Editor's note: Kunming natural food company Dali Bar sponsors rock climbers who travel across China looking to find new crags and develop unexplored routes. Often, the places they visit are stunning. Guoliang (郭亮), Henan, is no exception. Contributor Mike Dobie is a China-based rock climbing athlete supported by Black Diamond, The North Face China, Mad Rock and Dali Bar. He recently visited Guoliang to find out what all the fuss was about.
Dobie is author of multiple climbing guidebooks and has for many years been the major force behind developing the Liming area for traditional climbing in sandstone cracks. Learn more at his website. Special thanks as well to Garrett Bradley for contributing photos, which may not be shared or reused without his permission. You can find more of his images of China's pioneering climbers on his Instagram account: @garrettlbradley.
Guoliang is a place that most people in China — as well as those outside the country — have probably never heard of. Over my last five years in China, whispers of a climbing area with quartzite sandstone walls would come up. Fellow Dali Bar athlete Chris Miller and I decided to follow the trail of voices and confirm the growing hype. What we found was nearly endless walls of sandstone and the beginnings of what will be a great climbing area in the future.
The name Guoliang actually comes from a village situated above the cliffs that has largely remained isolated from the rest of China. Residents of the village chiseled by hand a tunnel through the cliffs to access the valley below, hidden from view to outsiders. Or so we thought.
After talking with locals, we discovered that climbers have been developing the rock since 2006, primarily as contract climbers paid by local authorities envisioning the creation of a climbing tourism boom. With it, there has slowly been a local scene building from the nearby city of Zhengzhou (郑州), residents of which call Guoliang their local crag. With less than a decade of climbing history, the area already has nearly 200 developed routes.
We immediately went to the established crags and touched the rock. The red-hued stone offered slopers, crimps, and cracks all in a single pitch. My only distaste came from the presence of bolts next to otherwise perfect cracks. Contracted route development and park liability for injury and death could explain this "lack of ethic".
Chris and I noticed a splitter high up on one of the walls decided to pursue it based on its position and beauty. Hiking up to the base of the route we folded away bushes and branches of vegetation and found a long-forgotten crag with sport climbing routes that the locals didn't even know about. It turned out to the be best-established climbing in the area, offering hard and crimpy routes.
The crag was a nice find but our hearts were set on a potential new route. We identified and climbed a corner system out of the crag and ended below a series of roofs that looked a bit tricky to protect. Pulling out my aid climbing weaponry and armed with a bit of crazy, I went up these roofs. With the presence of a crag below, we questioned whether or not the route had been climbed.
I thought for sure no human being had touched the roof pitch as rocks and rubble rained down past Chris as I chiseled out my protection. Aid trickery put us on a ledge and into the main crack feature we had seen from the ground. Halfway up the next pitch, we found a random bolt which put the thoughts of a new route into question. Regardless, the next pitch was a super nice overhung hand-crack and corner that went nicely.
Later on I talked to a few of my Chinese climber friends and found out that the route had been aided in 2007 but not freed — or ascended without aid. The pitch with falling rock was circumnavigated via two sketchy looking traverse, or horizontal, pitches. This explained the "crispy" rock and sketch gear.
Crimpy sport routes, jamming cracks, and roof climbing are the main draws at Guoliang. Most of the established routes reach into the 5.12 range of difficulty, but there is potential for a wider range stretching into 5.14. With more love, organization, and traffic, Guoliang could become another fantastic destination for climbers in China.