China is rising. Everyone says so. Business experts cite imminent Chinese takeover as the result of our stupidity, laziness and poor monetary habits. Fox News utters the country's name in hushed tones and with terror, as if the boogeyman in the closet is no longer afraid to show his face, and we need to call for our mommies.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I flew to China in April for a movie shoot with Chris Sharma and his girlfriend, Daila Ojeda. I knew China was cheap, though the food was alleged to be challenging for Western intestines. (Chickens' feet anyone?) Yangshuo was cool looking. Cooper Roberts and Brett Lowell from BigUP had done a Dose there, and Todd Skinner, Mike Tupper and Sam Lightner had pioneered the first routes there back in 1991 or so. From all the photos I'd seen, the Moon Hill arch looked ridiculously amazing, the stalactites grow from its underside like fungus and just beg to be humped.
I had three weeks to make a movie about a star climbing in paradise. When I arrived, Chris, Daila and their friend Corey Dwan had already prepped the White Mountain crag with two new, sick-looking projects for Chris to try. Chris bolted them in a day, and they looked world-class. A short walk across orange groves and peanut fields led to a 45-meter wall of brilliant limestone. Slabby by Spanish standards, the wall overhangs 15 to 25 degrees at most. It's similar to the Blasphemy Wall at the Virgin River Gorge, only steeper.
On the left, Chris found a line of face holds and dead tufas (as in, they've stopped seeping) that he redpointed in just a few tries. He called the route Spicy Noodle (5.14b), and it is a contender for China's hardest line. The adjacent route American Gangster was originally rated 5.14b by its first ascentionist, Michael Fuselier, who also drilled a grotesque three-finger slot at the crux. Chris climbed this route without the chipped hold on his second try, and thinks that that sequence may make this route a bit more difficult than Spicy Noodle. (The locals have since renamed the route French Gangster.)
The line that Chris bolted next to Spicy Noodle has two starts: an easier one that traverses in, and a wicked hard direct one. His working names for the two routes are The Route of All Dumplings and Necessary Dumpling, not only because of the similarity to the Blasphemy Wall's twin jewels Necessary Evil (5.14c) and Route of All Evil (5.14a/b), but because Chris reckons that Necessary Dumpling will be a project for a next-generation climber.
On paper, the trip was great. I shot a lot of great footage, projects were sent, and we all enjoyed the amazing scenery and interesting culture surrounding us. But sometimes, even in an exotic climbing paradise, life can still find a way to kick you in the nuts.
One day halfway through the trip, two friends from Spain walked to a solitary crag to find a corpse, tortured and hanged, at its base. A tee shirt had been thrown over his head.
The next day, I came back to my third-floor hotel room, in the nicer part of town, next to a government building and half a block from a police station, to find that my room had been robbed. The stolen items included my second camera, iPod and, most painfully, my laptop. All gone. I felt like vomiting. Corey,immediately understood what to do, promptly bringing me a double Scotch.
We were all shaken from the sequence of events, the murder and then the robbery. What was happening? Was this normal?
Bad shit happens, more often than we'd like to think. Climbing is a great excuse to travel to the wildest spots on earth. The climbing successes and failures are easily forgotten, but the sunsets, drunken dinners and epics all contribute to making us who we are, and comprise the memories we keep. Sometimes we are intoxicated by the memories, and sometimes they teach us something else. To use caution. To remember that humans can be horrible to each other. To appreciate the moments but not to let our guard down.
I'm editing the footage just as soon as I get a new computer. Chris left two major projects in China (one that will most likely be in the 5.15 range, and one of the best any of us has ever seen). His interest in China was to promote the climbing there, to give something back to the local climbers by leaving them with something to shoot for. And despite the rough events, I think he'll go back to try the routes soon.
Unlike what climbing videos usually show, fantasy trips can involve nightmares, too. Would I go back? Yeah, I would. It's all part of it. And it's worth it.
Mike Call's website, www.momentumvm.com, will show the film, as will www.sanuk.com®after he gets a new computer, of course.