The Climbing Scene in Yangshuo

Limestone towers, one after another, is Yangshuo’s signature. According to the guidebook published in October 2008, there are close to four hundred routes. However, upon the date I left, which was mid-December 2008, the total route number had exceeded five hundred. Local developers are still actively putting up new lines.

Yangshuo is basically a sport climbing area. Most of the routes are single-pitch routes. There are a handful of multi-pitch routes with the potential of getting up to the summit of a limestone tower. One of my climbing partners, Ian Farquhar, has documented the beta for the climbed multi-pitch routes in Yangshuo in his blog.

The living expenses in Yangshuo are very low according to US standards, and therefore most climbers find no need to dirt-bag. They usually rent a hotel room or an apartment and take local buses or bike to the climbing areas. This time, except for some random items and souvenirs, I spent about 10 USD every day in Yangshuo for lodging, food, and bus tickets. It doesn’t mean staying in downtown Yangshuo is the only option. Some people stay in hotels/apartments near some crags, so they can walk to the crag and at the same time experience rural agricultural atmosphere. Camping is not unheard of either.

As for day-to-day meals, it is much easier and cost-efficient to dine out than to cook unless you plan to stay in Yangshuo for more than six months or unless you cannot stand Chinese food (which is impossible for me to imagine). The feature items in Yangshuo include Guilin rice noodles, beer fish, 3-in-1 multi-nut paste, 8-in-1 lotus seed thicken soup, etc, and you can always find familiar Chinese food items such as fried rice, fried noodles, pot stickers, wontons etc almost everywhere. For breakfast, options include plain & flavored steamed buns, congee, tea-flavored hard boiled eggs etc. For lunch, I usually snack on bakery and crackers. For dinner, pick-your-own stir-fry is a common choice, hand-pulled noodles, and hand-shaved noodles are my favorite; hot pots and clay pot items are also popular. I also found some restaurants in town which feature cuisine of other Chinese regions for a change of taste.

Among the nearly one-month stay in Yangshuo, I visited almost all the climbing areas listed in the guidebooks. I didn’t visit Moon Hill and Leipi Shan though, because the routes over there are beyond my current ability. Moon Hill is also a famous tourist spot and I saw it in the distance when I took a cross-country bike tour and it reminded me the Arch in the States. The formation is absolutely gorgeous – white and light grey arched limestone covered by much green vegetation, standing out from the background of numerous towers. Josie Mckee, another of my climbing partners, urged me to visit Leipi Shan. As the name suggested – Leipi Shan means thunder-striking mountain – the formation is very intimidating, and 5.11 is the warm-up grade there. I decided to leave it alone and made it a reason for me to come back to Yangshuo.

In the following text, I am writing down my impression of the climbing areas I visited except for the ones described in forthcoming individual trip reports.

Egg 雞蛋山

The bus to Egg is not as frequent as one might want but that is the only drawback about this place. It takes a short walk to get to the crag; compared to many other popular crags, the approach is “long” and therefore it attracts less crowd. You can climb different faces of Egg, which gives you the flexibility to choose from climbing in the shade or sun depending on current temperature. There are many interesting routes to choose, and their grade ranges from 5.8-5.12.

I spent three days at this place. My friends enjoyed much a route called Straw Noise Sheep Ernie (5.10b). I didn’t like it much though perhaps because that was where I took my first leader’s fall in Yangshuo. The route is quite technical with the crux section better passed by applying a side-pull. Side-pulling is one of my weaknesses, and therefore I threw in some hand jams as an alternative strategy. The one I enjoyed most was a 5.10a route called Rooster Booster, and there are two reasons for that: 1. it is long (31 meters) which gave me a sense of climbing a pitch of a multi-pitch route; 2. it required me to think and I love solving a puzzle. This route is sustained and quite exposed at the upper half; I remembered being scared from the last bolt to the anchor which was the most exposed section. I hung on the rope to figure out a move. I tried several options which did not work out and finally I committed to a sequence and just went for it. I grabbed a good handhold with a little hopping and higher right foot initial positioning, but the key to success in retrospect was really the commitment.

Thank to my stronger climbing partners, the last day at Egg I got to top-rope two 11’s – pitch one of Eggstatic (5.11a) and Duck (5.11b). I don’t remember much detail about the routes themselves but I remember I climbed the two routes with two distinct mind sets. I climbed Eggstatic which the attitude of “whatever, I don’t know whether I can climb this crap; do I really want to do this?” and I almost was not able to finish it even though I was told “you should lead this” before taking off. After reflecting on my frustration toward Eggstatic, I climbed Duck with the attitude of “I want to send this” and even though I fell on it, I managed to climb the route as smoothly as I could and I was very satisfied with my performance.

Babyfrog Buttress 蝌蚪山

Babyfrog is the first climbing area I visited and it is most convenient to be accessed by bikes. This area is considered to be one of the easier crags and is a common place for school programs. There are about a dozen routes in this area, and among the eight routes I climbed I would highly recommend Frogs Traverse – a very stimulating 5.10c route (the actual climb might be a bit easy for the grade). As the name suggests, one has to make small horizontal moves in addition to purchasing vertical gain, and sometimes the answer to “which direction to go?” doesn’t always come intuitively.

Butterfly 蝴蝶泉

Butterfly is more of a sightseeing spot than a climbing area. However, ever since I saw the gigantic representative manmade structure for this touring spot, which is a 15 or 20 meter tall cement butterfly, climbing a route there to touch a wing of the butterfly became a not extinguishable desire. I eventually climbed a 5.9 route over there in front of the staring eyes of a security guard. I was hoping to use the 5.9 route as a warm-up to touch the left wing and then proceed to a 5.10b for the right wing. However, the 5.9 was really polished and the falling consequence was to fall on a stone (or cement) bench, so I was too nervous to remember to touch the butterfly. The butterfly does not intend to be blasphemed.

Wine Bottle 酒瓶山

Wine Bottle is probably the most popular climbing area around here. Frequent buses drop you right in front of the trailhead, minutes to the crag, just far enough from the busy road so one can really focus on climbing, and most importantly there are many interesting routes with different grades and length to choose from. I had climbed about a dozen routes here and I enjoyed each of them. However when I recalled the climbing days I spent at Wine Bottle the first image showing up was a hot air balloon taking off from the meadow. I witnessed the balloon gradually floated into the sky and over the mountains; it was quite a poetic flow and then I was standing next to the first anchor of a two-pitch climb. Many times I am impressed by how different the view becomes when I change my position in terms of elevation; I believe that fantastic views are one of the lures dragging me out to climb. Another vivid memory was hearing cows wandering in and out the small bushes in the background when I was seeking some shade for a spot to belay or for a quick nap to wait for the midday sun to pass. I enjoyed the feelings that humans and animals share space peacefully especially in a lazy afternoon. Oh, it seems that here in Yangshuo every livestock is raised free range.

White Mountain 白山

White Mountain is beautiful. It’s a wide and tall south facing wall, and it can get really hot even in winter time. There are at least 3 dozen routes here and only a handful of 10’s. Climbers who come here to climb use the 10’s as warm-up climbs, which make the 10’s here very polished and sandbagging. I only top-roped three routes here (two 10c’s and one 11a) and I want to train so that I can come back here to really enjoy this place. Local developers are developing this area into both a tourist and climbing spot – when I was there, I could see that more trees were recently planted and restrooms were under construction. Next time when I get back there, things are going to be very different.

Screaming Mountain Turtle

Screaming Mountain Turtle is a five-pitch route (5.8; four 5.9’s). It is basically a sport route but occasionally you might want to put in some gear because some of the bolts are kind of runout. When we climbed the route, we used .5, #1, and #2 Blackdiamond Camalots. Apparently this route had not been climbed much because it was dirty and had many loose rocks here and there when we climbed it. Some portion of the climb required serious bushwhacking and it was exposed to the sun and got really hot at times. The worst part was the rappel anchors; I remembered that at one spot, I stared at the anchor for centuries before I decided to clip in. We beefed up a few rappel anchors, otherwise rappelling would have become the most scary part of the climb. This route has its potential to be an enjoyable one but before necessary work is done I would recommend many other multi-pitch routes.

Photo credit: Ian Farquhar

1 thought on “The Climbing Scene in Yangshuo”

  1. christian gilbert

    hey, thanks for the info
    im going up there in february for some climbing/caving, and after reading this i am more excited than ever. i am going with a school group though, so i might not get the full experience; but i will definately come up here when im older

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top