Words: Jonathan Siegrist

Photos: Tara Kerzhner

One of my first international climbing trips was to China back in the winter of 2009. The landscape and the people and food and the climbing and the whole experience was so very memorable. Secure access to a few of the crags back then was still in progress, and this turmoil curbed my ability to try the king line of the area back then: Spicy Noodle. In the years since I’d seen jaw dropping photos of another Chinese area, Getu, and the hard routes just kept going in at Yangshuo as well, like Red Point Meal 14c and Spicy Dumpling 14d. I kept my eye on the news from China and finally when the timing lined up it was time to revisit. I knew that Tara Kerzhner would have the perfect eye to photograph and video this otherworldly place. I think she completely nailed it! 

Scroll through some of my favorite moments that Tara captured from our trip below, and join me for the world premiere of our film, China, at the 2019 Arc’teryx Climbing Academy in Squamish, BC.

Seeing this cave system for the first time was utterly mind blowing. I liken it to seeing El Cap for the first time – it’s an experience I will never forget. It just seems so impossibly big and mysterious. I couldn’t really believe that we were going to try and climb in it. 

In the early morning the sun shines right through the arch making a spectacular beam of light that is mesmerizing. On this day there were clouds passing in front of the sun so it was almost like the world’s largest flash light was rapidly turning on and off. 

The final pitch of ‘Lost in Translation’ 5.13b/c is this totally insane complete roof of drip features, many of which are large enough to nearly sit down on. It’s amazingly disorienting (and pumpy) to weave through these columns and then suddenly you emerge at the very lip of the cave. This photo shows the final boulder problem of the pitch and the route, just 15 feet shy of the summit. 

This rappel is a kind of exposure that is pretty damn hard to find. Having 360 degrees of air surrounding you and an enormous 120+ meter rappel is pretty damn ass puckering. I am usually pretty solid with exposure but this was something very uniquely terrifying. It was awesome. 

There is always one route that kind of drives an entire trip for me. Sometimes the route ends up being something different than I expected or altogether unimportant but it still motivated the effort to get there and that’s kind of the point. This is the route that motivated me to return to Yangshuo – ‘Spicy Dumpling’ 9a. It was every bit as rad as I had hoped for! 

The problem with a south facing cliff is that it tends to be extra fickle. I’ve climbed quite a bit in the dark and I really don’t mind it – especially if you get to avoid full blast from the sun during the daylight hours. For the initial projecting process I actually kind of love it. I tend to find new footholds with the intensity of the headlamp and it also keeps my focus narrow on just the rock in front of me. 

My first trip to Yangshuo was in 2009 and it’s amazing how much this place has changed – along with China as a whole. With the fresh onslaught of mainly Chinese tourism also comes a host of new restaurants and grocery stores and of course the inevitable noise and traffic. Overall though, I’d say that I like it more now. The bustle makes the rest days very interesting and the crowds at the cliff seem mostly unchanged as far as I could tell. 

Moonhill is a cliff to remember for sure. I climbed here once back in ’09 and since then it has unfortunately been closed to climbing. However, one week a year (and perhaps more soon) the cliff is reopened for the Yangshuo Climbing Festival. We lucked out with timing and ended up being there during the event. I finally got to climb this ultra classic ‘Red Dragon’ 5.13c on one of the most unique features in climbing. 

Watch the world premiere of Jonathan Siegrist and Tara Kerzhner’s film ‘China’ at the 2019 Arc’teryx Climbing Academy in Squamish, BC on Thursday, August 22.