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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Getu, and Breakthrough to New Levels

A belated post about tripping to Getu Valley, China in April / May 2012. 

The first ascent of Lost In Translation on The Great Arch (courtesy Petzl)
An overview of one of the climbing zones in Getu from the Petzl guide
Rock climbing in Getu was barely an idea when I was planning my trip to climb in Asia this past year. The wonderfully-made video of the Petzl Roc Trip had fired the collective imaginations of the climbing community, of discovering untouched lines on the magnificent limestone of the hidden valleys and caves that remote China had to offer. Last Thanksgiving (end of November 2012) I had my delightful cousins over from SoCal visiting me in San Francisco when one evening found us tired from a day of urban adventures, relaxing at home and looking up stuff to watch on Roku. They had expressed curiosity about rock climbing and I figured that the Petzl video projected from my home theatre would be a great introduction to the wonders of outdoor climbing. I was happy to re-watch and relish the amazement in their young faces as they quizzed me about the sport and then wondered whether I would visit Getu as part of my travels. I had certainly planned to call in on Yanghsuo - the current epicenter of Chinese climbing - but doubted that I would go much farther.

The prospect to visit Getu started to take real shape once I met other climbers on the road who were indeed enticed by the same and had already started collecting beta on the logistics of the journey. Once the Yangshuo weather started deteriorating my excitement for Getu started perking up. With nothing to lose, and armed with travel beta and enough snacks to fill a hungry schoolroom, Tim and I started off for the remote village of Getu He, high up in the Ziyun river mountains in the Guizhou  province. In the middle of the journey we ran into four other climbers and teamed up over the length of two buses and one final bumpy van ride that would bring us to our quiet (and quaint) destination. Arriving in the cool breeze of the setting sun, high up in the hills, the place immediately felt a world apart from the hustle bustle of busy Yangshuo. The village of Getu He is a strip of small two-three storey ramshackle structures over a 250 meter stretch of the road that had barely seen any foreigners until the Petzl athletes showed up a couple of years ago. There were kids playing outside their homes - some of which doubled up as home stays for us climbers - and a couple of shops which sold basic provisions. The famous arch was faintly visible from the distance. Tim and I ambled up to the base of the arch and shared a silent moment of awe and gratitude as we thought about the forces of nature that created this stunning formation and the first people climbers to discover and fathom it's climbing potential. 

The Great Arch at dusk
Tourist boats at the Lower Arch on the Getu river flowing through
As climbers we were the only tourists in this small village. For some reason it did not feel that strange to have 15-20 foreigners who barely spoke any of the local language interacting on close quarters with the locals, most of whom had not set foot outside their province and did not understand a lick of English. Tim and I found a room to share and for about 5 USD each we had our own beds and a private bathroom with a hot shower. The room was crying for a scrubbing and and the shower had to be held up so it wouldn't collapse but it was cheap and there weren't many choices.

We gathered in one of the few restaurants for dinner with the rest of the motley crew of climbers. One of the singular delights of the climbing world, that I'll never tire off, is meeting old friends everywhere. Let me see if I can remember some of the names (it's been a few months!) - Tim, Ben, Kenny, Carolina, Nat and Nick, the three Slovaks, Doug, Keren, Vang and both the Erics. The food - rice, noodles, and different kinds of stir-fried veggies - was fresh and tasty. Grub that would eventually fatigue, in the four weeks that I'd ultimately spend in Getu. But I definitely didn't tire of the 50 cent beer. Not a huge drinker, I do enjoy the occassional frothie at the end of a climbing day and it was literally cheaper than bottled water.

The beautiful Pusayan crag

The endless steps lead to...
....the inside of the Great Arch. A little like Jurassic Park once you start wandering. (for scale look at the guy walking on the right side)
The next day early morning, we headed out to explore Fish Crag that is described in the Petzl Guide as 'the crag that every climber wishes they had in their backyard. Spectacular, bulletproof yellow limestone lined with blue striations, sculpted to perfection ...'. On the way we stopped to warm up at 'Left of Red', a wall with more intermediate grades in the 6a-6c range. The rock felt sharp, but not chossy or friable. After two quick warmups we made our way over to Fish Crag. We didn't actually started climbing on this sun-facing crag till mid-day but lucked out as it stayed cloudy and breezy all day and temps were just perfect for crimping and high-stepping on the slight rigidities on the just past vertical stone. The climbing was technical and though-provoking, forcing smart and precise movement. While I was fairly tired from the long bus rides of the day before I did put a good effort in that day and came out with one of my best onsights ever - Le Général Arrive à Pied par la Chine 7b. A 30 meter long climb, it traverses through small cruxes and half-decent rests never quite letting up. I forced myself to be patient and optimise any recovery points and didn't get excited until I had safely clipped the chains. There was barely any chalk on the route and I climbed hanging quick draws .Pleased with the effort. I also tried Corazon De Melao another beautiful 7b+, doing all the moves but didn't get a 2nd try to red point. The end of the day Eric in his smooth effortless style cruised up a slabby 7b and suggested that I try as well. I should have known better. I was exhausted at this point and 12b slabs are not quite my niche. Unable to muster up the strength and gumption to make a scary move a few meters above the bolt I took a quasi-intentional fall, tumbling maybe 5-7 meters down, and yelled as I whipped. Hit my ankle on the wall as I stopped but nothing too serious. I was too shaken to try the move again and Eric gamely offered to go up the route, again, to get the quick draws down. What a guy. My hero for sure. In fact Eric is one of the most elegant climbers I've ever seen. He makes climbing look effortless and graceful like a ballerina. He reads the route beautifully, climbs fast without any wasted effort or movement, and commits completely to every move. In fact he reads sequences so well, his onsights look better executed than red point tries by most climbers! Completely drained I made the long walk back to the hotel, early dinner and early to bed.

Fooling around at Fish Crag. Endless unexplored rock behind us. 

Around Getu He. Karts hills and rice paddies.

Over the next few days I'd sample the climbing at most of the crags around. The weather was gorgeous, cool, and mostly sunny all around. Not dissimilar to early fall weather on the US east coast. Manna from heaven after the endless rain and wetness we got in Yangshuo. So glad that I had decided to come. My favorite crags were Banyang's Cave and The Great Arch. Banyang is your typical sport crag. Long overhung routes with grades all the way up to 8b. The Great Arch is of course the crowning jewel of the region - a spectacular arch that is rightfully one of the many wonders of the natural world. Full of exotic flora and fauna, it features climbing on interesting scoop like features. Grades of the established routes go all the way up to 9a, including Dani Andrada's visionary multi-pitch Corazon De Ensueno 8c, a striking line over the steepest part of the cathedra. Fortunately its also host to easier climbs for us mere mortals. I had a proud flash / onsight of a Dani Andrada 7a+ the first day there. Not a hard grade but featuring a scary crux with movement on crappy features sideways from the bolt. Admittedly I did want to take at one point but couldn't as I was too far from the quickdraw so kept plodding on and soon found myself at the chains. I had lately been having issues with pushing myself on committing moves and this one satisfying. Towards the end of the day I spotted the route that I'd dedicate the next week to. Autochtono 7c+ is 25 meter climb on gently overhanging rock on upside down scoops the whole way up.  The movement had me in knots and I barely got up the route moving from draw to draw and taking some long falls at the end. It was like learning to climb all over again. A very frustrating end of the day experience but also surprisingly psyched to have found a worthy adversary of a route of the 7c+ / 5.13a grade. I had been looking for a project of this difficulty and realised that while the beta was emphatically cryptic, none of the moves would be impossible. So I decided to commit to this route and found myself returning to it 4 days in a row. The next few burns were frustrating still as my thick skull couldn't seem to unlock the sequences easily enough. Just as important as the grade was the sheer uniqueness of the climb. I felt that here was an opportunity to try something hard, unique, and beautiful in a place as wondrous as the Great Arch of Getu. By the 5th attempt I had finally sussed out all the moves, and learnt of the crucial knee bar that would be vital to obtain that small rest before the final crux. I was now linking the routes and feeling better with every burn. Tim got psyched on the route as well and I had now a steady partner to work on the route. Progress was coming quick and after a day of rest Tim and I were back on the project after a quick warm up. I was relishing the route enough and surprisingly did not feel the pressure to send. Redpointing was just a matter of time. First try that day I found myself at the knee bar with plenty of energy to spare and soon found myself cruising the final crux (but not without a loud exhalatory yell to ensure I made the move) and then quickly after was pulling in rope for the precarious clip to the anchors, balanced between a siippery fat right hand pinch and a smeary left foot. The route done I let out a small whoop but also felt an immediate tinge of sadness. My relationship with this beautiful thing was over now. I was barely pumped from the effort and felt good when Tim remarked that I looked smooth and fluent through the climb. He tied in right after me and egged by that bit of peer pressure went on to red point as well. Team send. Did a couple of other climbs and went back to camp. Extra ice cream to celebrate my first 5.13a. I had come close to doing this grade before so it was more relief than anything else to have succeeded. 

Some folks had started leaving Getu for onward travels but fortunately fresh muscles arrived in the shape of Hagen, Sabrina, Juri and Dan. I had climbed with all of them previously in Yangshuo, and Dan and I had spent time together in Thakhek, Lao as well. Before Tim left, he and I had started trying another classic 7c+ called Loco De Noodles ( or Crazy from Noodles, a name that I could well identify with after 3 weeks of a noodle-centric diet) at Banyang Cave. A very different kind of route and a more typical sport route. All power endurance with a knee-bar assisted crux. I was having trouble committing at the crux that was high above the bolt and required more gumption than I was giving. The falls were long but safe. And daresay both of us logged some air time. It always seems to take me longer to figure out the right combination of precision and daring when trying difficult routes. Maybe because I haven't projected much in the last few years I forget that facing moves at your limit requires that 'try hard' attitude. No pain no gain right? Anyway as it always magically happens the moves got progressively easier and I found that in about 4 tries I was linking the routes with two falls / takes. Tim sent the route in another couple of tries and left Getu to enjoy the freebies at the Le Ye climbing festival. I lost my steady ally in Tim but found Dan to accompany me to Banyang so he could window-shop some of the other stiffer routes. Dan, is mutantly strong, humble and patient, and about as solid a partner as one can hope for. I sent the route the 2nd try of the day. Another 13a in the bag. Sweet! Dan worked on sending harder stuff and he and I left satisfied. But not before a crazy rainstorm almost got us lost as we were making our way in the dark. We were groping our way down rice paddies, falling and sliding the entire way back. Finally made it back to camp and that hot shower was not underserved. I did not complain about the staple rice and stir-fry meal that night. Returned to Banyang a couple days later to try another route, a 8a (13B) that I felt I could have sent with better beta and a bit more effort. Not meant to be as by that time I had spent about 4 weeks in Getu and was physically and mentally spent. A charming little town with sensational climbing, it does lack for other diversions. A city kid, I need stimulation of many sorts and realized that it was time to move on. Fully satisfied, I left back for Yangshuo and hoped for dry weather to get back on some of the unfinished projects I had left behind.

Tim busted a flapper while working Loco De Noodles. Came back to send next day though!
Delicious string beans
Smoked tofu, a local specialty
Dan's pretty kicked up on this upcoming morsel of food (you don't wanna know what!)
One of the better things to have come out of the Getu trip was developing a habit of morning yoga. Inspired by Eric's pre-breakfast practice, I began utilizing my morning time with some asanas and found that my body started responding well. In fact after about 45 minutes of yoga my body was quite warmed up  and allowed me to be stronger and limber at the crag. Breakfast tasted much better too! Thank goodness of all the time that I've put into yoga whereas I can jumpstart a basic practice without a teacher. Thank you Eric for the inspiration!

1 comment:

  1. hello Kush, I really enjoyed your post on climbing in Getu, it looks like a magnificent destination for climbing heaven!! I started climbing about a year ago in Chile and just getting more and more into it. Have you climbed in other places around China?