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Zoe goes places: Thakhek, Laos

Sport climbing in Laos, Zoe Allin

PAD THAI AND CLIMBING HIGH: A boulderer goes sport climbing.

In an unexpected turn of events, I find myself in Southeast Asia climbing 30m pitches on some seriously 3D limestone. We’re ‘living at the crag’ at Green Climbers Home in Thakhek, Laos, and I am VERY confused. Where are the crash pads? Why is the chalk bag secured to my waist, like ALL the time, and why is it so small? What is this rope attached to me? And, dammit, there are way more than 5 moves on that problem, sorry, route. 


Prior to Laos, I had only limited sport climbing experience indoors, never mind real rock, but I got the gist. Keep going up and keep clipping in. That stood to be fundamentally true and I enjoyed three weeks of climbing high and chilling out/eating my weight in noodles at the ‘Kneebar’ restaurant. 

zoe goes places chalk bag

For someone not afraid of heights, I was surprisingly wobbly on my first climb. Even on the tufa-ladder that was a 5b and with one hand in a jug the size of Jupiter, suddenly I felt quite unstable pulling up the rope to clip in. Nevertheless, I finished my time in Thakhek with my first 7a lead tucked neatly under my harness. 


As well as learning the basics like cleaning the route (I had never even considered that I needed to get the draws *down* – such is gym climbing life), I can also say I picked up some less conventional lessons/insights along the way. 

  1. Jumping to slopers and trusting a couple fingers on credit-card crimps are fun and games when two meters off the floor and protected by 3 pads and 2 spotters. Not that I had many as-extreme moves on my climbs in Laos, but holds I would consider bomber on a boulder definitely felt less-than-satisfactory on a route, even at the first bolt. 
  1. Following on from above, point 2 is a note to future self. It’s all in your head, throw yourself at it. Notwithstanding, the fear exists. I’m no mathematician but I think the formula would look something like this:

with Fi representing Fear Index. 

  1. Belay glasses: a gift from above (aka German inventor, Albi Scheider in 2007). Simple yet splendid. Prismatic perfection. Just yes.
  1. Now aware of ‘flashing’ vs ‘onsighting’, I propose a new category to delineate whether a route has been succeeded, notably if it is flashed or onsighted, when putting the draws up as well. That additional effort should be RECOGNISED.
  1. Sent multiple climbs in one day? Congratulate yourself with a Beer Lao. Not redpointed a single route? Have a Beer Lao and try again tomorrow. Rest day? Beer Lao by the cave. Sent your project? TWO Beer Laos. (In this respect, I find bouldering and sport climbing to be much alike but note that beer options may vary by country).

In conclusion, I would say that this trip went off without a hitch.

When I left for India, not in a mallion years did I think I would find myself in Laos. 

But now, I can’t think of anywhere that would have ‘biner more apt, or indeed, a beta place to commence my sport climbing adventures…

Hopefully, someone out there might relate to a thing or two I’ve mentioned above. Maybe you went the other way and started with sport before tackling a boulder. Let me know your experiences!

Thanks to a bunch of awesome humans including, but not limited to:

Mattias Sarvik for putting Laos on the map for me;

Yonatan Koren for the psyche and support on Schwitzerland (7a);

Jörn Störtebekker and Jules Guérin for the amazing photos;

Tom, Fai and all the wonderful people at Green Climbers Home.

Zoe Allin

Insta @zoallin


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