"China doesn’t feature at the top of every climber’s destination list, it’s a country better known for its Great Wall than its great rock. But Yangshuo, China’s premier sport-climbing destination is quickly developing into the epicentre of sport climbing in Asia, with its huge range of bolted lines and abundance of new route potential.
It’s fair to say China isn’t the most accessible area to travel to. Shortly after arriving I had serious doubts about what I was doing aboard an overfilled sleeper bus at night with no understanding of Mandarin, no knowledge of the country and eighty metres of rope to tie-in to, but no-one to hold the other end.
China can be a real attack on the senses; the bright lights, loud noises and humid smoggy air can be a little overwhelming. In most parts of China people won’t speak a word of English. You can’t afford to be too picky about what you eat and unless you can read Chinese characters it’s hard to know what you’re eating. But since tourism has boomed in Yangshuo, here is the exception and it can feel like a ‘refuge’. The famous landscape of stunning karst limestone peaks, which features on the back of the ¥20 note, draws visitors from all over China and the rest of the world, turning Yangshuo into a real tourist hub.
This makes Yangshuo a perfect starting place for travelling in China. It has all of the wonderful weirdness of China with the essential comforts that make a climbing trip a holiday. On arrival, I wondered why I had flown several thousand miles and spent money on a visa to visit this country, but upon touching rock it became clear that Yangshuo isn’t just a traveller’s sanctuary but a climbing haven.
Dangling from the huge limestone arch that crowns Moon Hill, I remember that this is why I’m a climber, and this is why I’m in China! It was worth the ten-hour flight to swing between tufas and stalactites with a forest of green-and-white karst towers covering the landscape for miles in every direction. Far removed from the hustle and bustle of the town centre, the crags are nestled amongst orchards, paddy fields and 30,000 other contorted limestone peaks.
It’s important to note that Yangshuo has a spread of grades for every climber. There are 750+ sport routes ranging from 3+ to 9a+ and still plenty more waiting to be developed. There are 40+ crags, some favouring more/less experienced climbers and others that have a decent spread of grades for a mixed-ability group. The weather is quite variable, with optimal climbing season arriving around Autumn. But year-round, in the rain or in the sun, there’s climbing to be done in Yangshuo. Guidebooks can be found locally but the 2017 guidebook will be sold overseas to bring Yangshuo closer to the rest of the world.
Rest days can be spent riding around the countryside on bikes or scooters, visiting nearby caves and tourist attractions or simply sitting in cafes drinking tea and reading your book. For food, you can eat cheaply with local Guilin rice noodles, or as a group, feast on a variety of Chinese dishes shared in the middle of your table. Alternatively, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants serving western food and a number of bars where you can meet other climbers and share beta.
There’s no shortage of accommodation in Yangshuo. A popular choice for climbers is Climbers Inn, where transport is arranged every morning to whichever crags climbers are visiting. A cheap alternative for those staying for longer than a couple of weeks is to rent an apartment in town. If you’re not sharing a taxi/minibus to the crag then weaving between Chinese traffic on a scooter or a bike is a memorable experience, although this will likely be the most dangerous part of your sport climbing trip.
Yangshuo isn’t a quiet retreat, but it’s an exciting place to be and the abundance of quality sport climbing in the area makes it a top destination for Chinese and foreign climbers alike. Climbing is a unique way to experience rural China and the karst landscapes surrounding Yangshuo are some of the best China has to offer. If you can tie-in to a rope and use chopsticks, you’re going to have a good time here."
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