Access Update

Before leaving Yangshuo on Dec. 24th, climbing was been open at all crags in Yangshuo and we enjoyed fine, cool climbing weather as is usual for this time of year. There are still unresolved access issues at both the Wine Bottle and White Mountain crags and these will require more time to settle. Overall, the access situation is quite good and relationships with villagers at most crags is improving. We encourage you to talk to villagers near the crags and to eat your meals and buy lunch and drinks there whenever possible. Relationships between independent climbers and villagers is one of the most important factor in continued unrestricted access to our crags.

Various rockclimbing /guiding companies have also approached villagers with an offer to rent the land in exchange for exclusive rights to climbing there. Some villagers still believe there is money to be made from the crags and climbers must compete with commercial operators and developers to protect access to climbing. We must also compete with some guiding companies who seem to have given up on making money from guiding and instead see that there is money to be made charging climbers and other guiding companies for access to the crag while offering little or nothing in return.

In addition to avoiding the hassle of administering a fee system, the villagers should realize that climbers are unlikely to pay to climb at White Mountain. On the other hand, climbers must spend money for food, accommodation and transportation while in Yangshuo and the YAI is working with villagers to enable climbers to spend more of their money for necessities directly in the villages. If possible, we want to avoid setting a precedent by directly purchasing access rights but at this time it is unclear what is the best long-term solution.

The situation at White Mountain has not changed over the past months. I will recap the main points here. Two villages dispute the claim to land-use-right ownership to the area at the base of the crag. A development company in Guilin has approached the Yanse Village and offered to develop the area into a tourist destination with the main focus on a large cave behind the village. Recent conversations with village leaders lead us to believe that climbers will have unrestricted access once the bigger ownership issues have been resolved. The YAI has worked with villages including the one that disputes Yanse Village’s claim to land-use-rights at White Mountain. Early January has been given as the time when official legal proceedings will begin that should eventually lead to the resolution of the ownership issues. Climbers, including Jonathan Siegrist and Ah Bon, climbed at White mountain for 3 days in mid-December but no climbers have returned since due mainly to the cold weather.

The situation at Wine Bottle is still unsettled. There are signs at the base of the crag saying the area is closed to climbing, but climbers have used the crag regularly without any interference.

A group of villagers have acquired the rights to the land in front of the crag and they have sent two younger members to negotiate a rental arrangement with the Yangshuo Climbing Association (an organization that only exists on paper). Since ChinaClimb has opened its own guiding crag near Fuli, and other guiding companies have said they will not longer take clients to Wine Bottle, the economic value of the crag has fallen precipitously. They village interlopers were surprised that guiding companies could just walk away from the crag. There are still a few commercial guiding operators who take large groups climbing and refuse to put in the time to open their own crags. They bulk at paying the villagers a fair price for using the crag to make money and have even negotiated behind the scenes for exclusive access to the crag intending on charging other guiding companies to take clients there.

The solution is not so difficult if you realize that if guiding companies would agree to pay the villagers as little as RMB10 for each client they take there, this income would more than meet the villagers’ demands. The villagers have little recourse other than closing the crag to climbing till the companies pay up. The guiding companies who are making the most money using this crag are holding out, maybe even hoping they can get access on better terms or hoping that independent climbers will step in and solve the problem for them. The YAI has worked with both villagers and the commercial operators and, for the most part, cooperation and understanding has been very good. We have personally taken villagers climbing and shown them which routes guiding companies are using to make money. Once both sides fully understand each other and the money involved, it should be easier to reach an acceptable solution.


Access Updates - White Mt and Wine Bottle

White Mountain and Wine Bottle access discussions with local villagers who control the land in front of the crags are moving forward.We are pressing for clear, long-term resolutions and cannot hurry the process.

Inter-village conflicts near the White Mountain crag are coming to a head over access. At this time it is difficult to predict when issues can be resolved. We have begun working with one village to manage our toilet and to open a small store near the crag. This is to be followed by food and lodging services. As mentioned earlier, the formal land-use-rights to the land at the base of the crag is unclear. In fact, villagers do not have a legal claim to crags adjacent to their land as all such lands belong to the government and the land-use-rights have not been allocated to anyone. Villagers have been allocated lands for agricultural activities and crags are outside of this scope.

YingZi, the second nearby village,have moved strongly to prevent climbers from using the crag: they spend the day in front of the crag, harvest is over, and they have, once again,removed bolts from the bottom of most routes. Climbers who do show up are being politely turned away. The first village has begun talking to the government to press for resolution. In fact, this was their plan all along: to force a lawsuit or confrontation and compel the government to step in and make a determination about access rights. We are in the middle of this process. It is possible that White Mountain will be closed to climbing for the remainder of they year, possible longer.

Wine Bottle looks much better. After one of the climbing shops negotiated with villagers who claim they have acquired land-use-rights at the base of the crag from the villager, the local association of guiding shops, the YSCA, empowered the same shop to negotiate on behalf of the association for access by all members. I attended these meetings and all guiding shops were supportive of these efforts and pledge financial support to resolve the access issues; they are pressing for a 5-year contract.Once the guiding shop issues have been resolved, the YAI plans to sign a contract for access for all independent climbers and in return we will invest in improvements at the base of the crag including toilets and benches.


New Line on the Great Wall

I made a trip out to the Great Wall near Stone City last week with Eben Farnworth and Alex Honnold. We had great, cool weather but the adventure was cut short by shortened daylight – this is a better spring crag. Alex got on lead on a new line up a crack system that proved too chossy and loose. We bailed after placing only one additional bolt and headed over to the arete at the top of the approach pitch to the main ledge.

Eben got to lead the pitch up to the Heather Terrace and we agreed that it is probably the best line on the wall so far. Alex liked the face just to the east of the arete and he rigged a line and rapped down and tried to find moves on top rope. He marked the bolt placements and I cleaned and bolted the line afterward but we ran out of daylight and did not finish it. There is still some loose rock that needs to be taken care of, including a death block near the top, and the route needs the white lichen to be brushed off before I attempt to send it.

The route is a full 40 meters long and will end on the Terrace so we can use existing rap anchors to descend. Alex thinks the line will go at 12+. This will be the hardest FA I’ve attempted and it is at the top of my list once I fill in my next pyramid. Pulling this off would make an excellent Christmas present to myself.

Fall Tick List

After reading The Self-Coached Climber I constructed a pyramid and listed 50 routes I wanted to tick in Yangshuo this fall season on increasingly harder routes. My hardest grade climbed at that time was an 11c so my new pyramid had eight 11a’s at the bottom, then four 11b’s and two 11c’s before an 11d (7a). I started at the bottom and by the time I was attempting the c’s and d, I felt fit and ready. I got them all in 2 or 3 attempts. It is a great system to get me climbing closer to my potential while not spending too much time flailing on stuff that is just too hard for me right now.

Now I’ve constructed my next pyramid with a 12a at the top and I’m climbing more 11b’s, 11c’s and 11d’s to get ready for the top. I want to complete this one before I leave Yangshuo for the winter; this gives me another 3 weeks at most. Should not be a problem if my progress continues apace.

I did jump on the Todd Skinner 12b at Banyan tree on TR the day before yesterday and got a good taste of just what it means to be a fit 5.12 climber. I gave it three burns and was wiped out by the end of the day and still feeling sore the next. I did make it out to Wine Bottle late yesterday for some easy routes and one go on the 5.11c Great Wall route. After the 12b, it felt relatively simple and I’m confident I can send it first try, probably tomorrow morning. Then I’ll do the other 5.11c at the crag before going after five more 5.11b’s. Filling inn the bottom of the pyramid will get me prepared for two more 5.11d’s before I step into the realm of 5.12. Good stuff for an old guy!

Climbing Festival

The 2009 Yangshuo Climbing Festival went well and largely according to plan. Friday night was a gathering in the sports stadium where the new bouldering wall was open to all climbers. Saturday started the treasure hunt: prize tags were hidden at the top of 70 routes at 8 different crags; there were also a number of clinics at the Wine Bottle Crag including those by Black Diamond athletes.

The afternoon saw more open climbing before the evening activities in the sports stadium including a dinner and slide presentation by Alex Honnold on speed climbing – he mostly talked about his recent free solo adventures. A local rock band provided the music and there were many gear give-aways. Entreprises, the climbing hold company, donated all of the holds and a finger board they had brought to the festival to the Yangshuo Access Initiative (YAI) and we auctioned for a good price. It went so well we will consider having more auctions at next year’s festival.

After the auction the bouldering competition got underway and lasted till well past 10pm. It was exciting and holding it in the stadium allowed us all to be together in a comfortable environment. Using the stadium proved a great decision as we woke up Sunday morning to rain and cold; many climbers chose not to go to the crags and waited for the final rounds of the bouldering competition held that afternoon, only Chinese climbers were in the mem's final round. The route setting was much better on the second day.

What was missing from was the outdoor group activities we had last year climbing competitions. I hope we can combine the two aspects next year focusing on the outdoor climbing that makes Yangshuo one of the top destinations for climbing in Asia and being together in the stadium in the evenings.


Climbers arriving for Festival

Alex Honnold and Ellen Powick were the first two Black Diamond athletes to arrive for the festival and we climbed in hot temps yesterday at White Mountain. It was great to watch them shred routes up to 13a, they stand on stuff I cannot even see let alone think about putting any weight on. Kind of opens up new realms of the possible in my mind. One of the local farmers came over to watch and asked me why Alex climbed so effortlessly while I seemed to struggle. And I thought I climbed the pitch pretty well.

There are a few other groups of climbers here but it is not like I was anticipating as the festival kicks-off in just a few days. Skies are gray this morning and temps are at least 5 degrees C lower. Light rains are forecast for today and tomorrow and I hope this will bring and keep the temps down for the rest of the year.

I'm still very busy with getting the YAI launched, and working with the local villagers as well as moving into my flat and working on the festival, so I haven't gotten out to climb much at all. I've been climbing within my comfort zone since I arrived in YS about one month ago, filling in climbs at the bottom of my pyramid (11a/b) and progressing well. Now, most spaces are filled up and I need to start on the harder stuff. Yesterday, after flailing on an 11b I'd redpointed a few times before, I got on a TR on China White (12b) and got a good wake-up call for just how much more strength I'll have to bring to the game real soon! I haven't even tried to pull-down that hard since the spring as most of the stuff I've been climbing has been smaller face routes whereas China White has huge jugs, but BIG moves. I'm psyched to get on more stuff like it, I think I just decide on 3 or 4 12s to project at a few of the crags and get on them each time I climb there, even if it's just draw to draw; I can figure out the moves and get used to climbing more strongly.


Festival Projects o n Track

The Second annual Yangshuo Climbing Festival is scheduled to kick-off the Friday and the YAI crag sanitation projects are all on track for completion. Toilets at White Mountain and the Egg should be painted and in use in a few more days. We have gained a lot of positive momentum with the village communities through these projects and I hope we can keep it up with. Villagers have been expressing interest in joining us for some climbing and I'm trying to get some of the guiding companies to take them out.We'll probably have to put it off till after the festival.

We've got 4 more toilet projects in mind and, depending on how much money we collect in our membership drive, we will be looking into alternative, more eco-friendly designs. Any input from people with expertise or experience in this kind of thing would be greatly appreciated.