China doesn’t seem to rank high on the list for top climbing destinations in the world. Yet with everything from Mt. Everest to seaside granite boulders, karst sport climbing to sandstone trad, it holds some of the best climbs and serious potential. Since the turn of the century, China has continued an upward trend in rock climbing development by locals and foreigners alike.
In the spirit of lucky six 六 in Chinese culture, what follows are 6 tips to enjoy your next rock climbing trip to China.
1. Where to Climb in China by Season.
In order to plan a successful rock climbing trip, it’s important to know where to go depending on the time of year.
Generally speaking, autumn and spring are optimal for rock climbing conditions in China.
Don’t get me wrong though, you can easily climb year-round in China.
In the Summer, most northern locations are hot but climbable while conditions in south China can be challenging due to the rainy season.
In the Winter, you can head south to experience optimal conditions in many Chinese destinations. Winter in the north is best for ice climbing.
Here I lay out which Chinese provinces are best for climbing depending on the season.
Winter: Climb in Yunnan Province
With its moderate weather, variety of rock type, and community of developers, Yunnan is becoming the best province for rock climbing in China.
Rock climbing conditions in Yunnan Province are good from October to April. Friction is best in the winter though, when the weather is the driest. Avoid the rainy season which can last from May to September.
Rock climbing areas in Yunnan Province include:
- Kunming 昆明 – Limestone Sport Climbing. More info at KunmingRock.com
- Fumin 富民
- Xiaomoyu Village 小墨雨
- Xishan 西山
- Liming 黎明 – Sandstone Trad and some Sport Climbing.
- Shigu 石鼓 – Limestone Sport Climbing and Bouldering. More info at ClimbShigu.com
- Dali 大理 – Gneiss/Schist Bouldering, Sport, and Limestone Sport Climbing.
- Baiyansi 白岩寺 – Granite Porphyry Multipitch Mixed and Sport Climbing (Still in early stages of development)
Spring: Climb in Shandong Province
Not much is known about Shandong rock climbing, but multiple developed areas make it worth the trip. Climbing conditions are good here from March to November.
Rock climbing areas in Shandong Province include:
- Qingdao 青岛 – Granite Bouldering, Sport, and Trad Climbing.
- Zibo 淄博 – Limestone Sport Climbing and Bouldering.
- Zaozhuang 枣庄 – Limestone Sport Climbing
Summer: Climb in Xinjiang Province
The main rock climbing destination in Xinjiang is Keketuohai. If you enjoy multi-pitch trad adventure climbing this place is a wonderland.
However, important to note is the major hurtles you have to go through to get permission to rock climb here. See more details in the Keketuohai Guidebook, written in 2013. I had the pleasure of climbing here with a group of developers in the Summer 2016. I haven’t been back.
We were allowed to camp in the park only because we were considered “climbing experts” and contributing to the amount of routes there.
I have heard mixed things about access there since. You should definitely reach out to people there before going to be best prepared. Email me and I can help you figure out the current situation there.
Rock climbing areas in Xinjiang Province include:
- Keketuohai 可可托海 – Granite Trad Climbing and Bouldering. Guidebook here
- Urumqi 乌鲁木齐 – Sport Climbing
Fall: Climb in Guangxi
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is stacked with the gumdrop hills with karst faces that climbers adore. Most people that have heard of rock climbing in China have heard of Yangshuo, which resides here.
What’s less known is that Yangshuo forms just a piece of the climbing landscape in Guangxi.
Rock climbing destinations in Guangxi include:
- Yangshuo – Limestone Sport Climbing
- Guilin – Limestone Sport Climbing
- Mashan – Limestone Sport Climbing
- Liuzhou – Limestone Sport Climbing
2. The Best Modes of Transport Available in China.
Intercity: Bike Share or Shunfengche
Most Chinese cities are filled, often overwhelmed, with bicycles owned by bike-sharing apps. Some city-dwellers hate the havoc they cause and others love the convenience. I belong to the latter category.
Bike sharing apps include Ofo, Mobike, and Alipay. By the time you read this there could be three more. China moves fast.
It doesn’t make much difference which app you use. I would start with whichever has the most bikes in the city you’re in. Download an app, scan a bike’s QR code, then enjoy a ride.
In a congested city like Beijing these bikes are often the fastest way from point A to B.
Tips For Using Chinese Bike Sharing Apps:
- Check the brakes, tires and chain before scanning a bike. You don’t want to find the bike unusable having already scanned it. It can be a tedious process to report the problem to the app and be able to scan a new bike. This is especially important if you see a solo bike in a random location as they were often busted then abandonded.
- The Chinese version of these apps, which you can download if you switch the country of your app store to China, are often cheaper per ride and more reliable than the non-Chinese version. At least in China.
- Put a bluetooth speaker in the front basket and blow the classical music out people’s butts as you cruise by.
Sometimes you’re tired after a workout at there climbing gym, or just not feeling like Lance Armstrong. I get it. Let’s take a look at Shunfengche below.
Short to mid distance: Shunfengche （carpool/ride-share)
This is hands down my go-to when it comes to traveling anywhere within five hours by car. Shunfengche, literally “tail wind car”, refers to the fact that your driver is going in the same direction you are. If you are traveling with at least one other person, this is almost always the cheapest way to get from A to B door to door.
The app I use is called Dida 嘀嗒, not to be confused with Didi 嘀嘀, the Chinese equivalent of Uber. Dida also offers ride-hailing services but is the only Chinese app I know of with Shunfengche.
How it works: Post your trip publicly on the app, then drivers can message you through the app or call to arrange the details. Note that you definitely need to speak Chinese or get help from a Chinese friend to arrange pickup. It is totally worth it though as you can turn a taxi to train to taxi into a single pickup and drop-off. I’ve significant amounts of time and money with 5+ hour shunfengche.
Mid to Long Distance: Train
China has a robust and continuously improving railway system. Options for train travel in China include:
- Slow trains with sleeper cars (train no. starts with K or T)
- Mid speed trains with sleeper cars (Z)
- High speed trains known as Gaotie (D or G)
Reasons to take a train over a plane:
- Delays are less common
- No luggage limits
- Train stations are usually closer to the center of the city than airports
- Sleeper cars have cheap beds you can spend a night on if timed right
- More comfortable chairs and more space in general
- This makes it easier to be productive and get work done.
Tips For Taking the Train in China:
- If you’re not a Chinese citizen you need to use your passport and show up at least an hour before departure to get your ticket at the counter.
- Gaotie tickets add about ¥30 fee if you purchase using a passport. They won’t accept any other kind of foreign I.D., but a Chinese friend can help you purchase using their I.D. card and avoid the fee.
Any Distance: Hitchhike
Hitchhiking in rural China is easy. Many climbers and vagabonds alike have had great success with just a little patience.
Find a nice spot for vehicles to pull over and wait for your free ride. In China the way most people recognize a hitchhiker is with a hand stretched out, palm down.
Move your hand up and down with a smile to make your message clear. Many Chinese people that I’ve hitched a ride with had never picked up a hitchhiker before.
It’s also not uncommon for drivers to invite you to a meal at their home or on the road. Despite what the news say and what you may have heard, the Chinese are friendly, generous people.
Tips For Hitchhiking in China:
- Chinese language skills are a plus, but not necessary.
- It helps to study a map of the area before setting out. Know the place names, road numbers, and direction of travel for best results.
- The more in the “middle of nowhere” you are, the less cars you’ll see, but the higher the chances are of getting picked up by each passing vehicle.
- Don’t bother trying to hitchhike in a city. That’s what cabs are for.
3. Get a Chinese SIM card
Make sure your smartphone is unlocked then pick up a China Mobile 中国移动 or Unicom 联通 card with data. Both service providers work well and have similar deals. China Mobile has better coverage overall, especially in South China, but I’ve found places where only Unicom has service. For example, only you’ll need a Unicom SIM card for rock climbing in Dayu, Xi’an.
4. Download Wechat 微信 on Your Phone
Wechat is Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Venmo combined. It very well may take over the world. In the meantime, there are Wechat climber groups all over China for people that climb regularly and know the area.
I find Wechat the best way to contact climbers before going to a new area. Email me about your trip and I’ll invite you to the most relevant groups.
5. Know What to Bring and What to Carry With You
A couple things that will want but will have difficulty finding in China: deodorant and hand sanitizer. Pack your own to be sure you have it.
Carry hand sanitizer and tissues on your person. This may sound funny, but it quite common to find yourself in a Chinese bathroom without toilet paper or soap. I don’t mean private homes or most mid to upscale establishments, but rather subway stops, train stations, and other public restrooms.
Do yourself a favor and make a habit of stuffing some TP in your pocket before you go out. Oh and practice some squats for the squat toilets. Trust me it’s worth it.
6. Learn some basic Mandarin Chinese.
Chinese is a difficult language, even to get the hang of. Nonetheless a little bit goes a long way. And unless you’re going to somewhere foreigners frequent, chances are that you’ll use all the Chinese that you know.
This article isn’t intended to thoroughly introduce the language. Here’s a little to get you started.
- Most importantly is nihao Hello/Excuse me, xiexie Thank you, and buyao no thanks/I don’t want (to).
- When you order food, la is spicy, bula not spicy and weila (sounds like way) is a little spicy. Zhongla is a bit spicier than that, while we’re on the subject.
- Rock climbing is pan yan.
- You won’t get far without understanding the tones. Here’s a decent youtube video.
Speaking Chinese is a bit of a chore but good for your voice and your mind. Most importantly it’s your ticket to travel in the Mandarin speaking world with ease.
Armed with these tips you should fair better than most traveling and rock climbing in China. It’s helpful to do research but nothing can replace experience on the ground. Let me know if you need any advice!
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Mainland China Destinations on Climb Scout
Resources for Rock Climbing in China
climbshigu.com is the website of Stone Drum House, a great climbing hostel within walking distance of crags at Shigu, in Yunnan Province.
kunmingrock.com is run by the Kunming climbing community. They post great info on everything about rock climbing in and around Kunming.
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