Rocking it with Beijing Climbing Club
After a two-hour drive from Beijing, we've arrived at Bee Gorge, just past Miyun. Auburn granite walls face each other across the valley, peppered with shrubs that spill into and fill the basin. A small herd of goats putter around the perimeter of their pen at the base, their bleats echoing up the mountain.
Simon Adams, the guide and director of Beijing Climbing Club, leads us in, up the dry river bed and ascending a path heading left. "The rock's cooler on this side," he says, "and feels better on the hands."
Adams has been a climbing guide for almost a decade, running Beijing Climbing Club for the past couple years. For people who don't read or speak Chinese, finding out where to climb in Beijing can be a daunting task, but BCC makes everything a snap. Special outings can be arranged, but generally they offer weekend daytrips to the best local climbing spots where climbers will get climbs suited to their ability, instruction, equipment held to high standards, a decent lunch and a post-climb beverage.
Beijing Climbing Group, a separate affiliation also does trips out, but those are for more experienced climbers who generally have their own equipment.
Rock climbing is often called an "extreme sport," perceived as having a high element of danger, but in a soft Scottish accent Adams adamantly disagrees. "It's not [dangerous] if you take care and respect the sport. You just have to make sure the safety systems are properly managed and set up correctly." He repeats himself for emphasis: "It's not dangerous."
Adams has been certified by Australia's Professional Association of Climbing Instructors, and has been trained for Wilderness First Response first aid. "Everyone we use is an outdoor professional and knows their stuff," he says, evidently proud of Beijing Climbing Club's caliber of teachers.
Today's group is just three climbers, and we've all climbed a bit before. Beijing Climbing Club provides all ropes, shoes, harnesses and helmets, and after a quick lesson, everybody's versed in the basic knot and how to safely belay climbers (keeping ropes taut to prevent falls).
"The trips are basically designed for first timers or less experienced climbers," explains Adams. "[As to] how you move on the rock, we can give you some tips, but it's up to you. Everyone has to find their own way on the rock, and the main thing is that you go with your own feelings."
The first climb is about 15 meters up a crack in the grotto. It's rated 5.7 according to the Yosemite Decimal System, a baffling-at-first grading system for climbing route difficulty. (A 1 is walking terrain, and a 5 is a steep climb that requires a rope and other safety equipment). Adams gracefully zips up the route in lead climb style, making it look ridiculously easy (a trick he would repeat throughout the day). He clips the rope in up top: creating the end goal of the climb.
The third route of the day is definitely more challenging than the previous two. Unlike indoor climbing where people climb a wall based on color coded holds, a natural rock face requires a different head game to find a route up. "The way that people move up the wall is determined by so many factors," Adams points out. "There's body type, strength, flexibility, etc. But also, how they use the holds or the shape of the rock to move themselves up the wall is like solving a problem and everyone does it a different way. It depends on your imagination more."
I give up trying to get past the final overhang, eagerly conceding defeat in order to let my exhausted fingers and arms dangle a bit.
Tom, from England also falls short of reaching the final clip. "One of the hardest things is trying to work out where to go," he agrees. "You drain your strength simply by holding onto the wall. That makes it more of a test of endurance than indoor climbing. In outdoor climbing it's a lot more trial and error. And [my last climb]," he humbly adds, "was a good example of error."
Adams chooses a nasty looming wall for the last climb of the day; one which everybody can pull moves on, but nobody can get far on. ""I can't have people finishing the day feeling good about themselves," he laughs.
"[This route] is pretty hard," concurs Tom, feet back on the ground. "It's got a massive overhang, and there's not very much to hang onto. But it's a good way to end the day, thanks to Simon. Excellent choice. His judgment is immaculate."
The day had just four routes in it, and some climbers did some routes more than once. But after the last one, all climbers are beat. Another climb? No, thank-you: really, I'm good. It's already after seven, and my fingers don't even know if they can hold a beer can steady.
Trips are generally 430 yuan per climber. Prices drop 50 yuan for a climber's third trip out.
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