A Brief History of Rock Climbing in Baihe

Since the emergence of rock climbing in China, Baihe 白河, meaning “White River”, has ranked as one of the top climbing destinations in the country. Local Beijing climbers first developed single and multi pitch routes on its world class granite in the late 1990’s. Then in the 2000’s Baihe became a climbing hotspot as local and foreign climbers collaborated in their bolting efforts.

Together, they expanded into many areas over the years, improving access to sport, trad, and multi pitch routes. There was even a push to establish bouldering, most notably in the Shatuozi 沙坨子 Valley, which culminated in the 99 Problems Climbing Festival in 2016. All this momentum pointed towards a bright future for climbing in Baihe.

The Turn of Events in 2018

Amidst the development of Baihe rock climbing, the Beijing government had its own plans for the region. Namely, the buildup of the Miyun Reservoir. After about a year of attempts by the government to control the crags along the river, firm action was taken in April 2018 when almost all of the climbing areas were shut down.

The Shatuozi Valley was closed off and many of the boulders there have been destroyed already to make way for a new road. Climbing became forbidden and soon barbed wire fences lined the roads and riversides. Guards were posted at various access trails to deter trespassing and stories abounded of perpetrators’ gear confiscated by authorities.

However, climbers weren’t the only ones affected by this sudden change. Local guesthouses and restaurants saw their numbers drop. Delai’s Climbing Hostel, which was the first of its kind in Baihe, has particularly been hit. Meanwhile fishermen and tourists responded by seeking access to the river farther upstream. Unfamiliar with the area, some drowned which resulted in a total ban on river access. This brought rafting and other water activities to an end.

Why this Sudden Change?

The reason for tightened security along the Baihe river has to do with its proximity and importance to Beijing. The Baihe feeds into the Miyun Reservoir which supplies drinking water for the whole city. As Beijing grows in size, so too does the importance of its water supply. While it’s understandable that Beijing would want to protect this natural resource, it’s unfortunate harmony could not be achieved with the climbing community.

On one hand, the local government is working hard to protect the drinking water of millions of people. On the other hand, years of effort when into developing the Baihe crags and climbers were never ones to pollute the river.

Perhaps the best way to see this chain of events is as a valuable lesson in rock climbing development. The most convenient and obvious places to bolt may also be the most susceptible to external influence. Developers would be wise to consider events like what has happened in Baihe before fully committing to an area.

What’s Next for Baihe?

Despite all of the damage done to rock climbing in Baihe, not all hope is lost. A new crag, Jinglinggu 精灵谷, already has many routes developed and has remained free of government restrictions. There is a ¥10 CNY (about $1.50) fee to access the area but climbers report a healthy relationship with the owners. Maybe this could be a model of future development in areas only accessible by crossing private land.

Meanwhile, local developers that earn their living as climbing guides are working hard to push their agenda and establish routes in new areas. The many mountains that make up the landscape far from the riverbed, become more appealing everyday for those seeking new frontiers.

The Baihe Climbing Fund, which is run by a group of die hard Chinese climbers and puts in a lot of effort to raise funds for bolting, getting sponsors for events (like the annual Baihe clean up day) and talking to local authorities and villagers. Recently some Chinese climbers organized a movie night at the village square and gave talks about climbing. The day after, locals were invited to come climb with the experts.

Baihe may have been crippled by the recent turn of events, but with further exploration and community support it could become better than it ever was.