07 July 2010

China Bouldering 1/3

Two weeks ago today I arrived in Denver, Colorado completely exhausted and with a changed mind from a five week bouldering trip in China. I left for the journey on May 18th and was completely unsure of what to expect. Obviously it was a trip to not only climb, but to experience a different way of life. A huge amount of research went into to the trip. Many months of e-mails to a group of local climbers in Qingdao, China and as many months of visa applications, transportation arrangements, sponsor arrangements, and  most importantly verifications of the rock quality led to a departure date and eventual trip. And what a trip it was! One filled with three straight weeks of bouldering on rock that was better than expected and a two week tour of China focusing on the ancient history there. I was in culture shock both going to China and returning home to America.
 Qingdao, China taken from Jinlingshan, looking at Fushan with my little apartment complex in the middle. This is all on the eastern side of Qingdao and only 40 minutes to the big mountains of Laoshan.

After two days of travel I arrived in Qingdao, China hoping that Rocker, the guy who invited me to China, would be there to pick me up at the airport. In my first exposure to the absolutely fantastic Chinese hospitality Rocker was there to pick me up and ready to introduce me into China. On the 40 minute drive into the city I realized a couple of things that I realized would influence the remainder of the entire trip in Qingdao. The locals spoke far less English than expected, including the discovery of me living in total immersion in the city. I also noticed a massive amount of rock on many hills and mountains all around the city. All of which had little to no developed bouldering on it, but massive potential. I was introduced to my landlord and had tea as the first foreign guest in the neighborhood. I went to the police station with the help of a translator to obtain my residents permit. And finally crashed into that strange sort of sleep that only comes when one has been way too tired for way too long.
A knock on my door after only two hours of sleep was all that woke me from what was surely going to be a 24 hour power sleep. It was Rocker and he said it was time to go climbing. This would become the usual schedule as the locals would get off work each day. I would spend the day in the city or in the local mountains looking for rock until a text or call would come in from "the guys" and we would arrange to meet and go bouldering (having an open source phone so that I could just drop in a China Mobile SIM card was the single most useful tool I had in China besides the Mandarin Phrase book I lived by). Slowly catching up on sleep and getting my energy levels back up with the new diet consumed the early days in China. As did learning Mandarin as fast as possible. I would learn from the guys I climbed with as well as by trying to figure stuff out in the city.
 Some of the Qingdao Boulderers (all with English nicknames) from left to right: Tony, Bamboo, and Kangaroo (sitting). Somewhere up on Jinling Shan the smaller bouldering mountain inside the city.
As for the locals, they were some of the most genuine and most humble people I have ever met. As climbers they are completely in love with the sport and absolutely consumed by it. To see their level of dedication to the sport in the context of where they live and how they have to sacrifice to climb was very inspiring. Bouldering and making the excuse to do so in our country and society is hard at times, but it is excepted here, as it is in Europe. In China, bouldering is so new it is not even an idea on a societal level (climbing in general is rarely thought of, if at all). Bouldering is abstract at best. Qingdao, China is the bouldering center of the universe in China, the place to do it, and the crew there is maybe a dozen people. The core group of developers is even smaller. Literately almost all the bouldering in China is a few guys who make great personal sacrifices to go out and do something that is completely ridiculous in the societal perspective of their own country. I quickly realized how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do what I do. I also realized how true to themselves these guys really are. They live by their hearts!
 Rocker (Wangzhen)
 It was a relief to meet people and climbers who are so true to themselves and climb in a place that not yet suffers from all the self image hysteria and rude behavior of those who feel better than others. It was also a huge relief to end up in a place that has amazing amounts of really good rock, a huge number of boulders, and a crew that only wants to climb. The bouldering was truly massive! In all the places I've bouldered, by far the area in China around Qingdao has the most rock. Millions of boulders sit under hundreds of crags and tumble from multi thousand foot mountains down to a long rocky coast on the Yellow Sea.
The bouldering in the first weeks was good and got better as each trip took me to another location. I started the bouldering on two mountains inside the city of Qingdao. The first and closest to my apartment was Jinlingshan. It was only a 5 minute walk from the apartment and is also the place where bouldering began in the area. Rocker, the father of bouldering in Qingdao, China and probably all of China started climbing on Jinlingshan ten years ago after seeing pictures of our sport. He went at it alone for many years, soloing, until he fell and broke a leg. 2007 saw the birth of bouldering and a new direction for climbing in China. Rocker began to boulder and recruit others into his small world of climbing. Since 2007 his small world of climbing has steadily grown into the motivated crew Qingdao has today. Jinlingshan is where they meet during the week as evening sets in and work comes to an end, climbing until it is too dark to see the holds.
 Looking at Jinlingshan from my apartment on a rain day.
I spent many days on Jinglingshan both alone and with the locals climbing both old and new problems. The rock is very good, a fine grain, brown granite and perfect height for bouldering . It was such a contrast to walk through a crowded city, wander up a dirt road past small vegetable gardens with migrant workers hard at cultivating and into the arms of the mountain. That escape will be a huge reason bouldering will grow in China. A mediation like no other. 
 From Jinlingshan looking into the eastern end of the city.
 North of Jinlingshan is the industrial district Qingdao and maybe the greatest contrast of landscapes. The boulder hanging in the left side of the picture is the best on Jinlingshan and would hold its own anywhere in the world.
 Kangaroo climbing a classic V3/4 on Jinlingshan
 Tony working a V8/9 project on the Big One Boulder, Jinlingshan. We would often climb into the dark as conditions got cooler and better for the many small crimps. Mike Mills visited me in China for a few days before flying back home.
After only a few days on Jinlingshan, knowing the fantastic rock quality covered the entire mountain, I started to look west across the city to Fushan. The bigger of the two mountains in the city. I took a bus to edge of the mountain and looked for a way onto it. I ran into several dead ends with guard dogs or military guards to turn me back. Finally with the help of locals I gained access to the peak and wandered in amazement of the rock quality. The place is a massive city park that seeps with clean springs in forests while airy ridges guide trails along the sky line. Ocean fog often rolled in during the evening and obscured the city below, also adding a coolness to the sticky granite. I left many projects on Fushan and consider it one of the best hard bouldering concentrates I've seen anywhere!
 Wandering the ridge crest of Fushan on the first bouldering evening there. 
 On the same day of bouldering as the above picture. You can see the Business District of Qingdao below and the fog bank building off the ocean. Such a peaceful park would be a gift for any city. For the quickly growing city of Qingdao it is a necessity.
 Maybe the the finest boulder of the entire area is on Fushan. A huge granite wave hidden in the depths of the forest and graced by an ancient temple. The granite was perfect.
 Rocker working the Temple Project, Fushan with Victor spotting. We completed the bottom half at around V8. Short of pads we planned on another visit, but ran out of time in the end. A project worth flying back for!
Another view of the Temple Project on Fushan. Rock quality was as good as it gets here. There may be two projects on this boulder as the chalked sloper suggests. A cold winter day would determine that possibility.
 Tony bouldering out another good Fushan problem.
 From the airy top of Fushan I could look both north and south to Laoshan the big mountains and to the rocky coast of the Yellow Sea respectively. Boulders were obviously everywhere, so I started to explore farther from the city. One thing that constantly drew my attention were thousands of boulders to the north on Laoshan. Once the locals knew I was there for the climbing and we shared the same addiction they started to reveal the locations in Laoshan and elsewhere. The bouldering just kept getting better and better. I would discover a good location and put up some problems. After work the locals would try the new stuff and then show me some problems of their own. Weekends started to have plans to get out of the city and even during the week some of the guys would call in sick and we would go out to the big boulder fields of Laoshan. It was an amazing time to be in Qingdao and to see the bouldering take the next step there. It was a great honor to play a role in the birth of bouldering there! I will always be thankful to Rocker and the others in the Qingdao bouldering scene for inviting me to their world. 

Next post: China Bouldering 2/3 (The coastal boulders and Laoshan)


  1. Wow, looks like quite the trip, psyched to see more for sure! What a cool looking place!


  2. I want to go to there. Mike's pad is brilliant, nothing screams "AMERICA!!!!!" quite like red white and blue stripes and stars. When is this next trip happening?

  3. Great post, and I'm looking forward to the next ones.

    After scrubbing so much lichen off of holds on the boulders of Wyoming, the complete lack of lichen on boulders in China is unbelievable. Even a bit eerie. Though I'm beginning to wonder if it might just be salt in the air that keeps lichen from growing. The granite on Virgin Gorda didn't have lichen either.

    The features look very cool. Glad you had a good trip!

  4. AWESOME! Glad you had a safe trip Davin. I'm sure you made memories that will last you the rest of your life. Good'on you brother.

  5. Wowoowowoowoowowow.


    Davin, I love you.

  6. That place looks phenomenal!

  7. Its nice surfing into your blog..

    I was looking for a blog that tells of a adventure in china.. and I found yours.. can feel there is lots of exciting moments in your life

    am going for more read on your blog

    Leon Koh 许涵量
    Your reader from SingaBore
    my blog : http://hanleong.blogspot.com
    A SingaBorean gay chap trying to make sense of life in the island city

  8. Hi, i love your blog, hey is there any way can i contact your quindao friends for bouldering, im form ecuador Latin america, and im moveing to quindao in the next months so i would like to meet the to go boulder also maybe they can teache me more abput rock climbing because i like it so much but im still amateur in this
    my mail es pachomoya@gmail.com


  9. Awesome!!!!I will be in Qingdao in July. Do you have more information to climb in this area? I'm alone and the boulder is the best opportunity for a few days of climbin but in the area
    is there the possibility to trad climbing? Thanks Alex