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.


Chinese Guidebook Now Available

The Chinese translation of Paul Collis's Yangshuol guidebook, 阳朔攀岩指南,has been out for about one month now. Make sure you pick up a copy next time you are in town.


Toilet Project Updates

The YAI finally got its crag sanitation projects kicked-off, mostly using funds left over from last year's climbing festival. We have begun building permanent toilet facilities at the most popular crags and construction is now underway at White Mountain and the Egg. Structures should be done in time for this year's festival, Nov 13th-15th, and I am looking for people to help paint murals on the outside so they blend in with the environment.

These are some of the first projects we have done with local villagers and in addition to cleaning up the area around the crags, it has open a dialogue between villagers and climbers I hope we can build on. Just meeting with them we are able to discuss the possibilities of them opening up small food stands and even offering meals and accommodations in the villages. We will have to keep working in this direction if we want continued free access. Our next step will be to negotiate a contract with villagers to maintain and clean the toilets as well as cut back the brush along the path up to as well as at the base of the crags. You can join the YAI to help these efforts.

On another note, the weather has been great for climbing; unfortunately, I have been too busy with furnishing my apartment in Yangshuo, preparation for the climbing festival, getting the YAI up and running and handling these toilet projects to get much time in on the rocks.

The weather is cool in the early mornings and the sun warms thing nicely so conditions are perfect at White Mountain. Bring some warm clothes if you come down to climb for the rest of the year.


Great Wall in Fall

Five of us, Edwin, Melissa and Jessica from Oz, Claire, presently from Taz, and myself, climbed at the Great Wall last weekend. The weather was great and the skies just a bit hazy from farmers burning their fields after harvest. Even with the haze, the views were awesome, as usual. We met at 7:30 for breakfast, got in the van around 8:00 and started climbing just after 9:00. We were able to tick most of the moderate routes and Edwin led a new line on trad to retrieve some gear I had left on it two years ago. I still want to go back and bolt it along with a few others in the same area.

The only climb we did not get on was Paul's 11c (6c+) Blasphemy Crack as we ran out of daylight. We got back to Yangshuo after dark, tired from the long day. There is still a lot of untouched rock above the main ledge, which only covers less than 1/4 of the face. The fall days are comfortable but too short for much bolting new lines due to the travel and approach times required. Spring is the time development there and I've got a few projects ready for next year.

Photo is of Jessica and Claire from the Heather Terrace, about 100m off the deck.

Thumb Peak at Night

I've been wanting to climb Thumb Peak at night for a few years now and the weather and moon aligned perfectly last night for a nearly flawless moonlight ascent of the Happy New Year route. We got on the rock at about 8:30 and the wall was illuminated by a brilliant moon. Cool temps, no wind and great nightscape views were enjoyed for the 3-hour adventure, this allowed ample time to soak in the scenery. This one will become a classic and I'll make sure it gets mentioned in the next guide book.

Headlamps were needed even with the bright moonlight, mostly to confirm the footholds as handholds were clearly visible and the bolts easy to follow. The crux was half way up the 4th pitch were some of the footholds were difficult to judge. We climbed trailing a second rope in order to avoid the high hanging belay and to get off in two raps. Our planning seemed flawless until we were standing on the ground again trying to pull the ropes which got caught just below the middle belay ledge. We left the ropes and retrieved them this morning.

Reclimbing the lower two pitches this morning was not any easier than I remembered them from last night when I climbed slower but made sure every move was in balance. It was great practice. Some locals spotted us up on the crag and alerted the local police who met us at the bottom of the crag to ask if we needed help. We told them we were practicing rescue technique as most rescues happen at night. They seemed to accept this and left us alone.

Lower night-time temps will make a nighttime ascent less attractive till the spring. We were not the first to climb Thumb Peak at night: it has been simlu-climbed and also by at least two teams in the buff.


White Mountain Open and Rebolted

Went our with Drew Hedesh and Tan Xi on Monday and finished the job on Wednesday with Ah Chen and Maria Frau, all but 3 less popular routes have been rebolted and relationships with the villagers are on good footing again. I anticipate seeing a lot of climbers out there this weekend as Hong Kong has a 3-day weekend coming up.

Photo are of us getting a ladder from a local villager and of Ah Cheng re-bolting the bottom of Abinormal, the site of a recent ground fall that resulted in injuries.

Temps are also down and we've climbed at White Mountain and the Space Buttress for the past two days and enjoyed cool overcast skies. I'm excited to see what I can send this season: the hold all feel a bit bigger this year - a good sign!


White Mountain Access - Rebolting

Met with villagers again today and we agreed that we should replace the bolts that had been chopped on the bottom of all routes. We plan to finish the work by the end of the week.I still need the help of some more strong climbers to rebolt the difficult routes.

We are working out arrangements for continued access and will need to discuss a few open points before we can conclude anything. The village has assured that they want to work with us and that access can continue as is till the end of the year at which time we will begin to finalize long-term agreements. I have started the Yangshuo Access Initiative YAI and the website is up at http://yangshuoaccess.org. Please look there for further updates.


October Update

Climbing is in full swing although it has been a bit warm the past two days with temps reaching 30 degrees. Climbers have been at all the popular crags including White Mountain where we have just begun replacing the bottom bolts that were removed by the local villagers.

Ah Cheng and Ah Bang finally sent the project at the Chicken Cave. Paul and I bolted it over one year ago climbing aid on lead. The consensus grade is 13b/c. Ah Cheng said it was one of the best climbs he has ever been on: very technical with a few unlikely knee-bars. They are still trying to come up with a suitable name.

A new 'beginner' crag has been bolted - the Swiss Cheese - located just outside of town on the way to Wine Bottle. There are 8 routes from 5.6 to 5.10. I'll post the route topo here and we will include it in the upcoming supplement to Paul Collis' Yangshuo Rockclimbs.

Climbers are out today attempting to establish a route up the picturesque overhanging line on the crag across from the village we pass through on the way to the Egg. They will need a few days as the lower section is sharp black rock and must be climbed before the music starts on the exposed orange rock above. Many climbers have talked about getting on this line and Andrew deserves to bag it with all the work he has put in on the Swiss Cheese. He is also working with the YAI to document the bolting situation and come up with recommended bolting standards for the area.


White Mountain Accident

A climber fell to the ground from low on a climb at White Mountain and sustained a serious arm fracture earlier this week. The fall took place after a foothold broke off while the climber was clipping the third bolt, the lower two were missing, just above the tufa on 'Abinormal'.

The bottom hangers had been removed from all White Mountain routes by villagers who are attempting to get money from climbers there. Had the hangers been there, no ground-fall would have happened. This is the first serious accident resulting from the villagers removing hardware.

This ongoing access issue is complicated by unclear land-use-rights for crags because, previously, there was no economic value associated with the cliffs. Disagreements between nearby villages compound the complexity of the problem and negotiations lead us into a morass of long-standing feuds that have nothing to do with climbing.

I have founded the Yangshuo Access Initiative YAI to try and address these issues from the point of view of independent climbers. We are still not formally established as an organization in China but a website is under development where I will be continuing this blog: http://yangshuoaccess.org. You will be able to join soon and we needs your fee contributions to help resolve some of these issues. At the very least, I hope to have a cool T-shirt for members to entice them to join.


Trip Preparation

Still in Shanghai but ready to travel to Yangshuo for an extended fall trip starting next week. I've been in touch with climbers and there is nothing new to report on the access front other than to confirm that most of the hangers have been removed from the bottom of all White Mountain routes. Probably best to show up at the crag ready to stick-clip the higher bolts just to be safe. I'll go to the hardware store this morning to pick up some small hand clamps and maybe even a telescoping metal stick if I can find one.

I've arranged to meet with at least one village head to discuss continued access to White Mt. but I understand that we will have to meet with a second village to get them on board as well. This is important in preparation of the upcoming climbing festival mid-November. We want to avoid any hassles between locals and climbers during the festival as word will get out about how 'friendly' the area is and this might influence other climbers' decisions about coming here. I'm still not sure why Rock 'n' Ice published the Sharma article which dealt more with the body climbers found in in Odin's Den and less with the actual climbing or what it was like to hand out in the laid-back ambiance that is Yangshuo.

As for me, I think I am about as prepared as I can be for the fall climbing window. I'm fit, except for a bit of elbow tendonitis that I always seem to aggravate with too much gym climbing, and I have a long list of climbs I want to get on to build my pyramid geared toward sending some 7's this season. I've actually started focusing on my sport grade numbers and working routes so we'll see if this pays off in performance. I'm still most psyched about hopping on a few new crack lines on Birdman; I'll try to get the first ascent on trad gear. I feel the anxiety along with the excitement just thinking about it.


YAI and the Guiding Companies

I have been working on Yangshuo Access Initiative, YAI, documents for the past few days and have English and Chinese drafts ready to discuss next week in Yangshuo. I’ve put together what I believe to be a viable approach to economic development together with the expansion of climbing in Yangshuo and I hope most of the important players will support us and get on-board. I’ve talked on the phone with many climbers from all over China and there is much interest and support. I still have to build a website and am open to assistance if any web designers have some free time. I’ve got artwork and a basic structure, just need to realize it.

There has been some movement in the position of the local climbing association with regard to the question of open access. Most guiding companies now agree it’s best to save their money and let the YAI buy land leases for the crags. Guiding companies still need to develop new guiding and training crags they can manage themselves but these discussions have been going on for many years and we hope to see breakthroughs soon!

Only a small portion of Yangshuo climbers ever use guiding companies and the companies cater mainly to beginners and travelers without partners. Very few experienced climbers ever use them. More directly, it needs to be asked, what have climbing companies done for you and me? Why should we be concerned that they stay around, other than that they are our friends and we sometimes tie in together? I’ve probably bolted more routes than all of the guiding companies put together, except for ChinaClimb who are no longer in the day guiding business, and Spiderman Paul. I’ve help to develop entirely new crags and put early routes on a number of important crags such as Space Buttress, Chicken Cave, the Egg and the Great Wall. I’ve contributed hardware and time, I’ve translated the guidebook, I write this blog and generally do what I can for the community. The guiding companies are free to utilize all of this. So, why should I support them to make money from my work?

Guiding companies need to stop their bellyaching and put together a basket of services, both to their customers and to the community at large, that we can all use and appreciate! Even if it just means putting up new lines for us to get excited about. Furthermore, only when companies concentrate on improving their skill level and their services will they be able to survive economically from climbing - something that is hard to do anywhere in the world.

Crags like White Mountain and Wine Bottle were developed by independent climbers to share with other climbers: they have a 'public park’ status and have been in the public domain for a long time. If guiding companies had their own crags they could set up regular training programs to systematically train new climbers and to help experienced climbers get to the next level. I’d pay if I thought I could learn something useful from a qualified trainer but, presently, I don’t think the guiding companies have this ability or the place to teach.

Yangshuo needs strong, well qualified guides and the guiding companies need to become serious teachers if they are to expand their customer base beyond beginners. Yangshuo is a sport climbing area and it would make sense to teach the technical and strength training side of the sport. It also makes sense to start training a climbing team that could attend national contests because this would be a big draw for Chinese climbers. Perhaps the new bouldering facility will make this easier. Trainers need to focus on developing their students. Their effectiveness will be seen in their student's success and make marketing easier. This might be a possible road to financial success for at least a few of them.


Chinese Translation of Guidebook

I've been working on a Chinese translation of Paul Collis' Yangshuo Rock Climbs for awhile now and it is just about finished. I made final changes today and can send it off to the printers next week. It should be available before the climbing festival in November. It's been along time in the making but I believe the effort will prove worthwhile. So many people helped out that it would be impossible to list them all. Thanks to you all!

Climbing is growing quickly in China and more people are wanting more information not only about Yangshuo, but also about other areas in China. After this translation, I would like to look at creating Chinese guidebooks for other areas as well. The guide book serves more purposes than just listing and describing routes. During the process we had to agree upon a whole list of terms and ideas that had yet to be standardized within the local climbing community; the list includes terms like: 'flash', 'crag' and 'arete'. The community really came together in this effort and it was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun.

Photo show Radka bouldering on the Great Wall outside of Beijing.


Land Use Issues

The Yangshuo Access Initiative is still not formally established so I will use this forum to communicate my thoughts on crag access issues in Yangshuo. Presently, guiding companies are competing to secure for themselves long-term leases to the base of Wine Bottle and a few other popular crags. Guiding companies are commercial entities out to make profits; their guiding businesses have never been profitable enough to afford anything near a stabile lifestyle and many of the owners have been trying to improve the situation. Fair enough.

One potential way for them to earn more money is to acquire rights to use a crag and then to monopolize access and to charge fees to anyone who climbs there. If they have a legal claim to using the land exclusively, these claims could be protected by the courts and ultimately by the police. Most laws in western societies are exactly that, they protect property rights. Property rights were obtained for Golden Cat Cave and quite a few people believe it has been turned into a gold mine for the guiding company that operates there. Thus, the race might be on to acquire the rights to other popular areas: Wine Bottle, Thumb Peak and White Mountain have all been mentioned in my discussions.

If this is the future pattern, we can expect the villagers near the other crags will also want to lease the land-use-rights to their crags; it may become the norm both in Yanghsuo and in other parts of China. If this is the way things are going, I do not think the climbers, even if we all band together, can stop it. I do not see the government getting involved in the issue on the climbing community's side. I am proposing that the YAI actively get involved in the process and try to secure the leases to the crags and to ensure that these leases will be upheld in a court of law.

Up till now, we have not really tried to grapple with this access issue because we were not forced to. That might be changing. The YAI will represent independent climbers in crag access issues and it is our goal to open access to all independent climbers. Guiding companies may want to use some of the crags to make money and I think this is acceptable as long as there is an understanding that the rights of independent climbers come first. In fact, I imagine the guiding companies will want to become members of the YAI. I need some feedback on this so your comments are welcome. I could also use some support in getting a website off the ground. Thanks, BK


Fall Climbing Season is Here

It's raining now but the cooler weather and low humidity are on their way to Yangshuo so get ready for the best climbing conditions of the year. I usually try to start going to YS just after the October 1st National Holiday and then spend as much time there till rain and cold fingers of mid-December make other locals more attractive. I've pulled down on my most difficult routes to date in early December after working hard all fall. Actually, February this past winter was my all-time best because we had 3 weeks of mild winter temps and very low humidity, and I was able to rearrange my (non-)work schedule around it. Plus, the days are noticeably longer by that time of year.

The climbing festival was held the first weekend of November last year and many climbers stayed around till early December, including some of sponsored professionals. This was a great experience that I hope will continue this year. This year's festival is in mid-November and I'll plan to hang around till mid-Dec, or until it get too cold to get anything down. I've got an espresso maker that helps extend my days at the crag by at least a few hours, so if I can get a crew up early enough, putting in a full day climbing should not be a problem. Hope to see you there.

Tyson Wallace Moves On

Tyson Wallace is schedule to move back to the US with his dog Maggie this Thursday; he is the last of the 'old guard' ChinaClimbers to leave the area after more than 5 years in Yangshuo. I've seen Tyson improve from his early days struggling on 5.10s to the strong climber he is today pulling through difficult 5.12s. He's an inspiration to many of us who started out as average climbers.

Climbing has many aspects, the first of which is commitment to fitness, both mental and physical. Our bodies and minds are honed by the time we spend pulling down and the mental challenges we go through getting back on a route that intimidates or just plain scares us. Tyson has stuck with climbing and gotten into trad and bolting new routes.

He'll be missed around Yangshuo, and I won't be able to say, "look what the dog brought in" as much anymore. Happy Trails and keep pulling down dude!


Wine Bottle Improvement Project

The Wine Bottle crag sees more use each year than any other crag in Yangshuo: it has stacks of moderate routes, many of which are technically challenging, and it is easy to get to. Guiding companies like to use Wine Bottle for beginner groups and there are often upwards of twenty climbers there on any given day. But, if any of you have ever climbed there after a rain, you know the bottom turns into a sticky mud pit and climbers usually track mud up routes past the second bolts. This is the most obvious place to begin YAI crag improvement projects.

While there last month, I measured out the bottom area and then got a quote for paving the entire area, approx. 100 m2, with limestone paving stones. Figured we may as well do it right the first time. The cost came back surprisingly low, under RMB4000. Next, we contacted the local villager who the Climbing Association is working with to rent the access rights to the crag, along with Golden Cat Cave, to discuss the paving project. We thought he would be on-board, but things are never as easy as they appear.

Turns out that he has just acquired the rental contracts for these and a few other nearby crags. He is looking to enter into a long-term lease contract with some of the Yangshuo Climbing Association; the companies, no names at this point, have not told me about their plans, but many worry they will try to close off the crag and charge climbers to climb there - just like QQ has done at Golden Cat Cave. I'll try to force their hand, maybe even bid against them to acquire the rights via YAI and secure access for everyone. This could be a good model for the rest of our crags as well.

It is unlikely that the paving project can now be completed before the October 1st holiday. That is a shame as I wanted to have at least one project that we could point to when promoting membership in the YAI. This project will benefit the maximum number of climbers including the guiding companies. Please get the word out and start asking questions so that we can get to the bottom of just what is going on with the guiding companies. Also, let me know if you have any input on how other areas have dealt with similar issues. The YAI is intended to be an advocacy group for all Yangshuo climbers and we may not be able to wait for formal registration to get active.

Alpine Climbing in Sichuan

Early Sept was still a bit hot in Yangshuo so after a meeting with Ryan and the Yangshuo Climbing Festival Planning Committee - to give it a special name - I headed off to Sichuan to meet Brian, a fellow YS climber, for some alpine climbing. Due to time constraints, made worse by road repairs into the Siguniang region, we decided to pass on Rilong and Changping Valley where we had initially planned to climb DaoGou Peak, and instead went in through Bipeng Valley looking for a suitable objective.

On the first day we carried our climbing kit high into the valley and got a brief glimpse of the Dragon"s Tooth (approx. 5250m); it was the second most prominent peak in the valley after the huge Yangmantai north west face. We walked back to the hut that afternoon and decided our attempt would be on the Dragon's Tooth.

Over the next two days we ferried all our kit up to the base of the wall and prepared to spend two days figuring out the line before we had to walk out. Alas, it was not to be. On the third evening it began to rain heavily with a lightening storm that would not let us sleep; even though we had made a sheltered place in a cave under a house-sized boulder,with each flash of lightening a searing white light with a deep red center penetrated the eyelids. This was followed by a deafening crack of thunder that echoed across the high peaks - one, two, three, four .. boom. Holy s#*t! I'm glad we weren't bivied on the ridge. In the morning the wall and the high glaciers were dusted with a light coat of new snow. The wall is north facing and would take at least a full day to dry. Our hopes were shattered. We walked out the next day promising to come back soon and to allow enough time to wait out the weather. Our only climbing turned out to be in two of Chengdu's climbing gyms.

The wall itself is between 300-400 meters tall, although we did not get accurate altitude readings at the base and are relying on Chinese topos for our estimates. Far as I know, only one Chinese climber has attempted this wall before; we met with him in Chengdu and he is as excited as we are to return and claim the first ascent. If we can leave some fixed anchors in place, due to its relatively easy accessibility, Dragon's Tooth could become a classic! Gets an alpinist's heart beating.


White Mountain Access

The bottom hangers from all White Mountain routes have been removed, presumably by one of the local villages. This according to the Hot Rock climbers who happen to be in town. I spoke with the 'friendly' village head this morning who was unaware of the problem. He offered to get involved with talking to 'the other' nearby village to settle the issue before the Oct 1st holiday. I won't be around; so the most I can do is keep in phone contact to find out what is actually going on and to report it here.

As I have written in this blog before, we are attempting to set you the Yangshuo Access Initiative (YAI) to deal with these issues. It is my goal to have the YAI sign long-term rental contracts for use of the land at the base of all Yangshuo crags and to open up access to everyone who wants to climb there. I want to avoid having the land use rights being bought by commercial companies who could establish exclusive rights to a crag and charge each climber by the day to climb there. Better to pay an annual rental fee directly to the villagers. This will take quite a bit of negotiations to pull off and we will need the financial support of the entire climbing community if we are to succeed.

Also, I would like to rent the land use rights to the grassy area in front of the crag on a long-term basis. We could use this area to host events and also open it up to camping if someone wants to spend the night there. It is a magical place at sunrise and sunset.

For now, we will find out what is going on with the hangers and try to understand the 'other' village's demands. We are considering putting in glue-in bolts, which will be impossible to remove and very difficult to damage, but I think it best to wait till we have discussions with both villages and try to establish more 'friendly' relationships with both of them. I have also heard that a development company in Guilin is talking about leasing the land-use rights in front of White Mountain, possibly to develop a resort there. I don't think they actually have the money to pull this off at the moment, but it is crucial that the YAI be involved in all of these discussions from the beginning in order to protect the interests of all climbers. Any comments, feedback or suggestions along these lines are greatly appreciated.


Yangshuo Climbing Festival 2009

Excitement in growing throughout China for this year’s Yangshuo Climbing Festival and we can anticipate a lot more people showing up to share in the climbing fun. The event will be sponsored primarily by North Face and Black Diamond, with NF supplying most of the money and BD most of the support and work coordinating all of the parts, especially those in China.

A quick summary of what to expect this year. There are 500 places available and spaces are filling to capacity fast. The format will be much different this year because of uncertainties that presented themselves last year. In addition to open climbing, there will be a type of treasure hunt at 10 crags with prize envelopes at the anchors of 70 routes. Climbing at any of the other 24 crags is encouraged.

The only competition will be a bouldering comp held at the sports stadium. The festival will build a wall at the back of the stage and after the festival, the wall will be turned over to the local government as a way encourage more local people to take up the sport. The wall should be available to all climbers and could turn out to be the place to hang out after dark or on rainy days.

There will also be climbing clinics on a number of topics and slide shows from well known climbers such as Alex Honnolt. The atmosphere should be fun and we are working on sponsors and local vendors to make sure enough food, drinks and beer are available. Holding the events at the stadium will ensure we are all comfortable should it rain again as it did last year. Transportation to the crags will be by bicycle and we are working to have some food and drinks available for sale at a few of the central crags.

So far the committee has been very effective at working together but the real work starts now in constructing the wall, preparing the stadium and putting up the prize envelopes. We are all looking forward to having the international and Chinese climbing community ascend upon Yangshuo for a few days of climbing and socializing. I know many climbers who plan to stay around for up to a month after the event to take advantage of Yangshuo’s best weather and I have a list of redpoints I will be working on to cap off my year. Looking forward to seeing you all there.


Overdue Update

I finally got serious about getting around the blocking of my blog by the govt here. I'll try to post a few blogs a day to catch up on what has happened here recently and what is in the pipeline for the rest of the year. Items include: the second annual Yangshuo Climbing Festival on Nov.13-15; the establishment of the Yangshuo Access Initiative and recent and planned projects; new lines including Chris Sharma's unsent 5.15; alpine climbing in Sichuan -have to throw in my recent trip; climbing in Qingdao and Beijing's Baihe area and the translation of the guidebook into Chinese.

I spent a few weeks in YS in the spring before going on a trip to the US where I only had time to climb at the Enchanted Tower with my brother for a few days. The tower is an awesome place and the climbing on pocketed welded tufts was overhung but juggy - biggest jugs you'll ever fall off of. I got back to China early August and after taking care of visa issues I have been traveling and climbing for the past 4 weeks. I joined a mock competition with a group of international climbers in ShanXi Province and many of us went to Beijing and climbed at Baihe for a few days. Then it was off to YS for a meeting of the committe for the upcoming Climbing Festival. I just got back from Sichuan where we attempted to climb The Dragon's Tooth, a beautiful unclimbed peak in Bipeng Valley. We set ourselves up in a good camp near the base, but we could not wait out the rain and had to walk out without touching the wall.

On the Yangshuo front, bolt hangers have been stolen from the bottom of all White Mountain routes, probably by the second near-by village, so the Yangshuo Access Initiative will have to get active there immediately. I plan to return for the reminder of the year after the October 1st national holidays. Climbing in June and last week in early September was still very hot and humid, but temps and humidity can be expected to start coming down soon. I've got a big list of climbs to redpoint this season and hope to see many of you pulling down at one of Asia's best sport areas.


Hangzhou in May

Another spectacular spring day in Shanghai today and Marcos and I headed out early, 7:20 train, for a day at the Ling Shan crag outside of Hangzhou. We met up with some local climbers and had a great day sport climbing. Photo shows Marcos on a short, crimpy 5.13a.

I managed to link the first 6 draws on the 5.12d a few times but kept getting shut down by the next big move. I need a few more days on it. I am amazed how much better I've climbed it since flailing and grabbing draws two weeks ago. Easily the hardest thing I've ever been on. Marcos redpointed a 5.13a, then got spanked big time on a gnarly 5.13b that features two fist-wide tufas on a 15 degree overhanging headwall that looks super desperate. No feet, no rests. I don't think anyone has sent it yet.

Liu Changzhong is due down in the next few weeks and there is this 13b as well as an unclimbed 13d waiting for him. This Hangzhou stuff is starting to feel like fun. We will have to find some new walls in the area and put up more stuff, especially at my grade: 5.10+.

Let me know if you are in Shanghai and needing to get out climbing; Hangzhou makes a great day trip!


Where's the Money?

Intrigue comes to Yangshuo. Ex-Climber's brother has bought the lease to the land at the base of Wine Bottle and maybe also part of White Mountain. He plans to put up some tourist type climbs and a rope traverse to the forest floor below and sell it to non-climber tourists. QQ has done the same thing with Golden Cat Cave. Even more worrying is farmers around White Mountain have been asking climbers for money and recently used ladders to chop bolts from routes. Police were called in recently when violence was threatened but the police simply told the climbers to leave.

I guess you could have to call this move 'enterprising' and I hope they can make enough money to buy a house and a Mercedes Benz. This being China, the land of desperate entrepreneurs, it had to happen sooner or later. It's the next act in an ongoing saga of trying to make money off climbing.

The size of the 'guided climbing' pie is not big enough to feed all the local climbing shops and any effort to increase the size of the pie should benefit everyone. On the other hand, if the pie does not increase measurably and this just serves to re-allocate the existing pieces, then we could be in for a full-scale guiding war. If the farmers are thinking 'Gravy Train', no one is going to eat very much.

And this just after it looked like the Yangshuo Climbing Association was getting its act together as a representative body for the interests of all climbers (or was it just in the interest of a few climbing shops?).

The logical next step is to turn climbing into a cash cow to pay for the house, car, vacations abroad, the whole Peiking Duck! With a little ingenuity, maybe some underhanded dealing and a lot of pluck, they could control all climbing access.

Dirt-bags vs Deng Xiaoping and getting rich is 'glorious'. More in a few days once I'm in Yangshuo and can better judge just where this all might be going.


Hangzhou Climbing

The May 1st holiday weekend is upon us which means it is almost time to head back down south for the best of spring climbing in Yangshuo. I usually wait till after the busy weekend before I head down. I'm looking for cheap tickets for after the 11th and hope to stay till the end of the month.

In the meantime, I've been going over to Hangzhou, the Ling Shan crag, with Marcos from the Shanghai gym. There are only a handful of, 7 or 8, climbs bolted at the moment and I find all of them pretty stiff for the grades. Maybe I'm not comfortable with the limestone there yet. The only 'warm-up' is a short but stiff 5.10b. Gets you on your arms from the get go and doesn't let up till you dyno for the very top, usually with a painful flash-pump. Next comes a scary 5.11a, a multi-pitch climb that is probably a bit harder than that, then a 5.12d before the harder 5.13 climbs! Not really my kind of place at this time, but I do enjoy working some of the difficult lines on top-rope.

I've worked a 12d on TR the past two sessions and managed to link the first 6 draws. The crux section comes next and I'll begin working the entire thing on lead. This is like almost 2 number grades beyond what I usually struggle up but it has been good for me. I'm breaking through some barriers as well as getting stronger. Raw finger tips, sore arms and frozen shoulders the next morning is the price I'm still willing to pay.

The crag stays wet for a few days after it rains and we plan on bolting some new lines once the rains stop. There is not much there at the moment, but it still beats climbing indoors any day! There are lots of other crags that have yet to be touched, and we saw one huge cave that looks intriguing. We are at the crag in just over 2 hours from the Shanghai station and usually back home after 10pm. Marcos has Thursdays off so this could turn into a regular thing whenever I'm not in Yangshuo or on a climbing trip.


Sharma in Yangshuo

Chris Sharma has been in Yangshuo since the beginning of April and will move on to Beijing on the 21st. Couple of guys from Shanghai went down and got to climb with him and were all duly impressed. The guy and his girlfriend on-sighted most of the 14s. Here's a video link of Chris at White Mt. http://tr.im/j5G5

So what got done? Two new lines at White Mt on the far left-hand side. A new 5.14c named "Spicy Noodle" and a bolted project next to it that will probably go at 5.15a/b. This will give Ah Bon and Ah Chen something to keep busy on for a while. Might even see some trophy-line hunters show up to get the first ascent on the 15.

Photo is of Xiao Cai from Beijing after sending Moon Walker (5.12d) at Moon Hill.


Setting Bolting Standards

There has been a bit of lively discussion lately about bolting standards in Yangshuo, not all of it civil. Paul Collis, in his guidebook, Yangshuo Rockclimbing, has suggested standards for bolts: 316 or A4 stainless steel expansion bolts with a minimum diameter of 10mm or 3.8 inch. Abseil anchors are another story and there is a new campaign, funded by revenues from last year's climbing festival and made available to the Yangshuo Climbing Association from Black Diamond, to replace the anchors at White Mountain and Lei Pi Shan.

Anchor hardware configurations can vary depending on the rock and the line of the route. I have put up anchors with chain connecting a rap-ring on an anchor hanger to a standard hanger placed directly above. I have also used two pieces of climbing rope threaded through separate bolt hangers and connected to two large rap rings. Both set-ups offer a single rap point to reduce rope friction and twisting while providing the safety of two bolts.

The less civil bolting arguments turn around bolt spacing and whether an existing line should be bolted or re-bolted.

First bolt spacing. Better climbers often prefer more spacing between bolts to give a better flow to the climb and find clipping too often detracts from the quality of the climbing experience (they can always just skip clips!?!). Less bold and weaker climbers often prefer more bolts to reduce the length of their potential falls. The problem area seems to be between climbs in the 5.10 range, which tend to be more closely bolted, and 5.12 climbs, which assume climbers just want the necessary safety and are less concerned about bigger falls. Most complaints of over-bolting have come from strong climbers who have climbed 5.11 climbs, many of them put up by Paul and myself. I've since gone back and climbed a few of these lines and I must agree that some do feel over-bolted. I will try to improve in the future and as I climb stronger I might place bolts farther apart on more difficult 5.11s.

On the other side are 5.10 climbers like myself who have ventured onto poorly bolted 5.11s and nearly shit themselves. Two come to mind: Simon Wilson's 5.11a on the Fried Egg Wall at the Egg and the 5.11c thin crack line at Lei Pi Shan put up by Alex Xi Tang. Both climbs have been re-bolted to remove very real ground/ledge fall potential. I find the climbs much improved because the cruxes are now about 'making the moves' instead of 'making a clip from a bad handhold'. I spoke to Simon on a number of occasions about not liking making the clip just above a ledge from a tiny crimper. He assured me that the clip was no problem - and it wasn't for him, he climbs 5.13.

At issue is: Who has the final say in what gets bolted and how it gets bolted? Is someone responsible for adding or changing bolt placements after a route has been opened by the first ascensionists, especially if there are safety concerns? Both of the above mentioned routes were rebolted by Dave Gliddon, a seasonally Yangshuo hardman with an Australian accent. Dave noticed the problems after hearing complaints and took it upon himself to make the changes. Everyone I've talked to says the changes have improved the climbs.

Some changes made to other routes have been more controversial and even criticized in the guidebook. Replacing the rusty bolts on a few classic lines at Moon Hill has been largely praised. Since there will always be different opinions on best bolting practices, we need a forum to discuss things such as bolting standards, safety issues for existing routes and communicating these standards to visiting climbers who want to leave new routes behind for the rest of us to climb. Sounds like just the job for the Yangshuo Climbing Association!

Photo is of Paul Collis on the first ascent of the Yosemite Flake on the Great Wall.


Full Spring Conditions

I'm stuck in Shanghai and have to settle for pulling down in the gyms here. This Easter weekend should see a few hundred climbers descend on Yangshuo from all over China as well as a big group from Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the weather forecasts call for rain! Spoke with Tyson this morning, he and Chris Sharma were heading to Riverside today. White Mountain, Lie Pi Shan and Chicken Cave have all seen a lot of traffic recently as those are some of the best wet weather crags with hard routes. I plan on climbing in Yanghsuo again late April and early May, just like last year, as the weather is usually more stable then.

I'll let you know when I get updates from any new bolting that Sharma puts up for us. Everything seems to be in place so maybe we'll see something next week. Happy Easter and keep pulling down.

Photo shows Ah Bon getting ready to pull the roof on First Contact at Space Buttress. Gives you an idea of just how big it is.


Family Trip

Well things rarely turn out just the way you plan them. I just got back from 8 days in Yanghsuo with the family and we did 'family stuff'. Only got to climb two days: a great day at the Egg and one more bolting a new line with Eben on Birdman. I did send the lower pitch on my new line on Birdman that I bolted last trip with Paul Collis. Still lots of good rock for multi-pitch climbs on the crag.

Let's see, we went bike riding and the weather was warm enough to have a swim in the Yu Long River. We did the Yangti to Xinping hike, floated the Yu Long on bamboo rafts, took a cooking class, spent a few mornings out at the Li River Retreat, played Shithead in Bar 98, even got in an evening of Majhong. That, along with hanging out in and out of town and eating at our favorite restaurants, all added up to a great trip that went by too fast.

On the climbing front, Spiderman Paul, along with Tyson and Ah Dong, put up a beautiful new line on a new crag near the Mountain Retreat an the bank of the Yu Long River. They are very excited about it but couldn't send the 2nd pitch - they're still trying (might be a 5.13), good luck. Eben and I started bolting the diagonal crack to the left of the chimey crack on Birdman. It was slow going and will need at least one more day to complete. We chose this line first because we can put in anchors from the top of the second pitch that can be used to bolt the second pitch on my line in case climbing it on trad proves too difficult for me.

Chris Sharma was slated to arrive in Yanghsuo today for a 20-day stay during which he plans to bolt some signature lines. Ah Ban and Ah Chen have a few things picked out for him at White Mountain. This should attract more international climbers to the area. There is a good crew of climbers in town now and the numbers usually start going up around this time of year till the summer heat chases people to cooler climes. Fun to be involved with such a growing climbing area.


Spring Break

Spring Break for my daughter and it's off to Yangshuo for 8 days out of the city doing fun outdoor stuff. We plan to hike or bike most days and I should see at least 4 days on the rock. I've got a small tick list of 11s and if that goes well I'll hop on some 12s and try to climb bolt-to-bolt. Would also like to get back to the Great Wall to finish bolting two projects - photo is me hauling the pig up to the base of the Great Wall. Also have a project to finish on Birdman, and would like to finish cleaning my last route on the Totem Pole. So much to do and so little time!

Bruce Norman was in town this week and we climbed at the gym Thursday night before checking out his K2 photos; he successfully summitted in 2007 and also did some amazing trekking and climbing in China. Talked about a possible trip into Eastern Tibet later this year. Could be very exciting checking out the area and climbing some 6000M peaks in the area. I'm still a mountaineer at heart.

Climbed with Stephen at the 80K stadium today and we both managed to get up a lot of new stuff, much of it right out limits. The gym here is tallso we get to climb routes up to 20+ meters. When we do things right, we leave with a deep burn from training forearm endurance. The bouldering area is also quite big, but most of the holds are quite small and much of the area is overhung.I don't like spending too much time there during one session because it usually takes my fingers 3 to 4 days to recover; my knuckles will hurt all day long for the next two days if we spend our entire 2 hours bouldering. Next report should be from Yangshuo. Happy Climbing!


Spring Trip

The weather has turned warm again in Shanghai and talking to people in Yangshuo it looks like they have it even better: Temps in the mid 20s, although the humidity is creeping up again. I've been climbing regularly indoors and I'm anxious to see how much form I've lost in 6 weeks. Photo is Joel pulling through big open holds on the lower section of '2 in the Pink' at White Mountain.

Jeff is closing out his inventory of 5.10 shoes and lots of people have scooped up great shoes for good prices. I got another pair today and I may even spring for some Evolv shoes if my climbing looks likes it's actually going to get better.

I'm planning on a Yangshuo trip from the 22nd to the 30th of March. I'm taking the family so I may not get as much time on the rock as usual, but I do have a few things I want to tick including a second pitch to the new line Paul and I put up last time on Birdman. Looks like a fine trad crack that should go right about at my limit! Should be awesome. Also need to tick more 5.11s this trip! I'll record everything on Myticklist.com.

Olivier and the China Mountaineering Development Institute boys are in town and will be there for at least a month. Last time they rebolted some of the rusty older lines at Moon Hill as well as a number of new moderate routes on the right side of Wine Bottle. I think they plan to do more of the same this year!

Also, word on the street is that Chris Sharma will be in town the first week of April and plans to bolt a new line, possibly on White Mountain. Could be Yangshuo's first 5.15! but whatever his contribution, more routes in the difficult grades will definitely attract more top international climbers. I'm also looking forward to getting back to the Great Wall - it's a primo springtime crag with lots of open lines just begging to be sent.


Winter Training

Winter is looking pretty ugly right about now in Yangshuo. Although I'm not missing the cold restaurants, wet shoes and socks or muddy gear of winter there, it is a good time to cross-train. The area is great for hiking and trail running in the hills and around the river. Few climbers seem interested in getting out in the back country; in fact, most complain of muscle cramps after hiking up Moon Hill.

I try to keep a reasonable level of climbing fitness in Shanghai but winter is the hardest time because none of the climbing gyms are heated! Last year I started doing Mountain Athlete hybrid workouts; they kick my a$$ pretty good but seem to work, especially at keeping me motivated enough to go at all. I stay away from the Climbing and Mountaineering workouts for three reasons: I don't have a properly equipped gym, my fingers and my elbows. The hybrid workouts are allowing me to address imbalances in my body and nagging injuries I've been working around for years. I figure I will need at least another 6 months before I work out kinks in my shoulders and lower back. I also like pushing through hard intervals and lifting heavy weights, looking into the void and breaking through some mental barriers - kind of like climbing.

After about one more year I plan to switch over to the climbing workouts and start stressing my joints, but I worry about my fingers and elbows. Seems I only injury them in the gym, and I always injure them when I do climbing specific, strength training. Hang boards, systems boards, campus boards and routes on plastic and I don't find any of it much fun. Gym strength doesn't ever seem to prepare me for the pulling strength I need in Yangshuo, especially the overhanging routes on Moon Hill.

Stephen and I seem to be the only active, over 50 climbers in Shanghai and we get a lot of encouragement and support from the younger climbers. The secret to our longevity in the gym is staying healthy and avoiding stress injuries. We also make it down to Yangshuo more than any other local climbers and that inspires them and keeps us excited.


Rain has arrived

Rain finally came to Yangshuo: 6C and rain today and should continue cold and wet for the next week. There are only a small number of visiting climbers in town along with the regular contingent of expats, transients and local hard men. The wood-burning stoves in Bar 98 must be irresistible about now because nowhere else has indoor heating. This is the weather I go out of my way to avoid, save up vacation days for the spring and late fall.

Ah Chen and Ah Ban have been pulling down really hard this winter and were getting out nearly everyday. A top Chinese climber from Beijing, Xiao Cai, was down for about a week and he struggled to keep up on the long difficult routes at Moon Hill, Lei Pi Shan and White Mountain. Also got Ah Chen and crew out to the Space Buttress for a go at First Contact (5.13a), they all sent it on their second try. Still no confirmation on three other climbs there all in the 12a/b range. No one has jumped at bolting the thin crack on the long overhung upper-headwall, either it looks too difficult or no one who can climb at that level is willing to do what it takes to put in the anchors; it will probably have to go on aid with a drill. Could be the next classic. Many more people talking about putting up more 13s and 14s which should attract more international climbers.

Climbed in the gym in Shanghai yesterday and got right on the long (20m) ceiling route at Hongkou Stadium. I struggled on this type of route at Yangshuo last trip so I want to get strong enough to pull through more overhanging routes on my next trip planned for April - once it warms up and stops raining. Climbing is the fountain of youth.


February in Yangshuo

Just back from probably the best climbing trip to Yangshuo I have ever had; there was a great group of climbers in town, the weather was unbelievably dry and warm, and I broke through some climbing barriers. I’ll have to keep my eye on the weather next year instead of writing off a Jan/Feb trip altogether. Looking at the precip charts, winter is a relatively dry period, but it is usually cold and gray.

One US couple, Gab and Maria, returned after a brief trip to other Asian climbing destinations and were seriously pushing their limits. They went from flashing their first 11a to projecting 13a in less than 3 months! I was inspired and starting projecting climbs instead of just going for the on-sight or flash and walking away till I got stronger when I failed. On this trip I repeated climbs, got some redpoint coaching, figured out my mistakes and was surprised how confidently I eventually sent them. Not my favorite style of climbing but I’m planning on doing more of it. I didn’t scare myself as much as when leading trad and it is less adventurous than putting up new lines. I also got on TR and climbed 11d-12b; I got through them but was humbled because I used to think I was strong.

After sport climbing for 10 days, Paul and the Honky crew showed up and we bolted a new line on Birdman, just left of the chimney pitch which I’m recommending calling ‘Tai Chi Mney’ because the stemming has people contorting in all shapes and facing all directions. Our new line leads through the lower black rock to some nice looking thin cracks on orange rock I want to climb on traditional gear next trip. Birdman is just before White Mountain and should have a few more difficult lines completed later this year. Check at Karst Café for the latest info. I’m planning my next trip for April/May before the monsoons hit.


Winter in Yangshuo

I've been in Yangshuo for a week and this is the first time I have had time and energy to update my blog, life is good!

The Year of the Ox got off to a great start in Yangshuo. I wasn’t planning a climbing trip till late March but the reports of perfect weather, temps in the 20s under sunny skies, was just too much to resist. Stephen came down from Shanghai a week earlier and airline tickets at 70%-off sealed the deal. Not too many climbers in town but finding partners has been easy, as usual, even if it means I’m pulling down at consistently harder grades than I normally would.

Climbed at White Mountain with Stephen my first day back, then Moon Hill and Lei Pi Shan before going back to a project at White Mountain. Yesterday I needed a break and went bolting; Eben had established a 3-pitch, 5.8 line at Birdman, up a wide chimney unlike anything else in Yanghsuo, that we cleaned up and bolted. Bright orange rock, not too strenuous and great views of the countryside. Classic potential at an easy grade with potential for lots of single and multi-pitch lines on excellent quality rock nearby.

These days down here make all the training days we put in at the gyms in Shanghai worth it – I hate the thought of going back to the plastic cave. Got back climbing close to the level I left at in December, then I got my ass handed to me on the 10b at Moon Hill!! Still looking at sending some 11b and 11c routes next week which will all be personal bests. If I succeed, I may start telling people I’m a sport climber.

Just finished breakfast at Café China, I’m in the sun wearing shorts and short sleeves – projected high is 28 C today! Totally unheard of: it’s usually cold and rainy here this time of year. My arms and fingers are aching so I think I’ll go for a long, recovery bike ride today. Stays light past 6pm so I can still put in a very long day outside, which it what is all about!


Traditional Climbing

My first rock climb after a 20 year hiatus was 5 years ago in Yangshuo; Tommy Ouyang put me on the Miracle at Wine Bottle and I struggled up on top-rope. Shaking from fatigue I was re-hooked when I got back down. I discovered ‘sport’ climbing: it was safer, physically more challenging, and much more social. Not the rugged mountain climbing I’d grown up with but I could get on climbs I would not have looked at before. The psychological aspects of sport climbing are not as gripping, the cost of failing usually not as severe. Everyone is stronger and climbs are more difficult. Good formula!

Once I started bolting new routes three years ago, climbing returned to its roots for me. I’ve even stopped dropping important stuff like drill bits and hammers! This fall I lead a new line on the Camel’s Neck, ‘Bedouins’ on trad gear that followed an obvious crack system and went at 5.10b – right at my limit. Exploiting a crag’s weaknesses is become a familiar game again and climbing on trad gear here makes everything more serious, everything turns fluid and uncertain. I stay focused longer, know my strength and equipment better, and I realize my mistakes can have dire consequences. My relationships to my partners deepen, interdependence becomes absolute, trust develops.

Traditionally protected routes in Yangshuo do not see a lot of ascents in a year: the Middle Finger is almost never climbed although it is an obvious and readily accessible crag. After climbing in the US last summer in areas that have only traditionally protected routes I realize the game is still alive and well in other places; sport climbing hasn’t completely taken over and Yangshuo would benefit greatly from a bigger group of trad climbers putting up new lines, even if they are subsequently bolted for sport climbs. With all the possibilities for new lines on untapped crags within 10 minutes of town we’ll never run out of projects.


First Trad Lead

I'd put up quite a few new lines with Paul and in late 2007 I finally got on the sharp end. I on-sighted a trad FA lead (see photo) on the extension to Wonderful World at the Egg. It was bad enough having to step up above my last piece, but the slick Yangshuo limestone made it even scarier! Still, I couldn’t keep letting Paul have all the fun!

We climbed up ShaBi Abi and traversed on gear to the left and set a belay anchor at the top of our intended new line. I came across, got the kit and stepped up onto a line that followed the obvious crack system up for the second pitch. Doesn't get any easier really, but I was still struggling inside to keep my head about me.

I had pretty much stopped trad leading just about the time cams (Friends) came out - late 70s CE. I’d put together a rack with 2 sets of cams at its core because I’d heard that’s what everyone climbs on today. Paul took one look and asked, ‘Where are the rest of your wires?’ That is what it really comes down to in YS – wires (US – nuts and stoppers), and whenever possible a nice, big hex! Cams too, but only when a solid crack cries out for one, and that isn’t often enough.

On this climb there were two bulges, both well protected, the second one with a solid yellow Camalot and a thread. I don’t remember how long it took, but I do remember realizing that cams just don’t fit the inconsistent features as well as wires. Thus began my apprenticeship in ‘fiddling wires’. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still much rather fire in a perfect cam instead of searching around for some small constriction that might take a Rock 1 or DB stopper.

Now, whenever I set off on a trad lead, which is usually an on-sight on a new line, I anticipate going slowly, looking for small constrictions and fiddling wires in before stepping up. This results in much shorter leads because I’m always running out of gear; 20 pieces in 20 meters no longer sounds like too many placements to me, two or three placements right next to each other is fine if that is what I need to convince myself to keep stepping up. And if gear doesn’t do it for me, up comes the drill!