I remember as a child watching ‘Journey to the West’, a famous old Chinese story featuring a stone monkey with super powers, fantastical monsters and even more surreal and fantastic landscapes. Who knew one day, climbing would take me to that same landscape.
We started our journey in Hong Kong. We could have flown to any of the major cities in China but we had heard that there was a lot of good climbing in Hong Kong, most of it very close to the city centre. However, with jet lag setting in and limited time to explore the concrete and glass jungle, we chose to do a bit of sightseeing and dumpling eating instead, before taking the one-hour flight to Guilin, the gateway to Yangshou.
The amazing karst towers of Yangshuo came into view as we left Guilin airport, the multitude and vastness of this was lost on us as the sun set and we were left to watch the lights of passing traffic.
Yangshuo is a major holiday destination for mainland China, outnumbering the foreign tourists who come to explore the cycling and walking trails as well as taking the famous bamboo rafts along the Yulong river. The level of English spoken in the town centre is excellent and most of the restaurants had English translations on the menu, although sometimes it seems more like Chinglish so you still don’t quite know what you're getting!
We booked a hostel just 20 minutes outside the city centre as we'd heard that it could get potentially noisy in the evening due to the many bars and clubs in town. As luck would have it the owners of the hostel were also climbers, and they organised a scooter for us to rent, as this would be the best way to access the majority of the climbing. (Note: riding a scooter in China involves a lot of dodging - dodging cars, other scooters, people, random animals, big pot holes…so if you have a little bit of the artful dodger in you it should be fine, otherwise there are bicycles and taxis that can be taken to the crags).
As the temperature hit 30°C with humidity set to 100% we headed to our first crag, Wine Bottle. This is one of the easiest crags to find as it’s situated along the main tourist road out of town and opposite a huge butterfly sculpture. As we rode out of the town centre the horizon full of limestone towers loomed all around us, most covered in greenery, however the rock that was exposed looked absolutely amazing. For anyone wanting to put up new routes this would surely be the place to go, as the potential is there as far as the eye could see.
We had heard that the grading was a little stiffer than those found in either Thailand or Greece, which is what we attributed falling off most things at Wine Bottle down to, or it could be the sweaty crux that was encountered halfway up the routes.
The rest of the first week was spent following our hosts Daniel and Frieda to different crags. They must have known we would get lost trying to find the different areas, even with a guidebook the majority of the crags needed local knowledge to find.
The climbing was varied, there was technical face climbing on small crimps and tufas at Swiss Cheese and Spearhead; long, massive and pumpy roof climbing at the famous Moon Hill; some very 3D manoeuvres at Treasure Cave and the very stiff grades at Lai Pi Shan where all the locals hang out on their projects.
Just as we were getting used to vertical bikram yoga, the second week brought cooler weather, 21-25 degrees of relief took us to white mountain, an impressive face that got more overhanging and harder as you progressed along it. Many years could be spent just at this one crag, however we only had another week left to try get in another few places. This took us to Baby Frog which contained some friendly grades, and the many faces of White Cliff and Banyan Tree (which famously has an 8a trad route put up by Steve McClure, the locals thinking they were doing him a favour bolted it later!).
As the trip drew to a close, we realised that we had not even begun to explore some of the non-climbing related things to do, as well as leaving a trail of routes to finish. It’s always good to have lots to come back for.
Try the local dish of beerfish, bring a clipstick some of the first bolts are pretty high, go and see the large local market, (not for the faint hearted). A huge thank you to Daniel, Frieda and Chocolate the poodle at the Stonebridge Hostel for showing us around, belaying us, cooking the best fried ribs ever and making us feel at home.
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