Flashback: Deep Water Soloing in Railay


Two years ago this past July, Loren and I went to Thailand and Cambodia for our honeymoon. We couldn’t wait to get out of town after our much-anticipated wedding day, but most importantly, we couldn’t wait to climb in another country! We did some climbing at Crazy Horse just outside of Chiang Mai, but the last week of the trip included climbing nearly every day in Railay on the giant limestone towers that cordon off the entire peninsula, rendering it completely isolated from the rest of the country. There’s no motorized transportation, just foot traffic. The “island” (as the locals call it) is entirely walkable. Every morning, I’d make breakfast while Loren walked down to the coffee shop for Thai iced coffees. We’d finish our breakfast and head to the rock. 

Railay Breakfast

Loren enjoying a breakfast of shrimp fried rice with an egg on top and fresh mango with homemade coconut sauce. Oh yeah, and that Thai iced coffee right there on the left made every day that much better.

Quick Sidenote:

As you might have already noticed, this is a new kind of post I’m sharing with you today — a “flashback” about something from the past that happened before I started blogging. This particular story involves learning some life lessons while experiencing something extraordinarily scary. It’s also an excuse to share photos of beautiful summer days in Thailand to facilitate some happy daydreaming on this cloudy day. I have a few ideas for this type of post floating around in my mind, so stay tuned for more Flashbacks as I further develop the idea. I hope you enjoy these occasional blasts from the past!

deep water soloing in Thailand

Deep Water Soloing in Railay 

One of those wonderful, sunny mornings, we boarded a small boat with a group of climbers in search of an incredible adventure. Headed out to the ocean where huge rocks jut straight up out of the water, we planned to swim over, climb up, and jump off. This type of climbing deep water soloing involves climbing as high as you can and then jumping into the water (or falling if you are brave enough to push yourself to your max). For those of you non-climbers reading this, “soloing” means climbing without a rope. 

deep water soloing in Railay, Thailand

photo credit: Chris Bechtel

I was scared. 

There’s no rope, and since you’re wet from swimming to the rock itself, no chalk. We were also in borrowed climbing shoes. Sheesh!

Some of my favorite memories in the world are of jumping off of rocks and bouldering back up in Pace Bend Park just outside of Austin, TX when I was in college, but this was an entirely different beast. These rocks were completely vertical (some overhanging) and much, much higher. I had to psyche myself up just to get out of the boat! One woman in our crew was completely unable to pull herself up the rope ladder in order to climb the rock at all, just to give you an idea of what we were getting into. 

deep water soloing in Railay, Thailand

Lucky for me, I have a husband who’s part human, part lizard (that’s him up there!), so after a bit of deliberation, I just sucked it up and followed him up the ladder and onto the rock.

Life Lesson#1: Fear can cloud your judgement and cause you to think less of yourself or your ability. Sometimes it helps to have someone around whom you trust to help push you out of your comfort zone.

Just believing that my brand new husband wouldn’t encourage me to do something he didn’t think I could do was enough to get me out of the boat and up the ladder. I’d been preparing for the climbing portion of our honeymoon for 6 months at that point. That had to count for something! I was still a beginner, but not a bad climber. I just needed to try. That was it. I did it, and it was awesome!

photo credit: Chris Bechtel

photo credit: Chris Bechtel

I drew the line on height before my climbing ability was exhausted, however. See that guy at the very top? He got up there at the beginning of the day and literally refused to jump the whole time. He ended up down climbing a bit and jumping from a lower point — a much more dangerous choice than just jumping. I didn’t want to end up in his shoes, or worse, slip and hurt myself on our honeymoon. 

Deep Water Soloing on Make A Gif

That’s me! (photo credit: Chris Bechtel)

Life Lesson #2: Make a new experience your own and take everything there is to take from it. 

The way I worded that sounds selfish, but that’s really not where I’m going. How I maximized my experience on this amazing trip was defined by me, and I took from that everything I could. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t climb as hard as some other folks on the trip, because I did what I could and I had so much fun doing it. It doesn’t matter that I couldn’t do everything that Loren did; in fact, I’ll never be the climber he is, and that’s fine. It’s not about comparing myself to others or feeling less than because of a difference in skill or fear factor. I literally didn’t stop being scared the whole time I was on the rock, and it was still one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done in my life. It was a once in a lifetime adventure that I’ll never forget, because it pushed me outside my comfort zone and forced me to face fear. I showed myself what I could do with wet hands and shoes on a wet rock 30 feet above crashing waves in the Andaman Sea. I’ll take it!

——>Check out my post on facing fear in climbing<——

photo credit: Chris Bechtel

photo credit: Chris Bechtel

At the end of the day, our honeymoon trip will go down as one of the most fantastic travel experiences of my life. We visited ancient temples, rode elephants and bathed them in the river, climbed world class rock, had this amazing soloing adventure off the coast of Railay, watched an MMA fight and fire throwers, and most importantly, we got $6 massages and drank coconut shakes almost every single day of the 21 day trip. 

Oh yeah, and after our deep water soloing day, Loren looked like this.  IMG_1198

3 Lessons I Learned in Squamish

Well, you might be interested in knowing how the trip to Squamish went after my post last Friday. I was struggling with the idea of not loving climbing as much as I did when I first started a few years back, mostly due to an increasing fear factor while doing it.

I can’t really explain logically why I’ve been facing more fear while climbing lately. Fear in climbing (and in general) isn’t linear  you don’t start at 100 and then slowly drop to zero as you improve your skills.

I’d venture to say that this is true of most scary things: public speaking, jumping off of tall rocks into water, shooting a free-throw in a packed gym, or pitching a new idea to your boss. In fact, I’d say that when I first started climbing, I was too ignorant of the risks and details to be afraid of anything going wrong, and once I learned what could go wrong, I began allowing myself to fixate. Not good.

Truth be told, climbing isn’t any more dangerous than any other sport, and since safety is always at the forefront of your mind, the likelihood of making a mistake while doing it is much lower than rolling your ankle in a volleyball game or running into a wall on the racquetball court.

All this is to say … drum roll please … I’m BACK in the game.

lessons learned in Squamish about personal growth and facing fear

The trip was amazing; the perfect way to re-energize my enthusiasm for my sport. Squamish is the most user-friendly climbing destination I’ve ever visited. In an area called Smoke Bluffs, they even have signage marking individual routes! (For those of you who don’t climb, this is UNHEARD OF anywhere else.) It’s truly amazing, and because all the major rock formations are so close together, we were able to really pack it in. Over the course of 5 days (we had one day where weather stopped us from climbing), we probably climbed 25 to 30 pitches.

And now the big question: Do I care about multi-pitch climbing?

My big hesitation on this trip was really centered on multi-pitch climbing and the discomfort and uncertainty that can sometimes accompanies it. If there are climbing gods who were reading my mind at the outset of this trip, they responded by giving me and Loren our very first drama-free, perfect multi-pitch climbing experience. With every pitch bolted on a 6-pitch, low-angle, relatively easy climb, we sailed it! No dropped gear, no tangled rope, no treacherous descent, and PERFECT weather. I had my head the whole time, even on some of the more exposed moves! I was able to fully enjoy myself and appreciate that exercise in mental toughness that I value so much once again!

lessons learned lessons learned in Squamish about personal growth and facing fear

At the top of Memorial Crack, an extra pitch we added to our 6 pitch climb on the apron of the Chief

This isn’t to say that I expect every multi-pitch from now on to be that smooth-sailing, but I needed this particular climb to go as well as it did to open my mind and propel me forward. Between you and me, I actually see the appeal of the multi-pitch accomplishment now more than ever. (Don’t tell Loren!)

Lessons Learned

I know that most of my readers aren’t rock climbers, so I’m trying not to dominate this entry with climbing jargon or details that you don’t care about. I wrote last Friday’s post (Wrestling Fear) as a way to verbalize feelings that had been swimming around in my mind for a few months.

My feelings were of self-doubt, fear, and discouragement. Raise your hand if you’ve never felt those feelings about something important to you.

… Exactly.

Lesson 1: What you choose to do about feelings like those will determine the course of your life, whether we’re talking about sport, career, or relationships.

Acknowledging self-doubt and getting to the bottom of it are the first steps to overcoming it. I had been doubting my skill and my mental toughness. I had also been doubting my desire to stretch myself, which was the source of my feelings of discouragement.

Lesson 2: Choosing to push forward is the “explorer’s way,” and I fancy myself an explorer. 

I truly believe that the day you stop trying to grow and learn is the day you become old. I knew a very special 84-year-old woman who never stopped learning, right up until the very end. In the last weeks of her life, I remember her saying, “I know I’m old, but I just don’t feel old. I feel young.” That’s the way I want to live my life, and giving in to fear is not part of that equation.

Lesson 3: There’s a time and a place for being out of your comfort zone, and just about 100% of the time, you come out better for it on the other side.

I challenge you to name a time when you’ve faced a fear or obstacle head-on, overcome it, and not liked yourself better for having gone through it in the end. I won’t go as far as to say that constant fear-seeking is healthy or ideal (that might qualify you as an adrenaline junky), but I will say that shying away from something you want out of fear will hold you back.

Go for it. You will rock!Lessons learned

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

– Nelson Mandela

On another note, Canada is REALLY expensive! To save some dough in Squamish, I made an awesome veggie-packed frittata for us to eat for breakfast the mornings we weren’t at a B&B. It fueled our long days of climbing so well that we often didn’t eat lunch until 3 or 4pm! The recipe will post on Friday!

Wrestling Fear

While you’re reading this post, I’m enjoying the beginnings of a much-needed vacation in Canada. Having never been to Canada before, we’ll be doing a short exploration of Vancouver and finding some hot springs to take a dip in on the coast; but mostly we’ll be spending our time in Squamish for some world-class rock climbing.

wrestling fear

While I truly can’t wait for the adventure, I have a deep, dark secret I need to share with you.

I’ve been wavering.

That is, my abiding love for the sport of rock climbing might be faltering at the moment.

The last couple of times Loren and I have headed out for a long day on the rock I’ve been less-than-enthused and, in some cases, downright terrified. My mental game is off. My mind plays tricks on me when I’m multiple pitches up hanging on trad gear; and, to be honest, it’s taking the fun out of it.

I’m hoping that this trip — which guarantees a repeated face-off with these feelings for 6 days straight — will bring me back around and remind me why I value the emotional demands and physical challenges inherent in this sport.

Wrestling fear

Lately I’ve been letting fear win. I’ve let fear take the fun away from my sport instead of using it to grow like I was when I first started.

The very first reason I listed in 5 Ways Rock Climbing Empowers You was that it pushes you outside your comfort zone repeatedly. I still believe that having a pursuit that forces you to stretch and grow mentally and physically is worthwhile. It’s important not to stagnate, to avoid complacency, to strive and to learn. I still believe that there’s value in those aspects of climbing. For some reason lately, it’s just been scaring the crap out of me more than usual. This trip is either going to remind me why climbing is my preferred proxy for that mental stretch or demonstrate that it’s not, and I need to find a new one.

fear in rock climbing never really goes away. I'm wrestling mine right now.

Here’s a picture of how I feel about climbing right now. Photo courtesy of Brian Biancardi of Chronicles of a Closet Dirtbag

I still love climbing

All this is not to say that I intend to stop climbing. I absolutely do not. It’s just to say that I might want to scale back what I’m doing outside to simple weekend cragging and not blindly follow my climbing tribe into the sky on adventures that are not part of my larger picture life goals. Or maybe I just need a reboot, and this trip will change all that and turn me into a multi-pitch climbing machine! Doubtful.

In truth, my goal is to keep loving my sport. I don’t have to climb the Nose of El Cap or sleep on a port-a-ledge or go ice climbing to feel good about my sport. And I don’t need to keep up with those in my climbing tribe who feel called to do great big projects that I have no desire to do. I’m ok with being left behind in that way, even though I miss our cragging weekends.

Of course I want to keep getting better, as most people do with any sport they play, but becoming a better climber isn’t a life goal of mine. Climbing can be a lifestyle or it can be a sport. I’ve jumped tracks, and unless something magical happens on this vacation, I’m fine with my new course.

I have major love for this sport. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing it in some form or fashion. How that manifests remains to be seen.

In the meantime, fear will not win in Squamish!


fear in rock climbing never really goes away. I'm wrestling mine right now.

Photo courtesy of Brian Biancardi of Confessions of a Closet Dirtbag


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