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.