Expanding on the Matt Norgrove and Daniel Lee’s reports of the Petzl Roctrip 2011 (published in VL edition 1) we get Mayan Smith-Gobat’s take on the World’s best climbing festival.
Arriving in China was a major shock in many ways. I left Yosemite Valley at 4:00am in a chaotic rush – three people and too much gear crammed into my friend’s car for the five-hour drive to San Fran airport. This was the first leg of an epic trip to the Getu Valley.
The tranquil beauty of Yosemite and clear, crisp Autumn weather were replaced by heavy grayness and humidity, with people and rubbish everywhere. After spending the majority of the season swinging around thousands of meters off the ground, endlessly jamming splitter cracks up the perfect granite of El Capitan, it was also a shock to be clipping bolts again.
Finally, after more than two full days of travel, I found myself in a small airport in the Guizhuo Provence. The only english speaking, white person in sea of Chinese. After wandering around in a daze, I was glad to locate a bunch of misfit climbers huddled in a corner, waiting – and hoping – for the Petzl crew to turn up.
Eventually they did, and we piled into a large bus for the five-hour drive to Getu. Immediately after leaving the airport the bus was immersed in roaring traffic. Soon we were weaving and winding at a sickening pace, with the horn blaring. (Permanent use of the horn was the only Chinese road rule I was able to distinguish during my time there.) Further away from the city, the quantity of traffic decreased, yet the driving became even more frightening. The roads got gradually smaller and more winding, and there were large trucks and busses, cars, mopeds (with never less than three people on them), horse drawn carts, water buffalo and of course, multitudes of chickens, dogs, cows and pedestrians.
Our destination, the Getu Valley, is located in the Guizhuo Provence of China. This entire region, apparently China’s poorest, is covered in an unfathomable number of incredible limestone cliffs, caves and arches. Despite Petzl’s funding of many equipping trips over the last couple of years making it an amazing sportclimbing destination, it still has a daunting amount of potential.
The 2011 Petzl Roctrip, the largest yet with almost 500 participants, created a striking contrast to its surroundings. Getu village consists of one street surrounded by rice fields, vegetable gardens, bamboo plantations and, of course, amazing limestone cliffs. This street is the main road to the Getu Valley, yet is also the heart of the town. This is where everything happens, from washing, cooking and eating, to children playing and adults partying. During the Roctrip this sleepy village suddenly turned into a hive of activity of the world’s best climbers and, thanks to Spelean and Five Ten, there was even an Australasian presence!
The three days of the actual Roctrip were intense, the ‘one-street village’ was constantly filled with people and there was an electric, high-energy atmosphere. Every day was action packed with psyched climbers of every level pushing their limits at every crag, photographers everywhere and in the evenings inspirational slideshows, movies and raging parties.
The climbing was very diverse, with half a dozen crags dotted around the village, each with its own distinct feel and style of climbing. Located high above the river, the Great Arch was grand and spectacular. It had everything from incredible multi-pitch routes through crazily steep, three-dimensional forests of stalactites, to twenty meter test-pieces that looked easy from the ground, but actually had the slickest holds I’ve ever touched!
Climbing at the Great Arch really was a unique, often very frustrating experience, and lineups for climbs were unavoidable. However, there were impressive climbers to watch and other, more remote crags to escape to. The most popular of them, Banyang Cave, offered climbing similar to what one might find in France or Spain – slightly less steep, with long routes covered in crimpers and small drooping stalactites.
Having come straight from two months of crack climbing in Yosemite, I struggled with the steep, powerful and dynamic sport routes. This, combined with throngs of people, made me feel a little out of my comfort zone, so I tried to escape the crowds by seeking out the long routes. I felt much more at home while hanging several pitches off the ground, watching the craziness from a distance.
The most impressive feats I witnessed during the Roctrip included Dave Graham climbing all the hardest routes at Banyan Cave – three over grade 29, all first go – within half an hour, before sprinting down to catch his bus to the airport. Then Dani Andrada’s first ascent of his eight-pitch master-piece, Corazón de Ensueño (210m), which takes the steepest line through the Great Arch, the crux being a completely horizontal roof he graded 33.
The highlight of my trip was climbing the ultra-classic Lost in translation (30) with Lynn Hill – the woman who paved the way for female climbers worldwide, and the one climber I have always looked up to. The four-pitch route takes an impressive line out the right side of the Arch and was the first to go right to the top, with the final two rope lengths navigating through almost horizontal terrain. The route has bamboo seats at every belay and it felt like being on another planet sitting suspended 100m off the ground surrounded by a forest of stalactites.
Aside from climbing, the Roctrip was enriched by the Chinese culture and genuine friendliness of the people. In the remote Getu Valley, we were a commodity and the locals loved helping us in any way possible. Though we could not understand a word each other said, they were always helpful and accommodating, regularly stopping their vehicles (of any description) in the middle the road to offer a lift, even if they had no room. Often we were piled into a mini-van, sitting on top of one another and halfway out the windows.
Meals were another experience to be mentioned. Most commonly we ate at one of the local guest houses, where the whole team crowded around small plastic tables while the family served us their local dishes. The food was good at first, however, after a couple of days, let alone several weeks, of eating exactly the same thing everyone began to struggle. Without fail, breakfast was noodle soup with unidentifiable ground meat and a deep-fried egg. Dinner, though much more palatable, was still repetitive and consisted of a huge quantity of rice, an array of local specialties and copious amounts of Tsing Tao beer. By the end of the trip everyone had first-hand experience with uncontrollable diarrhea and the conversation never strayed far from fast food.
Though not always pleasant, this trip to China was was an amazing experience. It opened my eyes to another corner of the world, containing a huge quantity of incredible rock! I can easily see myself returning and hope it becomes a more popular sportclimbing destination. Petzl did an incredible job developing and organising this truly awesome event. It really was a privilege to be invited and I am looking forward to this year’s adventures with the Petzl team!