Yangshuo is at the heart of a lush farming region in southern China famous for its karst-limestone towers rising out of green rice paddies and crisscrossed by jade-green rivers. It is also the heart of China’s rockclimbing scene that, unlike much of the rest of China, is very cheap and 'low-budget' tourist-friendly. You can come here to climb, mountain bike, trail run, explore caves or just kick back and enjoy the stunning views. The photos and paintings of the area are familiar to anyone who has ever glanced through a travel book on China. The rock towers in nearby Xingping appear on the back of China’s RMB 20 banknote.
Most of the climbing caters to the sport crowd, although there are numerous traditionally protected, multi-pitch routes and many more first ascents just waiting to be ticked off. The area offers unlimited possibilities for new routes on the thousands (estimates up to 7000) of limestone towers within a 100km radius. There are now over 350 established routes with new routes going up every week.
Of the new routes established since 2005, many are in the more difficult grades up to 5.14b - China's first. A number of well-known international climbers have spent time in the area during the past two years and have put up exciting new projects and developing new crags concentrating on more difficult grades 5.12 and above. Local climbers, especially the guides working for Chinaclimb, have also been putting up new, difficult routes and opening new crags. This surge of activity has resulted in many new lines that will challenge even the best climbers.
Paul Collis bolting a new line on the Space Buttress
The only guide book I know of on the area, ‘Rock Climbing in Yangshuo’, by Paul Collis, is now in its seventh edition. You can pick up a copy at any climbing shop in Yangshuo and is reported to be on sale at climbing shops in Hong Kong. For the most up-to-date information on new lines, it is best to check in at Karst Cafe or Chinaclimb as most climbers leave drawings and route descriptions for a new route there. Please buy the book when you pass through as most of the proceeds go to buying more hardware to put up new lines.
Moon Hill has been an important tourist destination in southern China every since China has had tourists. Chairman Mao brought President Nixon to see this crag on Nixon's visit in 1972. A path was paved at that time and it is still worth the walk-up. You can continue walking past the end of the stone steps passing through the arch, then go to your left on a dirt trail that will take you to the top of the crag where you'll have excellent vistas of the surrounding area.
Todd Skinner and friends started climbing here in early 1990 and put up some of the classic test pieces in the area on this crag. There are now 23 lines on Moon Hill most in the 5.12-5.13 range. Moon Walker and Red Dragon are the classic lines on the inside of the arch and are overhung their entire length. Moon Hill also has the hardest 5.10b I've even been on.
The Egg, maybe it was named after a dinosaur egg, is a wonderful crag back a few kilometers off the main road in the middle of rice paddies. The belays are set up high and you get a wonderful view of the villagers tending their fields and water buffalo all day long. The crag is starting to see more climbing, but you will usually have it to yourself during the week. It is an easy place to come and hang out for the day and just climb a few lines.
Finding ways to stay out of the sun during the long hot season has always been a challenge in Yangshuo and the Egg offers a good solution. There are bolted lines on three faces: when hot, climb on the west side in the morning, then climb the north side followed by the east face once the sun has moved off of it.
Reverse the procedure in the winter months. The north face offers shade all day long and is overhung enough to stay dry in light rain. The north face now has 18 routes, most in the 5.10, 5.11 grades with a few easier ones having been put up recently. It is an excellent crag for a long day of moderate climbing, well bolted and clean – notice the broom in the photo.
Recommended routes: Eric's 5.11a, the two 5.10ds, Dave's 5.11d (all 3 on the north face near the big cave; Eggstreme Eggsposure and Tyson's 5.10b/c on the west face.
Wine Bottle has a number of excellent routes on very high-quality rock that, due to its proximity to town, sees a lot of traffic from the guiding companies. It is a great crag to frequent during the less busy seasons and a recommended place to return to if you enjoy climbing in the 5.10 to 5.11 range. It is also a nice place for shorter afternoons sessions. The crag gets sun most of the days and is best avoided before 4 pm during the hotter months.
There are over 20 routes on very high quality rock ranging from beginner lines, (5.7/5.8) to very enjoyable 5.11s. Top marks got to "The Great Wall" (5.11d), "Where's the Jug?" (5.11a) and "The Miracle of Lankou" a hard 5.9.
Although a strikingly beautiful crag just next to the road, the Middle Finger sees surprisingly little traffic. Probably because it is has only traditionally protected routes. Todd Skinner, Mike Tupper and Craig Luebben have all put up routes on the crag. Little information is available on the routes and tradition is working to keep it a place for trad climbers only.
White Mountain is one of the more impressive crags in Yangshuo; overhanging for most of its 200-meter length, the steeper section is overhang by 15 degrees for its entire 60 height. The result has been many (34 lines at present) very physical and sustained routes up to 5.13d and above. Most stronger climbers wind up spending a lot of time at White Mountain.
In addition to the many fine lines put up by Paul Collis and the ChinaClimb crew, British climbers Niel Gresham and Seb Grieve have also left their mark here. There are too many great lines to mention, but ones I've been on and enjoyed are the short and bumpy 10.a/b, the Stone Dog 5.10c, China White 5.12b, the fingery 5.11a (route 25), the 5.11b (route 22) on the right side, and the long 5.10c (route 30). There are probably more star-rated routes on this crag than on any other in Yangshuo. Better climbers rave about the more difficult routes, but I'll wait to comment on them until I can climb some of them myself.
Located a short bike ride from the bustle of Yangshuo Village, Thumb Peak offers some of the best multi-pitch climbing In Yangshuo. There are three longer lines, 3-5 pitches, all in the 5.9 to 5.10 difficulty range. A few of the lines require traditional protection, and if you bring trad gear, you should top out just to get the view from the top.
The Crag can get a lot of traffic on holidays and also gets afternoon sun, so plan according to the season for when to climb. The climb is near to the main road and raidos might be necessary to hear signals, especially lower down. Total height of the climb is over 100m. There have been a number of nightime ascents, unsually done in the buff.
Most people get to Yangshuo through Guilin. Guilin offers a few international flights from Maccau and Hong Kong but if this doesn't work for you, you can fly there from almost any major city in China. Standard fares from Shanghai are around RMB1300 full fare, one-way and you can usually find tickets at a 50% tariff except during peak seasons. Guilin also has train connections to the north, west and the Pearl River Delta. It's much cheaper, but adds 20 hours to the 2-hour flight to Shanghai.
Here's a detailed link:
How to get to Yangshuo
From Guilin you can take a taxi from the airport or train station directly to Yangshuo (RMB200) or go into town and figure out how to take a highway bus and save a few RMB. You will be passing majestic towers on both sides during the drive and very few of them have been climbed.
No red tape to speak of. You can get good information on climbing conditions at any of the climbing shops in town. It is usually easy to meet new partners at many of the bars and restaurants in town. With the increasing number of overseas tourists the level of spoken English has improved markedly in the past 5 years.
One thing to watch out for is extending your tourist visa if you come and wind up staying longer than planned. Some climbers wind up making visa runs to Hong Kong just before their visa runs out. If possible, try to get a longer visa before you come to China, or get a multi-entry visa that allows you to leave and re-enter without applying for a new visa. Some countries will issue double-entry visas, but beware visa policies vary with the country of your passport - making it harder on Americans than on Canadians for example.
There have been some recent access issues with farmers near some of the crags but this is being handled and coordinated by the local climbing club. If approached by locals asking for money, try to avoid harsh words or an altercation. This really is a problem to be worked by the local tourism, sports and governmental bureaus. Best to be polite, act ignorant and have a number of a climbing shop to call to get them involved.
You can climb year-round in Yangshuo although winter can be quite wet and cold while summer is usually hot and rainy. The best months to climb are March through May and September through mid-December. Many of the walls are overhung and well protected from the rain and can be climbed in rainy weather.
Rainy day climbing is always possible in the Chicken Cave, and usually so at White Mountain, Banyan Tree and Twin Gate. All of these crags are greatly overhung and stay dry even in a downpour. Continual rain might cause some seepage, however.
Hot and humid days usually require starts before sunrise in order to get in a long day. Since most climbers in Yangshuo are allergic to mornings, don't expect to find willing local partners. The night life extends well into the morning and is a big part of the attraction of the place.
Most climbers stay in budget accommodations in town with room rates ranging from RMB50 to RMB150/night (at current exchange rates that is about USD6.00 to 13.00)double occupancy. Rooms are pretty standard and you may be asked to pay a bit more for airconditioning at the lower-priced places. Karst Cafe has added their link to this page (see below) and is a good a place as any to begin looking for accommodations - they also have a small hotel.
Recommended places to stay:
Rock and Grill
Magnolia (up scale)
Hire an apartment for a month.
The atmosphere in town is relaxed and friendly, unlike anywhere else I have ever traveled to in China. YOu can handle most of your daily life, eating, laundry, arranging transportation to the crags, renting a bicycle, sorting out rooms, etc in English. The town is filled with small restaurants with western food and English menus. I've been enjoying the Fajitas at the Red Star Cafe recently. Beer is almost too cheap and as a result tends to flow till quite late.
Not many people wind up camping around Yangshuo because accommodations are so cheap and convenient. You can camp out, or stay with local farmers if developing crags further away from town but it is necessary to have a local guide, or at least a Chinese speaker with you to arrange this. Local delicacies include bamboo rat and garden snails.
The sides of the towers exposed directly to rain show typical limestone erosion patterns, they are dark in color and the rock dissolves away it leaves a sharp, honeycombed surface. Faces not exposed as directly to rain, many are covered by huge overhangs, remain light brown to orange in color and provide the best walls for climbing. Helmets are required if you plan to work on opening new areas.