Monday, October 20, 2014

Just returned from a crossing of the She-La and Sho-La

Just completed a successful and most excellent hike from the Mekong to the Salween (Nujiang) and back via the She-La pass (East to West) and Sho-La pass (West to East). This meant  I had to sneak into Tibet from Bingzhongluo to Chawalong to join the Kawakarpo kora half way at Abing. I did this by getting a motorbike after dark, when in theory the police checkpoint was closed (it was actually still open, but more of that later).
As you can see from this picture of the She-La, the weather was ideal around the 1 Oct holiday period, and I had the trail to myself. The picture shows the view down to the west into the Sewalongba valley. The route goes down into the valley and then continues up the ridge through the forest to the centre left to the Balagong La pass.

The full route was:

Stage 1 (East-West)

Deqin - Cizhong
Cizhong - pre-SheLa basin
SheLa crossing to Sewalongba valley
Sewalongba - Balagong pass
Balagong pass - Baihanluo - Dimaluo
Dimaluo - Nujiang road - Bingzhongluo

Stage 2 (West - East)

Bingzhongluo - Abing (via Qiunatong)
Abing - Chawalong (checkpoint) - Tangdu La pass
Tangdu La pass - Gebu
Gebu - Dagu La pass
Dagu La pass - Laide
Laide - camp above Laide
Laide high camp - ShoLa pass
ShoLa pass - Meilishi (trail end at Mekong)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Back of Jambeyang, then and now

Just came across this unpublished pic taken by Joseph Rock on his circuit around the Konkaling (Yading) peaks. This was taken round the back of Jambeyang. I know exactly where he took it because we had great difficulty reaching the same spot! It's on the steep sides of the upper Lawatong valley. Looking back at the way we came, you can see the valley on the right from which we descended the Yaka pass. Note how the glacier below Jambeyang as receded in the 'ampitheatre'. Rock obviously had less clear weather than when we did the kora - in my picture you can see Chanadorje in the distance at upper right.

Random picture: Muti Konka

This is the mountain Rock called Muti Konka - now transcribed as Maidi Gangga. Adjacent to the Yalong river, about two day's journey west of Jiulong. The farmhouse where we stayed can be seen bottom centre.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Joseph Rock's Yunnan map of Deqin from 1946

As prepared by US army cartographers based on Rock's surveys and hand-drawn maps. I've checked the details - they're pretty accurate. This covers the area I'll be traversing next week - from Cizhong to Baihanluo. Click to magnify for detail.

Random photo: the lamasery at Ragya, Qinghai

As visited by Rock in 1924-5

Monday, September 15, 2014

Return to Cizhong

I'll be starting my next walk from Cizhong, the village by the Mekong river (Lancang) with the famous Catholic church. Here I am in 2002 with some of the local 'outpatients'  sat outside the village clinic. From Cizhong I plan to walk up to the Sela Pass (overnighting at a log cabin on the way) which is at about 4300m. After that I have to cross a high valley and crest the Balagong Pass before descending to Baihanluo - another "Catholic' village but this time on the banks of the Salween (Nu) river.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Random picture from the Kawa Karpo kora

Day Two: after emerging from the forest you walk up a beautiful open valley to the base of the Doker-La.

Abing (Aben) - the beginning and the end (梅里雪山外转)

Isn't that an OMD tune, the Beginning and the End? I met Andy McCluskey once in some crappy bar on Bold Street, might have been the Raz. Really embarrassed myself, gushing about how I liked the first album but spouting my opinions about music in general. Just like I did at the Ministry in 84 with some bloke out of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Ah, the 80s. You had to be there.

Meanwhile, this is Abing - the premature end of my trek with the kids a couple of years ago, but now I've got to work out  away of getting there and beyond to Chawalong, to start my next trek. It's just over the border in Tibet and there are prominent signs at the border along the scary road from Bingzhongluo saying "Foreigners Strictly Forbidden". According to the Chinese blogs I've read, there's a police checkpoint just beyond Abing at a place called Quzhu, just before the big landslide next to the Nujiang  river. The usual plan is to sneak past it at night. Hope I can find someone to give me a lift past the place on my trip. If you're looking for a blog that documents every single step on the way of the Kawa Karpo outer kora (waizhuang, 梅里雪山外转), here you go ... (it's in Chinese)

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Doker-La

Not doing it on this trip, but here's a previously unpublished pic of the pass from below the western, Tibetan, side (see red arrow). The pass marks the border between Yunnan and Tibet, and is also a very sacred place for Tibetan Buddhists. As you can see it is very steep near the top (I freaked out) and has a track of 108 zig zags down to the valley basin. There is also a rope in place for pilgrims to hang on to during icy/snowy weather.
And here is a view of the Doker La looking down (after the worst bit over). If you look carefully at bottom right you can see the rope and my two son plus guide descending:

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Rest stops on the Kawa Karpo kora

One of the good (or bad) things about the Kawa Karpo kora is that you don't need to be self sufficient and pack a load of food and camping gear. It is quite possible to do the circuit with just a minimum of gear (a sleeping bag and your toothbrush) if you're prepared to doss down with the masses in the sheds at the rest stops. These are dotted along the way at regular intervals - usually four or so hours between each one, some are closer together. They usually have a little store like the one pictured here where you can buy a limited selection of drinks and noodles. I reckon they're only open during the pilgrimage season  don't blame if you turn up in February and find they're all shut.
(PS Like the Rolleiflex?)

Monday, September 01, 2014

Pilgrims on the Kawa Karpo Kora

In a few weeks I will be joining the likes of this family group on a walk around the mountains range of Kawa Karpo in NW Yunnan. The Chinese call it Meili Xueshan, but you don't see any Chinese doing the circuit.

The 10-12 day pilgrimage is an almost wholly (holy?) Tibetan event. It's quite amazing how many groups you see doing the kora - whole extended families from far and wide, mums, dads, kids, daughters, nieces, grandparents, cousins, uncles and other hangers on.  And not just locals. We met young guys from faraway places like Yushu, and quite a few people who had done the kora several times previously.

One of the most memorable groups was a group of three young men, one of whom had a bad leg and could not walk on it. He didn't have crutches - he was just kind of hopping and limping the whole way, supported the whole way round (as far as we could see) by his mates. It was hard enough for us fit and healthy westerners to do this 10-day trek up and down six or so 4000-metre mountain passes - what this guy did was just just amazing - or insane, depending on your point of view.

Back in the 1920s, Joseph Rock was very dismissive of the Tibetan devotion to religion and pilgrimages. He thought they were stupid and mindlessly superstitious. But you can't help being impressed by their faith and dedication. Most of the pilgrims we saw were friendly - some were a bit reserved, but none were unfriendly or hostile. There was an amazing feeling of camaraderie and shared experience. On one section of the trail I came across a small makeshift store, unattended. Anyone passing by could have stolen the goods, but I saw wads of notes stuffed under bottles, left by honest customers. You don't usually see that kind of trust in China.

In the picture above you can see the typical sleeping arrangements for the pilgrimage - just a makeshift wooden shack or a few poles holding up some plastic sheeting over a dirt floor and some grass or straw if you're lucky. God knows what it's like it it rains. There's usually a fire with a big cauldron of water on it for making butter tea and noodles. And that's about it.  Anyhow, I am looking forward to going back to the Kawa Karpo in about three weeks time. All I need to do now is get a bit fitter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Plan B: Cizhong to Dimaluo via the She La

Although I am supposed to be doing the Kawa Karpo kora next month I am tempted to go for Plan B - cross from the Lancang to the Nujiang via a more southerly route (and one that Rock took on his first trip) - via Cizhong and the She La pass, not to be confused with the Sho La further north, on the Kawa Karpo circuit. The She La is known in Chinese as the 蛇拉腊卡垭口 (Shelalaka Pass).

I have found a few Chinese trekker blogs with some good pictures of it, and I have also tracked down the actual location of the pass via latitude and longitude - not easy! The pass was suggested to be in three different places by three different people. I tracked down the real location from a photo that a Chinese trekker took of his GPS on the pass.

Anyway, the crossing seems to involve a long slog up a wooded valley just to the south of Cizhong, up to the last steep section up to the She La. On the way there are several cabins and pastures that serve as lodgings. Over the pass it seems to be a steep zigzag down into the Sewalongba valley. This looks like a very marshy place and many people have described it as a leech zone. Some trekkers even tape up their ankles and cuffs to try keep the blighters out.

Through the Sewalongba the next stage is to the Balagong Pass (巴拉贡) - Rock called this the Doyonglongba. Some people have stayed overnight in cabins in lower parts of the Sewalongba at a place called Chuka Muchang (pasture) or 初卡牧场. From the Balagong pass it is a fairly straightforward descent through forest to my old haunt of Baihanluo and its Catholic church, just above Dimaluo.

I am thinking of doing this trek and then heading up north beyond Bingzhongluo to Chawalong, from where I can make the crossing back to the Lancang and thus to Deqin.
For those who are interested the co-ordinates for the She La are:  27°59'53.46"N,  98°47'32.70"E.
And for the Balagong Pass:  27°57'30.70"N,  98°45'10.02"E.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Starting to (over-) prepare for the next Kawa Karpo kora

Darren doing the Doker La lightweight. My kids in the background.
As usual before heading off on a big walk I tend to fret too much about little things which turn out to be inconsequential once I get on the trail.

At the end of September I will be flying to Lijiang and then heading up to Deqin to do the Kawa Karpo kora again. I've already done the East-West bit, but this time I won't have the kiddywinks in tow (yes I took my two children last time and they did it easier than me), so can hopefully complete the circuit and do the West-East section. I'm in two minds about whether to go lightweight or to take the full kit of tent, stove and food.

The lightweight option is do-able, as shown by our intrepid Canadian companion Darren on the last trip (see above). Darren did the whole circuit as if it was a walk in the park, armed only with a sleeping bag and a bit of heavy duty polythene sheeting to act as a groundsheet/raincover. You can get away with that because there are pilgrim rest stations en route, which have a bit of shelter ( a dirt floor with a bit of flattened cardboard if you're lucky) and a fire to make hot water on - and there are basic shops that sell drinks, smokes and noodles. Darren also took a brolly, which doubled as a walking stick. All you need, really, if you're confident and lucky with the weather.  Admittedly Darren was an experienced climber and glacier guide based in the Rockies, so for him the Doker La was probably a piece of piss.  I'm of a mind to emulate that and just rock up with the same few bits and pieces.

On the other hand ... the control freak/cautious side of me wants to do just the opposite, and take every bit of possible gear that I might need. I've already been trying out the Gore Tex waterproofs in Sydney's recent torrential winters downpours. I've also been  fiddling with the MSR stove and giving the lightweight pots and bowls a clean. Will I need them? There are log cabins en route that can serve up pot noodles, but do I want to try live on them for 10-12 days?

As usual, I'm also agonising about what cameras to take. I'll definitely be taking one of the medium format film cameras: I'd prefer the wonderful Rolleifex 3.5F but it can be a bit temperamental. Might have to settle for the simpler Rolleicord instead.  For the first time I'll probably be taking a digital (Sony A7) instead of a film 35mm film camera. This will be my back up camera and will relieve me of the burden of taking loads of film. It will be a pity not to be taking my Leica M2, but I will still be using the Leitz lenses on the digital body.

I picked up my China visa today, so now it's just  a case of counting down the next five weeks before I head off. And trying not to get too obsessed about preparing. So if you see a flustered 50-something bloke striding round Sydney dressed inappropriately in trekking gear and carrying a backpack - it's probably me doing a bit of practice.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Going back to the Nujiang ... in September

I have just booked my flights to Lijiang for late September, from where I intend to have another shot at the Kawakarpo circuit - or possibly a crossing from Cizhong to Dimaluo on the Nujiang. My first choice would be go back to do the Yading outer kora again. However, I'm going back to the Nujiang because it seems to be the only place with decent weather at that time of year. If you recall from my last few posts, my trip to Yading in October 2013 was a disaster - completely snowbound, as was my 'Plan B' - Gongga Shan. I guess those places are just too far north for October trekking and it's too late in the year to do any decent trekking. Well, if I find there's a heatwave occuring when i get off the plane in Lijinag I may well head up to Yading, but otherwise it's the Kawakarpo circuit for me. I would like to finish what I started in 2012 (with my kids in tow) - I only managed the first half of the kora from Yongzhi to Abing on the Nujiang. This time I would like to re-cross back to the Mekong over the Sho La. And as I said, rather than repeat the Doker La (which is fantastic) I would like to try a different route over to the Nujiang via the She La from Cizhong to Dimaluo. Well, that;s the plan ... just need to get in shape now. Oh, and buy some film for my Rolleiflex ...

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Finished the book!

I've now finished a draft of In the Footsteps of Joseph Rock, the book that covers all my travels from 1990 to places like Muli, Gongga Shan, Muti Konka (Yalong canyon), Yading, Qinghai and the Nujiang. I've already loaded bits of it up to this website, but it's all a bit fragmanted. Soon I hope to see the whole book complete with some nice photos available as a download at Amazon courtesy of those nice chaps at Camphor Press.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Staying with the monks at Gongga Shan monastery

With the monks at the Gongga Shan monastery

After a very cold and miserable day at the monastery, the monks eventually relented and let us sit near their fire for a couple of hours. We spent a bit of the evening trying to thaw out before they gave us the boot. Vowed there and ten to get out as soon as possible! IN this picture you can see one of the female Buddhist nuns.

Friday, March 21, 2014

My jinxed visit to Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

In October 2013 I tried to repeat my Gongga Shan trek of 1996. I trekked back to the monastery from the Yulongxi valley via the Yulongxi Yakou (pass). Unfortunately this time the weather was terrible. It started bad and just got worse. On the day we arrived it was misty and raining and very cold. Over the next two days the snow started and got heavier. We didn't get any view of the mountain or even of the surrounding valley and glacier. The whole trip seemed to have been jinxed -  I must have upset the mountain gods. Here's a pic of our long suffering horses (mules?) having a feed just after we arrived at the monastery.

Mules at Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

This guyd had brought a group of Chinese trekkers in on day one. They only stayed a couple of hours and then buggered off back down to Tsemi because of the poor weather - can't say I blame them!

Gongga Shan monastery from above, Oct 2013

This was about as clear as it ever got!

Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013 - Rolleiflex pic

Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

Monika passing the time at Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

It was boring at the monastery after the first day. For hours on end we would sit in the room trying to keep warm by sitting in sleeping bags and waiting until the next meal from our meagre supply of food (thank goodness we brought stuff to eat - nothing at the monastery whatsoever). This is Monika from Poland, who did the trip at the same time as me - she had quite bad altitude sickness. You can see the cooker I brought with me on the shelf. The room was draughty and freezing cold.

Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

A very bleak Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

A very bleak Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

Arriving at Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

Arriving at the monastery, our guide does a few prostrations at the shrine

A very bleak Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

Monday, March 17, 2014

Gongga Shan in Oct 2013

Had a very dull two day stay here at the monastery! There's only so much you can see and do at this place after the first few hours of looking about the rooms. The cloud was thick and there was absolutely nothing to do from waking up (early - it was chillingly cold and damp) to going to sleep early. It was too cold to just sit about, and yet there was nowhere to go in the fog - too easy to get lost. I tried walking up on to the ridge above the monastery but turned back after an hour, fearful that I would lose my way in the thick fog and increasingly heavy snow covering my tracks. This was no longer the isolated, quaint monastery that I had visited in 1996. The monks were bored of dealing with hordes of trekkers and were not interested in talking to us once they had collected the accomodation fee and park fee. They wouldn't even let us sit near their fire to get warm - a real insult by Tibetan standards!

Gongga Shan monastery, by Rolleiflex

Arriving at Gongga Shan monastery, Oct 2013

Gongga Shan monastery in the rain

Gongga Si as seen on out arrival in October 2013, by Rolleiflex

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Buchu river valley, en route to Gongga Shan

After a very long and knee-pounding descent from the Yulong Xi pass, we finally arrived at the Buchu river and crossed at this bridge - then it was a long slog along the river gradually ascending to a shoulder a few hours away where we met the track from Tsemi, turned left and went up to the Gongga monastery. When we came back this way three days later the whole landscape was under snow (see earlier photos).

The "Eco-Hut" in the Buchu Valley, Oct 2013

The "Eco-Hut" in the Buchu Valley, Oct 2013

After a loooong descent from the Yulongxi Pass nto the Buchu valley we came to this hut, which was said to have a great view of Gongga Shan in clear weather. It was described as an 'eco-hut' was was actually just a bare shell - colder in than out!