Posts Tagged ‘Rock Climbing’

As I walked through the immigration checkpoint of 白云机场 (White Cloud Airport) in 广州 (Guang Zhou), I looked down on the stamp on my passport that said “departure”, and realized that I was finally heading home. China has been a home away from home for the past 6 weeks, but now I am more than ready to be back in Seattle. I miss my family, my friends, my dog, the fingertip-splitting granite, and the sub-80 degree days.

China has been very good to me. I made better friends in a month in 西安 (Xi’an) than I did in Seattle given an entire year. I know that someday, I will see them all again. Climbing in 阳朔 (Yang Shuo) blew my mind, and I live for the day that I can return to clean up unfinished projects.

It was difficult for me to leave 阳朔; I feel like I was only just getting settled in. It was probably a good time to finish the trip though, as a violent rainstorm came in the same day that I flew out of 桂林 (Guilin). In fact, it had been raining pretty consistently all week, though that didn’t stop us from going out and getting a few more pitches in.

Lei Pi Shan - overhung enough to climb in the rain. Crash and Burn - 5.11d up the black waterstreak on the right, second go

Early Saturday morning (10 am, early for me), 莘哥 and I hoofed it out to 雷劈山 (Lei Pi Shan) to climb before his work at 3. The drizzle kept the temperature down in the mid 80’s, but couldn’t dampen our psyche. 莘哥 is a bit of a sandbagger, and has no qualms about telling me a warm-up route is .11a when it’s really .12a. 雷劈山 is kind of weird – either it’s really thuggish 60-degree climbing with big, powerful moves, or it’s really technical crimping in shallow pockets. I’ll let you guess which one I’m better at.

After returning to the hostel at 2:30, I promptly hopped onto a bicycle, and headed out to Swiss Cheese Wall for a few more pitches. While the rock quality at Swiss Cheese Wall is quite high, it suffers from indistinct routes, leading to quite a bit of over-bolting. Routes meander left and right, and quite often it’s difficult to tell where exactly you are. However, given the picturesque setting, I would gladly spend an afternoon here any day of the week.

Belaying among the bamboo groves

Lomito Complito, an alright .10a with great picture opportunities

My excitement for climbing has clearly turned Chinese

I totally climbed that route on a rope owned by Chris Sharma. When he visited 阳朔 back in ’08, he gifted his rope to Abond, and I tied into one end to climb that day. If only I had known about that rope earlier, I would have been using it every day on all of my projects. If it’s climbed 5.15a, surely it has magical powers to get me up 5.12b as well?

I left 阳朔 with many things undone. I never climbed at 月亮山 (Moon Hill), never sent Yangshuo Hotel, and never ate 啤酒鱼 (Beer fish). All of these are excellent reasons to return sometime in the near future. But for now, my future holds a plane flight back home, a big serving of french fries, and a large Chipotle burrito. Not before stopping in Singapore for two days to visit my grandparents.

Moon Hill

Karst towers on the way to the airport

Who would want to leave this place?


The climbing these past few days has been a bust, due to a combination of bad weather and unavailable vehicles. I’ve spent a lot of time resting in my room, watching movies, surfing the Internet, and making up the sleep debt that I’m still working on from college – this one will probably take me a few years. I’ve also spent a lot of time on the hangboard in the hostel lobby, all while daydreaming about the projects that I’m itching to get back on at the White Mountain.

There is no doubt that the climbing in 阳朔 (Yang Shuo) is completely world class. I’ve encountered features out here unlike anything I’ve seen before, from bowling ball pockets to tufas big enough to sit on. There is a lifetime of climbing to be experienced out here, and even more that hasn’t yet been developed. I hope that in the future, I can come back here with a drill, and perhaps contribute to the amazing amount of rock that I’ve been enjoying.

As good as 阳朔 is, every day I climb out here gives me a new respect for the crags of the Pacific Northwest, such as the fabled Smith Rocks and even Seattle’s own Little Si. Smith already has a reputation along with years of history, but I firmly believe that World Wall 1 could be dropped among the crags of 白山 (White Mountain), 月亮山 (Moon Hill), and it would fit right in. Climbs like Technorigine, Chronic, and Rainy Day Women enjoy as much quality as 阳朔 classics such as Yangshuo Hotel, China White, and Foreign Devils (.12b, .12b, .13c). I’m enjoying the climbing out here immensely, but at the same time it’s getting me ridiculously psyched to get back on my projects back home.

Home. I miss it. After being gone for 6 weeks, I’m starting to get quite homesick; I miss the comforts of Washington. I miss the snow capped mountains (even though limestone karst is a very good substitute), the swing dancing , the family and friends, and the sub-90 degree weather. And even though I believe that Chinese food is superior in all ways, the first thing I’m eating when I get home is the biggest plate of french fries I can find.

I’ve got two more days of climbing left, and I plan to make them count. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading back to 白山 where the cooler temps brought by the rain will hopefully help me send Yangshuo Hotel. On Sunday, I’ll make a visit to 月亮山 to check out the massive pitches under the arch, take a lot of photographs, and do my best to pull down on some holds. The on Monday, I’m on a plane to Singapore to visit my grandparents for a few days, before arriving back in Seattle on Thursday afternoon.

If anyone wants to throw me a party at the arrival gate in Sea-Tac, I’ll send you my flight information.

Three days on, one day off. Climbing this much might be a little excessive, judging by the fact that the temperature has never peaked below 94 degrees once this entire week. I’m normally opposed to climbing shirtless (mostly because I have nothing to show off), but it’s a necessity out here. If I didn’t climb with my shirt off, I’d be doing laundry every waking moment that I wasn’t on the rock.

Too hot to climb, but still psyched to try

Given the heat and humidity, it’s been difficult to try and push any sort of limits. I finally feel some of my strength coming back, but it’s still hard to hold onto limestone slopers when sweat is dripping off your fingers. I hang up my chalk bag by the air-vent in my room every night, to make sure it dries off for the next day. Fortunately, I’ve finally been able to pull of some sends, including a pair of .11a onsights and a second-go send of Chuck if ya want to (5.11d). All three lines were at 鸡蛋山 (The Egg), which is full of fun and thought-provoking lines.

Yesterday, we headed back to 白山 (White Mountain) for my third consecutive day on, and I jumped at the chance to climb Yangshuo Hotel (5.12b) for a redpoint attempt. It probably wasn’t my best idea, given the heat and my exhaustion from the previous two days, and it actually turned out to an embarrassing climb. I took at every one of seventeen bolts, too tired to link the 34 meters together. On the plus side, I was able to do every move first go, and am fairly confident I could send if we head out there in the early morning or wait until the sun dips below the horizon.

It doesn't look like it, but the wall is actualyl about 10-15 degrees overhung

Perfect limestone climbing

So today, I rest. Sitting in front of a fan, I browse climbing websites, update my blog, and go through the hundreds of photos that I’ve been taking out here. The 岩邦之家 (Rock Abond Inn) is set up quite nicely, for 118 RMB a night (18 USD) I get my own room with air conditioning, a TV, and the softest bed I’ve slept on since arriving in China. Travelers tip: if your butt is getting soft, bring your own toilet paper: the Chinese options are nowhere near as plush as the Cottonelle that my rear end has become accustomed to. The lobby is set up comfortably too, with couches, Internet access, a TV, and a small cafe. Abond and his crew (including his girlfriend, brother and sister, and three other employees) hang out here most days when not climbing, keeping up to date on their favorite Chinese dramas. For dinner, they have an in-house cook who prepares meals; if you buy groceries and share them, you’re more than welcome to sit down for dinner here as well.

If you're in Yangshuo to climb, and you're not staying here, you're doing something wrong

Of course, there are plenty of other options for food out here. I’ve found that generally, the food isn’t quite as good as what I ate in 西安, and is also more expensive, but is still quite acceptable for a tourist town. Of course, that’s because I’m a cheap bastard who tries to eat like the locals, rather than going to the myriad of more expensive and/or Western options that are available. After paying less than 10 RMB (1.70 USD) a meal for the last month, it’s hard to spend double or even triple that amount. However, if you’re really craving that American meal, many places will sell you steaks, burgers, and milkshakes.

The ultimate shame, even McDonalds has made it out here

I’m not a drinker by any means, but if you were so inclined, the nightlife in 阳朔 is something to be spoken of. When the sun goes down, the main drag lights up, and hundreds of locals and vacationing foreigners pour into the streets. Karaoke pours out half of the doors, while the yells from competitive beer-pong and billiards players come out from the other half.

Last night, after much cajoling and arm-twisting, my Chinese friend 莘哥 dragged me into the street to participate in the local tradition of 泡妞, also known as birdwatching, and/or chasing girls. 35 years old with the soul of a 18 year old, 莘哥 explained to me the power of his come-hither look, while Abond explained that his come-hither only works when his wallet is also in his hand. All in jest, of course. “We’ll just have fun”, 莘哥 promised me, and I reluctantly followed.

West Street during the day

In the end, 泡妞 was a bust. After twenty minutes of watching Chinese men with shifty eyes cast looks towards pretty girls while ribbing each other about who would have the guts to go buy her a drink first, I was still no closer to having a girlfriend than I was before I left for China. Until 莘哥 shows me that he can deliver on his promises, I won’t be going out to 泡妞 with him again.

At least he’s a good belayer.

Just because you’re climbing in a world-class destination doesn’t make you a world-class climber.

I’m getting my ass handed to me in 阳朔 (Yang Shuo), and I’m loving every minute of it. Steep, featured limestone at a 15-30 degree overhang is not a good place to warm up when I haven’t climbed since the 16th of July. But the stone here demands it. Crazy tufas and drip features litter the wall, and huecos big enough to sleep in (minus the bird poop) are exciting beyond measure.

阿邦 (Abond) is arguably China’s strongest climber, and one of the few to be sponsored by western companies such as Black Diamond and La Sportiva. Passionate about his self-proclaimed job of developing 阳朔 and bringing others to climb here, he’s a great example of a climbing obsession gone right. Every day, 阿邦 wakes up at around 10 am, spends the morning taking care of chores around the Rock Abond Inn, then leaves for the crag around 2 pm when the day finally cools off. The lifestyle certainly suits him, with sends of up to 5.14c (Spicy Noodle, 白山 (White Mountain)) under his belt. He graciously asked if I wanted to join him and his crew, and I was quick to accept.

For the first two days, we climbed out at 雷劈山 (Lei Pi Mountain). First thing I saw when approaching the wall was a 12 year-old kid from 广州 (Guang Zhou) sending 5.13a, leading me to realize that the Chinese climbing scene is much more developed than I ever could have imagined. People climb on old harnesses and fat 10.8mm ropes, but have an ability to crank like their lives depend on it. My aspirations were high, and I was excited to get back on the wall.

12 year-olds climbing .13a

Starting out on a mellow .10a, I quickly realized that 95 degree weather in 80 percent humidity demands much more water intake than I had been drinking. I clipped the draws, slumped into my harness, and began the dry heaves. A splitter headache and 1 liter of water later, I managed to get my shoes off and untie my knot without throwing up. I tried two other routes after that, and couldn’t even make it up past the 4th clip. We returned to the same crag the next day, and I got repeatedly shut down on a .11c, even after chugging 3 liters of water that morning. Being completely out of shape, the thuggy and powerful climbing was completely shutting me down. Although success was yet to be found, I was still having a great time.

雷劈山 - Leipi Mountain

Tufas and drips

Then yesterday, we made it out to 白山 (White Mountain), and everything changed. It’s hard not to get inspired with a 60 meters high and 200 meters long wall of perfect limestone in front of you. The climbing here is of a much more technical nature, leading to thought provoking and committing moves. Somehow, my fingers finally found their strength again. I flashed up most of an awesome .12b called Yang Shuo Hotel, before falling 4 clips from the top of the 17-clip, 34 meter monster. I’ll be back tomorrow to send for sure. Abond made quick work of 青岛啤酒 (Tsing Tao Beer, 5.13a) before sussing out the clips of French Gangster (5.14a).

The monstrosity that is 白山. Yang Shuo Hotel climbs into the double huecos just to the right of center, and up another 30 feet.

白山 is about 20 minutes out of 阳朔, and is surrounded by farmland. Cucumbers and eggplant grow on vines right next to the cliff, and water buffalo watch us climb from a stream a few hundred feet away. The scene is incredibly picturesque, though also comes with some controversy. With an increasing number of climbers congregating at the crag, some of the less considerate have been trampling through the farmers’ fields, and driving across their pastures. Farmers have responded in kind by chopping or hammering flat many bolts accessible from the ground, resulting in many pitches where the first bolt isn’t until 20 feet. Only by the dedication of Abond and other dedicated locals has access been preserved, and hopefully it will stay this way for years to come.

Flattened bolt hangers

A man and his buffalo


Use the trail!

After three days on, it’s finally time for a well deserved rest. I feel right at home in China, so the tourist traps of cooking classes and souvenir stands are a little lost on me. I’ve spent most of my time wandering through he wet markets, writing on my blog, and watching climbing videos in the hostel lounge. And mostly, praying for sending temps tomorrow, though the forecast still calls for 94 degrees.


As always, full-sized photos and more can be found on my Flickr stream.

Travel to 阳朔

Posted: August 21, 2011 in Climbing, Travel
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve left 西安. And thus, I’ve also left the many friends that I made in the past month, friends that I now regard as family. I never thought it would be possible to become so close in just 30 days, but the welcoming spirit and earnest attempts to get to know someone better can do that. I’ll miss you all, and live for the day where we may meet again.

Now on the second half of my China trip, I’m in the town of 阳朔 (Yang Shuo). A pretty touristy town, 阳朔 is full to the brim of Chinese tourists and expats pretending to be local. Food costs double of what it does in 西安, and I’m constantly harassed to eat at restaurants, buy souvenirs, and rent mopeds for a city tour.

But the rock climbing(攀岩) here is phenomenal. I’m currently staying at the hostel of 刘永邦 (Liu Yong Bang), known as Abond to the non-Chinese speaker. The 岩邦之家 (Rock Abond Inn) is one of the many offerings for accommodations in 阳朔, but arguably the best if you’re looking to climb. But more on the climbing later.

Getting out here was a harrowing journey in itself. Originally, I had planned to take a train, for a cost of about 550 RMB (86 USD). Turns out that while a plane ticket costs nearly double (900 RMB = 140 USD), a 2 hour plane ride sounds much more enticing than a 28 hour train ride. I booked a flight for 7:55 am, and arranged for a taxi driver to pick me up from the apartment at 5:50.

Unbeknown to me, the taxi driver ended up having another engagement, so he arranged for his buddy to come pick me up instead. But this new driver neglected to call me, nor make himself apparent when I stepped outside my apartment that morning. Standing there in the pouring rain, with no idea where to go, I called the original driver (George) with whom I had first arranged transport. George apologized for the mix-up, and gave his friend a call. I got a call back from George two minutes later saying that his friend should already be out front waiting for me. I spotted a taxi with a driver asleep inside; knocking on the window, I asked him if he was the person sent to pick me up. He replied “yes, yes, I’m here to take an American to the airport”. I got in the taxi, and we drove off. The time is now 6:05, 15 minutes behind schedule.

Five minutes later, I get a call from George saying that his friend had just seen me get into the wrong taxi, and yet had done nothing to stop me. Don’t worry about it, George said, go ahead and make your flight. My new driver now looks over at me, and realizes that I’m of Chinese blood myself, and am not the gullible white American that he had originally planned on driving. So when he tried to charge me 150 RMB (23 USD), I flatly said no. So pulled over to the side of the road, and refused to go further until we agreed upon a price. I called George, and he said not to pay a dollar over 120 RMB (19 USD). Still another 45 minutes out from he airport, I offered the driver 120 RMB, held my breath when he hesitated, and breathed a sigh of relief when he put the car back in gear. The time is now 6:30.

Shade canopies set up at intersections for motorcycles and bicycles

I stepped into the airport terminal at 7:15, with 10 minutes left to check in. I get in line to check in with Deer Air, the airline from which I booked my flight. Fortunately, the line was moving fairly quickly, and I get to the counter at 7:23.

“我们不飞去桂林” she says. We are not flying to Guilin. I look at her in a moment of panic, and she explains to me “your flight is operated by 海南 (Hainan) Airlines, not us”. Nothing on my ticket said anything of the sort. I ran to the second counter, yelled that I was about to miss my flight, and was brought up to the very front. I checked in my bag and got my boarding pass at exactly 7:25, 30 minutes before departure. Running to the gate, I finally get on the plane, the last person to board. I breath a sigh of relief, and close my eyes for the next two hours to 桂林.

At the 桂林 airport, I take a 30 minute bus-ride into town for 20 RMB. Construction on the road prevents us from getting all the way to the bus station, so I walk the last mile, dragging my suitcase all the way. There, I catch an 18 RMB bus for a hour and a half ride to 阳朔, land of the best climbing in Asia. Wandering the confusing streets through the center of town, I finally stumble into the Rock Abond Inn at 2 pm, 8 hours of harrowing travel over. I sleep through the afternoon, explore a little in the evening, and sleep through the night until 10 the next morning. I’m so glad that the journey is over.

Bus to 阳朔, safe for now

Rock climbing here today. Can’t wait.

白山, 阳朔 - The White Mountain, Yang Shuo. Image stolen from