is that a post card from the area ended up in the hands of a few climbers.

All are great stories, but perhaps the favorite is dubbed the "James Bond Theory". In 1974 the James Bond film "The Man with the Golden Gun" featured the island Ko Tapu (now known as "James Bond Island"), and its small 20-meter limestone Karst tower. It might be possible that those few scenic shots of Pra-Nang Bay in the film inspired some adventurous climbers to venture out to Thailand and have a look.

1987 Dutch Expedition to Phi Phi Don

Unfortunately, we really don't know for sure how climbers ended up in Pra-Nang Bay, but what we do know is this:

As early as 1987 a Dutch Expedition visited the Phi Phi Islands and climbed a few of the larger tower formations in Ton Sai Bay on Phi Phi Don. These first routes were done in more of a mountaineering style of rock climbing with the goal to reach the summit of the towers. The first ascensionist climbed these towers using only natural protection like trees, threads and horns or artificial protection (stoppers and cams). The word ‘Sport’ climbing was barely a term back then and it wasn’t until the next year that the potential for sport climbing was starting to take shape. Instead of looking for the path of least resistance to climb to the top of of the karst formations, a few climbers were looking to the overhanging rock walls sometimes well below the summits, routes that didn’t necessarily finish at the top of a cliff. These faces where filled with pockets and huecos, stalactites and stalagmites which made these steep walls possible to climb. Because of the soft nature of the limestone and lack of protectable natural lines such as cracks and dihedrals, the use of passive and active protection was very difficult.

Golden Age of Climbing

Climbers, especially in Europe, had already started what would become the golden age of sport climbing by placing expansion bolts on the unprotectable faces. Thailand seemed perfect for this new fangled bolt-protected climbing. Serval European climbers like Dominique Potard and Francois Burnier from France came to Thailand in 1988 armed with hammer drills and steel expansion bolts to put up the first sport climbs on Phi Phi Islands.

This continued in 1989 and the early 90′s with the discovery of Railay Bay and the Pra-Nang Pennisula. Areas like the 123 Wall and the Muay Thai Wall on east Railay saw the first routes on the Pra Nang peninsula.




3 Comments

    jordan miller

    On:October 24, 2011

    Hey Josh, Is the film finished? I was kind of under the impression that by donating to the project, I'd get a download of the film. I donated via paypal, but saw nothing in the way of a film link. I'm stoked to help the cause regardless, I was just excited to watch the film.

    Jane

    On:February 7, 2012

    Hi, Josh,

    I see your points of replacing the steel bolts with titanium ones. I fully agree that Ti-bolts will be much better. But please be accurate in the science behind the corrosion and the alloy stuff. Here are my concerns:

    1. You use the word "magnum" many times. I guess you actually meant "magnesium".

    2. What is the chemical composition and treatment conditions of the Ti bolts that you are using? There are many kinds of Ti alloys and you want to use the "right" ones.

    3. Ushab USA folded. Now Who made the Ti-bolts for you and where do you get them? Is there a reliable QC in place? The consistency of the quality is key to safety.

    4. Most of the climbing gear companies do not make their own raw materials. In this case, Hilti does not likely make the RE-500. Hilti is very likely putting the drum-full of glue into small container of half-pint and sell to the climbers. Waterproof-glue that you can use underwater is nothing new. It has been around for a long time, at least for 35 years.

    I will be happy to help you out; just give me a shout. I am a scientist (and a climber) working in probably the best research institute in materials science. My specialty is materials analysis.

    Happy trail,

    Jane

    Alexander Holke

    On:February 21, 2012

    Hi Josh,

    great work on the Ti rebolting I can see the progress. I wonder if you could help me find Ti bolts.I read in some blogs that Ushba has discontinued making Ti bolts, but that you have (via ASCA) qualified another supplier (United Titanium) is that correct? And of course they rather manufacture large quantities at a time.

    We are a handful of enthusiasts here in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo. Luckily our limestone cliffs (e.g. Batmann Wall) are far from the sea so SS works well (>10 years).
    Then we have this beautul sandstone area with seaside cliffs (Bako National Park). Not only would we need Ti bolts but such with longer shafts (min 200mm or better 250mm) due to the softness of the rock. I wonder if you could help to enquire if such bolts with longer shafts could be made, maybe together with your orders.

    I am willing to pay for prototypes - even if they are expensive.

    There is another group of climbers futher east in Kota Kinabalu who are bolting seaside sandstone at Berhala Island. With SS presently due to lack of sutiable bolts! But they have state funding.

    Any comment is appreciated
    cheers
    Alex


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History of Thailand climbing


Who popularized rock climbing in Thailand? James Bond or a postcard?
May 1, 2012 | 0 comments

While no one knows for sure when the first climbing in Thailand began, recent history begins in the 1980s when Pra-Nang Bay in Southern Thailand was known only to a few adventurous travelers, and as a relatively unexplored beach destination at that. Few dared to venture outside the safety and comfort of Phuket Island’s giant beach resorts. But seeking new adventures, travelers eventually made their way across the bay to Phi Phi Islands and a small fishing town by the name of Krabi.

Theories About Discovery

Equally unclear as Thailand climbing's origins is who should be credited with realizing the potential for rock climbing in the Pra-Nang Bay. A few tales have been passed around about the discovery of these fabled cliffs. In one version it was tourists traveling to the Phi Phi Islands Read more

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