The Stone Forest, Xishan and most other geological formations around Kunming are remnants of the area's past life as ocean floor. More than 270 million years ago, layer upon layer of calcium carbonate particles were deposited by tiny shells or secreted by corals and other microscopic organisms. Tectonic movements and receding coasts brought Kunming up out of the water and limestone rock formed the heart of most of the surrounding mountains.
Limestone changes over time differently from other rock. It has the unique ability to melt like an inverted candle into stalactites and stalagmites that are nearly as strong as foundational rock. Chemical reactions with water, and other forces of erosion, carve the limestone into the Karst formations that cover much of southern China's landscape. For some in the Spring City, seeing such rocks means it's time to put on some uncomfortably tight shoes, fasten a harness and rope in.
Thanks to the bounty of limestone crags around Kunming, and the hard work of route developers, the city is rapidly becoming one of China's best urban climbing spots. Within a 45-minute drive, there are now nearly 30 climbing crags with a combined 200 routes, and the potential for many more.
Please note that this list does not include the Xishan crags, which are currently off-limits to climbing. Each specific climbing route mentioned below is given a difficulty rating. For more on international grading systems, see this explanation.
Along a small river that runs between the towns of Anning and Fumin stand a series of red limestone cliffs. This was one of the earliest spots to see climbers near Kunming. Ten different crags line both sides of the river and tower up high on the southeast hillside. Fumin is a great place for beginners but has experienced much more recent development for advanced climbers. Weeping Wall features massively overhung tufas. On the northwest side of the river is a towering 5.10/6a route with five pitches of highly-featured stone. The Climb China Guide has topographical maps for many of the climbs in Fumin.
Swallow Cave is one of the newest and most exciting climbing development areas near Kunming. A massive overhanging cave wall loaded with interesting features is home to some of Kunming's best hard climbs with grades as high as 5.13c/8a+. Features to either side and up above the cave have a number of recently added beginner and intermediate climbs ranging from 5.10a/5+ to 5.10d/6b that are soon to be Kunming classics. Topo maps and photos for Swallow Cave can be found here.
This crag has perhaps the most potential for future development, but it is already a perfect place to spend a weekend. With some technical face climbs, big tufas and a low-angle dihedral, The Gash offers something for everyone. The left side of the crag has 13 long climbs ranging in difficulty from 5.10/5+ to 5.12a/7a+. Further down the face are a few longer climbs, and Fool's Errand — 5.11c/6c+ — stands out as one of the most interesting in Kunming. Topo maps and photos for The Gash can be found here.
This is one of the hardest crags to reach yet is also one of the most rewarding. TNT is one of best 5.12 crags in Kunming, but still has something for people of all levels. The left side features a long vertical face with a diverse range of features. Climbs get harder and more overhung as you move right along the wall. At 5.12a/7a+, Thunder Road offers a mix of technical arête climbing at the bottom and rewarding monster tufas up high. Topo maps and photos for The Gash can be found here.
Xiao Moyu Cave
When climbers from out of town come to Kunming, they usually have a checklist of climbs to tackle at this cave. Xiao Moyu is where climbers go to get strong and is home to some of Kunming's most well-known and most-climbed routes. On the left face inside the cave is Million Ma, a 5.10d/6b classic that presents unique challenges with steep, overhung, sequential moves. Everything else in the cave gets harder ranging in grade from 5.11b/6c way up to 5.13d/8b. Outside the cave to the right is a more vertical section that offers more options for beginners and intermediates. The Climb China Guide has topos for many of the climbs in Xiao Moyu, as does the Kunming Rock website.
Directions to all of the the crags mentioned above, as well as much other information, are available at website Kunming Rock, Panda Climb and in the Climb China guidebook. Please note that there are inherent risks when climbing. Many crags are still new and helmets should be worn. Both climbers and belayers should be careful of loose rocks falling from above. Be sure you have the proper training and are aware that when you climb bolted lines, you do so at your own risk.
Editor's note: Special thanks to the good people at Dali Bar and Kunming Rock for putting together the video above and providing the information used in this article. We would also like to thank outdoor gear company Kailas for sponsoring the development of rock climbing routes all around Kunming.
Images: Dali Bar© Copyright 2005-2019 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.