With bare hands, no safety ropes and loosely laced canvas sneakers on his feet, Huang Xiaobao clambers up the sheer rock face with surprising ease.
Below him churn the silted waters of China’s Getu River, swollen with the previous day’s heavy rain.
Above him in the gloom of the cave is a scarlet Chinese flag, which he unfurls and waves to a small crowd standing on a floating walkway almost 300-feet (100 meters) beneath.
It’s a show for tourists, whose gasps suggest they are suitably awed, but Huang’s climbing skills were honed long ago for a completely different purpose.
As a 12-year-old living in this remote and beautiful part of China he began climbing in search of swallow droppings to fertilize the terraced fields.
Huang climbs for money — he gets a tiny share of the park’s $28 (190 yuan) entrance ticket plus a basic salary of $135 (900 yuan) per month.
But Getu’s karst limestone spires, caves and arches are fast becoming a playground for the fearless — attracting thrillseekers from around the world.
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Published: July 7, 2016