At the end of December 2010, Darryl and I traveled to Hong Kong to hop the border to reset our visa. On the way back to Li Ming we stopped in Yangshuo to try to rally a few more people to check out the unclimbed sandstone splitters in Yunnan. We picked up long time China local Eben Farnworth and later on were joined by a female Chinese national named Xiao Shuang.
I remember sitting in Bar 98 in Yangshuo showing all the locals pictures of our previous adventures in Li Ming. Everyone was amazed that sandstone reminiscent of Moab and the desert in central USA could be found in China. It was becoming very clear that we were onto something very special. The motivation was high and we were ready to keep going.
Mid January 2011, we arrived back to Li Ming. We showed Eben and Xiao Shuang what we had been up to in the previous months. Routes like Soul’s Awakening with its splitter hands were a far cry from the jug hauls and face climbing that limestone seemed to create. All of us had to try really hard on the 5.9 and 5.10’s with the intense jamming. It was clear from the beginning that the climbing in Li Ming was going to be very different than the rest of what was popular in China.
Soul’s Awakening, the first route in Li Ming, could keep going up and turn into a multi pitch top out route. Far above our single pitch anchor was a beautiful orange corner. We pushed our high point and got on top of a pillar at the base of this long corner pitch. I headed out and experienced some great splitter hands that just kept getting bigger and bigger. Soon the smooth rock around me turned into an amazing honeycomb textured wall.
In the middle of the 40m pitch it got really big. In a large opening was a small foot ledge, I slotted my body half in the crack and put a six in above me. Breathing a bit I had a chance to look out and enjoy the view, amazed that we were so lucky to be the first climbing in this beautiful area of China. I started climbing again and a one meter section of rock dislodge from the wall. Catching this killer of a rock in my lap Darryl took myself and the rock’s weight on the rope with the number six above. The rock was huge and I could barely hang onto it. Darryl was directly below me and it was going to kill him if I dropped it. I couldn’t throw it out because it was too heavy. No idea what to do I started yelling to Darryl about this curve ball life just threw at us. Looking at the slot in front of me I realized our only option. Throw the rock in and hope that it would get slotted into the crack system. Telling Darryl what I was going to do I chucked it in. It slotted in like a nice chockstone and everything worked out. More drama and more shit working out. But it was a very close call.
Eben quickly found himself at home in the Pillars area. He spotted obvious looking lines down the wall from where we were previously developing.
These became the Staircase of the Elves and Dancing with Dragons. I have memories of him chucking rocks off the wall and having them crash down into the valley below. The park service was building a boardwalk for tourists to hike up into the sandstone wash valleys between the buttresses and these rocks would crash into the boardwalk. I also became responsible for destroying a few sections of the boardwalk.
We were on a roll with our first ascents. One of the scariest one happened during this time. On the what would become the second pitch of the route Back to the Primitive. I was slowly working my way up a thin dihedral. The crack was quickly going from red C3’s to purple and then gray and then nothing. This was a predicament. Above me the pitch turned into a jumble of loose rocks covered with the ever classic slippery black Lichen. With the smallest cam known to man below my feet I started to climb up this section of the route. I smeared my feet and they skated down the wall. Luckily my hand holds didn’t blow and I was able to hold on. I re-evaluated my strategy. Scrubbing the higher footholds making them clean I tried again. This time it worked out but I soon found myself dangerously high above my last piece of small protection run out on slippery lichen covered rock. Higher above I could see a bit of good gear. It just required another committing move to get to. Holding my breath I pulled up, shoved in a .75, grabbed the piece, clipped it to the rope and that was that. Drama over. Next was the crux. An inconsistent finger sized crack. I aided up the clean crack and put a bolt anchor in.
On the way down I put a bolt on the run out section thinking it would be ridiculous to have anyone else do what I just did. Interestingly enough a few years later Eben revisited this route, climbed the same section as me, and cleaned up the loose rock. We called this cleaning up my garbage. A huge lesson for me at the time to take the time and effort to make routes safe. The resulting cleaned section became much more reasonable and allowed to be protected with trad gear. The bolt came out and the route is as it is today.
That early winter 2011 was full of adventures. The four of us developed close to 40 routes and we left the area in March to go back to seasonal work in Yangshuo. I shared all these story with the locals and started to document all the route information in the guidebook. Eben created the website junshanclimber.com and it became the first online resource for the rock climbing in Li Ming. A few people told me that I should pursue sponsorship because what we were doing was cool and interesting.
That June I headed back to the USA after my first 1.3 years in China. Began talking with companies like Black Diamond and Kailas. Asking them for help for the next fall in Li Ming and other parts of China. This time marked a new beginning for me. An attempt at sponsored climbing. I still had a lot to learn, but the passion was burning inside of me. That summer Black Diamond agreed to help me out and I was contacted by Matt Segal, a well known North Face Athlete for Trad climbing. I gave him the guide that I had created and helped him plan a trip to li ming that fall.
Story continued in Li Ming Believing: Part 2
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