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BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Dozens of Chinese climbing enthusiasts scaled huge, frozen waterfalls in rural Beijing, taking part in a competition showcasing the rapid rise in popularity of outdoor sports.
With white collar workers in the world's most populous nation looking for more adventurous ways to spend their time and money, climbing is fast taking root alongside activities such as running and hiking.
Much of China is covered by mountains, from the misty landscapes of traditional paintings to the towering Himalayas, and the country shares Mt. Everest, the world's highest peak, with neighbouring Nepal. But until recently, the peaks went unexplored by Chinese.
"At this moment in China, there are more and more training companies and clubs that organize people to take part in this kind of mountaineering activity, so more and more people are taking part," said Ma Qiang, an IT worker competing in the climbing contest.
"So I think in the future, China will produce a lot of highly-skilled climbers who will attempt high mountains along with all the foreigners."
About one hundred people took part on Tuesday in the two-day competition, which culminated in climbs on two separate frozen waterfalls at Heilongtan, Black Dragon Pool.
On one waterfall, over 100 meters (yards) and melting rapidly, climbers competed to be fastest to the top. On the other, they were tested on their ability to maneuver through holes and perilous overhangs.
Male participants outnumbered female by four to one, but copyright worker Wang Changying urged more women to take part, citing many pluses from the rigorous exercise.
"For women, one of the biggest benefits is that it helps you maintain a good figure. Also it improves your general physical condition and keeps the body strong," she said.
"But the biggest gain for me has been that I met my husband doing these activities, and now we're married."
Outdoor equipment maker and clothing company North Face, which sponsored the event, said the number of Chinese climbers doubles every year.
Two years ago there were fewer than 200 North Face stores nationwide, but that number has grown to over 400 as the company looks to cash in on the diversifying interests of wealthy Chinese customers.
Gao Qing, the deputy general manager of Summit Experience (Beijing), who organized the event, is expecting participation to double next year.
"Eight years ago, as far as I know there weren't even thirty people doing ice climbing activities like this. But in recent years the number of people climbing has increased several times each year, and now there are several thousand," Gao said.
Organizers said normal winter weekends see around 100 people a day climbing the frozen waterfalls. And with only three days left before warming weather puts the falls out of bounds for safety reasons, climbers were making the most of it.
Many said they would be back next winter. But they might have to fight for space.
Editing by Elaine Lies