My buddy Pete is technically a PhD research scientist with an important role at the Kunming branch of the World Agroforestry Centre. He is also a loving husband and father. Outside of these responsibilities he seems to spend most of his time thinking about rock climbing.
As part of this passion for climbing, he spends a lot of time developing new sport climbing routes. This involves installing the steel bolts into which climbers attach their ropes in order to protect themselves from falls as they ascend.
I've been doing a fair amount of climbing in Kunming and other places over the past few years, often under Pete's tutelage. Much of this practice has come in the lovely rural areas surrounding Kunming.
I've found the sport to be a rewarding one that provides a good excuse to visit beautiful natural places with friends, whilst simultaneously challenging myself to improve physically and psychologically.
So, while I did hesitate for a moment at the audacity of the proposal Pete made for a Spring Festival climbing expedition last year, I quickly agreed to join in and provide some nutritional sponsorship from my company, Dali Bar Natural Energy Foods.
The goal was to further explore and then bolt a multi-pitch climbing route from the bottom to the top of a little-known, more than 200-meter deep sinkhole nearby Getu (格凸) in Guizhou province, which Peter had previously walked across on a slackline.
It was to be an arduous trip that would involve a lot of hauling heavy gear on steep trails, not to mention through descents and grueling ascents along vertical fixed-rope lines.
In the end, there we were, a team of five, including Dave — aka Strong Dave, aka Dirty Dave — an experienced American climber who joined us on the tail end a business trip to China, replete with a rolling suitcase, a single pair of shoes and only one pair of pink pants.
A few days before the official Spring Festival holiday began we set forth for Guizhou, two of us by train and three people in Pete's SUV, which was burdened with an enormous load of gear, including:
• 24-volt cordless hammer drill with 8mm carbine masonry bit
• Portable generator to charge batteries for aforementioned drill
• 200 stainless steel expansion bolts with hangers
• Seven bottles of whisky and whiskey
• One five-liter boxed Merlot wine
• Two bottles of wine that actually taste ok
• 43 bottles of American craft beer (would have been 44 but I dropped one in the Metro parking lot)
• Meat: raw, air-dried, salted, smoked, sausaged, and baconed
• Enough tarps and tents to build a small refugee camp (the weather in Guizhou is wet)
• Enough Dali Bar energy bars to feed said refugee camp
• A bunch of other unessential crap like sleeping bags, clothes, non-meat-based food, water, etc.
We spent the next ten days climbing, camping in the mud, cooking over the fire, lugging water from a mountain spring, hiking through the enormous base of the sinkhole, and hauling supplies up and down the nearly shear rock face.
Pete sank bolt after bolt into the limestone and eventually completed an eight-pitch, 200-meter beast of a rock climbing route. During the downtime, we played some stickball.
On the final day, Dave and Pete had a go at 'opening' the route — climbing the whole thing in one day without falling or using bolts or other equipment to pull oneself upward. Even though they are both strong climbers, the route turned out to be harder than expected and they failed.
Ah well, there's a goal for the next trip. Upon returning to Kunming, I was incredibly thankful I had opted to spend the holiday exploring a unique and beautiful place rather than camping out on the couch and plowing through some television series.
We live in a pretty cool part of the world and there are doubtless many other hidden treasures like the sinkhole out there. So get out there, and get exploring!
Below are several more shots of the expedition. For fun, spot the people in the panoramic shots to get some sense of scale.