Cracks of Dawn

The Sandstone Wonders of Liming, China

Mike Dobie discovered one of the world’s premier sandstone crack areas by accident. In 2010, while thumbing through a Chinese travel brochure, he stumbled upon photos that left his jaw slack. He saw “wonderful things,” to borrow the famous words Howard Carter uttered when he first peered into King Tut’s tomb.

Outside the dirt-road village of Liming (Dawn in Mandarin), in the Yunnan province about 450 miles northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam, sheets of crimson stone hung along the skyline like gigantic billboards. Their message to Dobie: unbelievable climbing awaits.

When Dobie and fellow American Austin Stringham arrived in Liming they were thunderstruck. Above them reared so much potential you’d have to believe in reincarnation if you’d ever hope to climb everything. And while the local Tibeto- Burman ethnic Lisu people scaled the cliffs to raid beehives and birdnests, Dobie and Stringham were the first actual climbers to gaze upon the walls.

Dobie set up shop in Liming, population 100, and got to work. Within five years he and a small legion of other developers had sent over 200 routes up to 5.13d, some as long as eight pitches. Dobie now splits his time between Seattle and Liming, but continues to pluck lines, and there are now some 450 established pitches. Yet Liming remains off the map and Chinese climbers have been slow to embrace crack climbing. “Numerous 5.14 [Chinese] sport climbers try 5.9 crack and fail and leave the next day,” says Dobie. “But it is slowly improving and now there is even one local climber, Xiao Xie.” Meanwhile, in Liming a dozen or so visiting climbers press on. All the more reason to grab your rack and get there.

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