Yangshuo China Trip Report – Treasure Cave

Treasure Cave takes climbers some hiking to get into, but it was worth our effort. It is located at the upper part of a limestone formation, and it is more than spacious enough to accommodate several 100-foot routes. Needless to say, as a cave, it provided us an excellent escape from the still blazing sun of early December. The inner-cave scenery was really something – an outline of the cave combined with a mixed view of fields, farm animals, and neighboring karst towers. It was a pity that we got a couple wet routes resulting from the leaking ceiling. Oh, aren’t we just greedy?

We did five routes. A 5.9, called Adventure Race Groupies, sped up our blood flow. It was followed by another wet and therefore somehow scary 5.9 called Where’s My Tyrolean. We set up a top rope using the shared anchor for a powerful unnamed 5.10+ climb, which I couldn’t do as one pass. The fourth climb we led was a 2-star 5.10b called Losing Face. This route is a 5.9 in general with a tricky 5.10b move which potentially would make people lose face. I finally moved through the crux by applying the following sequence: I moved my left foot as high as possible, and used a crappy left crimper with a tiny right side pull to bump myself up to very good hand holds. I was very proud that I figured out the sequence, but what made me even more proud was the lead of the last climb of the day – a 25-meter 5.10a called Sai Yan which was also marked as a 2-star route in the guidebook.

Sai Yan is a weird looking route. It starts with a wide crack and two bolts are located after a ledge. Before the route reaches another ledge, a giant protruding block joins from the left and becomes part of the climb. There are two bolts on this block as well. To clip these four bolts was not too much of a problem for me, although I did complain that the route was so exposed and I had to do super wide stemming to get this far.

The next bolt shows up right before a roof. I saw a crack to the left of my projected upward path, and the bolt was right next to the top of the crack. I thought there must have been some jugs hidden in the crack but my hope was unfulfilled. The crack only offered a long sequence of repetitive side pulling which translated to unsecured hand movement in my mind. I looked down; the consequence of falling was high; god damn the protruding block because it would be my landing grave if I would have fallen. I clipped the fifth bolt and I sighed.

I rested myself marginally at an awkward stance, and I tried to straighten my arms to conserve my ever-losing energy. I moved up and what welcomed me was an awkward looking humongous horn-shaped formation sticking out from the left. I couldn’t see a thing, including the sixth bolt which I knew was somewhere to my right. I tried to move out to the right a little bit more, and I still couldn’t see the bolt, neither did I feel secured, and the consequence of falling remained high. I backed off to my original spot, where I could hold on to something to keep myself in place. I yelled down “Where is the bolt?” Corey yelled back “it was right there” and started to give me more detailed references. I reached out my fingers and I felt the bolt. I clipped the bolt with my fingertip memory. I couldn’t fall and I didn’t fall.

After the success of the blind clipping, I regained the courage to boldly move way out to the right and retrieve the location of good handholds. The upper portion of the climb gradually became mellower but I failed to on-sight it because I was beaten up by the exposure, physically demanding overhanging feature, and the fear of the serious consequence of falling. My two friends didn’t lead it because they “didn’t want to kill themselves” especially after watching me leading it.

I jumped on it because the route has two stars and it’s long (I personally prefer long routes). And of course I thought I could do it. I was scared at some point because I didn’t like the price of falling. But that sense of fear was quite different than some random fear which often occurs to me at some climb especially when I try to move through a crux but the fall is in fact very safe. At the occasion of climbing Sai Yan, I thought “I must not fall,” but on other occasions I think “I do not want to fall.” If I back off when I must not fall, I will not feel bad; If I back off when I do not want to fall, I will feel I did not exert myself fully and therefore feel sorry.

When I chose to proceed with the climb, Sai Yan, at places I felt that I must not fall, once I got into action, I was very focussed on each of my moves and therefore my brain had no more space for fear. Interestingly, many times when I chose to proceed when I felt that I did not want to fall, my moves were still sloppy because the fear was still there. My expectation is that I will always make the right choice either to proceed or bail when I must not fall; and I will learn a way to accommodate my fear when the fall is safe because the experience of being crystal clear on a climbing sequence is priceless.

Photo Credit: Ian Farquhar

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