Monday, July 11, 2016

Yading kora trek diary: Day 6 - Zhihui Hai (Wisdom Lake) to the Final Pass

Summary: Getting on to the home straight, we crossed the modest sixth pass, circuited Wisdom Lake (Lexi Tso - or Zhihui Hai in Chinese) and walked up to the Three Way Pass above the much-visited Luorong valley lakes of Niunai Hai (Milk Lake) and Wuse Hai (Five Colours Lake). At this point we re-joined the inner kora and continued the circuit round the back (west) of Shenrezig. After a muddy slog above the Devil's Valley (Kasi Diyugou) we camped just below the seventh (final) pass.

More drizzle and mist greeted us as we awoke on the sixth and penultimate day, camped by 'Rock's rock'. This kind of wet weather had really set in and set the scene for the rest of the day. I had my breakfast of Nescafe and Carman's muesli in the lee of the rock. For all the views I got I might as well have been on the Cow and Calf Rocks at Ilkley. In fact, the terrain up from the marshy pasture up to the fifth pass could have been that of Ilkley Moor on a grander scale (but at least I wasn't on there Baht 'At). The rain was really soaking us as we made our way up past a tarn and up a relatively gentle slope up to this pass.

I remembered this pass from my last trip as the place where we had parted company with our porters, who had wanted to get back to Luorong and their homes. It was also the place where I got into a funk over descending what I thought was  a very steep slope. In fact, it had been an illusion, with only a modest drop of 1-2 metres - and this time I walked it, literally. It was a bit of a struggle trying to scramble down while wearing a bulky flapping poncho - but better than getting wet. The rest of the descent was easy - but the muddy and slippery rock conditions underfoot made me glad for the first time that I'd brought a walking pole for support.

About half way down the slope we emerged from the low cloud and could see the green lake of Lexi Tso (Rock called it Russo Tso) below us. The Chinese now call it Zhihui Hai in Mandarin. We'd camped on the shores of this lake the last time we came though, but this time we didn't stop. We took a different route, going the longer, clockwise, way round the lake in conformity with the Tibetan tradition for circuiting sacred things. We paused a few times to take photos or to film a few scenes, but most of the time we just plodded on silently and in a subdued mood - it must have been the weather, depressing our spirits.

On the far side of Russo Tso we ascended past some deserted log cabins towards the Triple Pass. This section usually gives great views of Jambeyang's southern side, but on this day all we could see was the huge crag behind us, towering over the pass that we had crossed earlier in the day.
The others paused for a break by the lakeside, but I didn't like hanging around in the rain, so carried on up the hill towards the sixth (triple) pass, accompanied by Gong Que. At the top we reached the point we had come to a week before on our first day 'recce' of the triple pass above Luorong. We sat in the same place and ate our lunch in the same view as the previous week - now we were much more bedraggled and trail-worn.

 When the others caught up with us we discussed our plan for the day. I had originally intended to do something of a detour on the final section of the trek and bypass the final (seventh) pass by taking a diversion to the west (left). This would take me over a nearby path and into a more remote valley that contained a large lake which I later discovered was known as Qingwa Hai (Frog Lake). The reason for doing this was to explore a bit of the more off the beaten track vicinity of the Kora - but also to get better views of all three peaks. If Google Earth 3D is correct, there seem to be an ideal viewing point above this Frog Lake, from which it should be possible to get a great panorama view of all three peaks from an unusual (northern) angle. The trail then descends through the forest, to eventually emerge right in the middle of Yading village (the usual kora  track descends and terminated at Chonggu monastery).

This had all sounded very promising in the planning stage, but sadly with the low cloud and heavy rain I decided on the day that there was no point making a big diversion to see a viewing point with no view because it would be shrouded in mist. After this 'huddle' on the mountainside we gathered at the Three-Way Pass for a group photo. I picked a spot with a nice backdrop of the peaks above Luorong. Typically, however, the cloud rolled in within seconds of me lining up the shot - and we were snapped with no view.

We had now joined the trail that was followed by many trekkers and would-be pilgrims because it was the Inner Kora - quite easily do-able in two days from Yading - and even possible in a day if you make an early start. We descended past a small lake and continued down to a level circle of pasture that would have been our 'Camp 6' had we been doing the diversion. However it was too early in the day to camp - so after a pause to film some mountain goats we headed off again with the new goal of reaching the final pass before nightfall.

The porters told us there were some huts and a good camping spot up there, so we plodded around the back of Shenrezig, skirting the mountainside above the famous "Devil's Gully" (Kasi Diyugou). This is a thickly forested valley that leads down to the small north-south road to the west of Yading National Park. It is a popular side tour for some trekkers - one guy had recently got lost there and had to pay 20,000 yuan to the Yading authorities for the cost of the rescue team sent out to locate him! It didn't look too forbidding to me, but most of the surrounding mountainside was covered in mist.

I had expected to be taking it easy on this home straight section, but the next bit of track proved to be surprisingly hard going. The trail was hemmed in by thick bush and parts of it had deep ruts and streams flowing over it. The regular foot traffic over this section also meant there were long sections churned up into gooey grey mud. I was glad I had my Scarpa boots on in the sucking mud - I wouldn't want to be wearing running shoe-style hiking footwear.

Ploughing up through the mud was exhausting, and my fatigue was eased only by the cheery greetings we got from passing Tibetan pilgrims - pretty much the first 'outside' people we had seen for a week. One sprightly women grabbed hold of my hand and heaped up with praise when we told her we had done the full kora - "You have gained much merit! Congratulations!" she squealed.

I didn't feel so boisterous when we reached the pass, however. The rain was really coming down in sheets again, and our porters led us to a grim looking slate bothy that was shiny wet with rain. They told us we could camp nearby, but first we went inside to try get a fire going and to dry out.

As usual I got the gas stove on to make a cup of tea, and that did make me feel a bit better as our sodden clothes gave off clouds of steam as we huddled round the huge fire that Gong Que got going. It was just starting to feel cosy when the Tibetan porters piled in, and it got seriously overcrowded. Eight of us in a tiny hut just didn't fit. To make things worse, they stoked the fire with a lot of damp wood and that filled the hut with choking blue smoke.

My eyes stung like mad and I had to go out into the pouring rain to get some 'fresh' clean air. After I got my vision back I trudged up to the level bit of ground where we had intended to camp. I sat down under the shelter of my poncho waiting for the rain to ease off - but it of course never did. I got as far as unpacking all the tent and laying it out on the ground, but it was hopeless - the ground was sodden and parts were under three inches of water. After about 20 minutes the others came out and urged me to come back into the hut, where they said we would be able to sleep for the night. I protested about it being overcrowded, but they said the porters were moving to another nearby hut.

And so that is how we spent our final night on the Yading Kora: sleeping on the earth floor of the stone hut at 4700 metres just below the final pass. It might have looked like a dump, but in that heavy rain it felt like a Five Star Hotel. I put down a sleeping mat and some bits of sack to stop my sleeping bag touching the damp ground - and we just about fitted the five of us in the hut, laying side by side like sardines.

I shared one side with Qing Rey, while Gong Que squeezed up with the two younger camera crew on the other side of the fire. Someone put on a Bob Marley album on their tinny phone speaker, and Gong Que giggled and cracked jokes with the two other guys as they lay in their sleeping bags, like they were on school camp.
"Urgh,  your trekking pole is sticking in my arse. At least I hope that's what it is ..."
I was warm and dry enough inside the sleeping bag, but my hands holding my Kindle were freezing - and my breath made vapour. With all the snoring and wheezing I was glad I'd brought my earplugs. Night, guys.

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