Rock climbing in Thakhek, LaosMike - 19 December 2016
The climbing in Thakhek is full of features, challenging routes, and a place to stay within a stone’s throw of the crag. If you’re an experienced climber looking for your next project, climbing in Thakhek could be your kind of destination!
Accessing Climbing in Thakhek
Leaving Thakhek in southern Laos you immediately find yourself surrounded by beautiful karst scenery. Soaring, vertical cliffs are the standout feature of the landscape here. We’d hired a pair of motorbikes to do the well known Thakhek bike loop, a 500km round-trip, typically taking 3-5 days. About 10km into the journey you pass Green Climbers Home which is a lodge set up in 2010 to accommodate climbers keen to try out the eye-catching rock. I’ve been rock climbing for over ten years and as we were literally passing by the front door it seemed wrong not to stop by.
It is very easy to miss the turning for Green Climbers Home and we did… twice. There is a small sign pointing down a dirt road, but you have to be really looking out for it. If you have a local sim card or offline maps on your phone, this is probably the best way to check you haven’t overshot.
We only stayed at Green Climbers Home one night, which is probably very unusual. If I was travelling for the purpose of climbing rather than as part of a bigger trip, it would be very easy to spend at least a couple of weeks here. Given the short length of our stay, it made the climbing quite a lot more expensive as we had to hire all the gear.
Your accommodation options are to stay in a tent for 60,000 Kip/night (£6) or a bungalow for 130,000 (£13). We opted for the tent and everything we needed was included. The tent was already pitched and contained a camping mattress, pillows and enough blankets to stay warm. It smelled a little musty, but was perfectly fine.
The food served in the restaurant was good quality and while it was more expensive than elsewhere, the portion sizes were enough to share. We paid 50,000 (£5) for lunch and 70,000 (£7) for dinner. Buying water bottles in Laos seems so wasteful and Green Climbers Home is only the second place we’ve seen that offers refills. You can top up your own 1.5L water bottle with clean water for 1000 Kip (£0.10). Not only is it cheaper than repeatedly buying water bottles, but it’s a lot better for the environment.
Climbing in Thakhek
We are travelling for six months and will only be climbing for a couple of days here and there. As such, it doesn’t make sense to lug our gear around with us. It is possible to rent everything you need locally, but this costs 220,000 Kip/day (£22). Okay for a one off treat, but definitely worth bringing your own stuff if you are coming for any length of time. The full rental package includes a 70m rope, 15 quickdraws, belay (of your preferred style), carabiner, two helmets, two harnesses, two sets of climbing shoes, two leashes with screwgates and two chalk bags. Chalk isn’t included, but can be bought for 20,000 Kip (£2). We didn’t need any as our chalk bags were topped up for us with a small amount for free. A guidebook isn’t included, but we were given a copy of last years free of charge. You can always borrow one off somebody else at the crag anyway.
There is a single one off fee of 20,000 Kip (£2) per climber regardless of how long you are there. This is paid to local villages for the rights to climb on the cliffs.
What condition are the bolts?
Everything in Thakhek was bolted in 2010 or since then, so there is little risk of climbing on ancient gear. I’ve seen some sketchy bolts before, but nothing of any concern in Thakhek! On 15-20m routes you can expect 3-8 bolts and they all look reliable. At the top of the routes all of the anchors I saw contained two bolts equalised with a piece of climbing rope. We were warned that there had been an accident where somebody clipped into the rope equalising the anchor rather than the lower off point, but this is climber error which could happen anywhere.
Some of the routes contain standard anchors which will have to be threaded, but some have a screwgate in place to allow easy lowering off. People were top roping directly off the anchor, but it would be good etiquette to attach a pair of quickdraws if a couple of people are going to be doing the route.
What are the climbs like in Thakhek?
All of the rock is really featured with a lot going on. There are no slopers in sight and plenty of jugs and positive holds. Most of the easier routes are vertical, but the more interesting climbs are very overhanging. In the ‘Elephant’ crags there are plenty of routes in the 5a-6c grades. Most of the the routes in the overhanging cave seem to be 7a-7c, but there was one very fun looking 6c.
If you know how to lead climb lower grades there will be enough enjoyable routes to keep you occupied for a few days. If you are a more experienced climber there are plenty of projects that could take a lot longer to work out and make Thakhek a good destination to stay for weeks.
If you do not know how to climb, Thakhek probably isn’t a good first time venue. The style and grade of routes is likely to appeal to experienced climbers rather than those climbing for the first time.