My 'solo' trek had morphed into something resembling Hannibal's Crossing of the Alps. The film crew from China Central TV in Beijing consisted of the director/sound guy and two camera guys. They had a ton of camera and audio gear in silver flight cases, so between us we required six mules and three Tibetan porters. And of course we had our Tibetan guide and general gaffer, Gong Que. So in total, eight of us.
We left the guesthouse after lunch and took a Landcruiser down to the end of the road near Chonggu Si monastery, where we loaded the mules up right next to the public toilets. We were watched by quite a few bemused Chinese tourists, who looked more geared up for a trek than we were.
Then it was finally time to start the trek - and this posed a problem because the track started just off from the private road along which ran the electric buggies up to Luorong. Access to this road was strictly patrolled by the Yading park ticket collectors who sought proof of the 80 yuan fare. They adamantly refused to allow us to walk up the road, so we had to take a boardwalk lower down and the cross over and try find the beginning of the track, which the previous day's recce had suggested was about 100m from the 'bus station'. Luckily we had a local guide who showed us that the track actually started about a further 100m beyond the most obvious one - it was just not visible from the road and I would never have found it alone, despite having travelled on it previous trip.
[If you are looking for the start of the track, the best advice I can give is to go to the first buggy bus stop then continue another 100m to a right curve in the road where there is a small park sign.]
And so at about 1pm we were finally off, up the hill through the woods. On my previous trek I had really struggled with altitude and exertion on this initial stage, to the point where I thought I was going to have a coronary - and almost gave up. This time, however, I took it slowly and found I could pace myself going up the hill quite easily without getting out of breath, and had no trouble whatsoever. Again, I put this down to the magical effects of Diamox and perhaps my 4 weeks of walking training at home.
The walk ascended through thick woods for the first hour and the initial sunshine soon gave way to showers - and the ominous rumble of thunder. I did the first of many clothing changes - first removing my fleece and walking in shirtsleeves - then when the rain set in switching from sunhat to rain hat and donning my raincoat.
After about of going up through the forest and passing a rockfall, we passed a chorten and emerged into open hillside. By now it was raining quite steadily and I was already beginning to feel water leaking into my jacket. Even the best GoreTex waterproofs in the world can only stand up to so much incessant rain before they 'wet out' and become damp - and this is what happened to my raincoat. I trudged on through the mist, feeling pessimistic that I would get any views of the mountains in the thick cloud and mist. It was also depressing to see that Tibetan pilgrims had discarded plastic bottles and food wrappers along the trail.
It took another hour or so as we followed the contour round the valley to ascend up into the basin where the Baiyu camp was located. This proved to be a patch of open grass next to a stream, with a couple of wrecked stone shelters and one that had half a roof.
Once we arrived I started to feel cold because of my wet shirt. Foolishly, I had left my fleece in my pack, which was now being carried by one of the horses, about 40 minutes behind us:
I hung around the half shelter beneath the misty crags, making a cup of tea to try ease my cold and miserable mood miserable until the horses finally showed up. At least my soft shell pants stayed reasonably waterproof - and my Scarpa boots had performed superbly, keeping my feet bone dry.
We selected a campsite on a flat patch of ground below the hut, and I discovered that pitching the Nemo Hornet 1P tent in the rain meant it got totally soaked on the floor (because the fly goes on last). Fortunately I'd brought along a sponge and small towel for washing pans - but which proved much more useful for mopping drying up the wet tent floor. It's amazing how wet a tent (and everything else) can get with just a couple minutes exposure to the rain.
And it wasn't just me who was soaked. We were all drenched, regardless of how good our rain gear was. We all crowded into the half shelter, where the Tibetan porters soon got a big fire going, and we spent the next couple of hours huddling round the fire with steam coming off all our clothes (which also got completely covered in ash). This steam drying by the fire was to become a recurring event for the rest of the trek - every afternoon.
I was disapppointed that my recently re-proofed eVent fabric wet weather coat had not stood up to the rain. I was to find that a much simpler solution to keep dry was to simply wear a cheap PVC poncho, kindly lent to me by Qin Rey. It looked daggy, but was completely impermeable to rain - and had the added bonus of keeping my backpack dry (whose contents had already become damp despite the bag having a raincover).
And thus we spent our first evening of the trek at Baiyu - altitude about 4400m and the place where Joseph Rock had spent three days in 1928, marvelling at the sights of Shenrezig and Jambeyang across the Duron (Luorong) valley. Needless to say, we got not such views, only some nice misty crags above us.
I cooked up one of my dehydrated Backcountry hiking meals - Beef Casserole if I remember rightly. It was disgusting, barely edible, seeming to consist mostly of tasteless chewy meat and lots of sweetcorn (which I loathe). I envied the other guys who had brought a week's worth of instant noodles.
The CCTV crew filmed me doing everything - making a cup of tea, drying my clothes, picking my nose. After dinner, sat in the gloom of the shed next to the fire, they did the first of what was to become a regular item - the Daily Video Diary. I spoke in Chinese to the camera for a few minutes, describing my thoughts for that day - the experiences, hopes and some of the background to the area. With my limited Chinese vocabulary I found it a real struggle, but they seemed satisfied with the results.
Eventually when it got dark I retreated to the ultralight one man tent, fervently hoping it would stand up to the incessant rain - and regretting that I had not spent an extra couple of hundred dollars and bought the more robust MSR tent that I'd had my mind set on. My tent seemed dry and reasonably comfortable, but I feared it would be too flimsy and too ventilated to stand up to a night of solid rain.