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Yangshuo, China climbing guide

The uniqueness of Yangshuo’s landscape is impossible to overstate.

It’s covered by limestone karst towers as far as the eye can see, making the entire area feel both magical and alien. That might be why Yangshuo was selected to be the image on the back of the 20-yuan bill and the setting of Star Wars Episode III … and also what makes it a climber’s paradise.

Located in Southern China, Yangshuo is a rapidly growing little city/big town that’s a popular destination for Chinese tourists and international rock climbers. There are hundreds of climbs within the 5.8-5.13 range, with several 5.14 routes and more projects every year.

Beyond the iconic Moon Hill arch and endless karst towers, Yangshuo is a vibrant city all by itself, with a plethora of restaurants, street food, shops, and bars, in addition to a local climbing community and a constantly rotating but always close-knit international crew. Living and climbing in Yangshuo is a full-value experience. Every day feels like you’re discovering something new about Chinese culture and pushing yourself to the limit on yet another pumpy limestone project.

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Specific description of climbing style

With the exception of a few traditional/mixed lines, Yangshuo is all sport climbing, with multi-pitch and single pitch routes available. The climbing is all on limestone and is usually quite featured—tufas and pockets aplenty!

Due to some combination of climate and popularity, some of the more popular routes are getting quite polished, but there’s endless rock to be discovered and more routes added every year. It’s hard to overstate the potential for route potential here since you drive past dozens of untouched towers on the way to any given crag. There are crags on all sorts of terrain, from super-overhanging and rain-protected caves to more vertical areas, as well as ample tufas to wrestle at Moon Hill (but be warned that climbing there is periodically restricted).

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Best season

The fall is the best season to go as it has the lowest temperature and least amount of rain, but, as it is in Southeast Asia, some degree of heat, humidity, and bugs is to be expected. Many people bring mosquito coils to the crags, which do a good job at warding the pests away.

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Climbing grade range

There are hundreds of climbs within the 5.8-5.13 range, with several 5.14 routes and more projects every year. Most crags do have something for everyone, though there are a few crags that only have routes in a specific grade range.

Lei Pi Shan boasts a high concentration of hard climbs, and Swiss Cheese has a large collection of classic moderate routes. It’s important to be aware of conditions since you never want to get caught climbing in the sun.

Yangshuo grades don’t feel as soft as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, but they can feel all over the place sometimes. That said, some of the more classic routes have reached a consensus grade, and are probably more difficult now than they were when they were established due to polish.

Top climbs in the area

  • Lomito Complito (5.10a), Swiss Cheese: A classic, near vertical, moderate route at a crag boasting many classic moderate routes. Lomito Complito has you moving through featured limestone over a fantastic view.
  • Trou Sec en Millieu Humide (5.11c), Treasure Cave: This crag would be worth a visit even if there was no climbing—the upper cave was used as a refuge during World War II. At the time, it was a hideaway for hundreds of Chinese and had three different floors storing food, grain, and cattle. You can still see the notches that were carved in the wall to hold up these floors, and some routes go through these notches. Beyond the history, the climbing is great. This route has you almost walking through an intense roof tufa system—unique and not-to-be-missed. Bonus: this area stays dry in the rain.
  • Yangshuo Hotel (5.12b), White Mountain: A bouldery crux guards the start, and the rest of the climb goes through pumpy and varied sequences punctuated by good rests for the full 35 meters.
  • Walk the Moon (5.12c), Moon Hill: As long as climbing is allowed at Moon Hill, every climber should make it their goal to climb there at least once. Walk the Moon climbs the underbelly of the arch with a classic tufa-straddling no-hands rest midway through.
  • Single Life (5.13b), Lei Pi Shan: An extension to Singularity (12b), this climb follows a stunning line that has the bouldery and unforgiving style typical of Lei Pi Shan.

Best local spots

There are virtually infinite options for food.

Yangshuo is bursting with everything from sit-down restaurants (including some serving western foods) to eclectic street food. Due to the layout of the city and the language difference (unless you can read and speak Mandarin) it’s best to just ask someone who’s been in Yangshuo longer than you for directions to their favorite place. Food is quite cheap, but you can save even more money by staying off the main streets.

For a specific recommendation: buy buns from street carts in the morning to snack on throughout the day, and for dinner, go with a big group to a stir-fry restaurant where you split a bottomless tub of rice and a dozen different dishes.

There are plenty of bars and clubs as well, but of note is the Rusty Bolt for being climbing-themed. You can buy chalk at the shop next door and then go back over to watch a climbing video over a beer!

Where to stay

In the center of Yangshuo, the aptly named Climber’s Inn tends to be the hub for all visiting climbers, including those not staying there. It’s a budget-friendly, family-run place headed by a woman named Lilly, a climber, who is always ready to help you with everything from booking a taxi to the crag, finding a place to eat, and planning your travel from Yangshuo. Due to its close proximity to several clubs, it can get quite loud at night, so someone that is a light sleeper should bring ear plugs.

The Stone Bridge Hotel is a great option for someone wanting a calmer setting—it’s out of the center of Yangshuo with friendly owners that also climb and are happy to help arrange transportation.

If there’s a specific crag you’ll want to climb at, you could try to find a hostel or AirBnB nearby, but otherwise, you’ll need to either rent a bike, a scooter, or take a taxi to the crags—none of which should cost you more than few dollars per day.

Best kept secret(s)

  • Whenever you get a chance, walk to the Li River and enjoy the view. It’s really, really beautiful.
  • Indulge in a massage on a rest day.
  • Try as many kinds of tropical fruit as you can. Passion fruit and mangosteens are recommended!
  • Just explore as much of the city as you can in the time you have. There’s a lot to see!

Other information

There’s not a lot of English spoken, so learning a few Mandarin words and phrases and brushing up on your charades will help you get around.

Climbing gear is high-priced, so be sure not to forget anything at home, and maybe bring a few spare bail-biners to use on older anchors, just in case.

Except for certain areas noted in the guidebook, crags are not on private property and don’t have an entrance fee, but some locals have tried to get foreign climbers to pay. This is a scam, and it’s best to say no politely and ignore them.

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