Week 4: Climbing
So, we checked out two rock climbing places, the Yanwu Space Rock Climbing Center and the Shanghai Stadium Rock Climb Sports Centre. The first is further out but cheaper, with some outdoor walls. The second is easier to get to and has better facilities. It’s a bit pricier, but both are great places to get your climb on for an absurdly cheap price.
What you need
Shorts, T-shirts, sweatpants - anything comfortable and easy to move around in that you don't mind getting sweaty or staining with chalk dust. Everything else you that you need you can rent there. Yanwu charges 5rmb for shoes and harnesses. Shanghai Stadium charges 10rmb, plus a 100rmb deposit - not that you'd want to make off with a pair of shoes that countless others have sweated in. Neither rents out chalk bags, but you can buy chalk and chalk bags at the Shanghai Stadium center. If you are a dedicated climber you can bring your own gear to both places.
If you plan on going up the big walls, you’re going to need someone to belay for you. Fortunately, at both places if you just show up by yourself you can get one of the staff to do it, or if you come with a friend they’ll teach you how in a matter of minutes. If you've never climbed, classes aren't necessary, and unless you're fluent in Chinese, you won't get much out of them. English skills are next to nil among the staff at both places. Still, they are friendly and eager to help. Some even carry laser pointers to guide you to the next hold. It's usually not a problem as long as you speak the international language of grunting and pointing. Besides, climbing is all about intuition.
At the Yanwu center it’s mainly Chinese, though on our visit there was a group of foreign kids scrambling up the walls while their moms looked on in abject terror. At Shanghai Stadium, it was, likewise, predominately Chinese, but several foreigners filed in as the day progressed. Generally speaking, rock climbers are a pretty tight community, but at the Shanghai Stadium the regulars were quite friendly and welcoming. Both are kid-friendly. The simple walls are easy enough for any kid to climb. Both centers also rent out the space for groups, corporate events, all that.
Put on your very tight shoes, clip onto the rope, get one of the workers to belay you, and you can start making your way up the wall. Climb until your forearms ache and your fingers feel like they’re going to break.
Both places have a broad range of difficulty: from beginner walls that any inexperienced climber can top to roofs with holds only you're fingernails can find purchase. Unless you've logged a few years, don't even bother with with these. If you fall while you are on the roof, you get to go swinging wildly into the great emptiness, adding bonus thrills (especially if the Chinese guy anchoring you isn’t paying attention).
Shanghai Stadium and Yanwu both have several bouldering walls for less harrowing climbs. Bouldering is where you climb without a harness and support, but the walls don’t top more than three meters and the floor is padded, so if you fall you won’t have any problems. These are great for practicing the more complex routes and building your forearm and finger strength. Bouldering is what's on offer at the large, free outdoor riverside promenade space we wrote about here.
How much of your life will this take up
Rock climbing turns into a full-on obsession for many people. It’s a great workout and a cheap alternative to Shanghai’s more expensive gyms and classes. Both climbing centers offer classes for complete beginners, teenage classes all the way up to advanced lead climbing courses – where you don’t have someone belaying, you climb the high walls on your own, clipping your protection into pre-installed bolts.
That said, if you just want to go and climb the walls on your own accord, that’s cool, too. If you go two or three times a week, you will be amazed at how fast your strength and endurance build up.
How much does it cost
Surprisingly cheap. At Yanwu it’s 40rmb for an all-day pass on weekdays and 50rmb on weekends. At Shanghai Stadium it’s 50rmb across the board. Both places offer memberships at 1500rmb per year, which gives you unlimited access. You can also get a 10-time punch card for 300rmb at Yanwu and 400rmb at the stadium.
Classes range from 100rmb per hour for one-to-one training, to 1600rmb for a 12-class course at the Shanghai Stadium. Check out the full class plans for Shanghai Stadium here. At Yanwu, 1,200rmb will get you eight two-hour classes.
Yanwu’s non-bouldering walls are all outside, which is more exciting. Shanghai Stadium has walls that are slightly taller at 18 meters - the tallest in China, they tell us. These are the big walls at the Stadium:
In terms of fitness, rock climbing is an excellent work out. Not only will you build your fingers, forearms and upper body, but climbing takes an exceptional amount of core strength, which is great for burning off all the beer you drank last weekend.
For those of you concerned about “safety” and “not falling to your untimely demise” take note: neither center has floor anchors for belaying. Apparently, that is not a thing in China. That means you only have the weight of the person belaying you to act as a counterweight if you fall. So, just be sure to pick the biggest employee there to belay you.
Also, if you’re going for that I-take-horse-steroids look, rock climbing isn’t for you. You will get exceptionally strong, but the sport doesn’t lend itself well to muscle mass building. But if you are looking to get lean and corded, then there is hardly a better exercise out there.
You can check out the full listings for Yanwu here and the Shanghai Stadium Rock Climb Sports Centre here. Check out equipment and link with the climbing community at Sanfu, the climbing store in Xujiahui.