Krabi Celebrates Its Soaring Limestone Cliffs With A Rock Climbing Festival.

May 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Local News & Event


In the heat of the midday sun, Anna Slukushicina, 30, a rock climber from St Petersburg, attempts an overhang 10 metres above Krabi’s Tonsai Bay. The prominent feature of an overhang, or layback, as climbers call it, is to oppose hand-holds with foot-holds and it’s a strenuous technique used by climbers to overcome some of the toughest spots. The crowd on the ground collectively holds their breath, clapping loudly when she finally completes the tough route. Slukushicina is one of 150 climbers participating in Krabi’s annual Rock and Fire Festival and she and her team partner take top prize, beating competitors from 14 countries in the Lead Marathon climbing contest by completing 47 out of a total 50 routes all over the Railay peninsula. Slukushicina, a rock climbing coach back home with 10 years experience to her credit, has travelled to many famous sites around the world, scaling rock faces in Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, Italy and of course, in Russia. She’s spent the last four months in Krabi and says she really appreciates the towering limestone cliffs. “This is one of the best destinations for rock climbing. Nowhere else in the world can climbers stay by the sea close to these beautiful cliffs and climb anytime they feel it,” she says.

As a professional climber, Slukushicina, enjoys the hazards and complexities of Krabi’s cliffs, “Each rock gives me the skills and knowledge to explore others. I’ve had the time of my life in Railay,” she says. The rock climbing competition, held from April 16 to 18 as part of the Krabi Rock and Fire Festival 2010, was a great success. Apart from the Lead Climbing Marathon, rock climbers can tested their endurance in the Speed Climbing as well as Deep Water Soloing categories at Ao Nang tower, a popular site between Railay West and Tonsai Bay. Rock climbing, says Slukushicina, is an independent sport using only hands, feet and a safety rope. Railay and its environs offer the perfect terrain, with more than 700 bolted sport climbing routes ranging from beginner 5a’s  right up to the extremes of 8c under the French grading system. A plethora of climbing schools run by Thais have sprung up in Railay East and Tonsai Bay, with local experts quick to separate extreme athletes from novices and set up climbing routes appropriate for each group. At the far end of Railay east, the beautiful cliff known as 123 is the gathering point for many climbers. Enthusiasts can choose from more than 10 routes and all beginners are advised to start here to get their strength up before going elsewhere. Several hundred climbing routes have developed since the late 1980s, when Krabi first started seeing people scaling its limestone mountains. Routes include high quality limestone, steep, pocketed walls, overhangs and hanging stalactites. Access is usually from the beach and some routes can only be accessed by boat from below. Bouldering, short climbs over a crash pad, is another popular sport, and a good way to practise technical rock climbing skills, though care should be taken when hopping from stone to stone. Deep Water Soloing is also another rock climbing category that has just started to gain popularity in Railay. It’s a form of solo rock climbing that relies purely upon the water at the base of a climb to protect against injury. Ao Nang Tower, is popular for Deep Water Soloing with more than 10 routes for which climbers can choose With limited bolts, it’s a challenging climb but watching the competitors scale the rock is great fun. The tide starts to come in as we watch the fire dancing competition on the beach of Railay West on the last night of the festival. The winner is Tanarat Vejpitak, 14, from Railay, who tells me he’s been performing with fire since he was just three and a half. He’s thrilled to be taking home the prize money. Slukushicina is almost unrecognisable in a stunning evening dress clutching the trophy given to her by Tourist Authority of Thailand governor, Surapol Svetserani. It rains later in the evening but the shower quickly blows over, leaving us with fresh sea breeze under the cloudless sky. The reggae music that’s unique to Railay beach picks up again and the rock climbers, fire dancers and their audience are all happy, proud too to be part of this small festival that’s all their own.



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