The previous experiences I had in China and specifically Li Ming was beginning to have a huge affect on me. It had become a “life service project.” A chance to fulfill all my desires for first ascents and create routes that others could climb and would enjoy. At the same time it was clear that it would be THE opportunity for traditional climbing to happen in China. So I became pretty fixed on the idea to try to spend as much time there as possible. I just needed a way to do it.
I began to contact companies to gain support through sponsorship. The first was Black Diamond. They gave a bit of gear and it was encouraging that in my mind was entering the world of professional climbing.
Returning to China in the fall of 2011 was an amazing homecoming. Li Ming began to be talked about. Motivation was really big as I looked for additional support from other climbing companies. I submitted a proposal to a small up and coming Chinese owned company called Kailas. I really didn’t receive much from Black Diamond, as my relationship with their company was in it’s infancy, and was looking for more resources to work with . They gave enough to equip a whole team with clothing, some O.K. trad gear, and more importantly bolts for anchors. I began to assemble a team to head back for more first ascents after the fall work season.
During this time I was contacted by Matt Segal, a climber with The North Face, about the possibility for climbing in Li Ming. I sent him pictures and the rough guidebook that I had wrote the previous year. Also put him in contact with my Chinese climbing partner Zhoulei. Him and three other climbers headed out there in November. I also arrived at that time and got my first look at what professional climbing was all about.
It was really cool to watch them work. Matt had been a personal inspiration for me as he has taken traditional climbing to the limits in difficulty and going for it. Something that caught my attention and would maybe want to do in the future as I had only been climbing for three years at the time….
Their group established the Faraway Corner which at the time was graded 5.11+ (it is now 5.11a), a project that they left open called Japanese Cowboy 5.12+ (eventually freed by YanFang, making him a leader in the Chinese trad climbing community), Ding Dong’s Crack (half) 5.12 (recently extended to be a 30m classic pitch) and the ever famous route Air China 5.13d R-rated (which is since considered 5.13c and not R-rated).
Their work in Li Ming and connections in American media outlets really helped put the area on the map. Also Matt’s efforts on Air China was really a visionary taste for the future of climbing in Li Ming. Now days we are establishing routes in similar fashion using bolts, face holds, and aretes. The result is some of the best sandstone climbing in the world….for those interested in hard routes. Because of the nature of the rock in Li Ming when you have to put in bolts the climbing tends to be at least 5.11d.
As their trip was coming to a close, mine was just beginning. The rest of my development team was arriving for winter season and we soon had the valleys of unclimbed rock to ourselves….
It is important to note that at this time we basically had a pack of dogs following us everywhere we went. A small little white dog named Ding Dong was the original K-9 that befriended us. Everyday a new village dog would join the pack so we started giving them all names like George, Falcor, Mopsy, and Squirrel. All based on either their behavior or the way they look.
Then one day a coyote looking shepherd dog literally appeared out of the forest and started to follow us. He would slowly walk up, not sure to trust us, and try to get some pets. At the end of the climbing day he would disappear back into the woods and he would greeted the next day returning to the climbing wall. Trust grew even more and he started sleeping outside of our guesthouse at night. We had no idea who he belonged to because he just sort of materialized out of nothing. So he got a new collar and a name…..Jerry. Named after Jerry Seinfeld.
The dog culture is a very special part of li ming today and Jerry seems to think he is the most important. I love him. He is a sucker for love.
Back to the climbing development. After watching and learning from the professional climbers of The North Face I felt like I had an idea of what I was doing….! With a whole new vision of what was possible we set out to unexplored areas of the park. One area, now called Pandora, became to main new area for the trip. Amazing climbs went up and I aided up stuff that would become my projects for 2012-3. Wind of the North and The Last Ninja to name a few.
A short steep double bulging route became my project for the season. It scratched at 5.12 and became a test piece for me in steep fingerlocks as well as trust in the gear and rock integrity . Following the example of Segal and his redpointing strategy I put a top rope on the line and began to challenge myself. It felt harder than some 5.12 sport climbs that I had finished, but it came together eventually with a redpoint. I called it The Reckoning.
In 2015 I gave it an extension, moving out of the crack and onto the face beyond the first anchor. It really is some of the best climbing I’ve done at the grade. Check out the video below. The stills in the video are segments of the extension.
In total we added another 40 routes to the climbing scene. In January 2012 we all headed our separate ways. Sometime in the spring I got a call from Black Diamond about doing a trad festival in Li Ming. They also told me that I needed to drop my contacts with Kailas as I was to become sponsored by them and The North Face. Excellent and unbelievable as it was a special opportunity to pursuing my passions full time in Li Ming and other parts of China.
Story continues in 2012: Trying Harder…
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