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My first ever ‘climbing’ experience was in 1995, at the Toronto Climbing Academy. After only 3 or 4 visits, I decided that it would be worth taking some gear on my already planned trip to Thailand.  Some random belayers I met at the gym highly recommended taking some, ‘cos there’s some ‘good’ climbing in Thailand.

Humanality, Phra Nang, Thailand

Above:  Yours truly on "the move" of Humanality at Phra Nang.

Two weeks later, I was standing in a restaurant on Koh Phi Phi looking at the local climbing guide; painted right onto a wall in the back of the restaurant.  While looking at the guide and trying to understand the symbols, I met Max, a German guy with about 1.5% body fat. He asked me if I was on the island to climb.  I said that I was, but had just arrived that afternoon, had no idea where the climbing was exactly, and I didn’t have a partner.  Max said, “You climb with us tomorrow”.

I joined Max and friends the next morning for my first ever outdoor climbing experience.  I explained to all present that I was a newbie, had climbed a few times indoors, owned a harness, ATC, some draws, a chalk bag and shoes. I got the feeling that Max thought I was not being truthful about my lack of experience.  

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Above:  Max retrieving a carabiner somebody bailed off on Koh Phi Phi.  I found out later that his entire rack was made up of gear he had found. Even the rope with the 100mm long exposed section of core that got jammed in my ATC the first time I belayed him!

Having zero technique or climbing fitness, I burned out very quickly on the amazing, slightly overhanging limestone.  So I spent most of the day either swimming, belaying, or watching and learning.  I heard Max yell, “Rope!”I looked up and saw that the ropes he just tossed barely reached the sand on the beach.  I proceeded to watch him as he zipped down the two 60-metre lines on a figure-8 threaded for a speedy, but controlled descent.  He quickly detached his figure-8 from the line, yelled, “Off" up to Knut, then looked at me and tossed me his figure-8 while asking, “Can you hold this for me?”  I tried, burning my hand like an idiot. Max casually laughed and said, “Ya, you are newbie!”

NOTE: Photos are poor scans of actual photographs!