When American rock climbing enthusiast Andrew Hedesh hit rock bottom in his job in 2008, he came to Yangshuo to clear his mind and never left.
“I came to China and I typed into the internet ‘rock climbing where in China’,” Hedesh said. “It showed a photo of Yangshuo and I decided to go there.”
Yangshuo, a small county in China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, is famous for its karst formations and beautiful Lijiang River. The backpacker paradise boasts comfortable weather, easy transport and most of all, countless crags suitable for rock climbing.
Currently, about 300 rock climbers live in Yangshuo, of which about 50 are foreigners.
After spending almost 10 years working as a tour guide there, Hedesh wanted to share his experience in rock climbing in China, so published his book Yangshuo Rock – A China Climbing Guide.
“Yangshuo is the most popular international rock climbing destination within China,” he wrote in the book. “The local karst topography offers a lifetime of crags unique in rock formations, atmosphere, and scenery. Potential development is limitless and only bound by imagination.”
Hedesh said that he spent four years collecting information about the crags and climbing routes, taking pictures and interviewing people about their climbing stories in Yangshuo.
“I really wanted to celebrate Yangshuo and the culture, and I wanted to advertise this location to the rest of the world,” he said. “Climbing here has a very good, satisfied feeling and even the short routes make me feel alive.”
Hedesh started rock climbing in 1998. Since moving to Yangshuo in 2008, he has tried a variety of difficult routes.
“Over the years I developed a lot of routes in Yangshuo, and it gives me more opportunities to develop other parts of China,” he said. “There are maybe 10 to 20 different locations, and around 230 routes inside China.”
In recent years, Hedesh has made many friends via rock climbing, Zhang Yong being one of them. Zhang was one of the first group of Chinese rock climbers in the 1990s. He settled in Yangshuo in 2004. Zhang is one of only 29 international climbers to have climbed a 5.14 grade route in China – one of the highest grades in the world.
“The karst formations in Yangshuo have holes, cracks and stalactites, so the routes are quite interesting,” Zhang said.
Along his journey, Hedesh also met an 11-year-old climber named Zhang Pinyuan and a 68-year-old man who continues to climb after having both legs amputated.
“Most Chinese are caught up with everyday city life, but there is something more out there,” Hedesh said. “Rock climbing can give them a little sense of adventure and sense of life.”
Hedesh said he plans to write a second book, in which he will use his own experience to tell readers how he fell in love with the sport and the dangers it involves.