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Grand dynamics president shares tsunami experience

By January 25, 2005No Comments


PRESS RELEASE Grand Dynamics, Inc. January, 2005









We all have experiences where your life changes in an instant. On December 26, 2004 I found myself on Ton Sai Beach in Southern Thailand, staring head on into the eyes of a tsunami. Needless to say, that was one of those experiences. Now, more than ever, I am committed to the work that Grand Dynamics so aptly exemplifies. Live life to its fullest, and make a positive impact in this world, because you never know when the next moment will be your last.

This document is a summary of my Thailand experience. Since I returned, I have focused my efforts on giving back to the people of Thailand. I have been delivering slide shows in an effort to raise funds for the orphans of Phi Phi Island, and to medical expenses for Soley, and injured Thai climber. If you would like to book a speaking engagement on the Tsunami, funds will be donated to this Tsunami Relief Fund.

My personal goal is to raise $10,000. We are on our way and have funding committed so far approaching $3,300. In the grand scope of things and in comparison to what many have already given, this may seem small, but this is my personal mission. I am currently accepting donations toward this mission. Please mail donations to PO BOX 6761 Jackson, WY 83002. Please write checks to Tim Walther. In the check memo write Tsunami Relief Fund. Email me at to let me know of your donation.

Grand Dynamics representative Aaron Christiansen will be traveling to Thailand on April 2, 2005, to personally deliver the funds for the Tsunami Relief. Funds received by March 30, 2005 will be included in this transfer. Funds received later will be sent over in the coming months.

Spring slide shows are being scheduled for Atlanta, GA, Baltimore, MD and Manchester, NH. I welcome you to join me.


Journal Excerpt: December 26, 2004: Alive in Thailand


I am Alive…

I was shaken from my walking delirium as screams of locals filled the air with panic, tears and confusion. The scene exploded into a mass exodus up the trail from the beach…running… I quickly came up to a small forming group and shouted out “What’s going on?” A young British girl was standing, confused, and as she burst into tears, exclaimed, “The sea, it’s swallowing people up!” My mind registered the only possible surreal explanation: Tidal Wave. I broke into a run toward the beach, dodging everyone running the other way, and made my way through a clearing to soak in the scene: A beautiful blue sky, along with beautiful blue ocean, and an even more beautiful solitary, massively thick, twenty foot arching wave, heading toward the shore. The stage was set with the initial wreckage from the first surge of waves, and the scene was total pandemonium. Time seemed to stop. In as many languages as I think I have ever heard, the essence of “Another wave, here it comes, RUN!!!!” echoed across the beach. As the wave transformed into a massive wall of whitewater and rumbled toward the shore I located Ryan quickly as we surveyed the soon to be demolished beach town of Ton Sai…


The Trip


My travel partner, Ryan Ernst, and I left Jackson Hole, Wyoming on January 10, 2004 in search of some of the most challenging and aesthetic rock climbing in the world. What I hadn’t realized was that the greatest impact would be from the unique Thai culture and the amazing people that we would meet along the way. Throughout the entire month long experience I was taken back by the positive energy and overall enjoyment for life that the Thai culture embraces. Thailand is indeed known as the Land of Smiles. Did you know that in the Thai people have more than twelve different types of smiles? They even have a smile for, “I am smiling but am not really happy.”


Chiang Mai


Following an initial excursion through Bangkok, we headed to Northern Thailand and the city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a part of Thailand that seemed to exude an overall sense of what I thought to be pure Thai Culture. There are few foreigners and speaking Thai is nearly a necessity. The city is surrounded by a moat and is filled with authentic shops and boutiques. The people we met there truly gave a feeling of how the Thai people approached life. The city has many street festivals including the largest street bazaar in Thailand.


Northern Climbing


Northern Thailand, with the beautiful limestone cliffs and dry mountain climate was the ideal warm up for the climbing proving grounds to come. Our days began with an hour pilgrimage via motor scooter to Crazy Horse Buttress where hundreds of incredible routes awaited. It was here that our training and climbing experience was realized through many challenging climbs.


Lessons from the Rock


One aspect of climbing that I always glean is the approach to a new route. When I arrive at a climb I have never attempted before, I scope out what I think may be the right way to go and visualize the moves. Although you can get an idea of some of the moves, you can never really know what to do until you try it. Climbing new routes is all about problem solving and often making mistakes until you figure it out. Much as in life, if you are not failing, you are not learning or growing. You must be constantly searching out new data and innovating because it MUST work. When you are climbing in teams the leader is continually reinventing new answers and communicating the information to your partner. When choosing your route or terrain, it is important to always challenge yourself. As a climbing icon, Todd Skinner has been know to say, “The magnitude of the mission is what glues a team together.” Such as in business and in life, big goals bring people together.

Tim Walther Climbing

Dangerous Joy


Photograph: Josh Morris


Traveling South to Railay


Following Chiang Mai, our trip South took us through Phuket and to our destination of climbing paradise, Railay Beach. For those that aren’t familiar with Railay Beach, it is comprised of a hide-away cove that is only accessed via long-tail boats. Railay is know for its feeling of seclusion and beautiful beach that sets the scene for some truly incredible sunsets. Adjacent to Railay is Ton Sai beach, which is only separated from Railay by a rock outcropping. Ton Sai is about one thing: rock climbing. Climbers from around the world convene to test the limits on steep, overhanging routes in a setting that is unmatched. Stalactite formations seem to melt down off of the high cliff bands and provide for incredibly unique routes, and many of the climbs begin right off the beach.


The Scene


Ryan and I had been at Ton Sai for a few days when we came down with what locals refer to as the “Ton Sai Bug.” This is a stomach virus we had picked up from the food on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was spent sick in bed, apart from a few hours when I strolled down to the beach to take a nap. Somewhere around 9:00 a.m. Ryan and I had just woken up when we felt the walls of our bungalow shake. Somewhere in the recesses of our minds we registered that it felt like an earthquake. Although at the time we thought little of it. My plan that morning on December 26 was to force myself out of bed for some fresh air, stroll down to the beach, and take a nap. As I walked down to the beach, my head and body was feeling very unstable. I was shaken from my walking delirium by screams of the locals running from the shore…


The Wave at Railay Beach


Photographer Unknown


The Wave


When the first onslaught of waves came in, the beach at Railay was filled with tourists lounging on the beach and around the water – swimming, kayaking and playing. When the wave came at Railay, many of the tourists watched in disbelief and waited too long before beginning to escape. At Ton Sai, the climbers on the beach were focused on the rock and did not notice the incoming massive wall of water, leaving little time to react.


In total, there were three sets of main waves, or surges, that made up the tsunami at Railay and Ton Sai beach. I witnessed, and ran from, the second and third set from the beach at Ton Sai. There were many things that made it such an odd event. First of all, the ocean has no surf whatsoever, and you never see a wave across the placid horizon.

The waves in and of themselves were beautiful. Far out in the ocean they were a surfer’s dream – perfectly curling 20 foot waves. I watched them, and wanted to keep watching them until they were dangerously close. Even though the wall of water was traveling at at least 30 m.p.h., the wave looked benign and lulled me into a false sense of security. It was as if Mother Nature was waving her fingers and casting a hypnotic spell. The closer I looked, and the more my senses took in the entire scene, the more I realized that this wasn’t any normal wave. The other aspect, which we now know is a tsunami indicator, was how far back the tide had reseeded. It was as if the ocean had been sucked out entirely to meet the wave’s massive formation. The tsunami was a giant vacuum pulling everything into its path; and unlike most waves, there was no troth behind it, just a big massive wall that kept coming. And when it finally broke, it transitioned into a raging wall of whitewater, which sounded like a jet engine. The rumbling whitewater looked like it would demolish anything in its path – and it did. Even with the wreckage from the first wave all around me, I watched and kept thinking that it would break and just stop well clear of the shore. I waited and waited until the last possible second, then began to run. The powerful waves caught up to me and I felt the incredible sucking power around my legs. Luckily, I was able to break free and escape the wrath that had taken so many to a watery grave.




A long tail boat treed on Railay Beach

Photograph: Ryan Ernst

For better or worse, I did not see anyone being sucked into the waves that I witnessed. This, apparently, had happened in the initial onslaught. Surveying the damage from the tsunami was shocking. Huts had been completely leveled. Trash was strewn hundreds of yards a shore.


The beach was covered with trash, wood and all sorts of debris. Boats had been launched into trees and through buildings. The flood had ruined any electrical equipment that had operated in the beachside restaurants and shops. Six feet of water rushed through buildings and sucked everything out rendering all beach-side venues useless.


What do you do?


Minutes after the last wave had come, Ryan and I stumbled through the wreckage in disbelief. I remember trying to grasp what had just happened. My head was spinning. My body was aching from the virus that had my stomach up-side down. “So, what do we do?” Ryan had just completed his Physicians Assistant degree and was eager to find anyone needing help. I believed deep down that there was SOMETHING that had to happen. We traveled the beach in search of signs of life. The entire beach was deserted. Everyone had run to higher ground in search of some solace from this astounding event. We made our way up to talk to anyone that could…and the stories began…


The Stories


Fortunately, in our little cove of beaches comprised of Ton Sai and Railay, most people managed to escape death and injury. The rumors told a total of about 30 people “missing,” a.k.a. dead. Those included several local long tail boatman and a few that had been out kayaking that were swept away. At least one long tail boat had been capsized out at sea and many of the passengers had somehow survived. One woman who was kayaking with her husband had gotten battered against the rocky shore and her face was so badly smashed she had lost all of her teeth. She was pulled to shore by climbers and lucky enough to live. Her husband is still “missing.”

Another boater tragically saw her mother die against the rocky shore. A young boy was lost swimming. At one point during the mayhem, Ryan and I saw a woman waving her arms and screaming for help on a beach across the shore. We waved back to her in attempt to get her to move away from the shore. We knew another wave was coming, and other than frantically trying to warn her, there was nothing we could do to help. At some point in her escape attempt, she had gotten a piece of wreckage speared into her leg. Luckily, she was evacuated by helicopter in time to be saved.

There are countless accounts of climbers who hung on for dear life as the waves bashed them into the rocks, where seconds before they had been belaying their partner and somehow held on. Other climbers were abandoned and forced to clip into a bolt on route waiting on a prayer for the waves to subside. Although many climbers were injured and nearly killed, all the climbers held on and survived.


The Aftermath


Following the tsunami all low-lying areas were ordered to be evacuated. Railay was evacuated and all the tourists left. Railay had the eerie ghost town feeling. In Ton Sai, many of the locals left for several days, along with a few others. The food supply dwindled down to mainly rice for three or four days. Many of the locals had their livelihoods swept away. Many people have asked me why I didn’t leave with the others. It seemed to me that the only thing to do was to stay and support these amazing people in the midst of this tragedy.

One of things I have always focused on in difficult situations is to evaluate your resources and to operate in a mode of what is within your sphere of influence. What was within our sphere of influence was our ability to clean up and attempt to bring Railay and Ton Sai back to some state of normalcy. From my perspective leaving would have been an abandoning of the Thai people in a time when they needed us the most. The ONLY thing to do was to stay. So that is what we did.

Local Thai People and climbers band together to move one of many boats.

Photograph: Ryan Ernst

Over the next nine days we cleaned up the wreckage and trash. From the beach to several hundred yards inland, there was plenty to be done. On the day following the wave, I remember pulling up plaster and big metal grates with Ryan and many other climbers. My mind raced with thoughts of uncovering dead bodies. Thankfully, I did not have to experience the dread of death throughout the tsunami experience. There was an amazing effort by climbers from around the world who stayed to clean up the wreckage and salvage the shipwrecks. Teams of thirty people moved from one structure to the next, piecing together what could be salvaged. Piles of trash and wood burned for days and nights across the beach – a symbolic representation of moving through this catastrophic event.

“Tsunami Transitions”

Eight days after the Tsunami the last of the long tail boats burns on Railay Beach. For the first time, new boats have arrived, marking the transition.

Photograph: Tim Walther

Lucky to Be Alive

The feeling of the locals were mixed with living in the moment and a general sense of pure weirdness. There was a rain that came a couple days after and when I asked Wee, a local climbing legend, whether he thought it would keep raining, he responded with his hands in the air and his shoulders shrugged, “Everything different now.”

Contact Grand Dynamics, Inc. for Immediate Release   307.733.1989    307.733.1989 *    800.989.8434   800.989.8434 * PRESS RELEASE Grand Dynamics, Inc. January, 2005 

Contact Grand Dynamics, Inc. for Immediate Release    307.733.1989   307.733.1989 *    800.989.8434   800.989.8434 * PRESS RELEASE Grand Dynamics, Inc. January, 2005 

Contact Grand Dynamics, Inc. for Immediate Release    307.733.1989   307.733.1989 *    800.989.8434   800.989.8434 * PRESS RELEASE Grand Dynamics, Inc. January, 2005 

Contact Grand Dynamics, Inc. for Immediate Release    307.733.1989   307.733.1989 *    800.989.8434   800.989.8434 * PRESS RELEASE Grand Dynamics, Inc. January, 2005 

Contact Grand Dynamics, Inc. for Immediate Release    307.733.1989   307.733.1989 *    800.989.8434   800.989.8434 * PRESS RELEASE Grand Dynamics, Inc. January, 2005 

Contact Grand Dynamics, Inc. for Immediate Release    307.733.1989   307.733.1989 *    800.989.8434   800.989.8434 * PRESS RELEASE Grand Dynamics, Inc. January, 2005 

Contact Grand Dynamics, Inc. for Immediate Release    307.733.1989   307.733.1989 *  800.989.8434  800.989.8434 * PRESS RELEASE Grand Dynamics, Inc. January, 2005 Contact Grand Dynamics, Inc. for Immediate Release  307.733.1989  307.733.1989 *  800.989.8434  800.989.8434 * 

As I reflect back on the scenario of where I was, I do consider myself incredibly lucky. Any number of events could have placed me in the thick of the Tsunami. I could have been in Phuket, or even more deadly on Phi Phi Island, where thousands lost their lives with no place to run. I had been walking down to the beach to take a nap when the Tsunami hit. Had I made it down to the beach a half hour earlier, I more than likely would have been asleep on the beach recovering from my illness when the wave hit. So many scenarios, yet I am here to write about this and thankful for being alive. PRESS RELEASE Grand Dynamics, Inc. January, 2005 Contact Grand Dynamics, Inc. for Immediate Release  307.733.1989  307.733.1989 *  800.989.8434  800.989.8434 *


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