Hiking and Sightseeing in Northern Yunnan, China

the plan for the 2017 adventure

After a prolonged to-and-fro, we decided to climb a rather tall-ish mountain in Yunnan. The plan was simple (at least on paper…): fly to Lijiang in Yunnan province, drive to Haba village, acclimatize for one day, walk up to the base camp (4100 meters above sea level), acclimatize for one day, summit Haba Snow Mountain (5400 meters above sea level), then back to the village, drive through the Tiger Leaping George back to Lijiang for sightseeing, hot pot and shopping.

what happened

“rain, rain go away, please come another day”…

we reached base camp, strong winds made it impossible to even have a realistic chance to summit, so we turned around a few days earlier. This summit appears to be within reach, ie no technical difficulties. We should try again in the not too distant future….

A two minutes video of our hike from Haba village up to the basecamp of Haba Snow Mountain (that is a literal translation of its Chinese name) on my YouTube channel:  HERE


The shortened trekking trip meant more time for sight-seeing and good food! Not the plan, but very enjoyable, indeed!! One of the many sites we visited, is an array of lime-stone terraces not far from Haba village. I wanted to visit this place 15 years ago when I came to Lijiang for the first time. Back then we couldn’t reach it, because our Volkswagen Passat couldn’t master the gravel road through the gorge. The place is called “White Water Terraces” (Bai Shui Tai in Chinese). This time it worked very well – have a look HERE.

the black and white gallery

Hiking in the Cordilleras

getting there

The northern part of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, promises some interesting hiking. Only one little challenge: it takes over six hours by car to get there from Manila, the capital of the Republic. Early March 2017, I joined a group for a hike up Mount Ulap (loosely translated into “mountain of the clouds”). Beyond Outdoor Adventures has proven reliable and professional last year, when I joined them for the Pico de Loro hike, so I was comfortable that they would do a good job this time around as well.

In practical terms, this meant leaving the hotel before 01:30 (this is AM ….for the citizens of Trumpistan) to reach the meeting point by 01:45. I went to bed around 20:00 the night before, so at least 5 hours of beauty sleep. This screenshot of my mobile phone lock screen suffices as proof…. (btw the background picture is a Herzog DeMeuron designed staircase in Colmar, pic by www.jrbc.net)

After four hours on the highway, breakfast stop at 06:00 in a fast food joint. “Gourmet Burger with Coffee” for PHP 55, which corresponds to CHF 1.10 at the time of writing, isn’t exactly my choice of breakfast, but the alternatives were significantly less appealing.

Another two hours later, we reached the park entrance, the massive Ampucao Barangay Hall. Registration, introduction and prayers – at 08:30 we were good to go 🙂

the hike

(the right moment to change to present tense…)

Our local guide, a mother of four at the age of 24, tells me that she needs to walk for one hour from her village in case she or her kids need to see a doctor. Her two youngest kids spend the peak guiding-season with their grandparents in a village that has yet to be connected to electricity. Mucho trabajo señor presidente D.

We walk over the Ulap ridge, a moderate uphill hike through a pine forest. Clean fresh air, a comfortable 20 degrees and blue sky. The trails are well maintained and the visitors and guides do a splendid job keeping the place hyper clean. No technical difficulties and no real cardio challenge, about 9 kms with a few hundred meters climb and a steep decent into Santa Fe hamlet is the program of the day.

Nine kilometres… one might assume that three hours should be sufficient inclusive of photo stops and a lunch break. But oh no oh no: our group, five tweens and myself take almost 9 hours to complete it. Endless (and I really mean it…) selfies, cardio-challenges and apparent technical difficulties for some group members stretch the whole affair into a full day event. Im totally worn out after the hike, my body is not used to snail-walking……

Courtesy of GoogleEarth and my new Polar M200:

the sights

 the dark side
the bright side

the people

well…. its the local guide and myself. Note the fashionable hat, costing me a full CHF 2.5 (last minute panic purchase at a local shop).

the dinner

Hypothetically, purely conceptually and theoretically we could have left the hiking area at 17:00 and drive back to Manila to reach the capital by app 22:30, but a stop over in Baguio to sample delicious local chicken rice, was too much of a temptation.

 

the return

well… getting there took us a good six hours, so why should getting back be any different? To cut a long story short: around 00:45 I was back at the hotel. Close to 24 hours for a 9 kilometre hike – a new record is set!

Desert Trekking in China

June 2016, we trekked seventy kilometres through the Badain Jaran, which is part of the Gobi desert in China.

The executive summary:

phase one: Singapore –> Hong Kong –> Beijing –> Jinchang –> Alxa Youqin

phase two: walk, sand, camels, sand, fun, wind, sand, tents, sand, lake, sand, watermelons, sand, yoghurts and sand

phase three: the reverse of phase one


A 90 seconds, high level, executive, condensed, highlights-only, key summary video in HD of our trek is on

youtube_2

 

please subscribe to my channel after you watch the movie – thank you.


I particularly like this desert portrait of Tim (who else….). The original is in color. I decided to convert it with Silver Efex Pro 2 (free plug-in from Google) to black and white, which accentuates the clouds nicely and the dunes’ shapes form such a perfect leading line to the model. Furthermore, the little cloud seemingly guarding over Tim acts like a gigantic flash light helping him to light-up his selfie.

the_selfie


The B&W pictures in the gallery were processed with Nik Colour Efex Pro 2 and Adobe Lightroom. For the pixel peepers: you will notice lots and lots of spots, especially in the darker areas of the pictures. Even though spot removal in Lightroom works well, removing hundreds of them is a lot of work. Lesson learnt: next time get the sensor cleaned before going on a trip.

Attempting One of the Sisters (四姑娘山)

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.

Four Memorabilia:

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: