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Guoliang: China's best kept climbing secret
Ana Pautler (10/10/2014)

The Chinese climbers who told us of the location met us at the train station in the city of Zhengzhou in the Henan province, drove us to the national park, and spent several days showing us what they knew of the climbing areas. As we drove on the park's winding roads, we saw nothing but tall, beautiful sandstone quartzite walls with cracks riddled among the ribbons of sediment. We were surrounded on all sides by the massive gorge system that stretches for more than 5 kilometers. Our friends had only climbed in two areas, so it was up to us to figure out where the rest of the developed crags were. Armed with suggestions and educated guesses, we wandered through the park making trails, cleaning overgrown crag bases, and climbing unknown routes to get an estimation of a grade for the book. We focused on making the area safe for future climbers by knocking loose rock, checking anchors, and documenting any unsafe features. We ultimately found more than triple the number of routes we originally tallied up from our initial research. What surprised us was not the number of rediscovered routes, but rather the lack of development of stunning crack lines for traditional climbing. More than that, the walls in Guoliang seemed to scream of unlimited sport potential for areas with little protection but great features.

The initial development of the area was in the traditional style, and there are a few moderate multi pitches that were put up, allowing climbers to top out to a tourist look out. But in actuality, the local community has focused mostly on sport. During the first visit, The Climb China team climbed with the locals, giving a short demonstration on gear placement, and did more bush- wacking and cleaning routes than climbing. We'd talked about trying to get more climbers stoked on the area by hosting a clean up or small festival, but (much to my happiness from an organizational/available resources standpoint) the China Mountaineering Association beat us to it and hosted a festival in July of this year. 

I didn't plan to visit during the festival. In fact, I had heard about it only after getting in touch with some friends in Beijing about potential partners. I was trying to get from Keketouhai to Yangshuo, and oddly enough, traveling Urumuqi to Zhengzhou to Guilin (the closest city to Yangshuo) was shorter than going the seemingly more direct route through either Sichuan or Chongqing. So goes the logic of Chinese train travel!
My friend Mike Dobie joined me, curious to see what the place was all about. We arrived on the first afternoon of the festival. For me, it was cool to see so many climbers at the crag that had seemed abandoned the previous year. There was a good mix of Chinese and expat climbers since the area is relatively easy to access from both Beijing and Shanghai. Most of the climbers were stoked to see the "new" area and hoped to come back.
During this second trip back to Guoliang, I had the opportunity to climb several routes we didn't climb clean during the Climb China documentation trip. On the first go, this climb (see photo above) looked like a straightforward roof problem with cracks and ledges to work with. The Climb China team found planter box size wads of dirt on the ledges, but even after those were gone, a very technical sequence was required. So on this visit, Mike led it on gear (as he does) and hung a top rope for some climbers. Several others tried to get the ring lock, knee bar, high reach sequence down, but were unable to do it smoothly. Many of the grades in the park are still debatable.
In October 2014, Mad Rock athletes Chris Miller and Mike Dobie, along with Will Nagengast and photographer Garrett Bradley, returned to the gorge in search of hard roof problems that will go on gear. Gentleman, 加油 (jiā yoú, meaning "keep going")! Guoliang needs more quality loving! They have put up a quick video of their bolting efforts (see below). this video
The rock provides opportunity for some interesting climbing with sections of technical face climbing mixed in with occasional cracks and some roofs. The picture above shows Kunming local, Afei, on a route that starts out face-y and requires a high foot and pitch move before going into a nice layback crack. There are some phenomenal climbs in the area, but quantity was prioritized over quality in the past. It is very likely that the best climbing has yet to be discovered. Most of the crags are just a short walk from the road, so with a little more exploration, more quality lines are sure to be discovered.