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Sichuan 2019-20 Day 7-8.5

Dafeng 5025m

sunny -15 °C

Day 7

J and I were awakened by knocking on the door. I sleepily opened it in my pajamas and saw W fully dressed and ready for battle. I gaped at him, realised it was 8am, and rushed back in to change, yelling at J. Later we found out we both assumed the other had set an alarm. Made asses out ourselves. Nonetheless, we were ready 5min before breakfast (ordered by the guys) arrived.

We had two guides (minimum 1 guide to 3 hikers). One, the one we met yesterday, was called Yeluzi, which is just a nickname that means The Wild Road. He's nationally accredited and can guide any mountain in China. The other is an older dude called Yang Guorong, who's accredited for this mountain. He's the one who handles the ponies and gear and food for us.

They arrived, we had to individually do an online form in chinese, then we loaded up the van and squeezed in, got to the entrance (which turned out to also be the Haizigou entrance). Had to do some paperwork which involved copying out two lines of Chinese words and signing it (something usual along the lines of 'I hereby declare that I climb this mountain of my own accord', but I didn't actually read it, just copied) and putting in a thumbprint too. We were supposed to give our passports for them to copy but most of ours were in the van to be loaded onto the ponies so we got off without it.

We had three ponies that would eventually be temporarily named Bill, Sam, and Shadowfax. Bill was gentle and pattable. Sam was suspicious and kept turning away as I approached. Shadowfax was white where the others were brown, and also pattable. All the parties I saw brought at least two ponies. There would be a few for baggage and one spare (part of the guide fee) for any emergencies. And also to ride if you felt like it (for an additional fee).

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Bill

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Sam clearly does not want pats

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Shadowfax

And then we were finally off! It was 10.07am. The first hour was stairs, since it's also the tourist-friendly haizigou. But when the stairs ended, we continued. Past some gigantic stupas covered in gaily fluttering prayer flags, set on top of the ridge.

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On and on we walked, mostly on dirt paths bordered by snow and ice. The dirt paths had boot prints and hoof prints, and a lot of horse shit you had to keep avoiding. In the dirt there would occasionally be veins of ice, usually where something had slipped and scraped a line in the dirt. These were really slippery and I slipped in those at least twice throughout.

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As the sun rose it got really warm, to the point where I was wearing only two base layers on top. The path brought us around hills, winding our way on quite a gentle incline towards siguniang shan. We saw yaks grazing, some of them with tags in their ears. There were many black medium sized birds, and a few times some gigantic brown birds of prey.

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Lunch was cup noodles at a random store halfway up the mountain, at 1pm. Gratefully accepted the overpriced cup noodles for hot calories. There was a black and white cat begging for food, apparently quite successful given its size. There's a toilet there too, just off the side.

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The incline really was gentle. The altitude made it difficult though, so that some of us flagged towards the end. But it was colder at 3pm and yeluzi told us not to stop too long. With a last gasp we finally made it to basecamp, which was about 10min beyond a small building that could be seen an hour before. It was 3.56pm.

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We got house #2. It's basically a simple single room with a raised platform on which there's a big thin mattress. Foam maybe? And three leftover threadbare sleeping pads from past ancient explorers. The bed's wide enough for six people to sleep on (we had six and we could've squeezed in one or two more small people if we wanted to be real cozy). There's just enough room to walk, and a window with a sill deep enough to put some stuff. The door closes pretty well and keeps out most drafts. But of course zero electricity and heating.

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Our guide Yeluzi (who we renamed NPC because he's an amazing NPC who assists explorers in achieving their quests of scaling mountains) (he loves the idea and wants to change his wechat user ID) got us double sleeping bags because we're lousy tropical people (for the price of 3). They were all rated at -10 to -25 degrees. Basecamp was about -10 to -12 degrees. If we didn't have both of those I think we would've died. It was that cold. Even with them I was still a little cold. He helped us settle in and stepped outside, while we dozed off all wrapped up in our warm bags.

Suddenly the door banged open and a loud voice heavily accented started demanding money. The only one not in bed was S, so I blearily lifted my head to look and then sank back down to let him settle it. Turns out he wanted money for the 10 sleeping bags. There was a shocked silence once we figured it out and then aggressively he asked if we understood him. A wave of confused replies came back to him saying we've already paid, and why ten because we thought just three, but he wouldn't listen. Finally we told him to go ask NPC, and he left.

Thus NPC, having dealt with the man, found us asleep in our bags. He scolded us a bit and made us get up otherwise we wouldn't be able to sleep later that night (we wouldn't be able to anyway, due to other factors).

Dinner was a quick affair standing in a cramped area around a little table with some dishes on it. It was dark and the cold wind kept rushing in through the open door. My numb hand in my gloves didn't work with the chopsticks.

Back to the room across the icy shit-strewn expanse to pack for the morning, and then NPC was calling us out for sparklers. I struggled out freezing with headlamps on and waited impatiently for the rest. Stared at the beautiful stars and the milky way we hadn't seen in Danba. And when all was ready, NPC lit the sparklers (which were some steel wool stuff tied to a long string) and started swinging it about him.

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Orange lit up the night. Embers showered the snow. All was orange, white, and black. A crescent moon hung low above the horizon, and a man twisted about behind the sparks.

He had two, so we got to see it twice. It was so lovely! I never knew such sparklers/fireworks existed. But then again in Singapore we don't get to handle fireworks. It was a really cool experience, and so surreal.

Finally it was time for sleep. 8.30pm to 3.30am. As before, double bagged. We asked if we needed to set an alarm but NPC casually said he'd just wake up naturally at the time.

NPC then stressed that we had to keep our heads elevated. Not sure if mountaineering experience or chinese tradition. But anyway threw my bag to the head area as a pillow. Not comfortable. But none of us were able to sleep for more than one to two hours anyway. It was a lot of tossing, turning, and coughing. There were short occasions of loud snoring but later I found out that was really the only time they slept.

In the middle of the night I heard B say to W 'I need to pee. What time is it?' Upon hearing it was 2.26am, he sighed and said he'd wait to get up, because the toilet was 50m away in the cold. I completely resonated with that. I was waiting too. Waiting for either sleep or hike time to arrive.

Day 8-ish

The time was signalled by NPC's alarm. Once it rang, and then got cut off. Twice, the same. Finally on the third time he stopped it, slowly got up, and said loudly and perkily '起床了!' (wake up!) Natural my ass! Had to set three alarms and wake us up ten minutes late. What a goofball.

We got dressed and wanted to pee right away, but NPC made us put on our gaiters first. It was tough to do that in headlamps and a tight space. 5 people putting on gaiters in a narrow corridor is no joke. Off to pee, then quick breakfast in the same tiny kitchen with headlamps. W suddenly left the kitchen and returned saying he vomited out his breakfast because his buff was too tight around his neck. Then he continued to eat. Okayyyy.

We went back again to put on crampons. We had the rubber kind that you just pull over your boots. Not expensive, and enough for this hike.

Finally, at 4.50am, with NPC urging us on, we left the relative comfort of basecamp and entered the dark.

It was level for a while. Walking on a path in the snow only marked out by crampon tracks. I suppose it had been compacted over either years of use, or just the hiking of the season thus far. The snow to the side was not solid, as I learned the hard way when I accidentally drove my leg up to the knee in snow. Had to get pulled out. Thankfully no injury. Then some mild climbing came in as we had to go up the slanted rocks (not sure - sedimentary rock that's pushed up by the tectonic movement? Secondary school geography here) half buried in snow and ice.

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This is on the way down, but you can see the path here

I was having difficulty in a few ways. (1) not sure to cover my face with my buff or not. If I didn't cover, my face would be cold and the air breathed in way too cold, chilling my airways. But if I did, it got drenched in breath moisture and my dripping nose, and then got cold and reduced breathing efficiency. (2) to use hiking pole or not. Obviously I did use, but my hands froze up, even with the awesome gloves I had. I only use one pole though, so I was able to keep swapping hands and stowing the free one in my pocket to warm it up. I think the others just froze their hands off. (3) just being overall very very slow and not getting enough oxygen potentially due to #1. I was 3rd, so there was a big gap between me and 2nd person and they had to keep stopping for me, but NPC rotated so I was at the front behind Yang xiansheng, to set everyone's pace. I felt terribad but also thankful for this team.

Honestly it generally wasn't super steep overall. There were some parts that were steep but in no way can it be compared to somewhere like Rinjani. The altitude just upped the difficulty insanely.

Towards the end, with just 100m elevation left to go (summit hike is 600m elevation gain) I started to panic a bit because I was so slow and we could see the sky starting to brighten. I asked them to go ahead but they refused. It was hard to control where my steps went, I was just forcing my legs forward. I tried not to rest so much but my breathing rate was already so high.

On the final push, when I could see the colours in the sky behind the last little hill, I gave it my all. We got a little stuck behind some other party and I desperately told Yang xiansheng to 'gogogo!' so he overtook. I couldn't let my momentum stop. At the end I was using the metal ropes and poles stuck in the snow to literally pull myself up. Upper body FTW. My legs were useless. When the poles ran out I waved W on past me and trudged on, until I reached the summit and collapsed in the snow in a daze. NPC made me stand up and get to the side to sit on some rocks as he congratulated me. That was 7.35am.

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This is on the way down but you can see the poles I used

I moved to another spot later to join the rest. It wasn't actually sunrise yet. The sun wasn't over the horizon. While waiting, I took out a bar to eat. I hate eating cold dry stuff while cold and maybe that's partly what holds me back on hikes. But I forced this down, and that's where this iconic photo was taken, the only portrait of our group taken on the summit. I was super grumpy as I forced it down. Cold shuts me down. I honestly can't enjoy summits that much because of it. It was about -15 to -20 degrees, for your reference. And this is accurate because apparently B's sixth finger hurts when it's below -15 degrees.

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After waiting 10min we gave up, took a few photos, and went back down. In the light we could finally see the splendour of the snowy range and the path we'd taken. I always think it's smart to go up in darkness, because I might balk at some of it in the day.

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Going down is fairly routine so I needn't mention too much. It was beautiful scaling down the sides of the mountain and crossing little flat expanses of snow. Photos were taken when the sun actually rose above the horizon.

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Got back to basecamp at 9.30am. I properly said hello to our ponies and named them all at this point. NPC didn't know which our ponies were, and I only got the chance to ask Yang xiansheng when we got back. After braving the extremely high concentration of horse shit and taking photos of all the ponies, I joined the rest in packing up.

We continued to go downhill. It's very mentally draining, because the faster pace requires more constant immediate attention to foot placement and body movement. And that high level of intensity is over a few hours.

We crossed half frozen streams a few times. The first time we gingerly crept across the most stable point. The second one was wider. NPC and B were ahead and crossed slightly downstream through water, but instructed us to cross higher up. I made it across with a little help from one of J's poles, before I helped her across. W followed. And S for some reason decided to rebel and crossed even higher upstream which was a bad choice because he had no mass of slushy ice or non-icy rock to step on. And he wasn't very confident of anything he chose when he had three people yelling various instructions at him and pointing from afar where to step. He did make it across after another pole bridged the gap and a mighty leap to muddy freedom was made. On the third crossing, everyone watched closely and chose the easiest path.

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We saw an enormous number of horses and people going up the mountain. Apparently all there to welcome the new year on the summit. I'm so glad we decided to go a day before. I don't think there's enough space in basecamp for half of those people or a quarter the number of horses!
We reached the cup noodles place again at 12pm and S proved himself cat whisperer as he carried the cat up to sit on his lap.

It was about 3pm by the time we finally made it to the haizigou entrance. I was SO DONE with hiking, for the rest of my life. Or I was, for the first 24h and then hindsight covered up the pain of the hike. Are all hikers insane or is it just me?

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10y instant cup noodles x2 (ascent and descent)

  • Unless otherwise mentioned, all listed prices are per person*
  • All nice photos were taken by W. Anything not as nice was likely taken by me.*

Posted by seaskimmer 03:20 Archived in China Tagged hiking sunrise summit birthday sichuan pony sparkler siguniang Comments (0)

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