Yangshuo: A Climbing Mecca
Izzy and Elliot from our Perth store recently discovered a climbing mecca in China's Yangshuo County. Here is your personal guide to climbing in this breathtaking, mountainous region.
Image: Moon Hill
Yangshuo at a Glimpse
Flying into Yangshuo, China during New Year's was a happy accident. The magnitude of The Spring Festival brings the city to a standstill but the celebrations were amazing to witness. It blew my mind, quite literally because the Chinese love celebrating this festival with fireworks. Yangshuo is in the south of China, southeast of Guilin in the Guangxi Province and is a known mecca for rock climbing and tourism.
Thousands of dramatic limestone pinnacles offering stunning views surround Yangshuo, while the city centre is made for tourists. It's filled with endless restaurants, bars and entertainment. The tourists are mostly Chinese visiting from other provinces and have never seen a fair skinned westerner before, so practice your best Blue Steel pose for all the selfies you'll be asked for. The remaining tourists are mostly fellow climbers as Yangshuo boasts world class sport climbing and is the most popular destination in China.
The climbing here is a smorgasbord. There are 700+ climbs with grades and styles to suit everyone. You'll find them at multiple pinnacles that are all easy to access. Overall, the style is quite technical with small handholds and limited footholds requiring balance and precise body movements. The routes are all well bolted and the quality of limestone is good with occasional encounters on polished routes at popular crags like White Mountain. Before returning to Australia, we threw in a side trip to Hong Kong and must say, the climbing was definitely worth checking out.
How and When to Get There
Image: Yangshuo city.
There is no direct flight to Yangshuo – you will need to fly into Guilin and take a bus (these are easily booked after arriving at the airport). The bus ride will take 2 hours and cost around ¥50 ($10) per person. Upon arrival, there are many ways to get to the heart of the city and hotel. Elliot and I spotted an obvious looking climbing pack cycling past which we chased down and asked for directions. It might be just as easy to jump into a taxi and ask to be taken to your hotel – this shouldn't cost you more than ¥30-50 ($6-$10).
If you intend on doing a side trip to Hong Kong, head back to Guilin and purchase a ticket at the railway station for ¥220 ($40) which will take just over three hours to get you close to the border. You will then have to change lines and once in Hong Kong you are required to go through immigration and customs. There is no visa requirement for Hong Kong if you're holding an Australian passport, however you will require one for mainland China for either 30 or 90 days. "Isn't Hong Kong in China?" you ask. Yes and no – there is a "one country, two systems" policy, meaning economic and political systems will differ (as we found out on the doorstep).
The best time to visit Yangshuo is September-December when the weather is dry but not stinking hot. We travelled in February, but the weather was reasonably good aside from a few wet days and nippy conditions. The air pollution was high in February, especially north in the larger cities and the sky only visible in brief, fleeting moments which was hard to get used to.
We also had the intention of visiting Getu Valley (for all you climbing groupies Petzl Rocktrip 2011 was hosted here), however it was just too cold and wet as Getu is located further west inland. There's always next time!
Where to Stay
When staying in Yangshuo look no further than the Climbers Inn – everyone visiting (seriously) needs to stay here. Lilly, who runs the inn is not only the best host but a wicked climber and will come out to the crags to get amongst it. She also offers cheaper rates for scooter/bike hire and laundry. In a foreign country, you know you can find a community of like-minded people at the inn. Even if everyone splits up for the day to visit different crags, it's nice to come home and head out for a family dinner to share stories. A private room will cost you ¥100 ($20) a night but dorms are also available for a lower cost. Another positive – you can rally people together and help split travel costs for the crags that are further out.
Crags Worth Mentioning
Image: Summit of Tuo Bei Shan pinnacle
Swiss Cheese and Wine Bottle
Both of these crags offer a perfect introduction to Yangshuo style climbing. There are loads of soft, yet technical grades to choose from on a beautifully featured wall.
White Mountain and The Egg
These neighbouring crags are great fun and very popular. We visited White Mountain on more occasions but The Egg is still worth checking out. White Mountain is a huge overhanging wall with world-famous routes like Spicy Noodle 5.14c (34). If you're not a climbing god, some other classic routes include The Comedians 5.10c (19) and Yangshuo Hotel 5.12b (25). Before leaving Yangshuo, we heard a section of belay area (base of the crag) was demolished to make room for a go kart ring. Unfortunately, this is the result of Yangshuo's growing tourism, a heart-breaking reality for the climbing community.
If you like stairs…followed by more stairs…followed by over-hanging hard climbs, then this is your crag. To be exact, 800 stairs will lead you to the top of a mountain right underneath a gigantic rock arch that is just begging to be climbed. Elliot was projecting Red Dragon 8a+ (30), a 35m quest up the side of the arch then through endless stalactites embedded in the roof. Be prepared for looming crowds of tourists.
We were treated to a spectacular view on the summit of Tuo Bei Shan pinnacle after climbing a pleasant 6 pitch route called Grandfathered Inn, a grade 5.10d (20) climb. The view of Yanshuo Valley was well-earned after multiple firework explosions that almost made us jump off the rock or freeze in fear a block may plummet down. Banyan Tree crag was also a beautiful wall with some pumpy* lines like La Liao 5.12d (27), Elliot's hardest onsight* to date!
Tung Lung Chau
On day 15 we arrived in Hong Kong and the strangest thing happened, I felt the warmth of the sun on my face accompanied by a cloudless blue sky. We were on an island just off the coast of Hong Kong with sea cliffs and great quality granite – we knew it was going to be great. A 45-minute ferry drops you on a beautiful island where you can camp while still chowing down on dim sum. Granite by the sea always offers the goods as it's steep and technical. We also met some rad climbers here who were very welcoming.
*Climbs are graded using US system with Australian equivalent in brackets.
*Onsight: to onsight a route is to climb a route from bottom to top on the first attempt without falling and without prior knowledge of said route.
*Pumpy: a flaming sensation climbers get in their forearms when hanging onto a steep climb for too long.
- Buy fresh fruit from the nearest stall to where you'll be climbing, choices vary from mandarins to kumquats, pomelos and strawberries. Some crags even have small restaurants nearby that are often very cheap. This all helps keep good connections between climbers and locals.
- Climbing guides for Yangshuo can be purchased from The Climbers Inn or Black Rock Climbing Store.
- Try not to use your teeth when fixing gear, you'll chip those pearly whites and the first stop home will be the dentist (sigh). Invest in a good quality Leatherman multitool and then actually pack it in your bag.
- For rest day shenanigans, check out Xing Ping, a nearby fishing town known for its historically preserved culture. If you're not on a tight budget, Impression Sanjie Liu is a spectacular light show and performance held on the local Li River, costing ¥200 ($40) per person. As for the remaining time, it is important to replenish your energy levels by eating at many restaurants or street food stalls and sampling multiple desserts at Mango (sweets restaurant).
Yangshuo is a vibrant, beautiful city where you can experience eastern culture with a touch of the west. The food was absolutely delicious and inexpensive – you can easily live off $20 a day. The people are friendly, especially seeing the joy that the festival brought. Locals in the village were willing to help us when we were lost cycling to a crag even though they didn't speak English.
It's hard to fathom how populated China really is and there were times that made us appreciate the climbing in Australia. Whether you're hiking on the Cape to Cape to Bob's Hollow (WA), or staring out of your tent at the bluffs of Mount Arapiles (VIC), they all offer beautifully preserved national parks with serenity and space. However, it's absolutely worth returning to China for the quality and quantity of rock climbing. Yangshuo was just the beginning, next visit we plan to dust off our traditional gear in Liming and to see Getu, where the mother of all limestone arches lives.
Elliot's Gear Reviews
The perfect piece for climbing, super-duper stretchy so there is no compromising warmth for mobility and breathable enough to not feel clammy when on belay duty.
The perfect mid height boot for the goofy adventurer! Light enough for the boot hater, with a 3D chassis midsole that provided enough support to walk down 800 wonky stone stairs after slurping down lukewarm beer on top of moon hill. Also, the Salomon quick lace system is ideal if you're constantly swapping between regular and climbing shoes.
I fall in love with this jacket every time I wear it in the rain, remembering all the times I wore my old $10 good sammies rain jacket there is no doubt about it Goretex changes the way you look at bad weather. Small enough to fit into an already over flowing climbing pack.
Izzy's Gear Reviews
I can honestly say I wore this vest every single day. It was a very warm and versatile piece of apparel that I used either as an outer layer or mid layer.
Another item that was excessively used either as a baselayer (when cold) or on its own (sunny days). Please don't judge me, but I only washed this garment twice in one month. That merino wool just keeps breathing and reduces odour build up- it was even sniff test approved by fellow climbers.
Women's Mammut Runje Pants
These pants have a softshell texture but are still light weight. My favourite climbing pant that offers stretch and durability that never got too hot when the days started to warm up.
Best way to travel around Yangshuo is to cycle or scoot, the buff was a great investment as a layer over the face to stop wind drying and cracking your lips.
- Women's Black Diamond Primrose SA Harness
- Black Diamond Posiwire Quickdraw 18cm
- Black Diamond Quickdraw Positron 12cm
- Black Diamond ATC Guide Belay Device
- Petzl Gri Gri 2
- Women's Mountain Designs 200 Merino Long Sleeve Base Layers
- Mammut Runje pants
- Women's Mountain Designs 150 Corespun Merino Tee
- Women's Mountain Designs Corespun Merino Hoodie
- Women's Mountain Designs Intrepid Jacket
- Women's Mountain Designs Kyoto Down Vest
- Unisex Mountain Designs Cadence Active Merino Socks
- Men's Mountain Designs Circuit Seamless Boxers
- Men's Mountain Designs Super Dry Long Sleeve Base Layer
- Men's Mountain Designs Corespun Merino Short Sleeve T-shirt
- Men's Mountain Designs Delta Short Sleeve T-Shirt
- Men's Mountain Designs Super Dry 1/4 Zip Base Layer
- Men's Mountain Designs Pro-Elite Transient GORE-TEX® C-KNIT Rain Jacket
- Men's Salomon XA Pro 3D Mid Gore-Tex® Running Shoes
- Injinji Run 2.0 Original Weight Mini-Crew Toe Socks
- Unisex Mountain Designs Journey Merino Socks
- High UV Protection Buff®
- Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash 89ml Camping Detergent
- Large Mountain Designs Micro Suede Towel
- Go Travel Travel Clothes Line
- SOS Rehydrate Electrolyte Sports Drink Powder 10 Pack
- Unisex Gloryfy Gi12 Bon Voyage Unbreakable Sunglasses
About the Authors
Elliot Vercoe and Isobel Burgoyne are amateur rock climbers based in Perth, partnering up to visit world-class climbing destinations. They both also happen to work for Mountain Designs where they enjoy taking and testing gear on some great adventures.