Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 10, May 28 - June 3

Climbing Beijing  
A Comprehensive Guide to Rock and Ice Climbing in Beijing

Climbing Beijing:
by Jon Otto Nonfiction
84 pages

The first comprehensive guide to rock and ice climbing in the Beijing area, this guide has a lot of pertinent information on rock and ice climbing around the capital. Written by an experienced climber who relies not on Chinese language skills but natural and manmade landmarks to find the locations he describes, the book (softbound) provides by far the most complete such compendium to date.

Climbing around Beijing provides an outlet for the pioneer spirit, both in the physical challenge of ascending rockfaces and in actually finding the best sites. Loose rocks, shrubs, and dirty holds are all part of the game. There are of course nice clean routes, but many have been climbed only once or a few times and the cliffs have many more obvious unclimbed routes than are mentioned in this book. You may find yourself putting up a new line. There are hundreds out there.

The book describes Beijing's two main climbing regions, both north of the capital: the Western Hills and the Huairou-Miyun loop. Each region consists of several climbing areas. The cliffs at each area have anywhere from two to 11 developed routes with a lot more potential ones. The area that seems to have the most potential is Phoenix Mountain; Green Dragon Gorge and Dragon Pool Ravine are runners up. No single cliff boasts hundreds of lines, but each is unique in its own way and all are worth the trip.

Recently, the various tourist administrations of Beijing started developing natural scenic areas around the city, similar to parks. It has gotten a little out of hand, and it seems as if every valley with a stream has a gate erected as an entrance and a ticket booth. Most of the cliffs are now within these areas. These developments have unfortunately degraded the natural beauty of these areas and resulted in many of them having two names: the local place name and the new commercial park name. A plus to the park system is that it makes the cliffs easier to find and there are more resources for climbers in terms of places to stay and eat.

An extensive appendix includes place names, climbing terminology and popular sayings. In addition to its glossary and directions, the guide deals with regulations affecting climbers and walkers in the Beijing region. All the climbing areas in this guide are within Beijing's greater metropolitan area, which covers a vast landscape spread over eight counties.

Beijing is completely open to foreigners who want to go climbing. Local administrations usually do not care if you climb. However, liability is becoming an issue in China and access issues are presently being negotiated with the bureau that runs Phoenix Mountain. It should not be a problem since climbers generate revenue, and that is the bottom line. If you are asked not to climb, inquire why and see if you can negotiate something. If you cannot, please do not sneak onto the cliffs. This behavior may jeopardize the future of climbing in that area. All the areas in this guide are officially open to foreigners, so you should not have any problems at these places.

Similarly covered is the environmental impact of climbing, especially in areas that have not been climbed, which leaves them vulnerable to harmful environmental impact. The starting points of many climbs do not have established trails. There is no trail access to the top of many cliffs. Climbing Beijing deals with the safest approaches and offers advice on minimum impact methods to keep the areas as pristine as possible.

Climbing is so new in China that there are no ethics governing what one should and should not do. While some support the traditional climbing ethic of using natural protection, only bolting into the climbing face where necessary, most agree that pitons (metal nails) are outdated. But with the present situation in China, pitons are almost a necessity. There are very few rap rings and reliable fixed bolts. Until these climbs are more developed, pitons are required as a safety measure. The guide introduces their placement and use.

How do new and experienced climbers determine where to go? The Yosemite Decimal System (5.0-5.14) is used in this guide. Assume most ratings are an approximation only. The climbs at Green Dragon Gorge and 309 are fairly accurate because they were climbed more frequently. An additional + or - sign may be attached to the ratings of the climbs at these two areas to denote that the climb is at the harder end or easier end of that rating. For all other areas a 5.6, for instance, may be anywhere from a 5.5 to a 5.7.

Lastly, the guide touches on safety. There is no means for a fast rescue from these areas. Your best bet anywhere, but more importantly here, is to climb smart. Make necessary arrangements with someone before you leave for the cliffs, keep your guidebook handy and use your head (and perhaps a helmet).

The author says of the book, "Basically, there is a lack of information, gear, and good training in China. I hope this guide, together with a future translation of a 'how to rock climb' book, will start to bridge that gap. Many young people are anxious to give climbing a go. Give them a rope and a harness and they will be out there in an instant." Better get out there before the hordes arrive.

Climbing Beijing can be purchased from:
Da Hu (Tel: 6288-5682) or
Directly from the author:

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