Liming Crack Climbing – The Great Leveller

Published 2014

Last weekend some of us from Kunming headed up to Liming in Northern Yunnan.It was my first time up there, and I was curious to see what had  been going on up there, see if the rumors were true. We wanted to go and see what this liming crack climbing was all about. Turns out there’s more to it than we though, and 5.9 felt a bit like 5.13.

LaoJunShan National park belongs to the LiJiang Prefecture, but so far seems fairly unspoiled when compared to the base for mass tourism that LiJiang has become. The park entry fee is steep, at 100 kuai a go, but the ticket gets you into one of the more beautiful corners of Yunnan, and you can stay as long as you like.

There are a number of hotels in the village, of Liming, mostly quite cheap (60 kuai for a double room or 20 in a bunk) and plenty of restaurants too. It’s far enough north that you can get yak butter tea, and it gets cold at night, even when it’s warm during the day. The village sits at 2100 metres, and has both LaoJunShan and YuLong snow mountains in close proximity, but it’s crack climbing, rather than mountaineering, that the area is getting famous for.

According to the brochure ‘The Danxia landform was created by the thousands of years geological forces to bring the red sandstone out 2000m. The protected area covering over 350 square km.’

Basically more sandstone than you could climb in a lifetime. The potential here is overwhelming. There are short routes, long routes, really long routes and boulders all waiting to be explored.

Leading the foray so far in terms of exploration is Mike Dobie, an American who makes Liming his home for the best part of the climbing season. With some support from Black Diamond, Mike has developed about a hundred routes so far, equipping each pitch with anchors for lowering off, belaying, or rappelling where necessary.  Many of the routes have been climbed using gear to aid through hard sections of climbing, meaning that there are loads of open projects waiting for a ‘free’ first ascent. However, before you rush out to send all of these ‘easy’ unclimbed routes you may want to know that the type of climbing in liming is a rather specific technique, that non yanks may have not encountered a great deal of. We’re talking about cracks. (please skip next paragraph if you are some kind of Yosemite veteran who climbs 5.12 cracks with a finger up your bum)

Crack climbing is different to other climbings I have previously encountered. Rather than pulling on holds, it involves stuffing whichever part of your body gives the best fit into the crack, hanging some weight on it, and then shuffling as far as possible before squeezing the next hand fist arm foot or knee into the next bit of crack and repeating the process. Pulling won’t help, in fact it might make you fall off. It sounds awkward, and it is. However as the cracks punish you and you slither down the rock face, be not discouraged. We found that even after a weekend climbing, and less than twenty pitches between us, the subtleties of movement were beginning to reveal themselves.

By the end of the third day climbing, our arms were covered in scabs, and feet in constant pain, and even though my last climb of the weekend was an absolute dogshow, I walked down back to the village feeling elated. The fresh mountain air in Liming, the beautiful sandstone peaks, the friendly locals and the yak butter tea had left a warm pleasant feeling inside of me, or maybe I just ate too much of the twice cooked pork.
– Tom Wright

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