BD athlete Sam Elias reports on the 3rd Annual Yangshuo Climbing Festival
Black Diamond athlete Sam Elias joined up with fellow BD athletes Yuji Hirayama and Abond for the 3rd Annual Yangsuo Climbing Festival in Yangshuo, China. Below is Sam’s report about this massive gathering of global climbers and his days of climbing on the limestone karst formations with Yuji, Abond, Emily Harrington and a crew of BD employees.
Yuji Hirayama arrived three nights ago from Japan to join Emily and I. We are all here for the Yangshuo Climbing Festival on Oct 29-31. It is China’s largest climbing event and is sponsored by Black Diamond and The North Face. There are competitions, clinics, presentations, and general sharing and celebrating of our sport. We are all very excited for the event. But first, a little climbing for ourselves…
Em and I just climbed three days, and Yuji for the latter days with us. It was fun, productive and eventful. The first day, Em and I went back to Lei Pi Shan. It was Sunday, and there was a great group of people at the small crag. It was a simply enjoyable day of hanging out and climbing. Yuji arrived late this night, and we awoke and found him in the hotel, cheerful and excited as ever. We had previously agreed to forerun the festival competition boulder problems in the gymnasium that morning, so after breakfast we headed there. After a nice little session that went into the early afternoon, the plan was to rent motor scooters and go out to White Mountain, since we were getting a later start, and because it was an overcast day. This is where is gets interesting.
[Lei Pi Shan]
We had a friend help us negotiate for two scooters—Chinese-style, which happens for basically every good that someone wants to acquire, and is really an argument that goes until one side concedes. It can get loud, it can get heated, and it can take a long time. Since people have been doing this for thousands of years here, they are pretty goddamned resilient. I think that they view it as a battle where there is a very definite and winner and loser. Well, I think that we got the most pitiful and insufferable and stubborn woman in the whole fucking country. After about 30 minutes, our friend managed to get about 10% off the price. It was getting late, and we were anxious to climb, especially Yuji, as it was his first day, so we conceded,,, though our Chinese friend that translated and negotiated was not happy about it. (Just so you know, the scooters were like $10 each, so we saved a couple bucks for our 30 minutes… Renting them wasn’t gonna break the bank, but there is a practice here of overcharging foreigners for EVERYTHING. And, it is usually on the order or two to three, sometimes five, times more than a local. It is a pretty lame practice, but, it is an accepted way here.) After a couple photos, laughs, and instructions in Chinese we were nervously and dangerously on our way; Em and I and our two climbing packs on one scooter, and Yuji with his pack on another. I seriously think that this was the most dangerous thing that any of us have done in our lives, and I’ve done some stupid things and taken some unnecessary risks thus far in my life, but holy shit, I think that just sitting down on a scooter decreases your lifespan by 75% instantly.
But, I thought too soon, because the return trip would turn out to be FAR more dangerous… After almost T-boning a huge dump truck on the way to the crag (because the guy just instantly decided to whip a slow-mo u-turn, and I was maybe going a little too fast), we were getting close to the crag. Two minutes from the wall, I couldn’t see Yuji in my rearview. We stopped and waited. Nothing. A little longer. Still nothing, so we turned around and found Yuji a couple hundred yards back down the road sitting on his scooter, smiling. The fucking thing had broken down. It took me about three seconds to figure out what to do. I whipped up my 9.4 BlueWater Dominator rope and lassoed the 2 petrol-fueled steeds together like a goddamned proud American cowboy. So, yep, we towed Yuji and his broke-ass scooter to the crag, but the last part of the approach is like a technical, turny, single-track trail, and it was intense and caused us to wreck once, crashing over sideways into a ditch of bushes. Mildly amused, we managed to make it safely to the crag, and were in good spirits. There were clouds in the sky, we had the crag to ourselves, and it was fantastic. Since we got the late start, we tried to climb as long as possible, but had in our minds to try and allow enough time so not to have to tow the scooter back in the dark. We failed.
[At White Mountain]
Slowly and sketchily we made it back to town. It was gripping, and I could feel death riding closely the whole time. Seriously, SERIOUSLY dangerous. There were just so many uncontrollable elements: pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, cars, vans, trucks, construction vehicles, and tour buses… AND it was DARK… AND we were towing a moped with another moped with a climbing rope… AND we were in China where there are NO real driving rules. Despite all of this, the whole day was comical and fun in a way. Yin and yang. I mean, it’s easy to see light side of life in good times, but to see the light in the darkness and in fear is a true test. Accept what you can, control what you can, then let go and roll the dice.
We thought that we would surely be refunded our money, and had a friend meet us there upon our return to speak Chinese and work it out. We arrived to the “pissed off” lady to find her mood unimproved, and completely unconcerned with the problem or our safety, but bummed her scooter was broken and worried about the cost of repair. Thus, there was no way she was going to give us any money back, and she acted like we were at fault and like she wasn’t responsible for anything. After another 30 minutes of our time, she gave us back about $4. Whatthefuckever… To balance the day out properly though, we were invited to a global gathering of locals for a vegan potluck dinner. It was very special for us to be included. The meal was incredible and the people were so kind and genuine. There were so many different flavors… of food, but also of culture and ideas. We have made good friends here. I thank them.
The next day was not nearly as exciting, though the weather dramatically shifted to overcast and windy and cold. We again foreran some of the comp problems in the gym in the morning, and then we visited a new crag called Banyan Tree. It is a small wall with only a handful of routes, but usually in the sun most of the day, so we were lucky to enjoy it in the fine conditions. I love climbing with the wind. I feel an electricity in the movement of the air that makes me feel aware and engaged, light and strong. Though it was the 3rd day of climbing in a row, the wind helped me to forget my sore skin and muscles.
[View from Banyon Tree crag]
[Yuji and Lei Pi Shan]
On the day of the festival, 10/30/10, we rented scooters again, and went out to White Mountain early. Some American employees from Black Diamond have been in Asia working out of the BD facility in Zhuhai, China, so they came to Yangshuo for the festival and to climb. We were a gang of five, racing out to the crag, and it was fun weaving through traffic and speeding along together. There was a solid amount of laughing and shit talking and risk taking. It was a really cold morning, and my hands went numb from the wind, but it was refreshing. It made me think of the cold and the snow and the ski areas, which all await me back in Colorado.
[Yuji and his scooter]
We arrived and hung out for a while as things got going. Then, Emily and I lead a group out to The Egg crag. There, she taught a Steep Climbing clinic, and I gave a Beginners clinic. Though an element of work and preparation must go into these instructional sessions, they are truly rewarding to do. I seem to learn and have fun as much as the participants. The people always seem to have genuine enthusiasm and curiosity. I had some people that had never climbed before. It was inspiring to watch them try and to field their questions. Their minds are so open and unbiased; the beginners mind. They have no notions of expectations and performance. It feels good to be around this kind of energy. Their approach is not attached to a goal or outcome, because they know nothing of things to come, so they simply exist in a present state of effort. I think this is the most pure way to experience something. We walked back to White Mountain where Yuji had remained and taught an Onsighting clinic, and Abond taught a Redpointing clinic. Abond, who is also sponsored by Black Diamond, is a young local climber and one of the strongest Chinese sport climbers ever. He is kind and generous, and I coincidentally met him for the first time when we were in Kentucky just a few weeks ago where he was on a month-long trip to the Red.
We rallied the scooters back to town to freshen up and do some final preparations for our slideshow that evening. As is the norm, I of course couldn’t make it all the way back without incident, and narrowly avoided t-boning another scooter as the rider was perpendicularly creeping into the Saturday evening traffic indifferent to the inertia of hundreds of vehicles travelling at right angles to him, and apparently convinced of his imperviousness to them all.
[Giving the slideshow at the festival]
Emily and Yuji and I presented the videos and photos from our trip to Turkey in April to a packed house. We killed it. First Em, and then I, and then Yuji. We were all really happy with the flow and energy of the show, and the crowd responded. Afterward, the bouldering comp started, and Em and I signed hundreds of posters as well. Literally, for almost two hours straight we greeted people. Everyone wanted a signed poster and a picture with the three of us. The night continued as we went for some food and drinks, and it got late quickly, but we were all amped because of our successful show and the festival and people in general.
On Sunday, we got a late start, but went to Moon Hill for our last day of climbing. It was Yuji’s first trip up there. To get up to the breathtaking formation of rock, one must ascend a long handmade stone path with about 800 stairs. It is a pretty cool approach and it winds through a forest of bamboo and other Asian trees and bushes. We met the BD crew up there, and had the place surprisingly to ourselves. It is generally the windiest and coolest crag, and as today was no exception, it was great conditions. Abond joined us all a little after we arrived. A fatigue from climbing days past and a couple late nights of enjoying the festival, as well as a sadness of the awareness of the finality our trip created a mellow pace that carried us through the day. Though exhaustion was present, we climbed happily into the darkness and slowly braved the steep stairway downward and out of our dream.
We went to dinner…To the bar… And, late into the night, until the unfortunate but necessary disbanding of our three-strong crew. Yuji back home to Japan, Emily to Mexico for the Petzl Roctrip, and I to Zhuhai, China to the BD Asia location before Hong Kong for a night and then home. It was made easier however, by the knowledge that we would meet again in practically a single week in Banff, Canada on the other side of the world for the North Face global athlete summit.
— Sam Elias