BD athlete Kyle Dempster reports on an ice climbing trip to China
Black Diamond athlete (and recent Piolet d' Or winner) Kyle Dempster made a quick trip out to China this spring to check out some of the vast untapped climbing potential. He returned with tales of amazing climbing and beautifully bizarre food. Below is his report, photos and video.
I just recently arrived home from Sichuan China and glad to be eating familiar food again. The talented photographer Andrew Burr and myself spent a busy two weeks ice climbing and “adventure-neering” in the Shuanqiao Valley in the Four Sister’s National Reserve near the beautiful Siguniang. Here is a map:
The ice was nice and the weather kinda wacky. We arrived to super warm and dry conditions that forced us to climb ice routes in north-facing shaded gullies, yet also allowed us to acclimate on Jiansanzhi a nearby 18,000-foot peak that we managed within 90 feet of the summit while wearing our sneakers! Winds from the nearby Tibetan plateau cooled things off during our second week and fresh snowfall reminded us that it was still winter.
Weather and climbing aside for a moment, the culture and especially the food were nothing short of fascinating. The dried and stretched face of a boar, numerous other swine parts, and plenty of braided intestine all hung above the enormous wok that our lovely Tibetan host was sweating over. The sky was yet to lighten as she prepared breakfast. The previous night we had welcomed in the Year of the Tiger by roasting a goat on a rotary barbecue all while singing and dancing and lighting fireworks around the open fire pit. And that goat’s remains were now at the center of the breakfast table. Along with boiled dumplings, pieces of pig fat, spicy green chilies, steamed cabbage, a soupy rice mixture, and leftover cayenne spiced tofu.
Throughout most of my travels in Asia I have observed that there is not a shortage of food, however, I do feel that there is a short fall in the nutritional value in the food. Chinese dishes are typically overly cooked and heavy in oil and after two weeks of climbing higher-altitude ice routes, I was beginning to crave the nutritional aspects of the Western diet.
At nearly 12,000 feet Shuanqiao Valley is stacked with hundreds of pitches of ice. Similar to Cody, WY the majority of the climbs cascade down through gullies from the mostly unclimbed high peaks that form their backdrop. The majority of the routes are in the WI4 vicinity yet more difficult lines do exist. The Dragon’s Breath, Rastafarice, and a steep pillar whose name is unknown are such examples of more difficult lines. And holy mixed potential! Numerous steep limestone caves leading out to hanging daggers and vertical ice blobs connected by decent quality stone exist throughout the valley. And I didn’t get to climb a single one of them, I had stupidly left the drill at home and mixed climbing hasn’t quite caught on in China. First ascents to be had for sure.
Typically I get board rather fast with WI4 terrain but the combination of being in a foreign country, at altitude, and climbing either heavily aerated or compact dry dinner-platting ice, kept me on my toes on the easier terrain and had me working on the harder routes. Not to mention the difficulty of physical recovery when eating yak kidney, chicken feet, boar hoof, and stomach lining for dinner! Mmmm, seconds please!