Yangshuo China Trip Report – Thumb Peak thru Happy New Year (5.10b)

Happy New Year was Ian and I’s first multi-pitch route in Yangshuo, which we did on our second climbing day. According to the guidebook, it’s a 5-pitch sport route and the summit can be reached with some trad gear. We topped off without using any cams but a few slings. The view from the top was impressive; I especially enjoyed seeing the river winding through villages, fields, limestone towers etc, which is hard to find elsewhere.

The climbing experience was also fairly interesting. Thumb Peak is right next to a major road. With all the traffic and excessive honking, Ian and I could not hear each other throughout the whole climb. Often times, local people on motorbikes or tourists on bikes would stop to watch us. They shouted at us sometimes to cheer us up and sometimes to remind us to be careful. At first I felt quite embarrassed, but soon I started to embrace the publicity and wave back.

It was quite clear that morning, just like almost every other morning afterwards throughout our stay in Yangshuo. We grabbed a few cams and some extra slings for the summit preparation. On our way to the bus ride, we filled our stomachs up with steamed buns and soy milk; visited our favorite bakery for snack food. Ian studied the topo and I knew there was one 5.10 pitch later in the climb.

The approach was fairly straight-forward. Ian set off and soon finished the first pitch. It looked like a good 5.9. It was. I liked it but I also felt that I was just about to break into limestone climbing mode. I took my time to move up. At the crux move, which was to move out a roof and back, Ian kept me too tight. I yelled to ask for some slack but my voice dissolved in the overpowering noise from the road. After some negotiation with the ever-worsen rope tension, I popped up and reached the first anchor.

I led the second pitch, a fairly straight-forward 5.8. I could hear people whistling at me. Their words broke up in the wind and they kept trying until I showed some reaction. The second pitch was so short that I couldn’t quite remember how and what it was.

Ian took over the lead. I kept feeding out the rope wondering when he was going to stop. It seemed like forever to me. I stared at the crowd, waved at them, until they all disappeared. The road was still busy; truck and bus drivers never got tired of honking, but I was getting tired of waiting. I realized Ian linked the third and fourth pitches after I passed the third anchor. The third pitch was fun, nothing particularly difficult, easier than the first pitch. The fourth pitch required some interesting stemming moves. I expressed my enjoyment of the fourth pitch to Ian when I saw him. In the meantime, I kept wondering what was left for me, it seemed that he almost finished the route. “Well, whatever is left for me. I am not gonna turn it down. So far I have only led a short, easy pitch.”

It turned out what was waiting for me was the highlight of the route. It was a perfect crack climbing chance for me with portions of off-width – I used hand jams, knee bars, arm bars etc. The start was way cool; it was a corner and I applied some chimney moves I learned from Eric Odenthal in Splitter Camp and got through that part effortlessly. After that, I encountered this wide crack which required mandatory jamming. At its lower section, I could put in a hand jam. Before I committed the hand jam, I saw bloodstains on the rock; I hesitated but I had no choice. The crack continued to widen up, wider than my fist jam; therefore I had to throw in an arm bar to bring my body higher in order to put my knee in the slot to secure myself.

I was very excited about how I performed on this fifth pitch. The climb was technical and I was surprised that I wasn’t afraid and felt quite secured almost the whole time. I guess the feeling of jamming relaxed me; besides, the bolts were pretty close. I also learned that this pitch is rated 5.10b after the fact. Then that was an memorable moment – my first onsight 5.10b sport lead.

I reached the anchor; I looked up. All the cams were still on Ian’s harness. All I had were two or three slings. I looked up again; it looked pretty doable. I decided to go for it. I went through some jungle, slung two trees and got to the top. There was an anchor on the top as well. Rocks on the top were pretty sharp. I brought Ian up. We both appreciated the view for a while before we rapped down, putting an end for a perfect day of climbing.

Photo credit: Ian Farquhar

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