Jack Southan finds out just why climbers call the Crazy Horse Buttress the ‘Anxiety State Crisis’ cave
It’s 95 degrees, I’m blinded by sweat, and my fingers are bleeding. But I chalk up a hand anyway, reach over the lip and grasp onto what feels like a sturdy hold. I take a glance under my arm and see my brother far below, rope safely locked into his side. Necessary, but not required, I think to myself, full of confidence.
I pull myself up onto the rough rock ledge and hook a leg on for balance. I can see a dark object blurred in front of me, so I wipe my eyes clear of sweat, and my self-belief immediately dissipates as an enormous coil of diamond-patterned scales comes into focus.
The guide book reaction in such situations is, of course, to smoothly move oneself backwards. And this would usually be fine, except I’m hanging from a rock 75 feet up in the air — and am incapable of doing anything smoothly. My stomach gives a sudden, sickening lurch as, like a surprised toddler, I starfish my arms and legs and fall into nothingness. In the moments before the short sudden stop, I think, “So this is why climbers call this place the ‘Anxiety State Crisis’ cave.”
The Crazy Horse Buttress is nestled deep within the Mae On valley in northern Thailand, about 45 minutes’ ride outside of the northern capital Chiang Mai. It is an ochre, gold and black-streaked limestone outcrop famed for some of the best rock climbing in Asia.
We’d spent the morning out in The Junkyard, struggling up a route called the Song Of Stone, which involved almost no singing at all and had all but broken me. So we decided to explore around a bit, and ducked out of the burning sun and into this vast limestone cathedral.
With jagged, razor sharp walls and towering stalactites scattered around like Greek pillars, it really is a spectacular sight to behold. Great shafts of light streak down through the dusty air, pouring from the godly portal in the ceiling and illuminating the golden stone in shimmering pools on the floor.
But now I’m lying back in my harness, heart beating like a hammer, and it’s hard to take in the view anymore. I have my eyes fixed like a hawk on the ledge above, half waiting for some kind of hydra head to appear over the edge. Death from above.
After a few tense moments (and thankfully no deaths), I’m lowered back onto solid ground and mumble something about killer snakes as I fumble with my rope. “Cobra skin,” says Herbert the pro with a chuckle. “There’s Cobra skin on that shelf. Scary huh? Amazing climbers, snakes.”
I take a walk outside and stroll past a couple; the guy is hanging by his fingertips on to an impossibly smooth, bare piece of rock. “Looks tough,” I think, with just a hint of jealousy.
I hear a cry from inside the cave and almost simultaneously the man in front of me slips and drops off the wall, snapping onto his rope. Smiling to myself, I get the route guide out of my back pocket and leaf through until I come to the right page: “A wild ride on a Crazy Horse, 8a+”. I look up at the horse-head outcrop high above and think, “Yeah, I might leave this one for the snakes.”
Climb Crazy Horse with CMRCA Chiang Mai: www.thailandclimbing.com