Rock Climbing in Zhangjiajie, China
This April, Mayan Smith-Gobat and Ben Rueck teamed up with China’s renowned climbers Liu Yongbang (Abond) and Xiao Ting for an expedition to explore the Qingfeng Valley, at the boundary of Zhangjiajie, China’s first and largest national park. They were the first climbers to be granted permission to explore the vertical dimensions of Zhangjiajie. Located in central Hunan province, it is one of the country’s most renowned natural preserves. Yet, despite its long history, the strict park regulations had prevented climbers from exploring Zhangjiajie’s countless orange sandstone towers until now. The goal was to ascend these unique faces using as little fixed protection as they could—leaving nature untouched, the way they found it.
The team spent a month in the Qingfeng Valley, battling their way through the thick jungle to find the base of the towers. Then venturing up these steep freestanding towers, with no idea of what they would encounter. There were no continuous cracks and the rocks often loose or hollow, so finding protection was difficult and the climbing very adventurous and demanding, both physically and mentally. They constantly had to summon all their courage to continue upwards.
Ben and Mayan focused on two of the highest towers. It took all of their skills and courage, to succeed in doing two ground-up first ascents of 300m walls, the highlight being the Dragon’s Nest (5.13a). Abond opened a beautiful sixty meter endurance test-piece with a mixture of bolts and trad - Kungfu Emperor (5.13c). While Ting focused on learning traditional climbing, overcoming her fears and finally completing her first trad lead - the first ascent of Kyo run (5.11a).
The diverse rock forced the team to use cracks that ranged from minuscule, where their fingers barley had purchase, to wide troughs that swallowed their entire bodies. They were the first people to stand on any of these imposing summits - an unfathomable maze of countless red spires, all untouched. To a climbers eyes these represented a lifetime of diverse challenges.
During their month in China, Mayan, Ben, Abond and Ting were proud to have made the first steps to enjoy the nature in Zhangjiajie in a nondestructive way, leaving nothing behind, but information and inspiration.
Photos: Frank Kretschmann