The 2015 incarnation of the annual spring-time excursion cum adventure led to us an attempt on the oldest of the Four Sisters in Aba County in Sichuan.
The drive from Chengdu to Rilong town in Aba County along the provincial road S303 lead us through a narrow valley heavily affected by the Wenchuan earthquake seven years ago. The brutality of nature at work back then still is tangibly obvious: gigantic, solid, concrete structures ripped into pieces as if a pair of very big, imaginary, extremely powerful hands grabbed them and simply tore them apart like we would rip a brittle piece of plastic into pieces. I tried to imagine being in that valley and hell on earth breaks loose: nowhere to hide & nowhere to run. Equally astounding was a spot where big heavy machinery, left there to support the maintenance of the roads post completion, simply sank a few meters into the ground – apocalyptic.
The Nepal Earthquake – do some simple maths: IF we would have chosen Nepal as our destination this year, we would have been driving from Kathmandu to Syabrhu Besi on EXACTLY – I repeat – EXACTLY that Saturday the quake struck. Part two of the maths: trekking in Asia boils down to Indochina, Indonesia, China, Tibet and Nepal (if the reader allows me a simplified view of the world for a moment), so there is a 20% chance any given year to end up in Nepal. HOLY MOLY GUACAMOLE!!
The organising committee: committee in our set-up means one of the participants – did a marvellous job getting maximum value for minimal money. A hair short of 2000 CNY (which is SGD 430 at the time of writing) for private transport, accommodation, guides, mules and food from/to Chengdu. So far so good. Luckily, two non-standing members of the committee insisted to add one day for acclimatisation: a very pleasant chill-in walk during which we enjoyed some fabulous views of the Sisters and surrounding mountains; and one extra night at app 3250 meters above sea level to mitigate the effects of the relative high altitude we were at. Day one of the real thing was a pleasant and not excessively demanding hike up a ridge from Rilong to a camp side near a lake (Da Hai Tze) through rapidly changing spring-time weather. Once settled at camp I and comfortably wrapped in several layers of all kinds of high tech gear and gadgets, my slightly oxygen-deprived brain started shifting gears. A lot of snow, a possibly very cold night in camp II and a team that wasn’t fully prepared for the climb didn’t seem the right combination to attempt scaling a mountain 5350 meters above sea level. Additionally, no point taking the risk of re-injuring my ankle. The prospect of another four months outdoor-activity deprived hibernation with the concomitant weight gain and VO2 max loss wasn’t appealing at all. Hence on day two I let the others continue the ascent, whilst I descended the mountain, spent a quiet day on my own in Rilong Old Town. Time to read, write, take photographs, feel Birch pollen (sneeze….) for the first time in 15 years, sit in ALeeBeen Tea House for hours and to enjoy an enormously gigantic bowl of spicy beef noodles much to the amusement of a not small crowd from old Rilong downtown. Life was very good that day. The rest of the team returned 24 hours later – no chance to get anywhere near the peak – too cold, not enough equipment, too much snow and few kilos too many on the ribs (at least for some members..). The main take-away: quite a load of rather fat cordyceps sinensis fresh from the soil.
And lastly, an incredibly solemn and beautiful sight in lower Changping Valley. Imagine the perfect picture of a secluded monastery, joss sticks sending ‘religious smells’ into the air, the youngest of the Four Sisters, elegantly and chastely partially wrapped in clouds, sitting in state in the back, a good 3000 meters above us, prayer mantras as background, colourful Mani flags, photogenically positioned trees & just the right amount of sunlight from the right direction. Wonderful simply wonderful.
Enjoy my foray into black and white landscape photography: