Posted on: March 12, 2007

Jonathan Siegrist (center) and Ryan Ernst cruising to the summit of The Spirit of Mokwai (5.8 X, 5 pitches, ca. 300m), Phnom Bei Sambao, Cambodia on December 1, 2006. Their climb was likely the first ascent of the slab; almost all the enormous boulders below, which fill a valley so vast that Morris compares it to Hampi, have yet to be climbed—or discovered. [Photo] Josh Morris /

After spotting a cliff face southeast of Phnom Phen, Cambodia, near the border of Vietnam last year, Josh Morris of Thailand wrangled three Americans to join him on an exploratory mission in November and December of 2006. The new cliff on Phnom Bei Sambao (451m), along with a valley filled with excellent bouldering, is located just west of the tiny village of Ton Loap.

Jonathan Siegrist high on an unnamed boulder in Southern Cambodia, November 29, 2006. Siegrist and three friends planned to explore a low-angle cliff ten kilometers west of Ton Loap but were distracted by these house-sized blocks. The party says that the rock is sharp and difficult to protect, but the potential is untold. [Photo] Josh Morris /


Morris teamed with Jonathan Siegrist, Tim Walther and Ryan Ernst in hopes of making the first ascent of the 300-meter friction slab. However, the high quality boulders that surround the cliff distracted the four friends from their main objective for a few days. "The place really looks like a greener version of Hampi," Morris claimed. Although the granite is sharp and brittle in some spots, the boulders are enormous and the rock underneath is bulletproof, he said.

On December 1, they bushwhacked through dense jungle for two hours before reaching the slab's base. They scoped a line without knowing the granite would be so featureless. "It was unbelievably run out," Walther said. The team split up after Pitch 3 to do two variations of the crux pitch: Diamonds are for Never (5.8 X, 50m), which had no gear, and The Bo Fang Variation (5.7 X, 50m), which took a single cam in a rotten, flaring groove. The bold new moderate, The Spirit of Mokwai (5.8 X, 5 pitches, ca. 300m), is likely the first on the cliff.

Although the low-angle cliff probably offers nothing harder than 5.10, there is potential for more run-out, multi-pitch climbs and an immeasurable amount of bouldering—Siegrist added that, after a bit of boulder scrubbing, "there would be near endless potential."

Sources: Josh Morris, Jonathan Siegrist, Tim Walther and Ryan Ernst

The Spirit of Mokwai (5.8 X, 5 pitches, ca. 300m), Phnom Bei Sambao, Cambodia, showing both variations: Diamonds are for Never (5.8 X, 50m) on the left and The Bo Fang Variation (5.7 X, 50m) on the right. [Photo] Josh Morris /

Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.