Monday, July 18, 2005

Saddling up ready to go up to Mongdong

The sounds of clanking bells heralded the arrival of our horses for the next part of our trip. The four horse handlers strapped on our bags, adjusted the stirrups and straps and we were soon setting off up a steep rocky trail behind the houses through the bushy hillside. Almost at once the handlers were urging me "Qi ma , qi ma!" (Ride the horse). At first I tried to walk but as the altitude took a toll I soon conceded and let the horse sweat its way more surely up the narrow and zig zagging trail.

As we ascended, an impressive view of the lower half of the Yangwe Kong emerged, along with a bird's eye view of the narrow cleft of a gorge that lead down to the Yalong river, far below.

"Why did Rock take the trouble to climb all this way over the hills when he could have just gone down to the river there? I asked Choegyal.

The simple answer was there was no place to cross the Yalong at that point and no settlements on the steep sides of the canyon there.

"This is the only way to cross to Muli and Yunnan," he said flatly.

Yangwe valley - west
It was a long grinding ascent up the steep sides of the lower Yangwe Kong valley from Shantian to the first ridge.
Going up from Sanyanlong to Mongdong
I rode up, Namu disliked horses and tried to walk until the altitude took its toll.
On horseback from Shantian
In the saddle, going up the first ridge, above the Yangwe Kong valley.
Sanyanlong near Jiulong, Sichuan
As we got higher we got great views of the Yangwe Kong valley.
Yangwe Kong valley
View from the saddle of the terminal [western] end of the Yangwe Kong valley that we had just left.
Yangwe kong from near Roni
The view from on horseback as we ascended: looking down on the village of Shantian and the Yangwe Kong valley as it winds down from the east.
Yangwe Kong valley
Great views of the Yangwe Kong and Shantian.
?? Mongdong trail: horse handlers
We reached the top of the first ridge by late afternoon. It was just a cleft in the razorback ridge.
Shantian peaks
View over the other side from the top of the first ridge, looking west towards the Yalong canyon.
?? Mongdong trail: valley sides
Another view in the same direction - I needed a wide angle lens. [Top of pic partly obscured by my hand trying to shade out the sun]
?? Mongdong trail: valley stream
View from the top of the ridge down into the abyss of the isolated valley that we had to cross to get to Mongdong.
“No outlook in any direction!” wrote Joseph Rock in his National Geographic article of 1929.
“Here people live and die without the slightest knowledge of the outside world! How oppressive to be buried alive in these vast canyon systems! Or are they happier for it?”

?? Mongdong trail: valley floor
A closer view of the steep-sided canyon as we descended.

"Our track eventually crested and crossed over a cleft in a razorback ridge of Sazanran, to descend equally steeply to some more settlements in a beautiful steep sided valley on the other side. I marvelled at the deep green tones of the precipitous slopes, and the surrounding ridges that hung like crenulated brocade. We dismounted, drank the clear water from mountain streams and we went down, passing a few isolated farm houses on our rollercoaster descent only to begin another weary ascent as the day drew to a close.

For hour upon hour , up and up the poor horses strained, by now needing constant urging from the handlers as they paused every twenty steps, panting and sweating. “Cho! Ra-cho!”
After numerous false summits, it took what seemed like hours before we were able to "Fang Shan" (reach the top of the mountain). When we did, it was dark. We were on top of a rounded ridge overlooking the Yalong river canyon. Even in the fading light, it was very impressive. Down there somewhere in the gloom I could just make out a string of faint orangish lights far below, presumably houses along the river bank in Muli county across the river.
Above, a crescent moon cast a little illumination to guide us further up the ridge.
[From my forthcoming article on the trip].

Pause on the Yangwe Kong-Mongdong trail
A pause on the way down the first ridge into the abyss.
A break on the way to Mongdong.
Saddle sore - having a break.
Sadzanran - a small hill near Jiulong
The peaks taken from the same spot.
Valley below Mongdong
Looking back at the first ridge as we ascend the second ridge at dusk. The notch where we crossed [picture six in this post] can be seen as an outcrop of lighter coloured rock on the middle of the ridge.
Muli ridge at night
Looking towards Muli from the edge of the canyon.

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