Sport Climbing in Yangshuo, Chinaby Tom Skelhon Jan/2014
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Yangshuo is a new destination to climbers, but with it's high quality climbing, wide variety of styles, stunning scenery and the added positives of being a little off the beaten track and culturally very different, it is gaining popularity with more and more climbers heading there. Tom Skelhon gives a little more information on why Yangshuo is a must-visit area.
Situated in rural Southern China, Yangshuo sits nestled amongst 30,000 karst limestone towers providing some of SE Asia’s best sport climbing. Immersed in eastern culture and breathtaking surroundings, climbing in Yangshuo offers far more than our own European hot rock venues. The area is a popular tourist destination for Chinese and foreign folk alike, who come for the unique scenery which is imprinted on every ¥20 note. As such, the town has a vibrant cosmopolitan feel with a mixture of East and West influence featuring traditional restaurants and street vendors to karaoke bars and western style drinking holes. In contrast, a short distance away from the hustle and bustle of Yangshuo, the climbing venues are situated in peaceful rural settings, overlooking fruit orchards and paddy fields.
Climbing development was initiated by the famous Todd Skinner, who in the early 1990’s put up classic lines at Moon Hill and Banyan Tree. Since then, bolting in the area has seen an explosion with many new lines being put up every year, thanks to a dedicated team of Chinese and Western
developers. Now, over one thousand bolted lines have been documented.
The climbing is divided into over 25 main crags – each a separate karst tower with its own style and aspect. With a vast number of routes available, the grading runs the full length of the scale although it is often difficult to find a wide range of grades at a single venue. The climbing style between crags varies considerably with Moon Hill giving Kalymnos-esque overhanging tufa pulling on routes such as Over the Moon, 7b+, Moonwalker, 7c, and Red Dragon, 7b+. Conversely, slopey jug lines can be found at White Mountain with China White, 7b, Gin and Tonic, 8a, and uber classic Yangshuo Hotel, 7b, also home to China’s hardest route Spicy Noodle, 8c+. Despite its proximity to a road, Lei Pi Shan is seen by some as the jewel of the Yangshuo scene with steep crimpy offerings including Single Life, 8a, Thunder, 7c, and Singularity, 7b, with the additional bonus of day-round shade on hot days.
Many quality lines in the 6s can also be found at numerous crags in the area. ‘The Egg’ with bolting around the entire circumference of the tower provides excellent climbing on hot days with routes such as Eggstreme Exposure, 6a, and Pulling Perfection, 6a+. On the other side of Yangshuo, Wine Bottle’ crag with Where’s the Jug, 6b+, The Great Wall, 6c+, and Tension, 6c, gives a whole row of great routes. For those starting out, ‘Swiss Cheese’ crag is a great beginner’s venue, with plenty in the 4+ to 6a range.
Despite the vast majority of routes being single pitch (or extension) sport routes, there are a few multipitch routes around. Grandfathered Inn, 6a+, a fully equipped 6 pitch route gives the rare opportunity to summit one of the towers. However, if a trad rack can be procured The Witch Woman of the Rock, E1 5b, at Brave New World is a great distraction from bolt clipping.
When do I go?
Prime season runs from September to December with November providing the best conditions. Earlier than September is too warm and beyond December, the weather becomes very wet. Avoid the national holidays – namely ‘Golden Week’ in the autumn where thousands of Chinese tourists descend on the town, bringing the town to standstill (alongside the ubiquitous price hikes).
How to get there?
The most convenient method involves flying to Guilin Airport, 65km from Yangshuo. There are no direct flights from the UK to Guilin, but there are many connecting flights from Hong Kong and Beijing. Once in Guilin, regular buses run the 90 minute journey to Yangshuo. For the real tourist experience, take a 6 hour ferry ride down the river Li from Guilin instead.
Alternatively, a flight to Hong Kong, followed by a bus or train can often be cheaper, and provide additional sightseeing opportunities taking advantage of Hong Kong’s no-visa entry requirements. In Hong Kong cross the land border into Shenzhen, mainland China where many overnight sleeper bus services run direct to Yangshuo. Overnight sleeper trains also run from Shenzhen to Guilin, where a short bus ride completes the journey.
Plenty of information on the logistics of getting from Hong Kong to Yangshuo can be found on the internet.
Once in Yangshuo, getting to the crags involves either cycling or taking a taxi/charter bus, all of which are inexpensive. However, taking a bike is the best way to drink in the scenery.
Citizens of most western nations will require a visa to enter China (but not Hong Kong). 30 day tourist visas are simple and relatively cheap to obtain for UK citizens, from CVASC. If travelling over land from Hong Kong to Yangshuo, either a basic knowledge of Mandarin/Cantonese, or some flash cards with useful phrases and locations would be prudent as the standard of spoken English outside of Hong Kong and Yangshuo is very limited.
What's the scoff like?
There is a wide variety of restaurants offering authentic local dishes (thousand year old egg or dog hot pot anyone?) to full on western food as well the choice to suit all budgets. For those on the cheap, filling stir-fry and rice can be found around town for ¥ 10 (£1). Generally, ¥ 20-40 will cover dinner in most restaurants, including the western style establishments. Minority (Western/Chinese), Cloud 9 (Chinese), Pure Lotus (vegetarian only Chinese) and Rock ‘n’ Grill (Western) are safe bets for good food. Yangshuo also boasts a vibrant party scene with no shortage of climbers, travellers and locals keen for a good time. Try Demo, Rusty Bolt and the Bookshop bar, although Mojo does have a
Which guide do I buy?
A comprehensive English guidebook named ‘Yangshuo Rock Climbs’ by Tyson Wallace is available from cafes, bars, hostels and climbing shops all over Yangshuo for the reasonable price of 120 RMB (£12). The topo is updated every year owing to the ongoing development of the area and all of the profits go back into the bolting fund, so it’s best to purchase the newest edition in town on arrival.
Where do I stay?
If staying for less than a month, there is only one hostel I can recommend: The Climbers’ Inn in the centre of town run by Lilly. It’s friendly, cheap, clean and safe – pretty decent for ¥35 a night. Those
What else is there apart from the climbing?
There is no shortage of distractions for days off climbing. During the autumn, the terraced rice paddy fields at Longsheng before harvest are a spectacular sight. Equally, an afternoon spent cruising the river Li on a bamboo raft to Fu Li is well worth doing. For an active rest day, try hiring a bicycle and riding around the rural areas around Yangshuo. Alternatively, jump on the tourist bandwagon and visit the local attractions such as ‘pocket kingdom’ (a village of small people), butterfly cave (exactly what it says on the tin) and the ‘Impression Sanjie Liu’ evening light show on the river. If for some reason there is a craving for plastic, a small bouldering wall can be found at Rock Abond’s Bar with an interesting evening atmosphere of beer swilling and campus training!
Tom is an avid climber, skier and mountaineer who has successfully avoided a real job thanks to
university for over 8 years. His love of trad, sport, winter, mixed, ice, DWS and high altitude climbing
have taken him all over the world, from Peru, Morocco, the Alps, Cheddar and most recently China.
He also climbs regularly in the West Country and Wales. You can keep track of his ‘outdoor pursuits’ here.