(Before this goes any further, get your mind out of the gutter, I can tell you now that our time together was 99% platonic, save a cheeky kiss I stole when saying goodbye. So if you're looking for smut, check out http://journals.worldnomads.com/stonesamurai and see what that cad Greg is up to.)
In any case, Ines, the luminous Spanish lady, and her friends took off, we all got supertrashed, and slept above the bar in a loft. Pulled out of a fitful sleep by noises of heavy construction, awoke with that "Where the hell am I?" feeling, along with "Oh god, how much did I have to drink last night?" and some sort of ballpeen hammer battling in my head. We went to get breakfast and headed back to Ton Sai, where I spent the next few (and last few) days hanging out with Ines, her friend Marta, and Tristan. Tristan is a relatively new climber and we had a great few days together. It was good fun to "show someone the ropes" and he wasleading a 6b by the end of his time here.
Ines and I did Humanality (4 pitches, Awesome 6b+ crux pitch) last night. At 6pm, we packed some head torches and an extra rope, took a look at the guidebook, and started up. Climbing in the dark is scary fun. Routefinding becomes a bit of a game, looking for bolts and slings with a circle of light about 4 feet across. At one infamous point on the crux pitch, you have to transfer from the main face, onto a stalactite behind you, then back to the main face. I had heard about this move from many many people. Climbing up on a bit of slippery, runout slab, just after clipping a bolt, I found myself at a loss for where to go next. I looked behind me to see the tip of the stalactite hanging down to about the level my head was at. I think I actually said out loud, "What the f@ck am I supposed to do now? Jump?". Well, I leaned over with one hand onto the stalactite and found some tenuous feet with which to chimney up, left arm and leg on the big piece of hanging rock, rights on the face. Once I had successfully moved over, I started looking for another bolt or sling. Nothing. Look behind me at the face, nothing. Look up into the group of stalactites, nothing. Shit. I couldn't see anything on the face behind me, so I decided to climb up the easy moves into the stalactite and look for a sling or bolt. I had no idea how long I was supposed to climb the stalactite before moving back onto the face, so I figured, go up. I climbed and climbed into this group of stalactites on big jugs, feet stemming from one hanging spire to another. Before I knew it, I had climbed much further than expected, still not finding a bolt or sling to protect myself. I looked back down at my bolt, which was on the opposite wall about 7 meters below me. My first thought was "14 meter fall" and I tried not to think of the words "pinballing off the rock". This was just nerves though, as the climbing was quite easy in the stalactite. Still looking at my bolt, I was debating on what to do next when I saw the next bolt. It was meters below me, on the main face, maybe two meters above my last bolt. How I didn't see it, I don't know. Downclimbing onto the stalactites nearest the wall (SCary!), I reached behind me (really scary!) and clipped the bolt, still clinging to the stalactite. Looking over, there were only two holds on the rock, a side pull and a small ledge. Matching my hands on the ledge, I reached waaaaaay right to catch a flake that turned out to be the floor of the little cave where the next anchor was. Whew. Awesome fun. As I was belaying Ines up, watching her work the moves out, she yelled out:
"Wan Mon kay!"
"I see.... Wan Mon kay!"
"Huh? You okay? You want me to take [the rope tight]?"
"NO! Wan Mon kay in the cave!"
"OHHHH a MONKEY! One Monkey, I get it. Ah, cool. Is it angry?"
(Laughing) "I don't know. I don't want him to bite the rope!"
The image of the monkey, sleeping alone in the cave, no doubt for some outrage he committed against the other monkeys, chewing through the rope in revenge for disturbing his sleep, was at once ridiculous and vaguely terrifying.
"Okay. Well, Venga Venga!"
Suffice to say, we didn't see the monkey again, just kept a nervous eye on his cave on the rappel down. Speaking of rappels really cool turn of events, facilitating my first problem solving session 100 (or so) metres off the ground. So the route is four pitches, but with two ropes the rappel down can be done in two rappels. The route moves to the right as it moves up, so you can't rappel straight down, otherwise you won't reach your belay station below you, and may end up stuck on the end of a rope for the night with nowhere to clip in. Standard procedure is to "back clip", meaning that the first climber rappels down on both ropes (now tied together to make one long rope), clips the rope into the bolts on the way down, and thereby follows the diagonal nature of the route. The second descender then raps down, unclipping the bolts, while the first holds the rope to pull them in the direction of the lower anchor. (If this is too confusing don't worry about it, just replace these couple of paragraphs with "blah blah blah, climbing blah blah I'm awesome blah blah) To facilitate this process, however, you need both climbers to have a rappel device that can work on two strands of rope, for instance an ATC. Turns out, I have an ATC, but Ines only had a Grigri, which for those non-climbers out there is a belay device that you can use to rappel on a SINGLE rope. We had known this going up, but had not realized the necessity of back clipping, planning instead to simultaneously rappel on on strand each side of the anchor, equalizing each others weight and going straight down. Now, we knew we could not go straight down. Long story short, sort of, we discussed a few complex possibilities of incorporating the grigri into a back clipping scenario, and decided, finally, to just rap straight down at the same time and hope that the full 60 meters of rope would get us to an anchor. Some anchor, any anchor, who knows. Stopping to take a photo at the top, we smiled nervously at the lightning hitting the water below us, smiled nervously at each other and with a "Okay, come on.", started down the rope. The coloured pattern on my rope changes at the halfway point, this is useful for determining how much rope you have until you reach the end, so I kept an eye on that and about 10 meters past the change, we found an anchor. Hallelujah. After what seemed like ages of coiling and managing rope, we started down the second rappel and made it slowly to the ground. Smiling constantly, looking up or down at each other to check that progress was going smoothly, we finally made it to the ground. Cheering and embracing, we jumped up and down with glee at the fact that in our hungry, exhausted state, we managed to make it down. Incredible time.
This morning Tristan came to my bungalow and woke me up, bearing the bad news that his plan to move his flight had failed, and he had to leave today for Singapore, where he would catch a flight to London. Sad to see him go, but happy we met, we said a long goodbye on the porch and promised to meet up sometime, somewhere, soon.
After having breakfast with Ines and Marta, I walked with them over to Railay and we caught a boat to Ao Nam Mao, where I'm writing from, they took off for Koh Thao and barring the possibility of a quick visit if they come back this way in a few days, I'll probably not see them until I head to Spain.
I've become very used to saying goodbye to people here. Being here for two months, you see so many people come and go, many of them wicked individuals with whom I've formed fast friendships. There's lots of acquaintances, and "see ya when I see ya's" but for every couple dozen buddies, pals, and chums, there are individuals that it really does hurt to say goodbye to.
Wistfulness is probably a character flaw in me of some sort, I often look back with a certain heartache at people and places I've been or been with. But I also try to keep my head from going to that place for too long, preferring to move forward, eyes [and heart] open to the infinity of new and beautiful experiences on their way. It can feel cruel sometimes, this "gift" we all have, of loving people, but this cruelty is born out of the most important kind of connection we have. It's through connecting with people, friends, family, and especially strangers, that we can learn and grow and change and not stop dancing till the music stops. So to everyone I've said goodbye to recently, I hope I see you soon, but if not, I'm glad we did what we did and now have what we have.