One Of The World’s Premiere Sandstone Crack Areas is in… China?

One of the world's best (and least developed) sandstone trad areas is in Liming, in China's Yunnan province. It's a pretty special place.

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This article originally appeared in Gym Climber in 2019. 

Mike Dobie discovered one of the world’s premier sandstone crack areas by accident. In 2010, while thumbing through a Chinese travel brochure, he stumbled upon photos that left his jaw slack. He saw “wonderful things,” to borrow the famous words Howard Carter uttered when he first peered into King Tut’s tomb.

Outside the dirt-road village of Liming (Dawn in Mandarin), in the Yunnan province about 450 miles northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam, sheets of crimson stone hung along the skyline like gigantic billboards. Their message to Dobie: unbelievable climbing awaits. 

When Dobie and fellow American Austin Stringham arrived in Liming they were thunderstruck. Above them reared so much potential you’d have to believe in reincarnation if you’d ever hope to climb everything. And while the local Tibeto-Burman ethnic Lisu people scaled the cliffs to raid beehives and birdnests, Dobie and Stringham were the first actual climbers to gaze upon the walls. 

Dobie set up shop in Liming, population 100, and got to work. Within five years he and a small legion of other developers had sent over 200 routes up to 5.13d, some as long as eight pitches. Dobie now splits his time between Seattle and Liming, but continues to pluck lines, and there are now some 450 established pitches. Yet Liming remains off the map and Chinese climbers have been slow to embrace crack climbing.  “Numerous 5.14 [Chinese] sport climbers try 5.9 crack and fail and leave the next day,” says Dobie. “But it is slowly improving and now there is even one local climber, Xiao Xie.” Meanwhile, in Liming a dozen or so visiting climbers press on.

The prolific Mike Dobie established Flight of the Locust (5.12c) on the Guardian crag in 2015. Here, the late Ken Anderson repeats it. Anderson sent numerous hard lines in the area, including Tetragrammaton (5.13a), said to have Liming’s single hardest move. Dobie notes that Liming has numerous routes with bolted extensions. Holds such as those on Flight tend to be small and solid, and the style is bouldery and demanding. “Putting in bolts opened a new door for the climbing in Liming,” he says.
The Cretaceous and Cave areas are all on the Dinner Wall, the most dramatic escarpment visible from town. The crack lines of the Dinner Wall are similar to those at Indian Creek: mostly parallel, and atypical of the region. Everywhere else the cracks are more varied, even offering up the odd face hold. For more beta on Liming Rock, check out the new guidebook Liming Rock, sixth edition, available directly from Mike Dobie,
Gisely Ferraz and The Clamdigger (5.11b), another Dobie techy classic. You find The Clamdigger at the Pillars area, currently Liming’s most developed crag with over 60 routes from 5.7 to 5.13+, including multiple 200m+ multipitch lines.
Ryder Stroud comes to grips with Velocio-opteryx (5.12). FA: Mike Dobie, who else? Stroud was sponsored by various climbing companies to explore and develop the remote mountainous regions of western China. In under three months he journeyed through Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Xinjiang provinces. The result: his guidebook Wild West China Exploration (2015), available online. Velocio-opteryx is on the Wifi Wall, one of five crags in the The Sport Climbers Area. Most of the crags are just a five-minutes stroll from the road. At the Wifi, you can, in fact, belay from your car—and pick up wifi!
Gisely Ferraz slamma jammas Brazen Hussie (5.10b). FA: Mike Dobie, 2014. Brazen Hussie and the adjacent Flight of the Locust (5.12-) are on the Guardian, a crag stacked with 5.10 to 5.12 lines, mostly trad routes with some bolted sport extensions. The crag, notes Dobie, is popular, “although I prefer the Pillars and El Dorado because you have over 50 routes at each crag from 5.8 to 5.13+.
Raúl Saúco and tape gloves that have seen wonders.
Ken Anderson repeats The Firewall (5.13+), Cretaceous Area. He sent the line in just nine goes. “Which is pretty sick,” says Dobie. Logan Barber made the FA in 2015 after Dobie pointed him to two aid lines yet to go free. Besides The Firewall, Barber made the FFA of Honeycomb Dome and repeated Matt Segal’s Air China (5.13d R)—the hardest trad route in China at the time.
The five-star Another World (5.12+),on the Dinner Wall in the Cave Area. Ken Anderson nabs the thank-god shelf of the belay station. Mike Dobie got the line’s first free ascent in 2015, and soon after, Australian Logan Barber tied into the thin, steep, 50-foot crack continuum you see above the belay. After 23 attempts, Barber succeeded. His Honeycomb Dome (5.13d) remains unrepeated. Other worthy climbs in the sector include Japanese Cowboy and the Assless Chaps Extension (5.12+), The Warm Up (5.10), Flying Squirrel (5.10 2 pitches), and a new top out route called Finns of the Valley (5.11 A0, 5 pitches).

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