In the Wild

Bouldering in Tonsai

Tonsai is all about sport climbing.  But it has great bouldering too!  However, before getting to Tonsai, I really struggled to find any information on where the best spots were, especially the problems to be tackled.  I’m hoping this post will serve as a useful all-encompassing guide to the main bouldering spots around Tonsai.

The main spot on Tonsai is The Temple.  Follow the wall up from the beach, past Legacy restaurant, and look for the rope leading up into a cave.  There will likely be loads of monkeys milling about too!

Inside you will find a huge array of problems, ranging from V2 to V11.  A lot of these are very powerful climbs, with a lot of cutting loose, but the rock is generally excellent and your skin shouldn’t take too much of a beating.  Someone has left an old mattress here too for your landing (bouldering mats are unavailable from the local climbing shops).  Take insect repellent and plenty of water – it gets hot in there!  As you see below, there are some extraordinary features on some of these problems.

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As for the problems, the guys at Basecamp Tonsai have a guide that they will happily give you if you ask.  Basecamp are otherwise excellent for local advice, gear rental, guides and tours.

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Credit: Basecamp Tonsai
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Credit: Basecamp Tonsai

A few of these problems are on the 27 Crags app, but the vast majority are not.  Besides Tonsai, Ko Po Da has some excellent problems right on the beach (as well as several superb spots for Deep Water Solo).  I spent the afternoon there after a morning of DWS and barefoot beach bouldering was a unique but unforgettable experience!

 

In the Wild

Myths about Tonsai

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We just got back from an incredible trip to Tonsai.  It was our first time there and was everything we had anticipated it would be.  Some future posts on the site will discuss the various things we got up to whilst we were there (including our first venture into Deep Water Solo), but first I wanted to address three myths that are as ubiquitous on messageboards and blogs as discussion of the quality of the rock and the beautiful scenery.

1.   It’s expensive:

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This is really just a matter of perspective.  I understand that for travellers coming in from other parts of the Krabi coast the prices on Tonsai might come as something of a shock.  For us, coming from Bangkok, the prices were about the same and seemed pretty reasonable.  Any inflated cost is understandable too, since Tonsai cannot be reached by car and everything must be brought in by boat.  Decent bungalows with fans and mosquito nets are available for 200thb (£4.50 / US$6.50) – mosquito nets are an absolute must by the way!  Since we weren’t travelling for long we splurged on the Dream Valley bungalows, which came with a/c and a pool.  Some of the guys we met balked at how much we were paying – around 1000thb/night (£23 / US$32) – but again this was down to a matter of perspective.  They were lucky enough to be travelling for months, whereas a little indulgence on our part made very little difference to the cost of our trip.  The bungalows at Dream Valley are excellent and it was incredible to come back from a long day of climbing to the pool!

Here’s an overview of the cost of the things we bought most:

  • Fruit shake 60thb (£1.30 / US$2.00)
  • Large beer 100thb (£2.30 / US$3.20)
  • Large water 40thb (£1.00 / US$1.30)
  • Rice & main meal 110-150thb (£2.50-3.40 / US$3.50-4.80)
  • Nutella roti 60 thb (£1.30 / US$2.00)

2.   It’s been spoilt

For those that are unfamiliar, in 2014 a large resort hotel was commissioned by the Sheraton group which saw the village of Tonsai relocated away from the beach and a concrete wall was erected around the intended construction site.  There is thus a lot of climbers understandably gutted that the village they once knew has gone, with all the bars, cafes and bungalows now facing a wall rather than the beautiful turquoise ocean.  We didn’t see Tonsai before but we can imagine just how perfect it must have been.  Speaking to the locals too, this has been bad for business and the village was noticeably quiet at what should have been a busy time of year.  Almost four years after putting up the wall and there is no sign that the hotel is to start construction any time soon.

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There is no question about the injustice of this, but nevertheless I was utterly charmed by Tonsai.  The wall has been decorated with graffiti celebrating life there.  Tonsai truly feels like a community in which all visitors are welcome.  There is a great atmosphere built around a shared love for climbing.  Everything is laid back, quiet, tranquil even, owed in part of the absence of traffic.  Great efforts have also been made to address the litter problem that you may also read about.  In our opinion, Tonsai still has so much to offer and it is certainly better to support those that have been displaced by visiting rather than staying away in protest.  Things have changed, certainly not for the better, but nothing has been ruined and I’m sure the aura of Tonsai will continue to thrive.

3.   You’ll get sick

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Ah yes, Tonsai Tummy.  You can’t read much about Tonsai without coming across the dreaded stomach upset that plagues all that visit.  Just before leaving, I told a friend from work we were going to Tonsai.  He replied: “No way!  I went there a few years back with some friends.  It’s beautiful there, amazing climbing.  We all got sick”.  Speculation is rife as to whether its dodgy ice in the fruit shakes, poor sanitation, or the lack of power (and therefore refrigeration) from 10am-4pm every day that’s behind it.

Maybe we got lucky but we didn’t get ill in the slightest.  Being mindful of Tonsai Tummy before we got there, we stuck to two golden rules and still ate like royalty:

  • Eat at popular places: ask those that have been there for a while where is safe to eat.  With perhaps only ten places to eat on Tonsai, it is noticeable that only three or four are ever busy.  Busy means higher turnover of food so ingredients won’t be sat out as long, and also indicates that its got a better reputation for not making people sick.  We would recommend Family Restaurant (at Chill Out Bungalows), Mama’s Chicken, and most of all, Pyramid Cafe, which serves enormous breakfasts in the morning and the most delicious Thai curries I have ever sampled in the evening!
  • Eat veggie: we’re always veggie, but it makes sense in a place without refrigeration for six hours of the day to not consume meat and seafood.  One alternative is to eat at neighbouring Railay, which has electricity throughout the day.  There is an abundance of incredible veggie options on Tonsai so you really won’t be missing out!
General

Breaking in/stretching climbing shoes

The excitement of unboxing a new pair climbing shoes often nosedives as soon as you put them on.  In some cases, all that is required is a bit of breaking in, so that the shoe gets a little more flexible.  In others, you might have just gone a bit too small, and you need them to stretch to make keeping them on for more than five minutes even bearable.  My Shaman mk.1s were a case of the latter, and I wore them for six weeks without them easing up at all.  I would wear them whilst watching TV to try to hurry up the process.  No joy.  Naturally, I turned to the internet for solutions.

I tried the ‘stuffing them with wet newspaper’ trick.  No budge.  I tried the ‘take a hot shower with them on’ trick.  Nothing.  Then, a friend recommended shoe shapers.

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Shoe shapers, if you’re unfamiliar, are those things your Dad used to put in his favourite pair of brogues to keep them on point.  They are, as it goes, also the perfect solution to ill-fitting climbing shoes.  Just pop them in and leave them in overnight.  Try them the next day, see how they feel.  I left them in my Shaman mk.1s for the best part of a week (longer for the left foot, given that it was tighter) to get the perfect fit.  Predominantly-synthetic shoes, like the Shamans, will still have enough stretch in them for this to work.  Give it a go!

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Reviews

Review: Evolv Shaman 2 (Kai limited edition)

My old pair of Shaman 2’s finally gave up the ghost this week.  I’ve loved these shoes and was keen to just get the same again.  Everywhere seems to be sold out of them, with the exception of a couple of shops that are stocking the Kai Lightener limited edition in my size.

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It’s the same shoe with the exception of the black, red and blue colour-way.  The colours aren’t as bold as they seem in some photos – in truth its a fairly subtle looking shoe.  But I’m not too fussed about how these look.  For me, these shoes are everything I look for from a climbing shoe in terms of performance and comfort.

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The shoe has an aggressive downturn, and several design features that will keep you on the wall on even the steepest of overhangs.  The heel design eliminates dead space to ensure you can maximise power through your legs.  Similarly, the ‘love bump’  in the midsole fills deadspace around the ball of your foot to better support your toes and keep them in place.  The three velcro straps, which run in opposing directions, offer a tailored fit for your foot that is snug but never restrictive.  I’ve worn one-strap shoes in the past, and for me the more straps the better.  In fact, these offer the kind of fit usually only found from a laced shoe.  The ‘knuckle box’ for the toes directs power through your folded toes without compromising on comfort.  A large toe patch is great for toe-hooking.

IMG_4350 My experience with the original Shaman shoe was that they carried much of the benefits as the 2s with regards to performance, but were brutal to wear.  The main gripe from me was that the stitching around the toes would dig into my feet.  With the Shaman 2, Evolv maintained all the key design features (whilst improving on them) that now delivers a remarkable level of comfort, even straight out of the box.

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If there is a downside, its on slabs.  The rubber is grippy and holds up great over time, but a shoe like this is always going to perform better on anything overhanging.

For sizing, I would recommend going down a half-size (UK in my case) from your regular shoe size.  You needn’t go painfully small with these – the design features will deliver on performance, and you can’t expect the snythetic uppers to stretch much over time.  But as always, best to try these on first or buy from a company with a flexible returns policy.  Some of the shoes design features – particularly the ‘love bump’ – might not be everyone, so see what you think.  For me, these innovations felt a little funny at first, but all that disappears once you start climbing in them.

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All in all, this is a perfect shoe for any steep sport climbing or bouldering, and is certainly the best Evolv shoe I have tried.

General

Repairing holes in climbing shoes

I love my Shaman mk.2s.  I don’t love that I’m on my third pair in 15 months.  I’m a toe dragger, so I’m to blame really.  I tend to get a bit more life out of each pair by patching them once the rubber is worn.  Here’s my personal recipe!

Ingredients:

  • Superglue
  • Rubber glue
  • Wooden stick/skewer
  • Sandpaper

Step 1: Make sure the area to be patched is relatively clean.

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Step 2: Mix 4 parts of rubber glue to 1 part of superglue.  Stir well to combine.  I find that the superglue gives it some rigidity, and without it the patched area has too much give.

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Step 3: Apply to worn area, making sure to get a smooth layer.  Leave to dry for 12 hrs.

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Step 4: Lightly sand with a fine grit sand paper.  You don’t want a glossy, slick surface on your shoes when you’re next pushing off that tiny foothold!

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General

Sweating the grades

I sweat the grades.  As much as I tell myself not to, I do.  I had a really frustrating session last night on a new set at our gym, where I couldn’t climb anything harder than a V4.  To put that into perspective, I had topped everything on the previous week’s new set, bar one V8/8+, including several at grade V6, V7 and V8.  A week later and I’m feeling weak and frustrated with this new set.  “What’s going on with the grading?” is ringing in my ears.

At our gym – the excellent Rock Over Climbing in Manchester – we are treated to a new set of typically 20-30 problems every week.  We used to go to Manchester Climbing Centre, which, whilst still a great gym, is far less bouldering-focussed, and they’d wait 6-8 weeks between resetting.  Now we’re at Rock Over, on the day of a new set, when I get a ping from Rock Over’s social media that a new set is underway, all I can think about that day is getting down there and jumping on all those new problems.  I’ll speculate about whether any new volumes will be put up; any dynos (who doesn’t love a dyno?); how many of each grade there will be.  We’re spoilt at Rock Over not only with the frequency of the setting but also the quality.  Much of the setting is done by Jamie Cassidy (one of only two UK-based IFSC World Cup setters) along with a rotating squad of co-setters who work at Rock Over.  The problems are often full of ingenuity, with the harder problems posing a real challenge not just in topping them but in figuring out betas to try out in the first place.

All these new problems and I’m stressing about the grades?!  Doesn’t make sense, for a few reasons.  First, the grading is so subjective: it reflects the body type, height and strengths of the routesetter; and equally, your ability to climb well on a given problem will be determined by your own body type, height and strengths.  Last night’s new set was largely short, vertical climbing, that required a lot of balance and flexibility over strength and power endurance.  The former are significant weaknesses of mine and no doubt were at the heart of my struggles last night.  Equally, dynamic moves are more my thing, hence why I was killing it on the previous week’s set.  I’m short too, so have often seen the advantage this gives me over taller climbers who can get squashed into awkward positions (and them an advantage over me on reachy moves).

Second, focussing on grades indoors distracts from the purpose of going to the gym in the first place: to get stronger; to try new moves; to learn.  The mindset – the one I find myself slipping into – whereby a grade is a badge of honour, and therefore climbs at a significantly lower grade are beneath you, is unhelpful.  Each problem is unique – it has never been set before and will never be set again – and thus offers an opportunity to learn and improve.  That’s what I love about climbing; that’s what I should be focussed on.

Finally, if you carry this mindset onto the crag, you’ll be tough on yourself at a time when you should be savouring every moment.  On our first trip to Font, I was way too focussed on grades and chasing achievements that it got in the way.  I stressed the grades and left dejected.  I now try to focus on the incredible surroundings and all those stunning problems, regardless of the grade.

So, my advice to you – and to myself – is to not let grades get in the way of doing what you love.  They have a purpose, as a rough guide, but a great climb is a great climb regardless.  Those you don’t top can prove just as valuable as those you do – just try to learn something from each session.  So, don’t sweat the grades.  And I’ll try to do the same.