Read our feature on Logan, including his send of The Firewall, in Issue 13, which you can download here.
Nothing is as sexual as hairdressing (barring actual sex).
It is the most sensual of jobs. Why this proclivity above the cacophony of competing titilators in the lustful reaches of my being, I am not certain. The physical proximity, the release of control, the threat of danger, the transformative power, the sculpting of a physical image to try to get actual sex, the demographic of its practitioners. It is a carnal experience to sit bound in the chair, hands and breath upon you, the sound of scything scissors. It is physical, intimate and exposing.
That’s why it’s odd that I haven’t paid for a haircut since 1996. In fact, I cut my own hair. This ascetic denial of the thing I covet is not extraordinary, it is commonplace, just look at the rainbow browsing habits of the average man compared to their vanilla sex lives. We humans are strange. The unrealised, forbidden fetish burns strongest, and its denial becomes an exciting Thing in itself. Think about what excites your hidden thoughts or what you see when you squeeze your eyes tight.
Nothing is as magnetic as a splitter crack.
Lines are used as synonyms for routes in climbing, often erroneously. A crack, though, is definitely ‘a line’. You look at a fissure scythed through a clean sweep of stone and instantly lust for it. I am magnetically attracted to splitter cracks. But I never, ever climb them. Maybe this is due to do a lack of access in the south of Australia but there might be something more to it. A dark and dangerous fetish. The complex denial of satisfaction in an unrealised desire. What I do know is that as a crack climber I make a killer hairdresser.
That unrealised fetish is why it made perfectly poor sense for me to go to Liming, billed as China’s answer to Indian Creek. Sure, I could have gone and clipped bolts at Moon Hill in Yangshuo but instead I made for a complex of valleys over which lord 200m high sandstone sentinels that are cracked by magnetic lines.
A few brief thoughts on the small part of China I saw: it’s far more orderly than I anticipated; there is far more money washing around than I thought; if this is the end of the building boom in the middle of it there must have been a frightful BANG; it’s not the easiest joint to get around in, there is probably less English than in any other country I’ve been; the agriculture appears astoundingly well ordered; the cuisine is way better than I thought it would be; none of the Chinese flags or murals of Mao that I expected were there – where were the overt signs of nationalism?; putting ‘autonomous’ in a region’s name is the same as putting ‘democratic’ in a country’s; and the Chinese don’t give a fuck about white tourist dudes. The whole joint seems geared towards the huge volume of domestic tourism that has grown in the wake of the Chinese population’s great surge into the middle class. It’s not just Westerners that the Chinese seem to have disregard for, I think this puts a lot of visitors off, especially those who have spent time in South East Asia, where you are a rockstar.
Being in China was intellectually unsettling; What are the Chinese allowed to do? What are they allowed to own? Who is marshalling the corps in the fields? Whose fields are they? What are they allowed to make money on? Who is running the show? Where are all the flags? I don’t know anything about China and have no idea how the joint works, even though when in Liming, I had a cultural attache – a fluent ex-pat who had lived in Beijing for yonks. I kept hammering him with questions until in the end he said, ‘I used to be like you, back when I first got here, but the truth is you’ll never figure out how this joint works. I gave up and now I just live here.’ Good to know it is not just me.
Unable to exist in an answer-vacuum, I settled on a pithy line about about 19th century mercantilism to explain the current Chinese system, ignored the questionable accuracy and imperialist undertones of a natural evolution to political economics, and got on with the climbing.
And by saying I got with the climbing what I mean is that someone else got on with the climbing.
On day one, before I had even pulled on my shoes, I instead awoke at 4am and marched bleary-eyed to the base of the The Flying Buttress so I could hold the rope as WA’s favourite climbing gypsy, Logan ‘Brutus the’ Barber ‘Beefcake’, put up the country’s hardest trad route. The Firewall is definitely a line – a single stroke made across an otherwise unmarked face – and it is definitely 31, maybe 32, hard to say, harder to do. (You can read more about this badarse ascent in the latest issue of VL – Issue 13 – here). Strange that holding the rope for someone ended up being the climbing highlight of my trip.
Once I’d filled up my belay-karma-account, my oft climbing partner, Rich Ham, sidled into town and we turned the dial down from EPIC to SPASTIC. Over the next week we humped up the steep approaches to throw ourselves at the area’s most modest lines, all a long way from China’s Hardest Trad Route, but who cares about grades, right? I am rubbish at climbing cracks, flailing like a freshly-birthed calf, but every route we did was outstanding. Each of them a magnetic line drawn across beautiful red sandstone. These are not join-the-dots ‘lines’ that require imagination to ‘see’. The rock in the area is variable and a little on the soft side with the odd chunk that detaches, but it’s plenty good enough.
My mate, John of England, describes the masochistic process of crackage well. ‘First you are rubbish,’ he starts. ‘Then you get good enough to hurt yourself. Then you hate yourself because you are hurting yourself. And then you want to hurt yourself.’ Seems pretty accurate to me.
Try as I might to want to hurt myself, I still found the 5.11esque streno tips layback of Faraway Corner to be about nine grades easier than the just-put-your-toe-in-and-twist-you-oaf-green-cam-horror-show of the supposed 5.8 baby’s route, Through the looking glass. There is a price exacted by The Line, paid in flesh and pain. The cracks beat me and tore my flesh in just the right way, walking the tightrope like a talented dominatrix.
Liming the village is sleepy. Don’t come looking for action, unless you BYO it you’re unlikely to find much outside of construction or the occasional street-dog fight. But you will find some surprisingly sumptuous Chinese food (especially if what you’re used to is the heavy Westernised slop). And heaps of rock. Rock for days. Towers for ages. If you want to go new routing trad cracks or reckon you can take down the second ascent of Logan’s new Hardest-Route-In-China – The Firewall – then there are heaps of reasons to get your arse to Liming.
I could have spent far, far longer than the week I had but then, as these things go, just like that my trip was over and I was killing time in Lijiang on the long transit home, washing around in the mass of domestic Chinese tourists, trying to find where – considering how no one in the whole damned town knew about it – the apparently-illusory shuttle bus to the airport left from. Two serves of dumplings down, with aching feet and still numb hands, without consciously thinking about it, I turned hard left into a hairdressers and sat down. A middle-aged man rocking a classique accidental-Chinese-Hipster look took out his shears and set about lopping off my unruly locks.
I closed my eyes and tried, but I gotta say, it wasn’t sexual.