27 April 2015

Bouldering in Qingdao, China: A Second Look

A year of no updates to this blog! Apologies, but I was way too busy. Time is more abundant now and there are things to write about. Just a few days ago I returned from my second trip to Qingdao, China. It was a bouldering trip as usual.

Bouldering is something we can share in almost any part of our world. Travelling across oceans and continents for days on end to visit a few boulders is as good a reason as any I've heard. It certainly is a better motivation and far more honest than business, conflict, or any other of the superficial human endeavors. Travel and bouldering have taken me to several far off lands and into several different cultures, but it is China that holds a special place in my heart and mind. Qingdao in particular is one of the special bouldering areas of my life.
Five years ago, I first visited Qingdao, China specifically to experience something completely different than my usual life while bouldering at the same time. It proved to be one of the significant leaps of faith in my life thus far (you can read about that trip in the archive of this blog). Time has a funny way of reforming memories, and after five years of remembering the bouldering and culture in and around Qingdao, my wife Marla and I went back. We went back to have another look, to visit our amazing friends, and to see new things. Our memories were both true and false. Many things were the same, but many things had changed. The boulders were still there and many of them! 
This was quick trip of two and half weeks, but a better planned visit than the last. Conditions for bouldering were good, generally in the 50s every day and often a drying breeze was with us. The timing for spring in the East of the World could not have been better. Cherry blossoms and all other flowers imaginable were in full bloom. We played in boulder fields completely surrounded by the iconic flowers of the orient. Villages were built of the very rock we climbed on and boulders made foundations and walls of houses. There is are few if any other places in the world where a person can boulder in such a unique and magnificent setting.

Our friends living in Qingdao were excited to see us and show off five years of progress in the massive boulder fields around Qingdao and farther out in Shandong Province. We were out in the boulders and active every day except the first that we used for a rest and calibration day, and a random rain day when we finally rested our worn fingers and did some laundry. Boulders on beaches, boulders in valleys, and boulders on mountain tops were all included. The majority of the "new stuff" was never even looked at. Our five year absence was impossible to catch up on. 


I remembered some amazing boulders from my first trip and some incredible projects. I also remembered a variety of rock quality from bad to very good. Immediately those memories were confirmed but tested. Amazing boulders showed up on the first day out and projects proved to be as good and even better than before. The rock in and around Qingdao is a type of granite similar to Yosemite and some rock in the southern Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. It is tan to white, solid, and breaks into crisp clean features. Much of it has been weathered and rounded over a very long time. Glaciers did some work in China too, so some rounding is expected. Some boulders have unfortunately weathered to the point of having very sharp crystals. I would walk a series of boulders feeling bummed because they were not any good, too sharp and toothy, then turn a corner or drive to a new area and be completely blown away by something incredible! What is not expected at all until you get used to the place are the pockets, huecos, and random turtle shell textures that the majority of areas have. All with granite textures and crystals, but unexpected.
Pocketed granite and font style bulges add to the usual clean breaks and weathered eggs making Qingdao and Shandong bouldering completely unique! In a granite area it is always expected that the gems will hide. In the boulders we visited the gems are there and are like no other place I've seen. There is more variety in the forms of granite boulders than anywhere else I have been.
 
Angular clean cut granite on Fushan. I named this one Green Gardens.
Angular and Font-like granite on Fushan.
Beautiful boulder with river polished slopers, crisp edges, and the unique Qingdao pockets and huecos! This one sits among a large sector of good boulders on Laoshan. It holds great projects.
The features are reason enough to visit Qingdao should the thousands upon thousands of boulders not be enough. One memory standing above the rest was the vastness of boulders. Thousands upon thousands sitting on mountains and along the sea with few problems actually established. The Qingdao crew is busy establishing new problems all the time, but there is just too much rock to focus on any one area just yet. From one mountain of boulders we looked to another, and from the new mountain we looked on to another. The vastness was realized when we visited a new area found by Rocker only weeks prior to this resent trip. One morning we loaded our gear and drove north from Qingdao, headed for the new mountain. We drove past Laoshan which by itself has too many boulders to ever see in a lifetime, then past several other mountains of boulders with no names or had ever been looked at. Almost two hours of driving deposited us at the foot of a smaller mountain, Chanshan, but one covered in grey granite boulders. In the minutes leading up to our mountain I honestly did not know where we were going. Several good mountains of boulders were on every side of us. One of my fondest memories of this trip is standing on the top of Chanshan after already finding several good projects, and looking across Shandong Province at boulder covered mountains as far as I could see.
 
Boulder field to boulder field, the view across Shandong from Chanshan.
We visited many other mountains too. Each was somehow unique from the other but still clearly a part of the Qingdao boulder fields. We visited as many areas of boulders as we could and climbed as much as possible, but left far more unseen and untouched. 
Marla and Rocker looking at almost endless boulders unknown in the upper valleys of Laoshan
I repeated as many of the established problems as possible, focusing on the highest quality and hardest. Many of the harder lines were projects from my last visit. Strong motivation and good conditions gave me a good chance to climb well. Many new lines were established and some very good problems were repeated. One in particular was on my life list. The highball established by Rocker at Laoshan Lake! I climbed it twice and was terrified both times. The descent is also the single boulder problem on this tall boulder. Scary and very beyond classic!
Possibly the most iconic boulder problem in China! I got to climb this amazing highball established by Rocker several years ago along the shore of Laoshan Lake.
I flashed several of the harder established lines and completed all I tried with one exception, the hardest boulder problem in the Qingdao area. On the the first visit to the boulder I quickly worked out all the moves and was ready to send the line. There was no doubt it was about to go down and go down quickly, but life will usually find a way to make it interesting. The best hold snapped into pieces and what was once the midsection ease up, is now the obvious crux! I figured out all the new beta and did the crux several times, but the last evening of the trip I failed. My finger was cut and bloody as the final move of the redpoint fell short. I have rarely ever been so close and yet so far away from completing a project. Failure is an important aspect in bouldering, but this time it hurts and feels like a deeper lesson than any before. It would have been a V12 and several grades above the previous hardest. I did complete another project that is in the same league as the previous and now broken hardest in the Qingdao area. However it is really only a single hard move followed by much easier and nowhere near as majestic. Credit should still go to the FA of Dragon Fly on Shoulder V10, the problem I broke and did not repeat post-break (it is the boulder pictured above with Rocker standing under it). Once again, some projects were climbed and named, but many were left undone.
My friend Bamboo and Qingdao local trying a project that we left without an ascent on Chanshan.
Amazing project on small crimps, slopers in giant huecos, and pockets on the head wall! I only was able to try this one for about 15 minutes at nightfall. Will focus on this one immediately on my next trip.
My finger tips were more worn from the toothy stone than they have been in several years, yet I should have climbed more! Once again a mind full of memories is at work, thinking about those projects that did not get done and those mountains of boulders we did not visit. Qingdao will always be special place for me. It is a place that is slowly growing and will hold some significant bouldering areas in the future. It is a place people should go! It is not the best bouldering in the world, but no granite area is (It is definitely one of the best crack climbing areas in the world!). It is however one of the most unique bouldering areas in the world and holds it’s own among the granite areas. There are several projects and boulders I never even touched that are calling me back already.
 
One of my projects that got left behind. This line is perched on Jinlingshan within the city of Qingdao. Another example of the variety of features around Qingdao. This thing would fit in Hueco Tanks without being noticed as erratic.
It is well worth the trip for those who want some adventure with their bouldering. The Qingdao crew is amazing and have incredible motivation to get out and climb. They have a strong desire to share their one of a kind boulders and areas. So mush development can be done and needs to be done!

There are a few more photos of the trip on my Instagram: @davinbagdonas

Here are some details to get you started on planning a trip to this amazing place. Don't hesitate to ask questions and send me an email. Rocker is a primary contact for a trip to Qingdao and can be found on facebook, 8a.nu, or I can forward his email once you contact me.

The How, When, Where, and Why (you should know why already):

How: Get a visa. U.S. citizens can now get a 10 year visa for multiple entries into China! It is the same cost as a 30 day visa, so why not? The best bouldering months are also the cheapest flights! Fly into Qingdao or to Beijing then take the fast train

When: For bouldering the early spring is good (March-April), May gets warm and summer is way too hot. Fall is also great. November is possibly the best month of the year for bouldering in Qingdao. Winter is good and cold and is ideal for hard tips on the projects. Late November to February will have days of good conditions, but expect days of it being too cold.

Where: Qingdao in Shandong Province is the center of bouldering. Several mountains in the city have good bouldering (Jinlingshan and Fushan), while Laoshan to the north is many miles across and has thousands of boulders everywhere. There are other mountains of boulders all over Shandong Province. Really, boulders are everywhere!
Rocker owns the Sunflower Hostel in Laoshan district of Qingdao. Boulders are within walking distance of the hostel and all rips to other areas leave from the hostel. The locals meet there often.

Why: Boulders and the cultural experience of China! China has a history stretching back Millennia. You can climb many, many good boulders with completely unique features! There are many bolted routes too. And of course the crack climbing is incredible.


11 May 2014

A Long Neverland Spring

Spring can be a trying time in Wyoming. Sun, snow, heat, and cold are all carried with the wind. In past spring seasons bouldering conditions have been good for several months or a couple weeks. Winter forewarns nothing of the coming transition, while summer does not remember. This time around spring has been a long stutter of the middle ground of weather that makes for great bouldering. Weekends are starting to stack up into the same long memory. Reference into the written journals where I record all related to new boulders show a deviation from the norm. Most of the time it is too warm by now for Neverland to produce much.

The length of time, so many weekends in a row now, have been highly motivating and revealing as well. In fits I've pushed the tubby grad-school boy fitness aside and tried to regain some real man steel again. A good crew has been a huge driving force in a season to remember. For the first time Neverland has more than a car or two per week. Good new problems are being contributed regularly in a renaissance of sort. Or another kick in a fitful start. Last autumn was a long season, but a loneliness set in and a long while past without much new being done. It is sometimes difficult to look through the great wide open and see through the solitude of Wyoming's far away places. The new areas and new problems this season have felt closer and less wild than normal. Still more remote than most bouldering areas. After all it is still Wyoming, but a little more comfort allows for more to get done.
The usual suspects have been regulars over weekends, including Josh Oxner and Dr. Thunder. Jamie Emerson, and Collin Horvat have made weekend trips as well. Collin in particular has made the most of his multiple trips to one of Neverland's newer sectors. His clear and definite motivation has been a treat to witness. We've jokingly suggested naming the new sector Horvat's Boulders, but the joke is getting more serious each week as he continues to finish projects. I had not climbed with Jamie since our Bear Valley expedition last summer, but a reunion was inevitable. As he has written, a fire burns in a few of us who seek to find the best boulders. It burns brighter when like minds share something familiar. The process of finding the best lines is an aspect of climbing that I now realize I enjoy almost as much as the actual bouldering. Fantastic stuff has been found and climbed and I really can't say enough about how motivating it is!  It has been a great group to boulder with for sure. New excitement has strongly driven me to get off my ass and boulder a lot more and a lot harder. To get the steel back in the tendons from seasons past is the goal now. Too much good rock needs to be climbed.
Collin Horvat on the first ascent of the beautiful Aging Moose V2
Collin Horvat sticking the crux on the first ascent of Bird of Prey V10. An incredible problem on incredible rock.
Several weeks ago now we started bouldering in the new sector. With each visit it grows which is always a sign of a good area. This one keeps giving good lines and so many boulders wait to be seen. The first weekend was spent in a small area of high concentration.
Dr. Thunder on an unnamed sloper problem on great rock with Jason Anderson spotting
My fellow geology graduate student Connor Marr getting very close on the brand new Hair of The Dog V5/6 
Jamie Emerson on what is now another Horvat line, Southern Envy V9
Each subsequent weekend has seen new lines there, but more has been found all over as the famous Wyoming Syndrome has afflicted us.Wyoming Syndrome is a condition I wouldn't wish on anyone. Life times of great rock spread all over the place to such a degree that daily life becomes a chore. You can only think of rock, you dream of rock, and you forever walk through piles, fields, mountains, valleys, and plains of rock. Your body changes shape, more rugged usually, and the hands gnarl. A persons eyes start to focus on what seams like nothing, a boulder in the distance maybe, often a few.
Dr. Thunder finishing a problem put up moments before. Wyoming Syndrome V2
Even in a frenzy of new problems going up there is a feeling that more projects are being put on the list than being checked off. Always another pile of boulders to walk too if needed. Put some chalk on the holds and see what happens. I find myself walking to boulders in Neverland with a ridiculous smile and knowing exactly what a personal heaven would be. Then there are walks when the place feels like doom and an up welling of worry moves in. Is there any way to climb on all this and damn how time has flown by. Will just have to keep putting chalk on new rock. Those are the best days.
The Cow Cave Project
A project without a name




21 April 2014

Neverland Again

 It has been a long while since updating this blog. The busy busy schedule of graduate school has allowed the quick gratification of instagram to be my bouldering update method. That may work for some people all the time, but I have found a lack of detail with the quick post social network method lately. So many new and really high quality areas, boulders, and problems have been found that a grainy cell camera pic will not even come close. A high quality image won't do well through the instagram filter either. The rock is just too good. The demand for wasting so many of my days on such good rock is ever growing and maybe, just maybe sharing some of the good stuff will help justify my addiction. Spring has been a fine time to explore and temperatures have lagged far behind the warming of last year at this time. Good conditions!

A lot of time has been spent walking across as much rock as possible. During the opening days of Winter Break last December I managed to expertly blow up my MCL on yet another Neverland project. With rehab in mind and too much rock I haven't seen it has been a productive combination of motivations. I also feel the conclusion of my graduate studies on the very near horizon. How much more time will have to understand Neverland? How much time to understand some of the finest bouldering I have seen?

Over the past three weeks two major new sectors of many boulders have been found. Some of the highest concentrations of good rock in southeast Wyoming. Some of the best single lines have been uncovered along the way. It is a strange place to be in ones life where the past two years have been in a transition to continue bouldering but with an emphasis on real life being dominant, and yet the best boulders are now being found. Damn the curse.

It would be silly to list everything or try to explain the almost delusional wanderings through so many damn boulders. The details are too much, but the highlights are worth a bit of time here.

We drive past several miles of boulders every time we roll out to the developed areas in Neverland. During the bitch of winter we sometimes stop and look at them. Finding good rock is not a problem along the main roads, but returning to actually send the problems has been. Finally we developed a few and lot more have been cleaned.
Nathan and Bryan chatting it up under The Nest V6 and It's All You V3ish. The county road is about two hundred yards distant
The Cow Cave. Just another road side attraction.
In the lone wanderings I do with my dog Amiee, some serious stuff has been found. Bouldering can be fun and it can be serious too. On a random two-track along a random fence is a small (very small) pile of a few boulders. Anyone looking for boulders knows to find the biggest boulders first and in the largest piles. This knoll of a few gneiss blocks was a good vantage point for binoculars to be used looking across the valley. It was also the end of the road, so foot travel was next in line for accessing the huge pile of boulders across the way. Where I would never expect it is a monster of a roof made of absolutely steel hard stone. I spent around two hours freaking out chalking holds. I returned with pads and felt all the moves and possible hold positions. I can't climb the line, but someone can, and they better! It is one of the most superb lines I've ever seen. Estimated at 8B+ to 8C it should be pretty serious, but all the holds are there.
Not much besides crippled kids makes me cry, but this did. That whole thing is the beast and the finish jug didn't even get into the photo. Bryan standing at the start of roof for scale.
Several young climbers over the past seasons have asked me how to get sponsored or if I would help them attain sponsorship. I strongly believe one should be satisfied with their own climbing and that is all they should worry about, so never have been able to answer the sponsorship question for them. Now I have an answer for them that is 30 feet long and has a ripping hard sequence. So go west young man into the vast emptiness of Wyoming and put down the mega-roof.

An amazing amount of time has been spent finding and even cleaning giant hard lines that I'll never climb. There is something special about those rare gems that hold an aesthetic almost impossible to find in smaller and easier problems. Every once and a while I amaze myself with a lucky send of a giant, but far more wait for a stronger more focused climber. The list of giants is growing and becoming a heavy load to remember.
A major focus for me lately to alleviate the giants problem is to find a good concentration of great rock where I can put up a lot of new lines. The hunt for the best possible problems has me fondly remembering the days of Needle Peak or even young Vedauwoo where we would add problems by the page full every trip. Two such areas have shown themselves lately. One is completely new and just a few hundred yards beyond where we had last looked. The second is actually an old area, but for some reason we had not focused or looked at it with the right gaze. We certainly had not walked it all and that was a mistake. Either area would satisfy the need for new lines at a good pace, but two are even better.
Another damn roof. Luckily a small one, but this new area has some huge ones.
Until the heat of summer rolls in my weekends are obviously gone now. Then El Dakota season comes in and the Winds after that, then late season El Dakota, then Neverland again, then somewhere in there a job I suppose.