Ice climbers reaching new heights

Updated: 2015-01-10 07:28

By Erik Nilsson and Yang Yang(China Daily)

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Ice climbers reaching new heights

Ice climbing enthusiasts descend from a 30-meter-high ice wall in suburban Beijing's Yunmeng Valley. Photos by Wei Xiaohao / China Daily

Heating up

Ice climbing is reaching new pinnacles in China. The number of climbers has soared from hundreds to thousands in about eight years. And more foreign enthusiasts consider the country a frontier.

"China has a lot of ice walls," Chinese Mountaineering Association ice climbing department director Ding Xianghua says.

Conditions that form frozen ramparts are relatively rare, he explains. They require concurrently ideal water flows, altitudes, angles and temperatures. But two-thirds of the country's topography is puckered by the collision of three tectonic plates, multiplying the probability of the right natural conditions.

Especially rich are alps in Beijing's Miyun, Yanqing and Huairou counties; northern China's Taihang Mountains; and western China's Qinling range. Sichuan province's 30-kilometer-long Twinbridge Trench in the Siguniang Mountains sires some of the finest sheets.

Exploration continues. It's a new niche. The Chinese Mountaineering Association only hosts events when it can find destinations, Ding says. It has organized trainings for two decades.

Walls are often perilous. "You can't use your pick if the ice isn't solid," explains 35-year-old Chongqing native He Chuan, who started climbing in Beijing in 2002. "You feel afraid. Your strength melts. Fear solidifies. I've experienced this many times. But you're overcome with joy when you overcome the ice."

Hu Dongyue recalls injuring his leg while scuttling up an icicle that formed around a pinky-width rope a decade ago.

The 15-meter icicle ruptured into five slabs as he climbed it in Yunmeng.

"I shimmied up it like boys climb trees since I couldn't use equipment," the 51-year-old recalls. "My upper body was sometimes negotiating a different ice slice than my legs as the column buckled."

A lump struck his leg, causing swelling. "But it wasn't broken," he says, gratefully.

He Chuan believes adventure dwarfs danger.

"It's a special feeling," He says. "You're scaling a fragile incline. Shards break off and crash. That's amazing. It's cold and (mostly isolated), and quiet. But you're not lonely. You must have a partner."

The Beijing Institute of Technology instructor also climbed in South Korea and Norway, where he spent Chinese New Year.

He's also a Baihe Rock Climbing Foundation member. The organization hopes to publish a bilingual guide for Beijing's rock and ice routes.

"Ice (constantly) changes, unlike rocks," He says. "Old routes are renewed."

This means you can scurry up different sheets in the same spot at different times.