No Ropes: the Traditional, Fearless Art of Chinese Rock Climbing

No Ropes: the Traditional, Fearless Art of Chinese Rock Climbing

Monday October 07, 2019 Written by Genevieve

Chinese rock-climbing

Ever had one of those nightmares where you’re clinging to something, dangling over a great height with nothing to catch you? Well it turns out one person’s nightmare can be another culture’s idea of a totally reasonable thing to do with your time: in Guizhou, China, a small group of people from the Miao tribe actually live their lives this way.

Referred to as “spider men” by locals, they seem completely chill about their terrifying occupation – a style of high-rise, cave-based rock climbing that is done without any kind of harness, net or safety device. This video from Great Big Story captures the whole thing well:

It seems that this extremely dangerous custom started out as part of a unique burial tradition, where the spider men would carry coffins up, and leave them in the rock faces. As time went on, the funerary ritual died out, and the climbers turned their skills to collecting rare medicinal herbs found high up in the caves. To this day, the same herbs are still what draw climbers to scale the cliffs, though the numbers of willing practitioners have dwindled.

Luckily, there is still the occasional youth willing to learn the art of being a spider-man, though sometimes compromises must be made – namely, the accepting of ‘spider women’. Taught by her father to climb, Luo Dengping is one such renegade fearlessly taking up the mantle. In perfecting her approach, she says that the most important lesson her father taught her in learning to climb is knowing how to get down just as much as getting up. His best tip for this? “Touch the rock first with your hand or foot. If you can’t touch it, don’t move.”

Sounds like shrewd advice.