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- 11 Things You Need to Know About Liming Trad Climbing
Liming （黎明）, Yunnan Province （云南）, China
- Sichuan Van Life
Sichuan Province （四川）
- Ice Climbing in Western China
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11 Things You Need to Know about Liming
A post on China trad "lyfe" by: Ryder Stroud
with contributions from: Dan Jerke and Ana Pautler
Trad climbing is not something with an illustrious, Stonemaster-filled history in China. Rather, it is a sport embraced by a devoted few while the rest look on with confusion saying “太危险了！”(“too dangerous!”). While it would not be too farfetched that many folks in the US might see trad climbing this way, the view has leant itself to trads slow embrace in the Middle Kingdom. Granted, the sport is definitely on the rise. The Chinese climbing scene is young; from what various climbers have told me, the Chinese climbing scene is very limestone-centric with all the karsts that populate southern China. But trad is finally starting to gain ground as more quality routes open up on gear.
But for the most part here (presently), the limestone is plentiful and the bolts flow like water… relatively speaking (I admit it, I am a bit of a crusty, old-fogey trad junkie on the inside… a little bit...). But far removed from the Avatar-looking karsts of Yangshuo and the jumbo-jet-fly-though-able caves of Getu (see Petzl RocTrip 2011), there is a place where the seed of trad is finally starting to grow here in China. That place is Liming.
Think of it this way: if Indian Creek and Squamish had a torrid love affair, and that affair produced a baby, that baby would be the sandstone cliffs of Liming. Located in Laojunshan National Park, Liming is located in the distant, northwest corner of Yunnan Province, a few hundred kilometers from the province’s border with Tibet. The sandstone cliffs rise upwards of 300 meters (~1000 ft.) and tower over the valley below by, perhaps, as much as 600 meters.
While there exists some information on the Western Internet regarding Liming, the area is still relatively quiet when it comes to climber traffic. Even with the North Face and Black Diamond hosting a trad climbing festival at the park for the past two years, the little town of Liming has remained sleepy and beaucholic, something that we in the Western world may miss when we can descend from places like the High Sierra and still find chain restaurants and highways not far off.
A Little about the Geology
You will find a lot of signs around the park that talk up the geological history in Liming. And, for once, it is in somewhat intelligible English, something that does not seem to happen too often in Chinese parks or China, in general! Liming’s sandstone is part of the network of Danxia (丹霞) Sandstone Formations that dot China’s southwest and east. Like the limestone karsts that stretch from Yangshuo down to Vietnam and Thailand, the Danxia sandstone is also in a general chain that can be found in Yunnan, as far east as Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and as far south as Guangdong province.
A comparison of the major chained geological landscapes in China: Liming (top) is part of the Danxia/丹霞 sandstone chain, running in the southwest to the east. The better-known limestone karsts formation (here, a portion in Guangdong/广东 province) populate China's southern provinces and run into Southeast Asia.
Each area’s sandstone formations look different and also fracture in different ways. Just by walking around in the park on a casual hike, you can see all of the “cross-bedding” formed by changing directions of the water through time. Some of the formations have intricate criss-cross patterns as the sand was laid down by moving water and later petrified under the weight of eons of sand build up. In Liming alone, you can see how much the formation of the rock is affected by its primary sculpting force: water. The particular sandstone formation in Liming is a highly localized one formed by an ancient lake that once covered the area, and you can see the extent of the sandstone formation without going too far. On the way into the park, the park entrance gate is coincidentally a convenient boundary marker for the sandstone. Along the valley road on before you reach the park, all of the steep hillsides reveal limestone cliffs; you even pass through some road cuts that are built right up against the cliffs themselves. Once in the park, the climbable sandstone disappears once you drive 20 minutes in any direction.
This, of course, should come as no surprise. China alone has about half of the world’s limestone. Landmarks like Jade Dragon Mountain, the karsts of Yangshuo, and the famous gorges that surround the massive Three Gorges Dam are all testaments to how much of this kind of stone juts out of the Chinese landscape.
In the park, too, you can see how the water changes the sandstone in such a small area; you might think of it as various neighborhoods within Liming itself. Some formations are littered with cracks. Sharp, lightning bolt-shaped cracks spider web out across the face, and often these sandstone faces sit atop a bed of conglomerate rock—something that looks more like puddingstone than limestone or sandstone. Some formations, on the other hand, are impossibly smooth, occasionally broken only by an eerily spherical, smooth pod (think of a giant hollowing out a section of cliff with a melon baller?). Even other formations differ with hybrid cracks: the cliffs appear as if they had, at one point in their geological history, were covered in splitter cracks, only to have them round out and disappear as the soft sandstone erodes from the monsoon season rains.
Though our crew in Liming has no geologists, we guess the formation and frequency of cracks seem to be influenced by the steepness of a formation versus the water running over it. Any area where the general pitch of the cliff is gently overhanging, or if the cliff is capped by a big roof, the cliffs seem to be protected. The fracture geometry of the cliffs are, in this case, a lot more angular; the cracks are sharper, more dramatic and continuous; and generally the rock is a tad bit cleaner, with the orange-brown rock layer still visible at first glance.
On the other hand, any terrain that is less-than-vertical is covered in a thick layer of black lichen and resemble more of the famous turtle formations that make the park an iconic tourist destination in China. For climbing, however, it spells the slow (hundreds of thousands of years of erosion) death of any cracks that might have once been on these faces. Cracks (or crack-looking lines in the rock) are highly rounded and are too shallow to take any gear. The black lichen also makes any remaining cracks hard to clean, and small face holds are virtually absent. There are a few counterexamples to this erosion paradigm. Routes like Lost World slice directly up a huge less-than vertical face, but the crack itself is massive: an offwidth/body slot/chimney. In other words, it is a big enough crack to remain even through water erosion. But the crack still adheres to the same general principles we noticed on the cliff. The outside of the crack is covered in black lichen and there is no chance to escape from having to offwidth for six pitches, as there are very few angular holds (the stuff found protected in the overhangs) to escape out to the face.
But of course, we came here to talk more about climbing, so let us get on with that.
People of the US climbing are used to years of illustrious climbing history. Decades upon decades of climbers making bold ascents all across the country is an image that we have seen published everywhere: the “Gray Dick” Dick Williams climbing Shockley’s Ceiling in the Gunks naked with only a swami belt to catch any fall; Jim Bridwell, John Long, and Billy Westbay standing proudly beneath the Nose in über hippie attire following the first sub-24-hour ascent of the route. We have become so accustomed to these images of our favorite climbing locations decades before our time, and we assume that these prolific early climbers were no idiots: they ascended every bit of beautiful rock face they could get their dirtbag hands on.
The result is that we Western climbers often think that, unless you are a climbing pro who can crank out 5.12 or harder on trad on a regular basis, or climb scary mixed ice and rock lines, finding a new route on a beautiful piece of stone is all but impossible. But that kind of mindset also comes with a wonderful benefit: we get spoiled! All major climbing destinations in the US have a definitive guidebook. The rock is super clean—some will even complain it is TOO clean to the point of being polished and slippery! Trails are built up and often-well kept. And communities of climbers pop up everywhere. If you go to a US crag or cliff, chances are you will find many people ready to climb with you.
But what about on the other side of the Pacific? Well, you might liken it as stepping into your dirtbag Delorian and hitting 88 miles-per-hour; you are getting in a time machine. When you step out of those outrageous-looking seagull-shaped doors you will see stone—lots of it—that has not yet been sent. Liming falls squarely in this category.
One of Liming’s climbing forefathers, Mike Dobie, sat one morning at the van’s breakfast table, staring up for a long while at Pandora, one of the cliffs that overlooks Liming town.
“Man,” he says “we are here, and the golden age of Liming has not even STARTED yet! Think of what this place will look like after 10 years—when Chinese climbers get more into trad. This place will be covered in classic lines!”
The man speaks the truth. He, along with a devoted handful of foreign and Chinese climbers, has put up around 200 routes and 300 pitches in the region in an area with hundreds, if not thousands of potential crack lines. There are a many crags that have a smattering or even a solitary line on them.
Some climbers on our side of the Pacific might ask, “Well, if it is so good, the why aren’t people flocking to it? A trad mecca in China should be drawing the hordes!”
There are a few things.
1. The sandstone ramparts of Liming have not reached American shores in a huge way. The Liming Trad Climbing Festival is still in its infancy for a mere two years, and, while big-name pros have showed up at the event—Cedar Right, Will Stanhope, and Yuji Hirayama to name a few—not much information has crossed the Pacific. What exists on the Internet is a few articles, a smattering of short videos, and some beta posts on our favorite climbing forums like Mountain Project. These things certainly do prime the appetite, but it still has not reached a level at which foreign climbers think to themselves: “Yeah! I will pack up my heavy-ass rack, dodge the skeptical and suspicious looks of TCA and fly myself (with said gear) to a remote region in Yunnan! Wait… where is Yunnan?”
2. China does need more stoke in its trad climbing scene. The sport is also still young amongst Chinese climbers. According to Zhoulei, one of Liming’s early Chinese gear-climbing aficionados, China’s climbing scene started in a substantive way only after 2000. Consequently, homegrown climbers are still lighting up those ‘darker corners’ of climbing that we Western folk already have established back home for the better part of 50 years. Trad is not something that has firmly ensconced itself as a future for climbing in China. With multiple lifetimes’ worth of limestone blanketing the country—of which only a tiny fraction has been well-developed with bolts—it might be easy for locals to see, at least for the moment, that limestone is China’s climbing future.
But the transition is slowly happening. Every time we return to Liming, there is usually some posse of Chinese climbers passing through, and always a different group of climbers. Some of them certainly know how to crank it out, climbing 5.11+ slopey, overhanging liebacks that lead into grotesque 6-sized offwidths. So while the development is slow to get off the ground, the direction and momentum has already been set. It will just take a critical mass of climbers to show up to fully open Liming’s untapped potential
So with that in mind, keep some handy tips in mind when you DO decide to cross the vast ocean to get here.
11 Handy Tips when Climbing in Liming
1. New routes are everywhere.
Want to pioneer something new on gear? Liming is the place. The national park encompasses miles and miles of various branching canyons surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs up to 300 meters high. Only a tiny fraction of the cracks on these cliffs have been climbed. The originators of Liming trad climbing, Eben Farnworth and Mike Dobie along with a devoted but small group of local and foreign climbers have put up ~300 pitches of climbing. Some cliffs only have a single route on them; others only have a handful. Even then, classic lines that were established early in Liming’s trad history (now about 4 years old) still have beautiful neighboring lines that have not been touched!
You want to find a place that has not been ‘climbed out?’ Go to Liming.
2. Liming is China’s Indian Creek… in a way
Beautiful splitters, burly offwidths, laser-cut corners, and even an inverted OW… all can be found in Liming’s sandstone. Some will draw comparisons to the desert cracks of Utah, and the comparison is partially accurate. The cracks are beautiful. The stone makes for excellent crack climbing. However, the rock doesn’t fracture into laser splitters in such tight concentration as often as Utah sandstone. Some formations in Liming sprout with cracks in all directions. Others will be completely blank without any conceivable way up the enormous faces. As listed above, one driving factor for this difference may be the environment in which each set of cliffs lives: desert (Indian Creek) and monsoon-affected forest (Liming).
3. Tape up (and bring LOTS of tape)
Liming sandstone is incredibly abrasive… much like sandstone found in the US. But there is an added layer to the gritty-ness in a literal sense. Developing new routes—and even climbing established routes that do not receive much traffic—often have a layer of harsh grit slathered deep in the cracks. A lot of route development involves layered scrubbing. The outer layer of this soft sandstone simply sloughs off with a bit of scrubbing. You will have to expose the more compacted, stable stone beneath the eroded outer layer of sand. Even with the solid stone in-play, bring plenty of Metolius tape for all of your tape glove needs. If you want to cut down on the tape waste, invest in a pair of crack gloves.
Ocún makes an excellent pair of crack gloves, if you are able to get your hands on a pair. Singing Rock makes them, too, though the ICC crew prefers the Ocún gloves. Find them here.
4. Protect your rack and ropes from the sand
Rocks erode… slowly. They shed like dogs if dogs lived for millions of years and licked your face with grains of sand instead of love and saliva. The cliffs slough off their old layers and often leave it around on the groundfor other people to find. Liming, being sandstone, decays into sand as it erodes, leaving nice swaths of sand at the base of the cliff. Considering how abrasive sand can be, always bring a tarp for your rope and keep your rack off the ground. If you plan to open a new route, concoct a solution to protect your cams as you clean out cracks.
The ICC crew is a fan of half-cut soda bottles of various sizes to catch and divert falling sand away from cams when scoping out new lines.
5. Love Jerry and Ding Dong… but make sure they behave
One of the local hostels, the Faraway Inn, is the local climber hangout. The hotel’s two mascots are Jerry—a German Shepherd mix—and Ding Dong—a… well… we do not know what Ding Dong is. We call him awesome. While they always crave attention from climber guests both when you want to love them and when you are too busy to love them, always show the dogs love. They are some of the nicest dogs you will ever meet; they seem to know who the climbers are and have an instant affinity for them. Locals we have talked to say they do not really interact with people unless those people are climbers. They also now how to get to virtually every established crag in the Liming valley.
That being said, they know climbers adore them and take full advantage of it. Jerry will always try to forcefully intervene if Ding Dong gets love and he does not. The two are also known to cause trouble around town, having recently hunted down and killed a baby goat and a duck, the livestock of local farmers. Jerry has since been put on a leash, but still gets around town on occasions. When going to crags in the South Valley (i.e. The Guardian, Die Sternwarte, Indy Wall, Bull Crag, Angel Wall, The Diamond Wall, and Gorilla Face) the dogs should NOT go with you. Having them cause more trouble for local farmers will not just cause headaches for the Faraway’s owners and Mike Dobie (Liming developer and more-or-less keeper of Jerry), but also their behavior may someday endanger themselves if they are not curbed.
6. Patronize local businesses
Chinese national parks and scenic areas, on the whole, usually do not like climbers. Climbers like dirtbagging and avoiding paying for things like entry tickets, and every national park has a (by Chinese standards) steep price to enter the park. In the case of Liming, the entry ticket is 110 RMB. While corporate tourism groups often run each park, the towns within the park are often genuine old Chinese towns that have lived in the region for centuries. In Liming, the valleys are home to the Lisu people, one of China's many non-Han minorities (and one of the 52 officially recognized by the Chinese Communist Party). Climbers’ future access to Liming—or other major crags in China for that matter—will improve and stick around if locals are on climbers’ side. A good way to get in good with the locals is to patronize their businesses. Convenience stores, restaurants, and hostels are fairly easy ways to get to know the Liming locals and get them to see climbers as a benefit to them and their community. These connections will prove to be a good benefit for the Liming climbing community should there ever be trouble from park management.
7. Bolt anchors are key
While gear anchors are true “traditional climbing,” a lot of the routes in Liming are oftentimes splitter cracks or laser-cut corners without much viable terrain to build gear anchors, especially in the single-pitch cragging scenario. If placing bolt anchors, use 5-piece, long expansion bolts, or epoxy glue-in blots. Stubby 3-piece bolts are dangerous because of their lower surface area contact with the rock and the soft nature of the stone.
All of this being said, Liming is NOT a sport crag! Bolt only when there is no crack to protect or you are establishing an anchor.
8. If you plan on developing, bring a full development kit
We often take for granted beautiful, clean rock that we can simply walk up to and climb. What is less known is, oftentimes, how much work the first ascentionists made to prep the route for YOU. Scrubbing, loose rock removal, and occasional bolt anchors (depending on the rock) are all the product of someone’s vision and time commitment to make the route stellar for you to climb.
If you plan on dropping into Liming to open your own route, you will need a few tools of the trade: copper wire brushes (predominantly the soft bristles that will not mar the rock), a spade, nut tool, saw, crowbar, a drill, bolts, and perhaps other dirt-removing devices. Of course, the drill can be the hardest to get your hands on. Hand drills are also viable in Liming because of the softer nature of the rock.
9. Bring plenty of aid equipment
While you may not need super fancy aid gear like beaks and Fifi hooks, it is often very hard to establish new routes free from the ground up. While this is Utah-esque sandstone, the cliffs of Liming exist in a much wetter environment. Exfoliating soil, sand, rock, and lichen are just a few things you will encounter when preparing a new route.
10. Beware of “Liming Stomach”
Liming food is generally pretty palatable. But often, Westerners often find the use of oil to cross from “liberal use” to “excessive.” Granted, you are truly in the boonies of northwest Yunnan. That being said, there are occasions, especially for new arrivals coming from overseas, that the reused oil results in some bad dishes that twist and strain your digestive tract. For some it will last a scant day or two. For those less fortunate, it can dog them for five to seven days. All this being said, it is also a problem that is often encountered by foreigners in China no matter where they live. Home cooking is always a plus in Liming, if you have cooking gear. There is one shop run by a Naxi woman that is sort of the fresh produce aisle of Liming village. Meat can be easily obtained on market day, but keeping meat while camping is always an issue.
11. Love the wild shit you are doing
China has so few trad developers. Crossing the Pacific to open a new route in Liming groups you with a select few of devoted, exploratory climbers. This group numbers only a few, so get excited that you may very well be helping to bring about another golden age of rock climbing in the world!
Select Liming Climbs
As a final note to all of this Liming stoke-psych advertisement, I will leave you with a few of the climbs that may best give you a damn good reason to pay the heavy baggage fee on Cathay Pacific (Cathay, if you’re lucky… seriously) to haul all of your trad gear over here.
This is a good preview, but if you do not want to ruin your future on-sight attempt, STOP READING HERE!
The easy-to-access area that is a good introduction to Liming climbing. You may even feel like you have not left the US! A well-constructed boardwalk built by the national park covers half the approach. Here you will find some of Liming’s earliest and classic lines.
The Clam Digger (5.11)
The original Clam Digger route, already a Liming classic, has a recently added extension above the normal step out to the right 2/3 of the way up marking the 5.10 finish. This route is the lovechild of a body slot, squeeze chimney, and an offwidth AND there is a handcrack in back, useful only if you can reach it! Be prepared to feel like you have just sprinted a 10k race! This route will leave you full-body tired...
Begin by wedging yourself into this giant overlap and proceed to brawl your way through the lower crux with a combo of chimney and offwidth technique. Rests will only come with good technique and body position. Pass some miniscule faceholds and get crafty moving in towards the handcrack and back out towards the arete of the clam. Squirm your way up to the 5.10 exit move (the old bolt protecting the 5.10 exit has been chopped) and keep forging upwards towards a flared pod. Above the 5.10 exit, the crack at the back of the slot will thin and the overlap/"clam" will squeeze you into increasingly strenuous positions. Reach the chains before your quads and calves give out.
Gear: TCUs 0-2 (or X4 equivalent), double .5, triple .75, triple 1, double or triple 2, double 3
Faraway Corner (5.11a)
Most people’s first 5.11 lead in Liming, and deservedly so. It is a beautiful corner with a manageable, not-too-long crux. Traverse in on a right-arching crack into a left facing corner. Getting into the corner is the crux, as you pull a bunch of face-y sporty moves to get to the crack. Once you enter the crack, start repeating your favorite lieback technique, being observant of key feet that will save you from the pump. This pitch is best linked with the second pitch of Screaming at the Moon in one mega 30m pitch, if you have the gear. Otherwise, you can split into two highly enjoyable pitches.
The second pitch climbs the wide corner crack just off the ledge above Faraway Corner. Some awkward weide jams off the ledge will bring you into offwidth territory. Keep an eye out for face holds that can save you from full-on groveling. Continue wide jamming until you reach a rock fin inside the crack. Be gentle as you pass it and pull above to slabby terrain. The bolts will be above in an alcove.
One rappel with a 70m rope will get you to the ground. A 60m rappel will necessitate two rappels.
Faraway Corner gear: TCUs 0-2, doubles .3-.75, single 1
Faraway Corner-Screaming at the Moon Link-up gear: TCUs 0-2, doubles .3-.75, single 1, single 2, double 3, double or triple 4, single 5
A great Liming moderate. Start up the big lieback flake to the right of Faraway Corner. The flake will terminate and yield slopey awkward ledges transitioning into a very narrow crack. Finesse your way along the boundary of crack and sport climbing to reach a stance beneath a left-facing corner-ish crack. Jam the corner from fists to hands size until you reach a pedestal. A few awkward moves to stand up on the pedestal will lead to the chains.
Gear: TCUs 0-2, X4s .1-.2, doubles .5-1, single 2-3, optional single 4
Born to Be Wild (5.11c/d)
One of the few routes whose send or fall success will depend least on crack climbing, Born to Be Wild will test your ability to sport climb in a crack. Begin under a right-facing corner that terminates in a large roof (right of Dirt Devil and left of Over the Rainbow). Climb the awkward corner off the deck (could use a bit more cleaning) to a ledge just underneath the roof. Protect the roof and extend with long slings to avoid send-killing rope drag and launch out into the skinny crack extending out the roof. Smear and smack your feet as you climb out the crack on sporty, pumpy crack crimps. Reach the end of the roof and reach up to start turning the roof. Stay aware to spot a big-ish hold. Get acrobatic and contort your way up to a standing stance using a flaring crack above. Once you stand up, a few easy moves will yield the chains.
Gear: Single .1 X4 or equivalent TCU (optional), double or triple .3, single .4, single 2, single 3
Over the Rainbow (The ultimate in sandbagged 5.10b’s)
The first ascentionist of this wild route is Raul Sauco, a career climber who has climbed everywhere in the world. He FFA’d this wild crack. The word “futuristic” is often cornily used to describe cool routes, but this route might well deserve it. Begin underneath a massive roof to the right of Born to Be Wild. The roof will split with the main face via a wide crack. Start up the corner on its left side until you can squeeze chimney up into the roof. Place a wide piece and wriggle back town to a small stance where you can turn in face out from the cliff. Done? Good. NOW FLIP UPSIDE-DOWN. From the ledge stance, your feet will invert into the wide crack above. Using wild leg locks and hand stacking, traverse the crack right to the chains at the right end of the roof.
Gear: .3 to 5 or 6
A small buttress that separates Primitive North from Primitive South and the Pillars, Pinecrest has a high concentration of classic lines. Getting to the top of the buttress is a great way to take in the full panoramas of the main Liming valley all the way out to Laojunshan Mountain without having to commit to the many difficult pitches of getting to the top of larger formations.
The Great Owl (5.9)
Whether you climb 5.8 or 5.12 on gear, The Great Owl should be the first Liming route you climb. It is as if the geological gods responsible for Liming made this crack specifically for climbing. Never pumpy, it is a stellar, perfect handcrack from nearly bottom to top. Begin by stemming off of the tree to get into a squeeze-hands-sized crack until the crack opens up a bit to reveal bomber hand jams (perhaps solid fists for those with exceptionally small hands). Hand jam past a wide pod to reach a great rest stance and continue marching hand-over-hand up the rest of the climb to the chains.
Gear: Single TCU #2, single .5, double 1, triple or quadruple 2
Boy with a Coin (5.10+)
An excellent route to hone your offwidth climbing technique, Boy with a Coin is yet another Liming classic. Begin in the slightly overhung corner to the right of Scarface 2. Some awkward hand to fist jams will continuously expand until you are forced to butterfly stack and knee-bar. Pull a bulge to find some wider pods. The angle will steepen a bit into a splitter easy OW. Continue butterfly stacking and knee-barring until the crack suddenly cuts back behind you into an overhang. Transition into the overhang and continue by the technique of your choosing to the bolt anchors shared with Scarface 2. Combine this route with Gore for an excellent outing to the top of Pinecrest!
Gear: Single 2, double 3, triple 4, single or double 5 (single can be easily trolleyed), single 6.
Scarface 2 (5.10+)
There is a reason this route is featured on the cover of the Liming guidebook. This sickle-shaped crack features all sorts of great jamming from hands to fists and (optional if you want it to be) butterfly stacking offwidth. Begin off the deck in a tall alcove with a roof. A few secure hand jams in this roof will bring you to a stance above the roof (you can optionally protect the roof and back-clean it from above to avoid rope-drag on the rest of the route). The crack will quickly expand to a briefly OW sized crack as the crack makes a dramatic crescent-shaped cut to the right. Pass a small roof and continue up on bomber hands to fist jams on a right-leaning crack to the bolted anchor station shared with Boy with a Coin.
Gear: Double 1, double or triple 2, double 3, single 4, single 5
An excellent 2-pitch outing when combined with Scarface or Boy with a Coin. The money portion of Gore is shorter than the lower two routes, but the difficulty and the steep position make for an outrageous pitch. Climb off the belay shared by Boy with a Coin and Scarface and boulder through the crux immediately off the anchor. A few bashing moves of bouldery, overhanging liebacks will yield a decent, but still steep, stance and fire through overhanging hand jams to the top of the bulge. Above, a wide, detached flake (wide gear) will bring you to the top of Pinecrest Buttress. Enjoy the panorama!
Gear: Double 1, single 3, double 4, single 5, single 6 (optional)
The Reckoning (5.12a)
A great “entry-level” 5.12, The Reckoning has some interesting movement and a manageable-sized crux. Start 20 feet right of The Great Owl in a wide crack above a spindly tree. Fight through the wide start to some more secure jams and continue up a short corner into a large pod and a stance. Creative movement will save you a bunch of trouble here. From the pod, exit left into a ring-lock barn door crack up and over a bulge. Fight the pump and reach a small hand-sized pod. Stand up and pull over the next bulge on skinny finger locks. Hold off the pump for the last skinny locks (pretty skinny) up to a horizontal jug and the chains. The first ascentionist, Mike Dobie, recently bolted an airy extension out right from the belay, continuing up and right from horizontal around a sharp, airy arête. Taking the extension ups the difficulty to a .12c.
Gear: Single .4, double .5, single 1, single 2 (optional), single 3, single 4 (optional), single 5
This area covers just the section of wall to the left of the Great Owl. Here you will find anything from overhanging offwidths to sporty lieback cracks.
Boving Reflection (5.11+)
A climb that feels a bit easier the cleaner it gets, Boving Reflection is an excellent, sporty crack climb that will test your pump endurance! Begin by bouldering off the deck up a small overlap to a sloped stance beneath a roof/overlap feature. Plug some medium to small cams and lieback out the first roof on fingertip liebacks, using your lower body to manage the pump the best you can. The terrain will turn vertical for a short stretch with some locks before turning into another roof/overlap feature. Turn on the afterburners, do not get hold blindness, and lieback to a thank-god jug. Continue on ledgier terrain (a bit sandy) to the chains a few meters above.
Gear: TCUs 0-2 (optional), doubles .3-.4, triples .5, doubles .75, single 1-2
The Raven (5.10+)
A great roof crack climb that will test your sequencing in a “roof crisis.” Start off the deck up a short, right-leaning ramp to the left of “I Don’t Like Chickens.” The crack will lead to a blocky, left-facing corner that protects with small gear only. Get up higher in the corner and the crack will open up before shooting left into a pod and an overhang. Traverse out left to a semi-decent rest and reach high over the roof to find some jams to turn it. Above the roof, squeeze-hands will give way to easier hands and fists terrain up to the chains. This route can continue higher to a second set of bolts if you bring extra pieces of wide gear. The extension will also push the grade to 5.11.
Gear: Single X4 .1-.2 (or TCU equivalent), doubles .3-1, single 2-4
I Don’t Like Chickens (5.11+)
Overhung, burly, and wide. Begin up the crack corner to the right of the Raven. Stem up terrain that gets progressively harder until you reach a small stance beneath a bulge/roof featured with a little bit of the sandstone turtle formation. Form here, the crack quickly widens into offwidth territory through the overhang. Find some power and some crafty technique to thrutch through the overhanging terrain into the vertical section of the wide crack. Inside, a flaring, slopey crack will appear. Use both to squirm your way on butterfly stacks and knee locks up to a big ledge with the chains. This route continues into the über-wide multipitch Lost World.
Gear: Single .3, double .4-.5, single .75, doubles 1-5
This cliff separates the Pillars from Pinecrest Buttress. It contains Liming’s most iconic multipitch: Back to the Primitive.
Back to the Primitive (5.11d, 8 pitches, grade III)
Grade: III (the approach is rather easy given the stairs for half the approach).
THE multipitch of Liming, and perhaps one of the best multipitch trad routes in Asia. Back to the Primitive is a good dose of hard adventure climbing up one of the most iconic formations in the park. If you are making the trip across the Pacific for rock climbing, this MUST be on your to-do list! Get an early start and be ready for an killer time!
Approach: Head out of town away from the front entrance of the park along the main road out of Liming village. Continue 10-15 minutes (if walking) until you see a stone scenic turnout with a sign reading "Anqini Scenic Lookout" (Chinese 安七尼). From there, cross the river on a built-up trail and up the staircase towards the park's via ferrata. After about 10-15 minutes going up the staircase, you will pass a huge slabby boulder on you left; the "Split Boulder" (a boulder with an obvious OW boulder problem) will be in the bushes on your right. A faint climbers trail will exit the staircase on the left. Follow this dirt trail until you are directly beneath the Pillars/Primitive formation. The trail will then fork at the base (there is also a fork lower down that traverses some conglomerate rock. This is NOT the fork.). Cut left at the fork and jog slightly uphill for 1 minute. The trail will then split again: left will head to the Pinecrest Buttress routes, and right (also uphill) will take you to the base of Back to the Primitive. You are looking for a slightly sandy corner with two big trees at its top. This is P1 (Lollipop).
P1 (Lollipop variation): 5.8, ~20m: One of the variations alongside Train Wreck and Saving Face as the start of the route. Climb the fairly dirty corner (to the right of the offwidth crack marking the start of For Hammer) to where the corner splits in two at the large pine tree. Place some gear and take the left corner (right is flaring and hard). Follow this corner and trend slightly right to reach a big ledge and a slung tree belay.
P2 (crux pitch): 5.11d, ~20m: From the belay, walk right (extend the belay) about 8 feet and start up a narrow corner. Follow the crack as it thins into the corner and do some fancy stem moves to get above to a stance. The crack will restart in the face above as a right-leaning, skinny finger crack. Rail through some powerful, sharp finger locks to find some "thank-god" holds and continue up on flared hand jams to a two-bolt belay alcove on your left.
P3: 5.10+, ~20m: Exit the belay from the right and pull into a small roof and arete feature. Pull the roof (exposed, awesome position!) to a right-leaning hands to fist-sized crack that will run up into a big yellow pod/alcove feature. The belay bolts will be on your left.
P4: 5.11, ~35m: Move up the long pod/alcove feature from the belay. Check your comfy ledge rest stances for loose rock and do not knock it down on your belayer. Continue up easy terrain until you reach a steep crack and a shallow corner that the leads up into a roof. Turn the roof on wide but fairly secure jams to gain the wide crack above. From here, the crack will widen to #5 and larger. Start full-on offwidth-ing (chicken wing!) up the top half of the crack and exit left when you hit the roof, and exit the roof left. Follow a short hand crack feature over a small bulge and up to the belay on a sloping ledge beneath a gaping crack (bolts).
P5: 5.11, ~35m: This pitch the puts you 'in the mountain.' Climb off the belay trending right into a massive crack. You are literally climbing inside the mountain. Though the first 15m are unprotected, it is virtually impossible to fall if you stuff your body in the crack. Gain a ledge above the wide stuff and traverse right, following the ever-thinning crack. The crack will eventually thin to fingers over a super exposed, vertical wall. Continue up this crack to some cruxy, wildly exposed finger locks and belay on bolts on a small ledge with a small pine tree growing on it. This pitch is full-value adventure climbing, for sure.
P6: 5.9 A0, ~12m: A short aid pitch that could go free if the bolted section gets scrubbed (though it looks hard, potentially 5.12). From the pine tree ledge belay, follow a right-trending, right-facing corner to where the crack disappears in an overlap. Here you will find two bolts. Aid through (still not easy) to regain a few crack moves and another belay ledge. Belay on bolts just beneath a wide flake.
P7: 5.11-, ~35m: Some will complain this pitch is a wee bit sandbagged. Go straight off the ledge and into the gaping flake above. Do not blow the opening moves to avoid giving your belayer an 'ass-hat.' Insecure liebacking and the occasional desperate wide jam will bring you to a rest beneath a slightly overhung crack corner. Continue up the crack until the flake continues again and forces you out of the crack. Turn the last flake feature to gain easier terrain and a short hand crack feature. Follow the hand crack up and left into a small v-slot to a bolted belay beneath the final pitch.
P8 (Turtles in Space!): 5.10a, PG-13, ~35m: The glory pitch of this climb is world-class for top-outs. You climb on the iconic tortoise shell formations that make Liming a famous national park above hundreds of meters of air down to the valley floor! From the belay. Step left around the rounded arête, following the cleanest line. Follow discontinuous flared cracks and pods over turtles to a few focused moves up the slabs--don't forget to enjoy the exposure! A few more committed, slopey slab moves will put you on lower-angle terrain. Follow the cleanest, cruiser terrain to the top of the wall and belay from a tree and take in the amazing panorama of the valley and Laojunshan (mountain)!
Descent (Spearhead Gully): Make sure you do this with plenty of daylight. From the top out on the cliff, follow a faint climbers trail into the bushes to the climber's right. Follow it uphill until you join a fairly well-worn path that traverses the crest of the sandstone formation. Be careful, it is easy to follow one of the many native trails that crisscross the tops of the cliffs. If you traverse too low, just avoid dropping down too early and continue traversing until you meet the trail The cave that has the boardwalk inside should be firmly at your 3-o'clock position before you start looking for the descent trail. Follow this trail into a gully marked with a big spearhead-looking block ahead of you and a tall, (very) black wall on your left. Follow the faint trail (increasingly foliage-covered) to its bottom and traverse on trails until you link up with the boardwalk staircase. Follow the staircase back down to the road.
- One 00 TCU, double TCUs from 0-1 (or equivalent X4s), doubles from .3-1, triple 2, doubles 3-5
- Eight to Ten 60cm runners (alpine); two double length slings or cordelettes for the belay anchors. Using quad anchors are awesome for organization on this route.
Probably the most Indian Creek-looking crag in Liming. The steep nature of the crag has protected many of these splitter cracks from erosion. Most of the routes here are pretty hard: there is one 5.8, one 5.9, and one 5.10; the rest are 5.11s and harder. If you can spend at the grade, this is one of the best crags to test your gear limits. The routes here range in everything from skinny, TCU-sized fingertip cracks to beastly .11+ offwidths.
Brazen Hussie (5.10b)
Brazen Hussie is a full-value climb for the very affordable price of 5.10b. Begin on the splitter crack capped by an overhanging bulge to the right of Wing and a Prayer Project and left of Flight of the Locusts. Scramble up some blocks embedded in the sand and transition into the crack on some wide finger and skinny hand jams. The crack will widen and get more secure as you approach the bulge. Protect beneath the bulge and extend your pieces well. Commit all the way through the bulge on secure jams before you place any gear; placing gear in the bulge will end up with that gear getting sucked deep into the crack. Above the bulge, gain a stance and continue on hand jams (complemented with the occasional wide move) up the the chains. This pitch can be extended to a higher anchor if you have plenty of wide gear (3s, 4s, and 5s).
Gear: .3-.75, double 1, single 2, double 3, single 4 (optional)
Wing and a Prayer Project (5.11-)
A great route that will get you to try some acrobatic movement. Begin up the huge right-facing corner to the right of Sahara. Some thin slab and stem moves off the deck will get you to your first gear and a step left underneath the roof. You can rest if you stuff yourself in the slot beneath the roof. Reach out behind your head into the roof to find some thin holds and hand jams to get through the roof. Some exposed, strenuous moves will deposit you in a stance below a thin crack. Surmount the thin crack and the terrain will become increasingly moderate as you approach the chains.
Gear: Single TCUs (0-2), doubles .3-2, single 3
This is possibly the most aesthetic line currently open at The Guardian. Akhum-Rah fires up a pump-inspiringly skinny corner crack. Begin to the right of Flight of the Locusts and to the left of the Sphinx. Climb to a pedestal and protect from a great stance with some small cams. Make some committing moves off the pedestal and transition to some stemming. Gain a small rest where a small, inconsistent, pod-like crack appears on your left. The corner crack will thin ever so slightly as you pass another small pod. From here, make some very thin, cruxy moves into the steepening corner (crux) up to a rest. From there, the crack continues, slightly wider, for a ways before hitting a larger pod feature. Surmount the pod to find a thin hands crack leading to ledges and the chains above.
Gear: TCUs 0-2, single .2 X4 (or equivalent), double or triple .3, double .4, triple .5, double .75-1
The Sphinx (5.11+)
A powerful, burly route for almost the entirety of its upper half, The Sphinx rates high on the scale of “brawl” factor. Start up a slab and flake feature to the right of Akhum-Rah. The terrain will quickly steepen into a flake and rejoin the cliff as a crack corner before rearing back into a large overhang. Powerful, slopey liebacking moves will lead to a full-on #6-sized offwidth. Bash your way up (guess which side in) with some knee-barring until the crack narrows again. Gain better jams as you reach an overhung block feature. Clamber over the overhanging block to a flat stance where you will find the bolts.
Gear: Single .5, triple .75s, double 1-3, single 4-6
Flight of the Locusts (5.12)
A hybrid crack and face climb, Flight of the Locusts is a short but techy route that will require a bit more sport-climbing-esque sequencing than most routes in Liming. Start on the right leaning crack 8 feet left of Akhum-Rah and around 20 feet right of Brazen Hussie. Awkwardly stem your way off the ground (groin stretches beforehand might help) until you are forced into the crack. Powerful locking yields a small stance on the left face. Combo face-crack climb your way up until the crack forms a corner. Crank out the hard moves into the corner and continue to the chains, being aware of the face to your left. The bolts will be at a pedestal just above.
FA-er Mike Dobie has also put a bolted extension above this finish, and is currently thought to be about .13a.
Gear: single .2 X4 or TCU equivalent, doubles .3-1, 2 (optional; replaces a 1)
The Dinner Wall
Simply put, this is THE iconic formation of Liming. Casting a huge shadow over the village of Liming, the Dinner Wall is home to these sandstone wall’s very first route: Soul’s Awakening. This wall has everything from classic routes to Liming’s cutting-edge trad routes, including Flying Buttress, recently freed by Australian Logan Barber at 5.13d/5.14a.
Ding Dong’s Crack (5.12)
This is the go-to route on the Dinner Wall for honing your ring lock skills. Begin in a triangular offwidth beneath a huge black streak that comes down from a cleft at the wall’s top. Chimney and arm bar your way up the first 2/3 of the route before the crack abruptly constricts. From here, the crack will lean further right as you are forced out of the offwidth and out onto the face. Powerful ring locking through the opening sequence will give way to some rattly finger jams; lack of feet here make this sequence especially hard. The crux does not end, as the ring locks come back with a vengeance one last time. Power through these last ring locks to find a key face hold. A few more insecure moves will lead to the chains on the face to your left. If you stem out left during the ring lock crux (rather awkward to do…), the guidebook says the route becomes 5.11.
Gear: Double .4, triple .5, triple .75, single 1 (very optional), single 5 (very optional)
Soul’s Awakening (5.10, 3-4 pitches [half], 7 pitches [complete]): Liming’s first multipitch. This route, especially the first pitch (5.9), is a great pitch for learning endurance through jamming. The routes 3rd pitch (or 4th, depending on how you split the pitches) is clean, bomber and incredibly aesthetic, climbing some of the intricate, honeycomb sandstone face formations high off the deck!
Pitch 1 (5.9): Climb the huge left-facing corner into vertical terrain. This pitch will remain pretty much vertical without much break for about 27 meters, so jamming to save energy is key. Continue on hands, wide hands, and fist-sized terrain up to 2 bolts (where there was once an unprotectable flake that has since fallen away). The route stays steep essentially until a nice sloping ledge, where the bolts can be found on the right wall. Leaders often link the first pitch with the very short, bolted second pitch out and left.
Pitch 2 (5.10): From the anchors on the first pitch, scramble left on a ledge to a well-protected bolted face. A 5-meter series of face moves will bring you to another set of bolts on a smooth face.
Pitch 3 (5.8 or 5.9+ A0): You have two options from the P2 belay. Go left up the fairly blank face (5.9+ A0, the “slip and slide”) until you can gain the right-leaning corner crack to the top of the pedestal, or head up and right on a massive, detached block (though it seems about to peel from the wall, it appears fairly stuck on the far wall/opposite wall of the corner). From the big block, wedge yourself in the slot behind it and the buttress. Follow the crack at the back of the slot up to the belay at the top of the pedestal.
Pitch 4 (5.9+): Money, money, money pitch! This pitch is dead vertical for its entire length. Start in the corner crack and marvel at the splitter crack that appears on your right. The crack will begin as thin hands and slowly expand over the course of 20m+ until you are in offwidth territory. At this point, the crazy honeycomb face holds will begin appearing and save you from full-on groveling. Bolts will be on your right.
Pitches 5-7 (5.10+/5.11-, 5.10d R, 5.7 R): Most people start rappelling form here (a 60m rope will require 3 rappels to the top of the 3rd pitch, the top of the 1st pitch, and down to the ground). If you continue up, make sure you are prepared for adventure climbing. P5 goes up the Cretaceous Crack, a #6-sized offwidth that crosses a sea of caked bird poop (measurable thickness) halfway up the pitch. P6 goes out a massive roof on a right leaning crack (5.10 R). P7 is grungy, run-out 5.7 dirt and rock climbing to the very top of the Dinner Wall formation. Make sure you have brought enough supplies if you elect to continue into the unknown! Going to the top of the formation necessitates a scramble back down to the bottom of the Dinner Wall (moving to the climber’s left to some farmhouses that sit atop the formation and beneath a limestone cliff, there you will find a dirt track down) or dropping off of the back side of the formation into the far valley and following the dirt track until it passes underneath the par gondola and deposits you back in Liming village.
Gear: Single .75, double 1, triple 2-3, double 4, single 5. Bring runners for the short bolted face section of P2 (can also be climbed as an extension to P1)
Wind of the Valley (5.10+)
The most aesthetic enduro-corner in Liming, Wind of the Valley will test your pump endurance!. To access this route, walk 5 minutes left from Soul's Awakening until you seen a bushy outcropping of rock left of a big, undeveloped chimney. There should be a fixed line tied to one of the trees. Scramble up the fixed line until it deposits you on a nice, flat ledge. The start is to the climber's right, marked by a big tree. Start by jamming up the base of the corner on steep hands.The crack will thin as you forge higher towards a spindly tree. Lieback fast and rest where you can on jams. Surmount the skinny tree (surprisingly tricky) and collect yourself to continue. The crack will continue thinning to wide fingers up ever-steepening terrain. Clip the chains on your left before you pump out.
Gear: Double .5, double .75, double or triple 1, triple 2
Pineapple Upside-down Cake (5.9+)
To the left of Ding Dong’s crack is a big, right-facing flake. This route has very basic beta: OFFWIDTH YOUR FACE OFF. Fight through the wide crack and place all of the big gear you have. ¾ of the way up, a few key face holds will appear to take you to the chains on something other than wide movement.
Gear: Single or double 4, double 5, single or double 6
This crag is next door to The Guardian. While it does not have as many routes as other crags (currently five), it has some of the most gear-intensive, full-value routes in all of Liming. Every route is a full 30 meters and features multiple cruxes. This crag has also yet to see heavy development, so you can most certainly expand on the work that has been done at the crag without looking too far!
Total Eclipse (5.11a/b)
This route gives you two choices with two variations. Both are about equally as hard, and both will get you pumped for a full 30m! Both routes begin on a huge flake to the right of Captain Spaceman Spiff. Lieback your way up the increasingly slopey flake, jamming wherever you can to save energy. The flake will eventually terminate and turn into a splitter crack. From here, you have the option of stepping left to the left variation (similar difficulty, though the transition is harder the lower you do it) or continue straight up. If continuing straight up, climb to a bulge, where the crack will begin squeezing into tight hands and wide fingers territory. Pull this bulge to gain a mediocre, slightly licheny stance above the foliage of a nearby tree and continue cruxing up into another pod. Here, a stance will yield a small bulge that will again thin into tight hands and rattly fingers. Surmount this crux to an expansion in the crack and yet another pod. Above, the crack will form a shallow corner with a few ledges interspersed towards the top. Fight off the ever-increasing pump on hands to fist-sized jams to the long-awaited chains.
Gear: Triple .3-4
Captain Spaceman Spiff (5.10-)
Another full-value climb for the grade, this route has a finale that will remind some of Hospital Corner in Lake Tahoe. To the left of Total Eclipse, there is a flaring, thin-hands crack. Follow this slightly awkward, flaring crack (bring plenty of #1 cams) up a ways until it brings to a large ledge with a tree (you can sling it, if you want). From here, the crack restarts in a corner that will take you to a short overhang. Traverse it to the left and into a pod capped with a small bulge. By now, you should have some terrain left to cover and very little gear left to protect it! Fear not! The jams are easy and secure! Surmount the pod’s bulge and enjoy the outrageous exposure beneath you. A few more moves on bomber hand jams will bring you to the chains on your right.
Doubles .3-.5, triple .75, quadruple 1, double 2-3
Other areas (that could use more development!)
Pandora: The crag opposite the Dinner Wall that also overlooks Liming village. This crag features the steepest approach out of all of the established Liming crags.
Bull Crag: The north-facing crag on the opposite side of the valley from The Guardian and Die Sternwarte. It is a shaded crag best visited when the weather is hot. There are actually two crags, Upper and Lower Bull Crag.
Indy Wall: Another new crag with very few routes.
Angel Crag: This crag only has one established route, though it is an aesthetic, difficult multipitch.
Gorilla Face: Across the cirque on the same side of the valley as The Guardian. Gorilla Face is known for having stout and/or sandbagged routes. It also houses a 5.14 project.
The Holidays: A beautiful, easy-to-access cliff just next to the Dinner Wall. This cliff has tons of climbable cracks yet has seen little development.
Space Mountain: Between the Holidays and the Dinner Wall. Much like the Holidays, it is an easy-to-access cliff that has seen disproportionately little development.
Orange Sky: The northern extension of the Dinner Wall.
The Watchtower: Liming’s youngest crag as of spring 2015. It currently has only a single multipitch route under development, “Chinese Construction Job” (5.11, 3 pitches).
One Dragon Buttress: The more established crag adjacent to the Watchtower. Has a few very aesthetic splitter cracks that climb high up the formation.
The Diamond Wall: This wall overlooks Liming Village from the entrance to the South Valley. It is also called "The Coffin Wall" by the Lisu locals. Word has it that it has great potential but few routes, including a multipitch to the top of a freestanding buttress on the wall which has yet to be freed!
Liming in Motion!
Catch a few moments from our first trip to Liming back in December 2014.
Sichuan Van Life
A better-late-than-never post by: Ryder Stroud
with contributions from Nico Cacerés
FIRST A TOUR OF THE VAN
For the winter season Nico and I lived cozily in a Jinbei 面包车/miānbàochē/loaf of bread car/breadbus (take your linguistic pick).
While the setup isn’t as posh as some of the slicker setups I have seen from the US (Desk to Dirtbag’s setup comes to mind), it has been a workhorse to get the job done between being a space to live and being a people mover. Our climbing crew currently has a rotating cast of five climbers: Hang, Dane, Locky, Nico, and I, though Nico and I are the most frequent residents of said van domicile. Keeping things simple and modular allows us to easily switch to accommodate trips where our friends want to load up and hit the road, too.
To start, I built up the tried-and-true, elevated sleeping platform, elevating it ~34 cm (~13.5 inches with convenient rounding of numbers), which has been plenty for storing backpacks—my 70L Osprey Aether multiday bag can squeeze underneath when packed with soft goods). I kept the costs down by getting free scrap lumber from some friends who are renovating their farmhouse in Dali City. No need to fuss too much over it’s appearance. Just make sure it’s built to hold the weight to not collapse on the gear below and spacious enough between the legs so you can put multi-day packs, duffels, and/or plastic storage bins beneath.
I cut the sleeping platform to accommodate the epic climber mattress: a triple-panel Climb X bouldering pad. Of course, the amazing thing is that it is not only a comfortable sleeping platform, but indulges my occasional mediocre boulderer. If we see a boulder on the side of the road that looks rad? We can pull over with the pad and climb it! The triple pad is just enough to comfortably sleep 2, and can even facilitate a desperate “survival spooning” if the temperatures drop so low outside that van residents require extra body heat to survive… it has almost happened on occasions.
The breadbus’ kitchen has, in recent weeks, become the home for the kitchen, which has worked out now that the temperatures allow for dinner parties outside. Previously, the kitchen supplies were in the side of the van, between the door and the side of the platform that left an open space in the side. However, as the temperatures in Yunnan and Sichuan finally started to feel less miserable, I realized that the back of the van would better facilitate hanging out and the ever-classy dirtbag dinner parties. With that in mind, I purchased a few camp chairs, some more storage boxes and a good pump for the water tank.
Burt with all of these people flocking to the breadbus for good times, I still had to consider how to possibly transport folk to the climbing, too.
The real challenge at first was making the bread-bus modular enough to switch between the people-mover mode and 2-climber dirtbag mode without too much hassle. Of course, I could not just turn the entire back into a sleeping platform and storage area, otherwise, Locky, Dan, and Dane would have no space.
You might think the solution would be simple: go true dirtbag and have them recline and hang out on the HUGE bouldering pad in back, right? Screw traffic regulations! Screw authority!!! ARRGH.
As much as we considered the “AARGH” option, I thought that since I am already circumvented some paperwork in China to get the van driver’s license (apparently, on paper, tourist visa holders like me should not be allowed to get a license to own a car…), I thought it best that we do not tempt the arbitrarily applied powers of local policemen, especially out towards the Tibetan border. What came about was another mod to the van system.
The platform covered only 2 panels of the pad, leaving a gap comfortable for people to sit in on the back bench seat between the trunk, where we keep all of the climbing gear, and the platform in front of them. While the pad is rigid enough to bridge the gap between platform and seat, I have a separate board that bridges the gap between the platform and the seat (when the seat is folded down).
About the knick knacks and van features:
I added a few things to make the van more, well, entertaining to live in.
First, I had to find a quick fix for the crap sound system that came with the van. Apparently, I quickly learned that the bizarre, not-normal USB jack could not support an iPhone or any real mp3 player. Instead, it was manufactured to work only with a basic SD card reader. Very made-in-China style.
Anyways, rather than continue to grumble, I just decided to put a separate speaker behind the driver’s and passenger’s seat. I bought a big bar speaker off a friend who bought it on Interwebz special and was not really using it. Boom. Done. Awesome sound system acquired. This is actually a key feature of the car for covering the long, tiring drives into western Sichuan.
Second, I added a power inverter that feeds off the cigarette lighter jack. I then added a power strip with 3 plugs, which is enough to power the speaker and charge electronics.
Third, I fashioned some very 差不多(chàbùduō/super mega OK) curtains along the back passenger windows and the trunk windows. I also cut costs by finding some scrap fabric from the same friends who gave me free lumber. I got some very cheap rope from a local Dali hardware storm and draped the fabric over the line and had the lines attached to the ceiling handles; instant, super cheap curtains. The back window is covered by a flag (not of the American or Chinese variety) that is held up on hooks. I am still thinking about a front curtain, but that effort has been curtailed by a lack of ceiling handle above the driver’s seat.
Finally, I tacked a lemon fresh air freshener to the dashboard. Seriously, it keeps the van smelling fresh long after the memory of having washed clothes, especially socks, has faded into the mists of the past…
Together all of the van modifications probably cost me less than $50 (~300 RMB)
So what have we done with the van? A lot of it involves trashing the suspension and/or alignment on terrible roads, but it is all in service of getting to the hills!
II. Tooling Around in Sichuan
“It’s f***ing cooooold outside, dude!!!” Nico hollers as we cook dinner inside the van on the tiny plank that has become the designated ‘kitchen.’
We are camped in the van on the side of a mountain pass road at ~4100 meters in the 贡嘎山/Minya Konka/Gongga Shan region. Inside, we are wedged into our sleeping bags, recoiling from the small crack we have opened in the window to cent the cooking exhaust. The outside temperature has dropped to -10ºC, and we know that it will only get colder as the night goes on. Inside, however, is a small oasis we call home: a Jinbei bread bus with a sleeping platform, a kitchen, and enough climbing gear to scale a mountain.
Nico stirs the pot containing our roast vegetables. The steam and the scent of garlic waft through the cramped quarters in the back of the van, adding a little bit of a festive dinner party atmosphere to the otherwise quiet end to the evening that defines traveling around in the van.
If you ever have ambitions to climb in Sichuan in winter, bring lots of warm clothing. Though the winter is rather dry—the heavy snows come in early spring—the temperatures, especially at night, drop well below 0C (and really far below 0F if you head to the higher elevations). In the mountains, you often find yourself well above 2000m at the very least once you cross the first big passes to the west of the Chengdu Plain. The sun instantly becomes a commodity. In these tall, narrow mountain valleys, we long for the little warmth the sun brings, as we watch its rays creep too slowly across the valley rim to the floor and eventually to the van. Daytime temperatures allow you to sit outside on a mat with a puffy when the sun is out. But immediately after the sun sets, getting in the van and into the sleeping bags is the only real way to be happy-ish.
Between two people, winter sleeping bags, the occasional bivy sack, and the van itself, we can stay plenty warm. But any time we have headed out to base camp for a trip or stayed out past sundown, we have been cold—very cold.
When it comes to getting places in this part of China, the road is often muddy, full of construction, and rocky. Roads that are designated “national highways” are still under construction or under repair from the constant summer rains, floods, landslides, and earthquakes that hit the region—the last item on that list being the least frequent.
A typical drive between a place like Kangding, the nearest large town to Minya Konka, and Shuangqiaogou, the epicenter of Chinese ice climbing, goes a little something like this:
“Alright, Nico, what does the map say…”
“It looks like you take…”
What follows is a string of expletives as our car drops onto a rock-strewn road, as we get passed multiple times by large tractor trailers, speeding to drop off their cargo at the massive construction zone 10km ahead.
Our first leg of the trip to Kangding alone, though it only crossed about 250km of ground between Chengdu and Kangding, took nearly 10 hours, the result of a 60km-long construction zone as we entered the mountains.
What does the bread bus look like after all of this? Well, even though it only has 3000km on its odometer at this point, it looks like a working van that has been slogging through Chinese mud for years; the mud became so thick at one point of the drive that no light—sunlight, headlights, or otherwise—could make it through the back window. Cleaning also comes Chinese-style, as the cheap price of the bread bus means that, among many other features, the van lacks any sort of rear windshield wiper. I am sure the suspension is smiling up at me from beneath the car with each big pothole I have driven across.
But what is the deal with the climbing?
Well it is a tension between the desire to climb a lot on established routes versus striking out on our own to seek out a line in the distance that may or may not be good.
Nico and I tried the latter with a very disappointing outcome the first time around. Having arrived in the Gongga Shan/Minya Konka area, we immediately wrote off the idea of getting anywhere near the Gongga Shan Massif or its neighboring massif to the northeast, Lamo-She.Temperatures at night in the nearest town of Kangding dropped well below freezing. As we ventured higher up the mountain pass road to the north (~4200m), temperatures plummeted well below zero Celsius overnight.
From the road we caught glimpses of a massive banner cloud flying off Minya Konka’s summit, and we did not have the gear to take on Lamo-She (~6200m) in the dead of winter. So we decided to tool around in the car to see what we could find nearby in the ~5000m range. The far side of the pass revealed rolling grasslands as far as the eye could see, and the peaks around the passitself were quickly turning into choss. So rather than venturing further out into the unknown to see what was beyond those grasslands (likely very dumpy roads that would further massacre the breadbus’ suspension), we turned around to see what smaller peaks were around Kangding.
Sure enough, we spotted a bunch of ~5000m peaks popping out in the distance from behind the chossy peaklets that lined both sides of the mountain pass. We suddenly had a flare of hope that we might have something to climb, rather than tooling around for hundreds of kilometers in the van without anything to climb.
With a little fresh kick in our otherwise cold boots, we fished out the telephoto lens and spotted what looked like a bunch of steep snow/ice couloirs that cut up the sides of two peaks.
“Man, do those couloirs look awesome… Damn, look at that one!” I exclaim, as I point to the steeper of the two ridgelines!”
“Yeah, that’s steep,” Nico grins. “I don’t want it, but if you want it, bro, I’ll belay you.”
Couloirs sliced up both mountain faces. Nico and I got excited.
“There are a ton of gullies up there!”
I start getting excited that I might, for the first time, dive into a climb in China that is a true adventure. No beta on the Internet, no route beta from friends. Nico and I were just going to ditch the van at a turn out and go look for a route.
“How long do you reckon we will be up there? 4-5 days?” Nico asks.
“Yeah, let’s pack up a bunch of food. We can hit one or two gullies before moving camp to underneath the other face.” I say, still looking through the camera.
With that, we pack and head out the next morning.
Following native trails and cattle meadows, we contour along some grassy hillsides until we arrive beneath our first target: a summit we estimate to be 4800-5000m. From basecamp, things still look promising. Though it doesn’t seem to be granite like the large stones we found littering the roadside down below, it seems palatable for climbing. However, as we look up at all the gullies, we begin to wonder if there will be any ice at all.
Before we can ponder the prospect too long, we soon have to turn our attention to the setting sun and the temperatures falling faster than a lead weight on Jupiter. Things begin to get nippy as the sun drops behind the ridgeline to our west. Without the vestibule, we consider cooking in the tent directly, even if the prospect is a bit cramped.
But once the sun disappears completely for the day, we dive into the tent without question, as the temperatures fall to -15C and keep falling. We somehow miraculously manage to create an amazing vegetable (FRESH) stew with potato noodles (think Udon noodles Chinese-style; read with a ridiculous accent, if the spirit moves you to do so). Spending time slightly immobile outside the tent has consequences: like quickly realizing your fingers and toes get painfully cold… even inside boots and gloves…
Stomaching warm food, the two of us wrap up in our sleeping bags and bivy bags for the night, prepped for a summit day.
Sunrise brings awfulness and coldness. For some reason, our fervor to dive into the sleeping bags the previous night caused us to leave our boots outside the tent, which have now nicely matched the air temperature. The tent interior is coated in a measurable thickness of frost, even with all 5 vents in the tent open.
“Dude, I can’t feel my toes.” Nico shivers violently as I don my Baturas, slowly dreading that I will reach the same conclusion.
We brew tea and oatmeal mostly in silence, hoping that some rays of sunlight will miraculously break the laws of the universe and decide to bend around the mountains blocking us from the sun’s warmth.
As we approach across the boulders and occasional meadows, one thing becomes clear: the gullies up close do not resemble the gullies we saw from a far. Though we began roping up for what we thought would be a great steep snow gully climb instead turned out to be loose snow over scree. After fiddling with the rope, we repacked it into the bag, grumbling as we felt our crampon frontpoints grinding down on the crappy metamorphic rock shifting underneath the snow.
With every step the rock quality worsened, and I began debating with myself if this was even worth it to even reach this chossy summit.
Exploration? Awesome. That is definitely why I came to China.
Exploration of crap? A lot less awesome in person.
Nico shrugs. “Well, we have come this far.” He gestures up towards the looming notch above our heads.
Our meager little alpine rock rack along with a smattering of ice screws now looks ridiculous. What little rock that is not crumbling on this shale pile certainly would not ever hold a fall.
“You’re right,” I say. “Let’s just finish the damn thing. Looks like this entire little range is jingus.”
“Let’s do it fast. I still can’t feel my toes and it has been well over 2 hours…” Nico looks worryingly down at his boots, rocking back and forth testing for some degree of feeling.
Topping out in the choss notch, the rock looks terrible up-close. It is a tottering mess of shale flakes and blocks perched tenuously atop one another. I stare up at the epic chossery as I remove my crampons, but quickly shift my attention as I realized the huge crampon death that has descended on my G22’s front points. The mountain was essentially an uber-file, stripping off loads of metal from the front points and leaving a dull, rounded edge in its place.
I cringe. Folding up the crampons, I look at Nico as we both move towards the shale ridge above. What ensues is an exercise in levitation, perhaps channeling some light thoughts of the monks who populate the nearby monasteries…
“Maybe mantle off of that gravel…”
I point vaguely towards a pile of sharp shale blocks as Nico traverses a very loose terrace.
Nico passes me and looks up. We have 3 bulges to pass over before the top. Snow starts falling. As we progress, large blocks continue to shift unnervingly underfoot. I try to adhere to my policy of never putting both feet on the same stone.
With little fanfare, we arrive at the top. Minya Konka is completely hidden by clouds and Lamo She barely peaks out from the storm clouds rolling our direction.
“I don’t think anyone has ever climbed this mountain, bro.”
Nico looks indifferently out at the storm as he fishes in his backpack for some crackers. His thick mountain beard now has a nice coating of ice and snow. “It’s so shitty that I don’t think anyone WOULD want to climb it.”
I plop down on the choss beside him and pull out a roll of Oreos and pass them to Nico.
“What is the name of this mountain?” He asks.
“Ha! Right. I’m sure no one ever bothered to name this junk.” I reply, slightly amused.
Nico stares down at the Oreos and ponders for a moment.
“… Oreo… Oreo Mountain…”
“Mount... Choss... UBER-choss...”
“No. Oreos. MOUNT OREO.”
We both don our puffies and stare out into space for a while, conflicted between the feeling of a stepping out on an adventure tempered by the thought of all the choss we would have to reverse to get down. We glumly stared over at the sharper ridgeline we had also seen from the road. Like our gully, the others looked just like a bunch of steep, loose snow plastered over steep, loose rock. Uninspiring.
“New rule,” I say, staring blankly across the gap to the other couloirs. “If it looks like choss from a distance, it probably will be choss up close…”
“Yeah… let’s GTFO, eh?”
With that, we begin the descent, picking our way down the shale mess towards a rock ridge leading to a grassy hillside to basecamp. Reversing steep choss is like stepping on lazy but angry snapping turtles: slow to move, but unpredictable. A shift in balance may feel good for a moment, before suddenly you find yourself just about to eat it into a pile of sharp teeth and/or sharpened, pointy shale flakes. Thankfully, the exposure was not too palpable until the very end, where Nico and I had to reverse a short, narrow step to regain the dumpy snow gully we climbed earlier. Rather than descend the crap, we opted to scramble down the increasingly blunt ridge to the NW and descend the high-altitude grassy meadows below back to base camp.
By the time we bushwhacked a bit at the bottom of the descent, Nico could finally feel his toes. With little motivation to explore the other, equally loose, crappy ridgeline, we pack up camp, excited to fire up the car and its meager heater.
Reversing our walk out to the car took a bit longer than expected. We thought we would cut the descent time by taking a more direct line back to the roadcut, but failed to remember that the whole reason we went the long way in the first place was because of an entire hillside of stunted trees. Nico and I spent the better part of an hour thrashing through claw-like branches that would snag on every piece of gear we strapped to our largely overloaded alpine-sized packs.
A little disappointed with the results, we arrived back at the mud-slathered van. The extra layer of mud lent itself to the car's name… “The Little Sea Lion.”
Haphazardly heaving our stuff in back, we drove back to Kangding, where we spent our time pilfering free wi-fi at Dico’s fried chicken ("dee-coes" or "dick-os" depending on how much you loathe greasy think Taiwanese KFC in Mainland China) as we plotted our next move. Considering the cold weather at 5000m, we resolved that we should just give in and temporarily suspend our dirtbag instincts to pay for access to ice climb in Shuangqiaogou.
Some Thoughts about Life on the Road in China
- Have an extra warm blanket for each van occupant
o Sichuan mountain road temps, especially as you pass through the higher mountain towns can easily drop to -15C to -20C overnight. Usually, the small space of a van and 2 people can help keep things a bit warmer, but you often have to crack a few windows to prevent them from icing over completely overnight. The downside, of course, is that the van becomes less efficient at retaining heat. Obviously, ridiculous coldness inside the van ensues. Though we do have warm sleeping bags, things are extra comfy-cozy with a warm blanket and a hot water bottle inside our sleeping bags.
- Secure valuable/fragile items to sturdy objects in the car
o Roads often suck in the mountains in China. We have spent a large amount of time dropping into potholes on unpaved, crazy construction roads. Consequently, the awesome bar speaker I got on special to replace the crap sound system built into the car now needs replacing after 2/3 of the speakers died simply from the constant barrage of bouncing it goes through on a daily basis.
- Buy multiple air fresheners for the car
o Dirtbags obviously don’t mind the stench of greatness, but if you want to give lifts to some of your friends, consider keeping something in the car for faux-freshness. Even one of my dirtbag climber friends commented on the wafting scent to climbers and rancid socks when he piled into the car with some of our co-workers on a recent job… though he may have meant it as a compliment? Air fresheners also become incredibly less smelly once they freeze, and after they thaw, they never seem to be the same…
- Consider hauling a back-up fuel can.
o A few liters of fuel can be a lifesaver. Intervals between gas stations out in western China get further and further apart. I find myself even opting to fill up when I pass a gas station with a half tank or more, just because I do not know how far it is to a village or town big enough to have a gas station. As the crew works its way further out to locations like Ganzi, Jarjinjiabo/Cuopu Lake, and Keketuohai, items like a spare gas can—probably a few liters in size to make a final push to a town—will be mandatory to avoid an unnecessary, pre-climb epic.
- Spooning becomes a thing
o Whether intentional or something done while actually asleep, spooning happens with your climbing partner. Sichuan at high elevations is ridiculously cold. The body heat from 2 people can be the difference from sleeping all night and not sleeping a wink.
- Have fun. You’re on an amazing dirtbag odyssey
o Whether climbing a splitter sandstone/granite crack or scrambling over shale choss, if you elect to come to China for the sake of climbing and living in a van to facilitate that climbing, you are doing something that very few people in the world have done. Embrace that intrepid spirit, damnit. It will, at times, involve more exploration and a little less climbing, but there is still LOTS of climbing out here to be discovered.
Time to head for the granite peaks of Ganzi. One of the expat climbing pros said that he and some folks have referred to it as “a Chinese Patagonia” of sorts. We hope that it’s true!!!
双桥沟 (Shuāngqiáogōu) Valley: Endure the 麻烦. Climb Glorious Ice.
A musing by: Ryder Stroud
with contributions from Nico Cáceres
It will be jarring (initially). But it will be glorious.
That would be a fairly succinct description of what ice climbing in China’s famous Siguniang National Park. For all of you in Westphalia who have an idea of national parks with camping an unhindered access to your favorite climbing crags, things are a bit different here on the Chinese side of the Pacific.
But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of actually organizing an ice climbing trip out to Shuangqiaogou, let’s talk ice.
First, there’s a lot.
Second, it’s long.
Third, they are under mountains. Large mountains… in the realm of 5000-6000m+.
Where is it all? It is about a 250km drive from the provincial capital, Chengdu. Though the distance is not all that far, driving in this region of china always takes far more time than you originally plan. Chengdu is essentially an scaled-up version of Denver in the sense that it sits on a huge, flat plane that extends to the east. To the west is a massive escarpment of mountains, but instead of topping out in the realm of 4000m, these peaks reach as high as 7500m (the famed Gongga Shan/Minya Konka). Consequently, the roads are often narrow and under construction, needing repair from the constant landslides, waterfall, and occasional earthquakes that define the region.
But about the ice itself.
Virtually all of the valley’s ice forms at low elevations, but “low” is being used comparatively, here. With peaks averaging 5000-6000 meters, the valley itself sits anywhere from 3300-3700 meters, meaning that those folks of the ice persuasion arriving from the lowlands (I’m looking at my home ice folk in New Hampshire), will probably need to take altitude into consideration when trying to crank out some steep ice.
Strangely, the ice does not usually form up high. The winters in the area are known to be dry, so the ice actually begins forming in the late fall. But unlike the ice that forms in many places around the United States, the ice is often not accompanied by large amounts of snowfall. Instead, Shuangqiao is often bone dry in the winter, with most of the active water becoming locked up in the ice routes that line the valley. Instead, you get dry grassland (dotted with yaks) with easy access up the valley hills to the base of the climbing.
Being the center of Chinese climbing, Shuangqiaogou is already heavily developed with ice routes. There are about 30 routes in the valley and the vast majority of them are multipitch. There’s even a guidebook for ice climbing in the valley available for free download (don’t get used to free things in China, by the way).
The nice thing about the valley is that there is something for everyone: moderate (but still long) WI3 lines to pumpy, steep WI6; again, most of them are a MULTIPITCH awesomeness. A small but active group of local and foreign climbers have even been putting up some mixed and drytooling routes in one section of the valley called the Fairy Cave.
Essentially, the ice here is a great place to learn and improve your skills on multpitch ice. The approaches are often mellow up dirt and, sometimes, scree to the base of the routes. If the need arises, bailing is often manageable, as the routes often stay below the treeline, allowing a few Scottish-style turf sticks to reach a belay or rappel tree.
If you get the hunger for alpine, look in the back of the valley. All the peaks in the front half of the valley are shale, but those in the back half—and extending into the neighboring valley of Changpingou （昌平沟） (home of the famous Four Sisters massif) are GRANITE.
However, with all of this ice paradise surrounding you, there is a price to pay. Chinese national parks have become monetized destinations for both the corporate tourism groups who run them and the locals whose roots in the valley go back for generations.
Check out below to see some of the route highlights from our travels around Shuangqiaogou.
Life in Shuangqiaogou
Eat. Sleep. Ice climb. Repeat.
So far, we have hit up some of the more moderate ice falls in the valley. Being predominantly rock climbers, Nico and I have not been on ice in about a year. All things considered, we still have pushed ourselves into some challenging situations. Nico was the first to bag a WI4 pitch, climbing a wet, mushroomy pitch close to our hostel. I later followed up with a crux pitch of a four-pitch multipitch called Ginseng Plate further in the valley. Of course, we have played around on many moderate multipitches. We have even squeezed in a bit of mixed and drytooling, though we are now paying for it in the form of blunt crampons that need daily sharpening…
The climbs are, for the most part, a bit dry. Talking with the local guides, it looks like this winter has been unusually dry. Many ice climbs on the west side of the valley are not fully formed, and a few on the east side require a little bit of mixed climbing to access the good ice; that was the case with Ginseng Plate. But our time here so far has been a good session in improving our ice efficiency on carious ice types. We have gone up everything from slushy, mushy ice over rock to steep curtains to bullet-hard alpine ice.
The peaks above the valley, which were fairly snowy when I visited a week and a half before this climbing trip, are now virtually stripped clean of snow, except their permanent/long-term snowfields. Potentially good for alpine rock?
Apparently, the snowy season is early spring, when the “mini-monsoon” cycle begins to kick in. What falls as rain in the Chengdu Basin to the east falls as heavy snow in the mountains to the west.
So far, we have been living in the van at the hostel—we paid a refundable 1000RMB deposit to drive the car in. We ended up staying the second of the big hostels （王幺客栈） in the only town in the valley (see info below) and have thoroughly enjoyed hanging our with our hostel. The host of the hostel is a zany Sichuanese man who enjoys talking in an outrageous voice when speaking Mandarin; his native language is a regional dialect of Sichuan Chinese (often called 四川话/Sìchānhuà that is often mostly unintelligible for students of Chinese). He will often break out into random song and accost you to say something unintelligible in his native tongue. Of course, he seems to mean it all in jest, as he, his wife, and his daughter have been nothing but kind to me and Nico.
If you’re interested in heading out to this part of the world to climb ice, read on below to find out a little on the logistics of getting to and staying in Shuangqiaogou.
The Costs and the Paperwork
Getting to Shuangqiaogou （双桥沟）is probably the cheaper item on this list. From Chengdu （成都）, you need to get to Rilong, the nearest large town to the Shuangqiaogou valley. Any of thte major bus stations in Chengdu will probably have a bus or large van departing for Rilong （日龙）, since it is a fairly big tourist destination; however in winter, these may be less frequent since most of the valley’s visitors are ice climbers, of which China has few.
Before you depart, make sure you have plenty of cash, as there is no way to obtain any without leaving the valley once you enter. If you ever leave the park and want to re-enter, you have to buy another ticket. Yay, China!
The ride itself is 5-6 hours depending on the road conditions and the relative insanity of your Chinese driver: after the first hour from Chengdu, the road turns to mud and rock as it passes through a 25km construction zone in a huge mountain gorge. Apparently, they are building a huge hydroelectric plant to feed the needs of Chengdu and the surrounding cities like Ya’an （雅安）.
When you get to the entrance gate, you will need to whip out your (currently fat) wallet and prepare yourself to sign some waivers. Ironically, liability law is something that is a relative joke in China. Activities like gym climbing require no waivers; China isn’t litigation trigger-happy like we Americans are... Yet Shuangqiaogou is one of the few places where the officials make you sign waivers and indicate that you have some form of insurance. Fair enough, when you consider that any accident in this area of China is fairly high-profile, given that the whole of Siguniang National Park (which contains Shuanqiaogou) is among China’s most famous.
At the gate, you will pay 220 RMB for an entrance ticket and ice climbing privileges for 3 days. You can also buy a multi-use (2x) bus ticket for 70 RMB. Once those ice climbing privileges expire, it is an additional 30 RMB per day of ice climbing. There is a possibility in the winter of driving a private car in, but you are required to park and leave it at your hostel. You also have to shell out a 1000RMB deposit that you will get back at the end of your trip, provided you don’t try to drive your car further into the park.
Once inside the park, you have two primary options for lodging: Five-Color Peak Guesthouse or the Yaomei Hostel. There are a few other options in the town if these two are full, but these two hostels have the best accommodations and are the most popular with ice climbers, so they are both great options if you are looking to meet Chinese and foreign climbers alike.
Prices range from 70RMB-100RMB per person per night. The final price will depend on your negotiating skills and how busy they are when you arrive. Meals cost 15-30RMB per person per night depending on the meal.
If you want a ride from hostel owners to you destination, it is 100RMB for the day, and they will pick you up at the end of the day, too. This option is, in the long run, more expensive than the bus, but the buses are infrequent and lazy during the winter season; the lack of tourists and the little prospect of large profits means the bus drivers often show up 30 minutes to 1 hour later than an agreed time you arrange with them by phone. They also stop running by 4:45pm in the winter, meaning that if you are late coming off a big multipitch, you might have to huff it 20km+ out of the valley and back to your hostel. And honestly, why not give your local hostel owner the business anyway?
All in all, be prepared to spend 1000RMB-1500RMB per person for a week in Shuangqiaogou, provided you are climbing independently without a guide. If you are in from the States on an ice climbing vacation, this will be absurdly cheap and you will be in Heaven. For dirtbag climbers, you will still probably grumble.
There are a few other miscellaneous expenses that you may or may not encounter during your travels in the valley. If you want a local guide, that will set you back 300-400RMB per day. That being said, I am assuming those of you wanting to make the jump across the Pacific for ice climbing will want to venture out on your own. If you decide to walk further into the park past the second entrance gate, you will have to register and pay a 500RMB refundable “smoking deposit.” Though most of us Western climbers don’t smoke, it is far more prevalent among Chinese climbers; in the valley, it won’t be uncommon to see some local guides sipping Baijiu (think Chinese Tequila but worse-tasting) and dragging on a cigarette after a day of climbing with clients. Ergo, the smoking deposit is really meant to discourage local climbers from chucking out there used butts and, potentially, starting a fire on the dry valley floor.
To keep it simple, here’s a quick reference of the costs of ice climbing in the valley.
- Money conversion: 1 USD = 6.2 RMB
- Entry ticket + 3 days of ice climbing privilege: 220 RMB
- Bus Ticket: 70 RMB for 2 round trip fares
- Additional days of climbing privileges: 30 RMB per day
- Hostel prices: 70-100 RMB per night
- In-house meals: 15-30 RMB per meal
- Hiring a ride from hostel owners or their friends: 100 RMB (can be split between the number of people riding in the van)
- Optional private vehicle entry deposit: 1000 RMB (refundable when you leave with receipt)
- Independent entry (i.e. without locals or guides) 'no smoking' deposit: 500 RMB (refundable when you leave with receipt)
- Local guide services: 300-400 RMB per day
With all of these fees and documents you have to sign, you might feel a bit daft if you want to jump through all of these hoops just to ice climb. It may seem, initially, as madness. But there may be a reason to all of the madness. If you care to read on, you can find some thoughts on the nature of Chinese national parks.
Thoughts on the Nature of Shuangqiaogou and Chinese National Parks
First, the 麻烦／máfàn.
Oh, the mafan.
It is a word that foreigners become all too accustomed to when living in China. For those of you new to the Chinese language, “mafan” is a term that encompasses all sorts of arbitrary barriers and annoyances that seem to dog foreigners wherever they go. Whether its gtting registration papers for a car or entering Shuangqiogou for ice climbing, the mafan follows you in China. It is a fact of life here, yet it should not dissuade those of you looking to come over here for the first time. Oftentimes, you make a Chinese friend who can lend a hand, and, to be honest, you develop a life skill; we Westerners are often far too polite when dealing with items like prices and bills. Dealing with mafan in China will hone your skills and negotiating and break down your hesitation to push for exactly what you want in a run-of-the-mill business transaction.
But what does this mean for Shuangqiaogou?
The mafan is unavoidable. But again, in China it is a fact of life. And it manifests itself in a very uncomfortable way for those of us used to unhindered access to our favorite climbing areas back home.
For us, national parks are a common good. Though they are, in reality, paid for by our tax dollars behind-the-scenes, national parks are something recognized in the US as something for everyone, and therefore it should not have burdens that might limit access for some of the populace.
What’s at the core of all this? Ultimately, it is an ideal. As Americans (or Western folk, for that matter), we look at a common good like a national park and see its beauty as something that possesses inherent value; the value of nature is something that the US as a country has come to protect. Of course, it was not always easy. The value of nature was something that was argued in the court system all the ay up to the Supreme Court in the 80s and 90s (for example, the court case ordering Los Angeles to rewater Mono Lake in Eastern California after partly draining the lake to feed its voracious growth needs).
However the current standard, by and large, recognizes wilderness areas as something that may be preserved for the enjoyment of the people who use it. We recognize places like Yosemite or Mount Rainier National Park as something that should not be directly profited from. That being said, there are exceptions. Private concessioners like the famed Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite is a for-profit enterprise within the park, and Yosemite itself has been heavily developed to accommodate the millions of tourists who pass through every year. But the development within national parks in the US often falls within a context of conservation: develop the park for use and enjoyment by people, yet at the same time make a conscious and practical effort to have that development co-exist and have a lesser impact on the nature that surrounds it. it is for that reason, places like Inyo National Forest in California issue wag bags and stipulate that waste has to be packed out and disposed of at the trailhead. Equivalent efforts do not really exist on this side of the Pacific. Signs that are put up telling visitors not to litter in Chinese national parks are laughably ineffective; oftentimes, there will be many articles of garbage right next to the sign...
With China, the profit motive gets put on steroids, in a sense, and the development comes first—far before any consideration for the consequences posed to the natural environment around it. As far as I have seen, there is no real ideal in China that recognizes the inherent value and beauty of wild places. I am sure that, if you dig deep enough, you can find some examples in Chinese literature that espouse nature’s beauty, but in practice, it looks like the Chinese development model for national parks is one of profit and monetization.
And this development model bears out in how parks are developed. They are often run by corporate tourism groups who contract out to builders and locals to make the park suitable for the average Chinese tourist. What does that model look like in practice? Hotels and guesthouses are everywhere; paved roads are the predominant way to get to a destination within the area; “trails” are more akin to boardwalks and concrete paths, with routes up mountains and hillsides bearing stone paths and steps all the way to the top.
Americans/Westerners might experience a revulsion at first: all of this mafan, all of these pay barriers, all of the construction, the garbage the litters many of China’s hiking trails. It seems to be the complete opposite of everything we hold dear about national parks. Some might assume that it is a function of the age of China’s parks system. It has existed as a formal institution only since 1982 when Zhángjiājiē/张家界 became the country’s first national park. But it does not seem that, with the opening of new parks, that the folks charged with national park development have acted precipitously. Hotels continue to be built, poor infrastructure continues to persist, and concrete flows into parks like water. More and more natural areas—Getu, Shuangqiaogou, Cangshan, Wanxianshan—are starting to sport an aesthetic more akin to an amusement park more than a national park.
I could rant on and on about what we might think of as the ‘gross injustices’ that are being inflicted on the environment in China, but there is another interesting side to this whole development process. To our sensibilities, destroying all of this natural environment feels like a violation of everything we have come to value about national parks. But that is just the point, these are just values: intangible items that inherently have no value unless we assign them value through a bizarrely complex and oftentimes inconsistent set of thoughts that somehow miraculously hold themselves together in some sort of a coherent argument.
It is that abstract nature that makes it ridiculous to impose on the Chinese development model. From the Chinese perspective (of course, take this with a grain of salt since I am, too, an outsider), it is about time to make practical gains from beautiful places like Shuangqiaogou.
The zeitgeist in China is one of high times: the economy is booming—especially compared to the sluggish American economy—and there are more people than ever in China who possess disposable income. That extra money is fair game for those who can attract that money.
The folks in Shuangqiaogou and other Chinese national parks alike know that there is a vast amount of money to be made in tourism attracting all of this new disposable income. The locals are not going to waste their time agonizing over abstract concepts of the inherent value of nature. They have a very real chance to improve their historically low incomes (since national parks are often out in rural places) by catering to this new demographic of people.
So, you might think that this motivation is horrible: wantonly wrecking natural areas in order to make a profit. We oftentimes look at situations like this one and villainize the profit motive, especially at nature’s expense.
But there is a flip-side to that argument, and it may seem cras at first: WHY NOT?
These locals—and to a lesser extent the individuals who populate the tourism groups that run the park—have a chance that their parents and grandparents did not.
Let’s take a step back and look at a comparative context back in time. First, go back to the early 20th century. When Teddy Roosevelt was popularizing the idea of national parks and taking his “rough rider” pictures atop the cliffs of Yosemite with his cowboy hat, China was in the throes of political turmoil; the dynastic system was collapsing and the whole country was turning into an anarchy run by warlords.
In the 50s, when times were good in post-war America and people had the means to travel to Yosemite and other national parks, millions of Chinese were dying from starvation and revolutionary reactionism during Mao’s Great Leap Forward and, later, the Cultural Revolution.
In the 80s, when we were arguing in a civilized courtroom over whether the Great Spotted Owl is worth protecting from deforestation and possible extinction, China was just stepping out into the brave new world of a globalized economy. Conservation and natural beautywas likely not on the minds of many when the prospect of life then was one finally without the fear of Communist extremism no longer lording over the heads of many.
You might ask: “So what? Where does this leave us in our Shuangqiaogou conversation?”
Shuangqiaogou, like all of the Chinese national parks opening up to Chinese and foreign tourists alike are the product of their times. They are an asset to people who have not historically had such an opportunity to make money. They are also an asset to the people who patronize them. Many Chinese have not historically had the money to go on holiday, especially deep into what were once inaccessible wild regions within the country.
The opportunity is there for all parties. Why would—or should—they stop developing national parks in the name of some abstract idea of conservation imported by a bunch of idealistic foreigners? There is a practicality--even if purely profit-driven--in all of this change in China's national parks. It may be a disappointment to us, but to be disappointed with it will rob us of the ability to enjoy the still-wild parts of these parks and the still-wild parts of China, of which there is still a lot.
Granted, there is a rising sense of urgency in recent years about the state of China’s environment, but that is a can of worms we will save for another time.
Ultimately, the story ends with China doing what China does. Academics in all fields have tried to explain its behaviors with paradigms that cater to our Western sensibilities. You can be indignant or incredulous with the ludicrous development that goes on in Chinese parks, or you can go to them and seek out our own adventure. It is still there, you just have to venture a little further off the beaten, often concrete, path to find it.
Stay tuned for our adventures further west towards 甘孜 (Gānzē). We are hoping to hit up a valley between Kawarani (5992m) and Chola Shan 1 (6162m). Rumor has it that there are granite peaks 5000m-6000m that have plenty of untapped routes!
Peace and good climbing.
Ryder and Nico
Haba Xueshan: Route Beta!
We have just posted the most up-to-date information on the Normal Route for Haba. Click on the image below or follow this link to read up on the route. We also have plenty of new info on places to stay and all of the prices for services and accommodations while in the Haba region!
Haba Xueshan （哈巴雪山 || 5396m/17807 ft.) Expedition 2014
Haba Xueshan forms the northern wall of China's famous Tiger Leaping Gorge along with Jade Dragon Mountain to the south. This trip was one of two high peak trips I led in the area in October. Haba is one of the first truly high peaks in China when coming from the east and is constantly enveloped in enormous clouds. Our trip was lucky enough to have visibility over 100 miles out to the Tibetan border!