The Great Wall. Summer 1990.
YUNNAN ROCK CLIMBING
CAUTION: Be aware that this information was last updated in June 2005 and may be out of date. I lived in Yunnan from 2000 to mid-2005 and kept the guidebook up to date. After I left, it was posted on the Redpoint Gym website, then removed and is now sold separately to raise money for route hardware. The Redpoint hosts the most concentrated group of climbers in Yunnan and is the place to get the latest information on the local crags – www.climbingkunming.com. Please visit the Redpoint and support them.
Kunming: There are four sport climbing areas in the vicinity of Kunming, Yunnan, only two of which are still active. The first place to be developed was in the unique karst topography of the Stone Forest (Shi Lin), 100 km east of Kunming. The Germans Wolfgang Gullich and Kurt Albert visited the Stone Forest in 1986, establishing a "string of routes." During 1999 and early 2000, Yunnan climbers established four sport routes on the short limestone towers that constitute the “forest.” Stone Forest climbing was largely abandoned when the enormous potential of the Western Hills (Xi Shan) was discovered in 2000. The Western Hills, 15 km southwest of Kunming, still have nearly unlimited potential for new routes, from short, sport routes to high-end, multi-pitch lines on big walls. During May 2002, development began of a new area in a relatively remote valley of Fumin County. Lying 30 km northwest of Kunming, the atmosphere of this quiet, rural canyon is in sharp contrast to the mass tourism of the Western Hills at the edge of metropolitan Kunming. Over 80 routes have been established in Fumin Canyon, making it one of the highest concentrations of sport climbs in China. A fourth area, Xiao Moyu Cave close to Kunming, was discovered just before I left in May 2005 and developed over the last few years.
Lijiang: A small sport climbing area was developed near Lijiang in 2002 and in 2004. Lijiang is in northwestern Yunnan, 300 km from Kunming, and is the only other developed rock climbing area in Yunnan. As of 2005, there were 7 climbs in a limestone canyon south of town.
Dali: One of the newest of the Yunnan areas to be developed is centered around Dali and Er Lake. There are several crags actively being developed (as of late 2011) by the crew of ClimbDali (check out climbdali.com).
Liming: Even more recent than Dali are trad lines developed on the sandstone faces around the village of Liming, about three hours northwest of Lijiang in Yulong County. It is a tourist center within Laojunshan National Park. Check out junshanclimber.com for information and guidebook.
The Rock: Limestone, limestone, limestone! A lifetime of new routes awaits anyone who starts poking around the Yunnan Plateau, a rolling subtropical highland. There are hidden escarpments and caves everywhere. Because this is the subtropics and rarely freezes, the frost shattering doesn’t weaken features on the face and you end up with reliably solid holds.
Climate: All sport crags lie on the Yunnan Plateau, which ranges in elevation from 1700 m in Fumin Canyon to 2200 m at Lijiang. The relatively high elevation at a subtropical latitude (25o N) makes for a very pleasant climate. Indeed, Kunming is nicknamed the Spring City because of its enjoyable year-round weather. As expected then, you can climb throughout the year. Having said this, however, precipitation is highly seasonal and the best seasons to climb are autumn, winter, and spring. The dry season begins in late September and runs through June. Monsoon rains begin sometime in June and persist through September, with the possibility of at least some rain nearly every day. There are times during the winter when the Spring City moniker seems like a marketing ploy by overly optimistic city fathers. It can be quite cold at times, usually only if it’s cloudy. But if the sun is out, it will be pleasant on the rock. Guaranteed. The crags at Fumin are about 200-300 m lower in elevation than the Western Hills, so will be comparatively warmer, both during the summer and the winter.
Gear Shops in Kunming: The availability of rock climbing equipment in Kunming is very limited. There may be some at the Redpoint (www.climbingkunming.com), but you should really plan on bringing it all.
Grades: The standard for rating the difficulty of climbs in China is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS).
Equipment: Most climbs are bolted on faces. The first bolt was often purposely placed relatively high off the ground and sometimes a long reach from the stance. This was done to prevent local villagers from stealing the hanger, a common problem at Moon Hill, China’s most famous climbing area near Yangshuo.
There are a few crack climbs on the Western Hills, although most are very fun. A word of caution--most cracks have been created or altered by water (solution) erosion in limestone and are very uneven-sided. Nuts, tri-cams, hexes, and threaded webbing often afford the best protection. Be very careful when placing camming units.
Helmets are highly recommended! The rock is generally solid, but so few climbers have ascended these routes that some still have loose stones. Be especially careful on multipitch routes and when pulling ropes and top-roping. Helmets are essential for pioneering new routes.
A 60 m rope is recommended for climbing in Yunnan. Many pitches are 30 m long and can only be top-roped with a 60 m rope.
Anchors: Most belay anchors on single pitch routes are chains bolted to the rock (recent word is that these have not held up well and need replacing on some routes). Longer pitches and multi-pitch routes often have Metolius rappel hangers. However, some belay anchors consist of webbing, threaded through solution pockets in the rock, around trees, or through bolt hangers. Some are slung around boulders and horns. Always check the webbing for signs of being chewed on by animals or melting from rope friction. It’s a good idea to bring extra webbing to replace or backup old, worn-out webbing.
Language: The Chinese names for climbs and places in the English version of the guide are parenthetically indicated in Pin Yin (official system for writing Mandarin characters using the Roman alphabet). Hopefully, this will help facilitate access to Kunming climbing areas and communication among climbers on the escarpment.
Route Photos and Topos: Color photos are included to illustrate crag access and most routes.
Trail and Route Conditions: The crags described here are off the beaten path. As the small, but growing, Kunming climbing crowd has shifted activity to new areas, access trails and, in some cases, the climbs themselves have become overgrown with subtropical brush. Be aware that the descriptions in this guide are written as if the trails were open and the climbs had just been cleaned. We always carried a long Tibetan knife to clear the monsoonal growth every autumn.
Nasty Animals: During the late summer and early fall you’ll see a bright red caterpillar common on the brush. This beautiful little creature has a nasty bite that raises a large welt. Stay away! And then there is the occasional snake, but it’s rare to actually encounter a live one (although you’re sure to see shed skins on absurdly small ledges high on the routes).
Check any travel guide to China. Kunming, the provincial capital, is the usual point of entry to Yunnan.
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