We are all back home now after the Petzl Roc Trip in the Getu Valley. There’s a lot to say about our experiences there. Almost too many overwhelming thoughts, memories, and emotions come to mind simultaneously, and it's proving difficult to form it all into a cohesive story. One thing’s for sure, however: we went on an adventure I doubt any of us will forget.
I traveled to China with my good friends Sasha DiGiulian, Joe Kinder, Colette McInerney, Dave Graham, and Andrew Bisharat. We later met up with Ethan Pringle and Lynn Hill. Quite the crew. When were arrived, we joined the rest of the Petzl team. So many incredibly talented climbers, diverse nationalities, and unique personalities convening in a very foreign and remote corner of the world to share climbing and experience a culture that few of us were familiar with.
For me, it was my third trip to China. I have been to Yangshuo two times before, and I expected Getu to be a similar experience. It was unlike Yangshuo, however, in several ways. For one, Yangshuo is a rather large town, known for its beauty and majestic karst landscape that draws Western tourists and climbers alike. There’s a lot going on in Yangshuo. Restaurants, bars, people; things are happening there. You can eat traditional Chinese food one night, and pizza or burgers the next. There’s even a vegan restaurant. There are tons of hotels and hostels to choose from, as well as Internet cafes and coffee shops. It is, for the most part, a very Westernized Chinese town. The Getu Valley is not like this.
The Getu Valley is in a mountainous region of the Guizhou province. It is a maze of green hills and limestone, with small farm towns erected along winding, bumpy roads. All the towns we drove through on the nauseating bus ride to our destination had a similar set up. Small shops, businesses, and vendors in haphazardly constructed buildings lined a main street. Most of the buildings appeared half-built, as if the people who owned them decided they didn't need that last wall and left it open in a skeleton of scaffolding with piles of wood, bricks and dirt resting nearby, waiting for a purpose. Children are everywhere, in the streets, both working and playing. Animals also roam the streets freely. Stray dogs, chickens, goats, water buffalo, and cows all share the road with the trucks, buses, and motorcycles. Riding through those towns felt like a video game, dodging obstacles and people. There was no apparent order or organization.
If it weren’t for Petzl RocTrip, I imagine the town we stayed in would be rather sleepy and boring. Unlike the chaotically jumbled atmosphere of the towns on the way there, this place has very little going on. It is quiet and peaceful. One main street, a few random buildings, a hotel, and a town square. You could walk from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. There are three convenience stores that all sold the same things: stale Chinese snacks, water, beer, and a potent rice wine called Baijiu. For me, there was nothing familiar about it, except for the company I was with.
We went to the Great Arch on our first day of climbing, and it instantly became my favorite area and one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. Over 1,400 stone steps, complete with a handrail, were built into the hillside that lead up to its base. Trying to imagine how much physical effort it took to carry the individual stones up that steep slope and build perfectly angled stairs is overwhelming and puzzling. Standing inside of the arch feels somehow prehistoric. It feels too big for humans, not to scale with our smallness. I kept thinking that dinosaurs could probably walk through it comfortably, and I hoped that they had at some point.
The RocTrip was a great success. Throngs of people showed up to climb, watch the pros climb, and just hang out. It was inspiring to meet the climbers who traveled for days just to be there and climb alongside their heroes. We all had the privilege of seeing Dani Andrada send his multi-pitch project "Corazón de Ensueño" on that day. Even the final party on Saturday night was worth the wicked hangover I had the next day.
After RocTrip, some of us stayed a week longer to continue climbing and exploring. Even though we explored other crags, we kept going back to the arch, neglecting the other areas, because they were too “normal.” I just enjoyed being up there, even on days when I wasn’t super motivated to climb, I did the stairmaster to sit and hang out. “I won’t ever get to be in a place like this again,” I kept thinking. I started trying this route called “Powder Finger,” a 5.14a on the slippery white pockmarked face on the left side of the arch. The climbing style reminded me a bit of Rifle, lending itself to kneebars and complicated sequences that feel impossible at first, but are then whittled down to a tricky yet comprehensible puzzle.
On our last rest day, a group of us ventured outside our little home base to a nearby “cave village.” I call it that because that’s exactly what it is: a village built inside of a giant cave. We took a 30-minute bus ride, then walked about 45 minutes on the same sort of stone pathways that were painstakingly constructed for reaching the Great Arch. The cave village is the most fascinating place I’ve ever set foot in. A tiny community of 80 people live inside. Simple bamboo huts serve as their dwellings, but upon further inspection, and after being invited inside the home of one woman, I found that some of them have televisions and VCRs. A well-groomed dirt basketball court seems to serve as some sort of town square. I thought of the mountains and the snow in Colorado as I wandered around, my room in my house, my family and friends back home and the ones there with me, with whom I was sharing my experiences at that moment. I felt the overwhelming distance between us and our homes in the US. It was a sensation of immense foreignness. We were in a place of opposites.
Our last days were filled with mixed emotions. I pulled off a lucky send of “Powder Finger” on my last climbing day, after battling with humid conditions and torn skin. Everyone else experienced varying degrees of climbing success as well. We were happy to be reaching the end of our stay in the developing world and were psyched for comfortable living and Western food back home; but I also felt a twinge of sadness. It was the end of an eye-opening and fascinating journey in a place so different from anything I had ever been exposed to. We also had the privilege of being able to experience it together, as a group of tightly knit friends. I’d like to thank those at Petzl for making this event possible and giving us the opportunity to have a fantastic adventure in such a special place.
All photos courtesy of Emily Harrington (http://emilyaharrington.wordpress.com/) and Andrew Bisharat (http://eveningsends.com/).