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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)

Sichuan 2019-20 Days 4-5

Food poisoning and Tibetan hospitality

sunny

Day 4

The day dawned slightly brighter and fairer than the day before. Sun was forecast for the day, with temperature up to 7 degrees, although in the morning it was still a cloudy 2 degrees.

Woke up, had more noodles and bao for breakfast. Can I say how yummy sichuan noodles is? All of the shops we went to had these thin, smooth as silk noodles. Flat like banmian but half the width. Goes down like butter. Mm.

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Went up 20min to Yanzigou but the fresh snowfall meant the red rocks wouldn't be visible, so we ditched that idea and went instead to some bridge as recommended. On the way, I could still see the last gasp of autumn colours even as winter sets in. It's strange to see both orange trees and white snow at once.

While everyone KO-ed in the car, I read up on the bridge.

/Start/History time

The Luding bridge was built in 1701 Qin dynasty, with thick wide planks and iron chains linking them.

There was a major communist victory at the bridge in 1935, allowing access through the entire region.

The Kuomintang had known of the plans to take over the town and had already removed most of the planks in preparation. Under semi-automatic rifle cover, 22 men from the Red Army crawled across the iron chains, while throwing grenades at the defenders. The defenders, unfortunately, had inferior guns that were manual reloading, single shot rifles with a range of 100m which didn't even span the bridge.

At the same time, another company crossed the river 2km downstream on rafts, where the river had curved sufficiently to be unseen by the defending forces. They defeated the city's sentries with the longer rifle range, and conquered the battalion within 2h. The Kuomintang hadnt expected assault from any other area but the bridge and so were caught unawares.

Following that, the arrogance of the nationalist military commanders gave rise to slow and disorganised response and communication, and thereafter to the abandoning of post of whole companies. And thus the battle was won. (sorry, that was long, but it's still a very summarised version of the wiki)

The bridge is not actually visible, as it was taken down for repair. But you can see where the bridge might have been anchored to the stone foundations. And the chains were laid out on the little side road along the river. Thick red chains you can walk on and it won't move in the slightest.

There's a memorial put up for it, soldiers and monks and lay people molded in red clay. I can't really appreciate this kind of thing much. I did like the last one though, it was soldiers who looked like they were crawling out of red mud, only their upper bodies visible, and red chains on either side. The names of 4 of the 22 men were put up (only 4 were known). They were richly rewarded for their bravery, however none of them lived to see eventual victory.

/End/History time

We bought some Yak jerky there. We got the plainest flavour which was already really strong. I got some more songrong, paid a hefty 190y for 250g. I bought a slightly lower grade (older mushroom). But it smells good.

I made two friends, a little adorable puppy that wanted to play with everyone and everything, and a white cat with blue and yellow eyes. Pretty! There are so many stray dogs around. I only saw 2 or 3 that were clearly owned. To be honest it's no wonder some of them are treated as a meat source, since the proportion of pets is so low, and there's not a very big pet culture especially in the rural areas.

Notable mention: S had fun in the jerky shop. He found a furry hat and some toy guns and took some photos. The store lady was laughing at him.

We then had a light lunch of yak meat (good) and pork (overcooked) and veg (good). Then jumped back in the car for the drive to Danba.

It was a pleasant drive. It was warm and I took off a layer. The scrubby mountains with white peaks were awash in golden light. The river was a chalky turquoise and sparkling in the sinking sun. All was silent in the car apart from the deep breathing of 4 sleeping people, and the squeaking of the luggage against the back leather seats. And I was typing this out.

Then miles of tunnels through the mountains. Suddenly a line of cars all parked along inside the tunnel, with a bar across the tunnel mouth. Our shifu drove to the start of the line, parked in front, and walked out to talk with the guys at the guard post. Turns out there's construction ahead and they're waiting til 5pm (it was 3.30) for the workers to get back and open the gates. Oooookay so we got out to roam around instead. There were two guys in the guard post hut, one sleeping and one watching a drama on a TV at least 38 inches wide.

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Further out on the right, a rocky path led to a 公测 (public toilet) that smelled from miles away and was strewn with tissue. I couldn't see a hole, it just looked flat.

On the left, the road continued towards the construction. There were a couple of guys doing surveying work and they asked me to get out of the way a few times. Oops.

Amidst the litter on the side, a tiny white puppy nestled up to a small brown dog, which turned out to be male. The brown dog gave a few warning barks at first but as I kept seeing him around and cooing at him, he eventually wagged his tail at me and looked for food. The white puppy had a shaggy coat like a sheep. She was rolling around by herself, having a grand old time.

The others caught up to me and we approached a gateway. A bloke in a huge green jacket came up to us and said we can't go in because dangerous and all. We said OK, but he still shut the gate on us. We howled with laughter. He clearly wanted to make a point. So we decided to take a photo with the gate and pretend it was a secret military base, or the dmz line or something. There were a bunch of warning signs all around. The guy got on a motorbike, opened the gate and left, warning us again. We closed the gate for our photo. We waited in the freezing wind for W to set up his camera and tripod, only for it to fall over and crack the lens. It was very unfortunate, but since we'd already gone this far, we took a few shots with our phones. Included the fallen water tank behind the wall.

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Eventually it cleared, and we wound our way through and past half-built tunnels.

In the waning twilight we entered a neon-lit town; beige buildings trimmed in dark red and beige. The corners of each rectangular section were topped with a curved white corner piece and a white prayer flag. It was very developed, with bars and shops and restaurants and several large and expensive looking hotels. This was Danba, a Tibetan town seated where two rivers met and became three. Our driver had arranged to have us stay with Tibetans, but we were surprised when he kept driving out of the light and into a dark series of switchbacks.

We ended twenty minutes later at a majestically and eclectically decorated set of buildings. We had a look around, haggled a bit on price, and settled into our rooms.

They cooked dinner for us, too many dishes to finish but simpler and easier on the pallet than the usual Sichuan dishes. There was sliced and fried potato, two variations of stir fried cabbage, belly pork, seaweed soup, bitterguord or something similar with meat, and best of all, barley flat cakes. I can't get over how good the flat cakes were. Slightly sweet, brown and slightly crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. Amazing. And all this was homegrown organically.

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We drove back down to Danba to drink at a Tibetan bar. Along the way, the city was intermittently visible between the dark arms of mountains, dynamically lit along a river shining a myriad of colours.

The bar was on the 5th floor of a seedy looking place. We took the lift up and were greeted by posters on the white tiled walls and heavy curtains framing the entrance. Flashing lights, coloured roving spotlights and red rows of laser lights spilled out, accompanied by loud Chinese music. I very unfortunately don't have a photo of this. It was really gaudy but kinda cool.

We were seated in a booth facing the stage. There were Tibetan dancers, mostly female, doing traditional Tibetan dance. It was a lot of walking around in a circle and graceful arm waving. The dance was set to semi-modern Tibetan music (to my untrained ear it just sounded Chinese pop/rap) blaring out of the speakers. It was almost incongruous, especially when the smoke machines periodically spewed out jets of smoke. However incongruous, this is clearly how traditional culture survives still in modern times.

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Every now and then one of the dancers would make their rounds to the tables to cheers. One of the singers came over and stayed with us most of the way, when she found out we were Singaporean. Her boyfriend is currently working in Singapore, and she's flying over in February. I guess we'll meet her when she comes. She's got one of our wechats.

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I must say that the Tibetan script is gorgeous. It looks like it has similar roots to Sanskrit, but it has a beautiful mix of round curves and sharp hooks.

We had a choice between Budweiser and two Chinese beers, so we got this super light Chinese beer 雪花 (snowflake). Even J could drink it, which led to some entertaining moments. Very easy. A little sweet and fruity with a wheat mid-taste.

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By the time we got back, it was almost midnight. The sky had finally cleared and was swathed in stars. Unfortunately the milky way was below the horizon, but at least there wasn't any moon. Took some photos and off to sleep and shower.

Here my complaint begins. I think the water tank only has enough for one person. It takes quite a while after that for the water to heat up again. But I didn't know that, and showered second. I shivered there waiting for the water to warm up for much too long. I gave up and went next door. I had a really quick shower there and only just made it out in time when the water was lukewarm. I was so miserably cold and shivering. Just dried my hair and jumped into bed. Blegh.

18y breakfast
40y lunch
190y songrong
yak jerky (forgot how much)
96y Tibetan homestay (breakfast and dinner included)
26y 2 bottles at a Tibetan bar

Day 5

I didn't wake up at the first alarm, although it did feature in my dreams. I woke up at the second alarm and pulled open the curtains to take a photo from the warmth of the bed. It was gorgeous, a bright clear day with the mountains visible and the apple tree outside the window decorated with magpies and sparrows. I got ready as quickly as the unheated room would allow and then sprang outside to glory in the morning.

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Tibetan houses, boxy and white and set into the hillside, were laid out both above and below. Birds wheeled around over the stepped farmland. S and W flew the drone from the roof, the drone of the drone filling the air. I gallivanted around for a while before heeding the summons to breakfast.

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Breakfast was a simpler affair. The barley cakes were there, I think partly because we expressed so much joy at them yesterday. There was also huge mantou, and some small dishes like dried peanuts and stir fried vegetables. The highlight was the yak milk butter tea. A lot of adjectives in there, but basically it tastes like a lot of butter has been dumped into a little milk and tea. It has the look consistency of slightly yellow skim cow milk, with some tiny solid bits. It's something I can sip a small quantity of and appreciate, but not drink a whole bowlful.

Laobanniang (lady boss) brought us around the compound, first to see the two pigs (upon request, obviously mine) and then showed us around. One interesting discussion was the features of Tibetan architecture. The four corners are always tied with white prayer flags symbolising the four corners of the earth. There are small built in fireplaces onto each roof, where fir is burnt as incense. Tibetan houses are mostly flat roofed and accessible and they might dry their meat there. We saw strings of it.

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We packed all our stuff up into car and then set off on the tourist path to the viewing points. Shifu would pick us up at the end. It was a pleasant tramp through fir forest and across the ridge, until we finally saw the Tibetan community laid out against the hill from a distance. Photo time, and then J's diarrhea got the better of her and Shifu and Laobanniang brought her right back to bed and gave her medicine. Meanwhile we were still talking, lying in the sun, flying the drone, and guessing Bilbo-Gollum riddles. (B is really good at this, he got 4 out of 6)

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We walked back and checked on J (still rolling in bed). Thereafter everyone went off to empty their bowels and I got some really nice time on the roof with a bottle of hot water, staring at the mountains.

In the afternoon J was well enough and we made our way to Siguniang. I was watching the buildings as we went, and I noticed that the Tibetan architecture never ended. The dark red trimming was always there, though with a slightly different pattern. Most common were dots and diamonds. Later I found out that Siguniang is a Tibetan ethnicity majority town.

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Danba

We checked in to Milan Hotel (It doesn't actually refer to Milan in Chinese) and said bye to Shifu, then settled in.

I was still feeling energised so I took myself on a walk about town. First I attempted to make friends with the two ponies next door. The white one was pattable but the brown one not. Then I went down the street in the likeliest direction. The town was pretty cute, very Oldtown/Altstadt feel. Most places were closed, with U-locks at the front door. A good number were under renovation. There were only about 5 food places open, I checked in case we needed to eat there. As it turns out, we ate all our meals at Milan or on the mountain so there was entirely no need. None of the rest even set foot on the main street (Milan is just off the main street), but we did pass through in the car a few times.

I saw mountains glowing in the setting sun and almost freaked out because they looked so high and so far away. A severe beauty, inaccessible by man. Of course, as it turns out, that really was Siguniang and yes, I did summit Dafeng (spoiler!).

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As J was out of order, we got dinner ourselves. Tells you a lot about our group dynamics, eh. We got clear chicken soup hot pot. Warmed us all right up. Brought some up for J but she vomited it out later.

That night S and J burned their candles at both ends. We think it was food poisoning but try as we might couldn't figure out what caused it. J was feeling really down, because she was scared she wouldn't be able to join us on the acclimatisation hike the next day and therefore maybe wouldn't even do Dafeng with us. Thank God though, everyone was well enough the next day. The medicine they'd had was enough.

26y lunch
26y dinner
117y Milan hotel, double room, 2 nights

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

Posted by seaskimmer 01:38 Archived in China Tagged beer dog history traditional dance sick bar tunnel battle sichuan tibet communism pony diarrhea foodpoisoning Comments (0)

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