China's Granite Playground : Exploring Keketouhai
Ana Pautler (07/14/2014)

For this trip, I partnered up with Mike Dobie, who has spent the last four years developing China's trad climbing mecca, LiMing. He had visited Keketouhai on two prior expeditions. The previous trips had resulted in long, moderate routes. These were what had caught my interest. This year, Mike's eye was on the Hammer and Tongs crag where a steep finger crack and body length roof had yet to see first assents. 

When we first arrived, American climber Dan Flynn and Columbian Dani Villegas had been in the national park for two weeks on their second development trip. Despite both claiming not to like chimneys or off width, they had come with some serious gear including a valley giant and a series of big bros. Dan made a video about their two-week trip showing some of the newly established climbs:

Most of our time was spent at Hammer and Tongs scrubbing and cleaning the routes which included throwing massive wads of guano from the roof. After a few days of effort the crag had some of the park's hardest lines. Steep finger cracks and inversions are not exactly my strengths and more than once I found myself laughing at my inability to pull moves Dobie made look easy. I also learned how to use a hand drill, a process that makes me appreciate every bolt. Voices in the Deep, a 5.12 steep finger crack with reachy ring locks and a thin finish went free after a few tries by Mike. Diamond in the Witch House, a burly roof requiring an inversion bat hang went free except for pulling the lip after the roof and is estimated to be around 5.13. 


One of our last days, we climbed Sky Rim on the Knife Buttress, a 7 pitch ridge climb with a great alpine feel. The pitches offer a little of everything: a tricky roof, a beautiful hand crack pitch, some slab climbing, and an adventurous descent rappelling off trees and bolts.

Keketouhai now has around 80 lines, and while it has a reputation for being far away, it is easy to get to and from the local village. The remoteness has created a culture that contrasts to China's industrialized east. Most of the people are either Kazakh or Uighur both of which are strongly steeped in Muslim culture. Hand pulled noodles and barbecue are the local specialties. Sichuan restaurants are the only places serving rice. Locals are more prone to speak non-Chinese languages and the traces of a different country can be found every where.

The area is truly a hidden gem of China. Come for the amazing climbing, delicious food, and kind people. You wont be disappointed!