Sunday, 30 May 2010


I spent two full days in Zhongdian. It's a pleasant place. But to my surprise it's really more of a city containing an old town sector. On arrival in the North side bus station the breeze-block-cement revolution of China is clear to see. Taking the 1¥, 1, 2 or 3 bus down the main street toward the Old town in the south, the size of the place is evident- 120,000 people live here now and immediately I was a little disappointed.

Despite this, the first thing that struck me about the old town is how empty and devoid of tourists it is. For all the efforts of the locals who have setup nearly every building to sell "rare" Tibetan trinkets and also notably the name change- Zhongdian became Shangrila- the boom that has struck neighbouring Dali and Lijiang has yet to arrive here and the streets feel like a ghost town in waiting.

All the same the old town does retain some charm. The cobbled streets are lined with wooden houses, with a few traditionally built Tibetan buildings on display. Roughly off the back of the old town is the monastery which sits proudly over the maze of cobbled streets. Its certainly worth a visit and is probably the best bit of the old town.

Tibetan Temple, Old Town

Aside from this you can visit the Shangzelin Monastery. At 85¥ its a little steep. But apparently you can walk through the ticket area quite easily, from there its a 10-min walk up to the monastery. Sadly I only saw it from a distance. But the building looks amazing and it seems to be enclosed within its own little town.

Over my two days here, I have come to the conclusion that the best bits of this and future towns I visit will be in the surrounding landscape which is nothing short of phenomenal. On the second day we took a ride to the Napa Lake, which sadly costs 30¥ per person to visit. This seemed like a totally unreasonable fee and we decided better of it. But on the 10km walk back the environ really struck me. The plaines are so vast, the colours so rich and earthy, yak and horses roam the plains, Gompa's top the hills and the clouds- reminiscent of a wild west film really set the scene. I felt truly content on that walk!

Where I stayed:
Kevin's Trekkers Inn, Dorm 25¥
Run by Kevin and his wife, who speak excellent English and can provide lots of information about the area. With a good choice of coffee, some tasty food and free Wi-Fi. Highly recommended.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Leaving Yangshuo

Today I left Yangshuo. Arriving on the 26th March, my stay is a day
short of 9-weeks. Yangshuo has been good to me. The climbing has been
excellent. White Mountain will certainly rank high on the top 5 crags
worldwide list for sometime. While the elusive Lei Pi Shan pump fest
route, Singularity will no doubt burn a hole in my memory for some
months to come. But then nobody leaves a crag with a full tick list-
You just have to remember not to be too precious about these things!
And Yangshuo marks a huge step forward in my steady 6b/c grade, 7b
onsight and 7b+ worked.

But Yangshuo was a lot more than climbing. In my time here myself and
Stacey propped up the ChinaClimb bar, The Lizard Lounge. It was really
a perfect setup- a couple of shifts a week, in return for accommodation
and a paycheck which allowed us to live sustainably. The people of
ChinaClimb were good to us, we have some good friends here now and I
will always feel I have a little place I could call home in this huge
country. Big up China Climb!!!

Of course Yangshuo is not short of good places to eat and drink. In
our time here we developed a little circuit of favorite places to eat
and drink.

On an average climbing day, Gan's Noodles was our first regular. Their
Lanzhuo Style Noodles and Jiaozi (steamed dumplings) are off the hook!
Next up has to be our little obsession with Mamba Milk Tea from the
Ice House. Ask any western person residing in Yangshuo and they all
know 'The Claypot', strange since everybody actually means the place
next door called, 'Earthenware pot'. Regardless the selection of tasty-
fine rice bowls with selected toppings is a sure-fire hit. My
favorite, Eggplant, Potatoes and Green Peppers- 8Kwai- boom! Breakfast
should be spelt 'MC Blues'. As a place to meet friends pre-climbing
and feast first it's hard to beat, "Ba Kwai Omellete Xie Xie"!

We had a number of other places which made up our rest day circuit.
For lunch the noodles behind the Ice House, just down the road from
McDonald's. A serving consists of noodles, peanuts, cabbage, fried
crispy tofu and a protein rich fried egg, served up in a tasty spicy
soup- unquestionably my favorite dish in Yangshuo, 5¥. if your looking
to burn a few hours watching a movie, cruising free wi-fi, writing your
diary or brushing up on your mandarin, Mimosa or Yangshuo 11 Hotel
near Monkey Janes is the spot.

And finally where does one drink!? Pick of the bunch has to be Monkey
Janes. It's mix of rooftop location, 'Beer Pong', suitably loud
popular rock music and the occasional DnB or breaks track make it a
firm favorite. We also had a few drinks, a game of pool and a
Wednesday night quiz at Bar 98.

All in the mix of world class climbing, breathtaking and unique
landscapes, tasty food and a solid community of good people and
climbers makes Yangshuo a very sound destination. I look forward to
returning. 2011!??

Monday, 24 May 2010

Longshen Rice Terraces

23rd-24th May- Yangshuo to Longshen Rice Terraces

The journey to Longsheng got off to a late start, rising at 9.30
instead of 6.30 put us a few hours behind. But it wasn't long before
we were on our way and the morning sun greeted us through the glorious
rich blue atmosphere above us- the odd few White fluffy clouds and
stratus striations so uncommon in Yangshuo in Spring stayed with us
for the remainder of our 2-day excursion.

The journey is quite painless. 15Y to Guilin- 1.5Hr- Regular. 27Y to
Longshen- 2Hr. And finally hop on a bus to either Ping'an or Dazhai.
We opted for the latter as its smaller and far less setup for tourism.

The landscape undergoes a marked change as you approach Longshen. The
sharp rugged karsts give way to rolling hills with lush green bamboo
forrests and plantations covering the sides. Our road cuts through the
landscape with the only other variation being the terraced hill sides
which appear at irregular intervals. A hint of what I am expecting to
view in abundance further up the road.

Dazhai doesn't dissapoint and having wondered up the paths through the
heart of the terraces we find a spot for lunch overlooking vast
surrounding valleys, dotted with farmers diligently tending their
terraces. Dazhai is empty, but it seems setup in anticipation of the
volume of tourists we later encounter at Ping'an, but the fact is when
we passed through we were the only western people in sight.

The terraced valleys are awe inspiring. Its hard to comprehend the man-
power involved in building and maintaining the land. From the Dazhai
side of the rice terraces there are 3 viewing areas. You can walk to
each from the main village in 1.5hrs and between them in less.

Accomodation options are plentiful. That evening we took a bed in
Tiantou village, perched high up in the terraces overlooking Dazhai.
Rooms could be cheaper, we paid 60¥ for a double with bathroom.

The following day we made an early start and walked 30-mins up hill to
watch the sunrise at viewing post 1. You cannot view the sun from it's
low point on the horizon due to surrounding hills. None-the-less the
crisp morning light and orange glow on the hill side to the east is
worth it. The reflections in the terrace water are magical!

We then spent a leisurely morning on our guesthouse terrace reading. I
finshed Philip Pullmans, 'His Dark Materials' trilogy. Which I must
highly recommend to all, Lyra and Wills journey through the three
books is as epic as the scale of the terraces which surrounded me. The
hike from Dazhai to Ping'an is highly recommend. With an early start
you can complete the journey at a comfortable pace with plenty of time
to try to absorb the scale of the landscape, interact with the local
minority people and explore the intricate alleys in the numerous small
villages you pass along the way.

After around 4-5hours you arrive at the upper crest of the valley
surrounding Ping'an. From here there are a further 3-viewing stations.
Buy an ice cream and sit high on the valleyside watching the farmers
work the land before descending down the steps into Ping'an. Here you
have he option to stay in one of the countless guesthouses or catch a
bus back to Longshen. Buses are not very regular so we waited a little
over an hour with a few beers and discussed the days events.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Piling on the pounds in Yangshuo

It's May 11th and I've now been in Yangshuo since late March. 7-weeks ago when I arrived I was weak as a kitten, still recovering from the ugly affair of malaria in India. Hampi had sucked me dry. At the time of my arrival in Hong Kong on the 13th March I weighed 63kilos. At 6ft you can imagine the scrawny wreck that I appeared of the plane in Norman Fosters Hong Kong International Airport. Hong Kong was a welcomed return to order, familiar urban planning and some ease on my fear of the airborne malarial vermin mosquito's of India.

7-weeks later and I weight a more respectable 69kilos, I have a rather long beard and I generally cut a more healthy figure. My tick list is growing and the inspiration for this post was indeed my first 7b send. It feels like my grades are starting to shift in the right direction, after some considerable frustration in Hampi.

Climbs of particular note include Todd Skinners nameless 7b at Banyan Tree. I enjoyed the route immensely, achieving for perhaps only the second time whilst in China a state of relative calm and fluidity on the rock. I can't be sure what to call this state of mind, but its safe to say the feeling is similar to a trance. The moment of concentration and focus is so intense and single minded. By the time you reach the top, its hard to say exactly what happened at which point, but there's a sense that everything was controlled and perfectly executed within the comforts deep, controlled breaths. Its the feeling I enjoy most from climbing.

Another favorite was Devil Sticks, 7a+/b. The sequence of moves on this route were significantly more difficult than anything I found on the Skinners route. A relatively easy lower section with some long moves, leads to the crux. A series of small pinches along a rail, which you layback from sees you establish your feet before moving for the final hold a satisfyingly large finger pocket. The moves require alot of body tension and finger strength and as a result are quite energy sapping. The remained of the route is fairly steady, but quite pumpy. A great route. At the time my hardest send.

Yangshuo really is a great place. The landscape is something other worldly. Quite unique, but at the same time so expansive. I'm told there are some 200,000 karsts in China alone. Which isn't hard to believe, just try counting the number in one photo. But all this means huge amounts of development opportunities remain here. I hope to be bolting some new routes as part of my work for China Climb. More on this later.

Current favorite crags have to be Lei Pi Shan and White Mountain. All my current projects are here. Singularity at 7a+ is a tough route in the middle of Lei Pi Shans overhanging crag. Its difficult and sustained right from the start. The crux, which I have now moved through is a series of bad and awkward holds moving onto a flake which can be gastoned or undercut to establish on good jugs. The route remains sustained throughout though and climbing then becomes engaged in a tufa system. Resting on a superb knee bar at the start of the system, you then move left traversing across and up the tufa to make an awkward clip before reaching into the bowels of the tufa and manteling to the top out aorund the left. Its scary as hell and thus far remains on my wishlist.

White Mountain has a whole host of goodies. The crag resembles the large limestone face of Ceuse. A mix of grey, blue, orange rock, peppered with glorious features and pockets its a dream crag. At some 60-meters high and 200-meters long, the crag has much to offer climbers across the grade, 14 x 6s, 18 x 7s and 6 x 8s including Chris Sharma's testpiece Spicy Noodle at 9a+. Current projects include the powerful Yangshuo Hotel (7b) and I have one eye on The Pheonix (7b+).