The gravity was especially strong in Jiulong on Saturday. In addition to the kind of humidity that can rot the flesh from living bones in a matter of seconds, the heat caused sweat-induced dehydration shortly after stepping from the air-conditioned white mobile-climbers limo.
Bamboo crag though was a paradise, sheltered from the sun, cooled by a torrential spring gushing into an aqueduct overrun by locals diving from their front doors into the deep icy water. The hard grey limestone still damp and occasionally sodden and muddy from spent rains, cocooned beneath a veil of bamboo, stems thick as legs shooting up to the height of trees.
As always we left at before coffee can be bought, and arrived in time for hours of play, this time Si from Shanghai in the car and all followed closely by a hoard from south of the border. Jiulong has gone from ‘climbing not worth the rice paddies its planted in’ to ‘best day trip from Hong Kong’ in the space of a few months, and it’s only getting better. Every time it’s a new amazing crag and every time, that crag is only so-so compared to the one just up the road. It’s a playground for freaks with drills.
So the gravity was a little heavy there, which meant I flailed like a whimpering dog getting kicked squarely in the ribs. I led the first route on excellent pocketed limestone, requiring smooth long reaches to perfect edges and circular pockets like I was drowning after walking the plank. Bailed after the third bolt. Tried the next one to the right, Army Ant and after mewing like a kitten up a tree through the soaked and muddy crux – two bucket slots for hands filled with the kind of greasy clay that belongs in the mines of Mordor – was blubbing at facing the cruel cheese-grater slab to the belay. Down again.
Anyway was about to start my third lead and feeling kinda skanky when the sky went out, and the rain fell in puddle-sized splats. Later I went up Eman and Derek’s new route, easy and smartly cutting up a heavily water-carved wall, and feeling like I could remember how to climb, went back to the one I got rained off. Which deserves at least one star for being a fine line up pockets into a bulge where it gets smeary with tufa pulls which dropped me into lay-backing like it was the most natural thing in the world and keeps going though moves which are just a joy.
To the left Paul was throwing down mini-bar sized blocks and drilling up a snowstorm haze of lines, fitting in two before the day was out. Both saw plenty of action from the eleven or so up from Hong Kong for the long weekend and Bamboo crag has plenty more still to go.
But let’s stop here and talk about stuff like the environment. On the road out of town towards highway 107 (itself a singular essay on the corruption and incompetence rife in China) is a magnificent tower, yellow and grey limestone reaching skywards in great stripes, a continental overhanging butress fringed with verdant bamboo groves and ochre huts roofed with charcoal grey tiles. As a wall to climb, it induces hysteria. Anywhere else in the world, the locals would recognise its individual preciousness amongst an almost clichéd expanse of rice paddies and mist shrouded spires.
In Jiulong it is concrete. The back side of it has been gouged out by endless detonations which thunder across the region. Since I first came to Jiulong in late February the plundering has claimed almost half this enormous tower. Further down the road, a squat grey and dust shrouded monster, a clone of a thousand more throughout the province perpetually belches a vast white fog which hangs dead over the very fields growing crops for the town. Into this pours the mountain in endless trains of blue trucks, and out of this pours concrete.
It is all the words you can think of: disgusting, obscene, vile. It is as common as the peaks here. Too much of this place is scarred by random hacking, and left half-finished. There is no apparent pattern to either the location or the quantity of damage. It is senseless. It is the work of people who are wholly corrupt.
Jiulong could be Yangshuo. In fact the rock that comprises Yangshou and Guilin is part of the same belt that stretches 10 hours east to Jiulong. The randomness of tourism selected one over the other, leaving the former awash in foreign currency and generic pizza and the other a town like so many others, unknown. The farming alone is rich enough to support the whole area, and if even one person was intelligent enough to make tourism here a serious business, like Yangshou, Dali and every other place it would be famous.
But it’s not. It’s a nowhere shithole along a bullshit highway with climbing not worth crap. Who’d go there when Yangshou is the same time by air? Who’d drive along the deathtrap highway 107? The same imbeciles who presided over that highway are responsible for the destruction of what should be a national park. Whether it’s the local cadre, municipal head of Qingyaun or the head of Guangdong Province it makes no difference. The path the mountains take from the moment of obliteration, through the factories and out to fill the ragged depressions in highway 107 or pave the foundations of any monotone tower in any city in China is the path of the endemic corruption, incompetence, greed and foolishness that is raping China for every last cent it’s got.