Yangshuo is a lush, scenic area in China that is vastly covered with karst limestone towers – a magical place for rock climbers! It has established itself as a top sport climbing destination worldwide and received due attention during the first annual Climbing Festival in November 2008. Gabe and I rolled into town just in time for the climbing festival and enjoyed a month of superb sport climbing thereafter. If you are planning a trip to Yangshuo, our beginner’s guide will help your become familiar with the climbing areas and local to-do’s.
WHAT: rock climbing!
For starters, Yangshuo is perhaps the best sport climbing destination in Asia for beginner climbers. There are nearly fifty 5.8 climbs, over fifty 5.9 climbs and plenty of 10a’s to keep you busy. There are even bolted climbs as easy as 5.4 and some great multipitch sport lines rated 5.9. Climbing on Yangshuo’s karst limestone towers involves anything from big jugs, small crimps, to unique tufas and stalagtites features.
WHEN: best times to go
There are generally two main times to go climbing in Yangshuo:
- Autumn: late September (very warm) through early December (chilly)
- Spring: Late February (might be rainy) through to May (very warm)
WHERE: getting there
For most, a climbing trip to Yangshuo, China starts by getting yourself to Guilin, China (plane, train, or automobile) and taking the public bus one hour south. Immediately you’ll find yourself immersed in a lush scenery full of the serendipitous towers, rivers, and farmers fields. Step onto Main Street in Yangshuo, China and you may find yourself lost in a sea of Chinese tourists bargaining for souvenirs.
Don’t get distracted because you are here to rock climb! The first obvious stop for your is to find the local climbing shops including China Climb’s Lizard Lounge (fun bouldering wall in the back), Spiderman (Paul’s), and Xclimber’s across the way. Pick up the book Yangshuo Rock Climbs by Paul Collis for 100 RMB. Some other great hangouts include Bar 98, Karst Cafe, and Rock & Grill.
One you get yourself situated in a hostel/hotel (such as Bamboo House Inn, Riverside, or Rock & Grill) or try an uber affordable local room rented out by the month (ask someone at the Lizard Lounge), then you’re ready to hit the crags!
Getting around either involves renting bikes (5 RMB/day) or taking the public mini-buses from the bus station (2.5 RMB/one way). If you have a few friends together you can get Lizard Lounge to call for the ’speedy’ chartered mini-bus that can fit up to ten people (30 RMB/one way).
WHERE: the climbing crags
There are three main areas where you can find plenty of excellent quality moderate climbs. You can easily keep yourself entertained for a couple weeks at pretty accessible crags that are less than 20 minutes bike ride or a speedy mini-bus ride away. Here is a map of the climbing crags.
Top Beginner’s Crags
Grades: 5.6-5.11d (with many 5.10s)
This is the closest crag to town and is quite popular with quality climbing. You can see it right across from the tourist attraction, Butterfly Cave. The only downside to this beautiful crag is that it’s south facing and you don’t plan around that you may find yourself baking there on a sunny afternoon.
- Summit No. 1, 5.9 - It’s a great climb to start with, offering nice pockets on good rock.
- Slack, 5.10b - This climb sticks out in our mind because its nestled in between two tufas. If you haven’t climbed tufas before, this is a nice route to get up close and personal with them.
There are a lot of climbs on this crag, so you could also plan for an epic day basically working from right (generally easier) to left (increasingly harder with a few easy ones at the end) and trying to tackle as many climbs possible.
Grades: 5.8-5.12 (with many 5.9s, 5.10s, some 5.11s)
The beauty of this crag is that there good rock all around it so you can stay in the shade (or sun) all day long. There are four face sections that you can work your way around.
- East Face / Fried Egg Face: Chocolate Milk Crack, 5.9 - It proved to be the most enjoyable climb amongst the sharper routes on this rock face.
- North East Face: The Deviant Direct, 5.9 multipitch - What looks to be the easiest multipitch climb in the area, try The Deviant Direct (3 pitches worth of 5.9, 5.8, 5.7). If you’re not into multipitch climbs just yet, the first pitch is enjoyable enough on its own.
- North Face: Rooster Booster, 5.10a - For a longer and more technical route, try the Rooster Booster.
- West Face: Eggstreme Eggsposure, 5.10b - The guidebook suggests this one mainly for the photo-op with its photogenic crux roof.
Baby Frog Buttress
Grades: mostly 5.9 and 5.10
This crag is a little further away from the bunch but often wins the hearts of the beginner climber. There are plenty of easy routes with pleasant views of the farmland and surrounding karst scenery.
- Toad in The Hole, 5.9 - This route is a fun, delicate one that slightly traverses right.
- Frogs Traverse, 5.10c - If you are a beginner trying to gain a few grades, the Frogs Traverse is definitely a sweet one to start on. It’s a relatively soft but technical climb that is pretty short so you won’t pump yourself out.
Grades: 5.8-5.11 multipitch climbs
The multipitch climbs on Thumb Peak are pretty classic in Yangshuo including the 5.8-5.9ish combo climb from Paparazzi Pete to Happy New Year (how-to on page 27 of guidebook). A different variation we tried was Paparazzi to the harder Happy Jun Jun, which is a good challenge for the more intermediate climber.
Other great beginner-worthy crags:
After making your way up the steep approach, find yourself surrounded by bunch of great shaded climbs within the high cave.
- Losing Face, 5.10b - Work out the small traverse and then your way up to the big anchor ledge.
A bunch of good beginner to intermediate climbs at this crag and good for a shaded morning pump fest.
Dark Star, 5.10a & 5.10b multipitch
Pitch two the better of the two and if you are feeling bold, you can setup a simple TR on the for the harder 5.11a climb, Interstalagtic Cruiser.
A nice crag close to Space Buttress. It offers many great climbs, although try to avoid the 5.9 there with polished foot holds. There’s known to be a good
- Sherrif Fatman, 5.10a - This is a well bolted route that warrants someone’s first 5.10a lead.
- The Monkey King, 5.8-5.10c multipitch sport & trad - A great option if you’re a comfortable multipitch climber who has tackled 5.10c climbs before. The last pitch is a trad pitch but if you have the gear go for it with a scramble to top out.
Although there aren’t a lot of easy climbs at this crag, everything stays dry in the rain.
- Team Sweden, 5.10a/b - A reasonably moderate climb.
There are six 5.10 climbs here with the best climbing in the 5.11-5.13 range.
Here are our top things to do during a rest day in Yangshuo:
- Get a Dr. Lily Massage - If you have a high threshold for pain, get all the kicks worked out from Dr. Lily. She’s a real doctor and knows all about acupressure, acupuncture, and strange concoctions. Try to get one after a long day of climbing because you’ll need the rest day to recover!
- Float Down the River - Not far from town you can find many locals providing a lazy river ride service. You can try a simple bamboo raft or go all out for the big boat ride along the Li River to Guilin.
- Go on a Tandem Bike Ride - If you’ve never been on a tandem bike, you don’t know what you’re missing! For starters, it’s all about cooperation.
After a few trials, we came to a few conclusions:
- the heavier person should be in the front (hopefully this person is also good a navigating)
- you should give warning when you decide to coast because the pedals are connected
- use the bike ringer in high traffic area to signify your incoming or you may go unnoticed
- only wear those silly flower crowns if you too want to look like a cheesy tourist
- don’t drink and tandem bike ride!
- Rain Day Worthy: Watch a Movie or Play Cards - Two great rain day / rest day options. Many hostels/hotels have rooms with TV & DVD players with a bunch of movies free to borrow. The corner restaurant and KTV lounge [INSERT REAL NAME] offers a private room where you can pick out a movie and watch for free as long as you buy food/drinks there. Cards can be played pretty much anywhere and our favorite games include Jin/Rummy, Plump and Cribbage.
Last but certainly not least…FOOD!
Take the time to enjoy some ginger tea, dumplings, Guilin-style noodles, and a slew of other local treats while you’re visiting Yangshuo. Here are our top picks:
- Dumpling Dynasty - This is definitely a must-eat venue for lunch or dinner with its tasty water fried dumplings (12 RMB)! The other stuff on the menu is quite tasty too but you may want to ask for less oil if you are health conscious.
- Bar 98 - Chill place for great drinks and snack food in a great atmosphere with good music. Includes a pool table and communal computer. This is one of the only places that gets heated with two wood burning fireplaces in Yangshuo, which is great on a colder day/night.
- Golden Dragon Restaurant - Think lazy-susan round table dining with lots of reasonably priced, high quality dishes. This restaurant is a great place for a big celebratory group with a handy, picture-intensive menu. It’s located just inside the ‘City in City’ complex on the second floor.
- Fang Fang’s Local Yangshuo Restaurant - A great place for cheap and tasty eats including BBQ/Grilled foods. Beer duck and fish are delicious. For the heath conscious, remember to ask for less oil.
- Drinking Bar - Don’t expect to get a pint here. Make your way over to this tiny booth with a yellow sign just off the end of Diecui Rd for the best and cheapest bubble tea drinks in town. The menu is only in Chinese but you can point to the first item, which is a (small or large) milk tea with tapioca pearls/bubbles. The lower menu items are the extra flavored varieties such as taro bubble tea (I think it’s the 8th item down – all tasty and non-alcoholic
- Lou’s Bakery - All locations (there are three) offer tasty breads and pastries you can bring to the crags. They make great cakes too!
- ‘the dessert bakery’ - It’s a booth-like shop on the left side of the market offers fresh egg rolls and other dessert-like baked goods. Indulge in one of those sesame balls and round pastries as after-dinner dessert.
- Unnamed “Fish Hot Pot” restaurant - Amazing and seemingly endless plates of thinly sliced fish makes for an incredibly fresh meal…ask a local climber like TonTon from Bar 98 to take you.
- Unnamed “10 RMB stir-fry” restaurant - It’s located close by the market, across from the main roundabout on Pantao Lu. Pick out fresh veggies and meat and the nice cook will whip them into a delicious, single-serving stir-fry. It goes along with a kind of rice cooked in a hot pot.
- Unnamed “6 RMB stir-fry” restaurant - It’s located a bit outside of town but if you find it, it’s a (dirt-cheap) gem…ask a local climber to take you!