Friday, September 9, 2011

Hiking and rafting between 6,700 & 15,500 feet in Meili Snow Mountain National Park, Yunnan, China

Dr. Yonde Cui of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and I picked Thai up at the airport in a 4x4 Mitsubishi with our Tibetan driver; climbed out of Shangri La over a pass; dropped down along the Yangzi and the Sichuan Border; then back up and over another pass (14,000 feet) to Deqen and Feilaisi, about a dozen miles as the raven flies from Tibet

The 200 km took six hours and we passed through country dry and scrubby, wet grasslands, oak, pine, larch, spruce, and fir forests, as well as yak grazed tundra.

About half the road was under construction and all of it was impressively perched along steep slopes.

The next day we drove down to around 6700 feet, crossing the Mekong River in its wildly steep Canyon (when do mountains become canyons and vice versa?), the color and volume of the Colorado at a good medium flow in the Grand Canyon, climbed up along a a desperately precarious one-lane road a thousand feet above, bumped along that to the driver's home town of Xidang, then hiked from 8,700 feet over a 12,000 foot pass into the Yubeng Village country where we started looking for ice worms above the yak meadows and talus slopes.

We looked hard, visiting a couple of Byron Glacier-style, but Himalayan-scale, avalanche cones by day (meltwater caves) and night (surface and crevasses), camping at 12,500 feet and climbing to a glacier at 15,000, nearly getting our heads blown off by a rock the size of a shipping box for the MacBook Pro 17 inch.

Back to Feilaisi and a happy hostel, we then drove north as close to the Tibetan Border as we could (20 km) without permits, then turned south again and scouted our most ambitious ice worm traverse -- up a side valley of the Mingyong Glacier to "Yak Herder" Glacier at about 15,500 feet, then over a col and across a second, dead glacier, and around on yak trails back to where we'd started.

On our last day we packrafted the Mekong River for a short bit -- very apprehensive as there are huge rapids and vertical walls in combination which we wished to -- and did -- avoid.

All of the peaks in the Meili Snow Mountain Range are unclimbed (with at least three over 6,000 meters) or at least they are unreported, as the range is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists. If we'd had time and permission we'd have made the 150 mile pilgrimage route (Kora) around the mountain range using packrafts for at least a section on the Salween.

This was my first time to Tibetan Buddhism country and I was taken by the people and their culture and how it's so interwoven with the landscape and nature in general. The culture was as delightful as the mountains were beautiful. I now know why so many westerners hang prayer flags at home and others become Buddhists.

We had 10 days of sunny weather and met only sunny people, including the possy who chased us down.


  1. Really cool trip - I've wanted to visit Kham (meaning the historical, larger Kham) area for some time. Have you checked out Mick O' Shea's movie recording his first descent of the entire Mekong river?

    That map is cool too - those old Russian maps smack of "Great Game" espionage and high tales of derring do. I did some trekking in Kyrgzstan a few years ago and brought back some Russian made maps of the Tien Shan. My buddy also has some great detailed Russian made maps of the entire Himalayan/Karakorum disputed India/China border. I think he bought them from someone in Europe. Where did you get this map?

    I know some Russian, but can't read the name of the river on the left - is that the Salween?

  2. Hi Ryan,

    Mick O'Shea -- he's the Australian boater, yes? And the maps do make you feel like you are involved in political espionage -- that and some google earth print outs!

    Here are a couple sites you might like:
    videos of boating on West China and Tibet rivers Peter Winn's companion website to these rivers

    Russian maps:
    free and downloadable. Go to lower left of that page and push button for English.

  3. Yup, O'Shea is an Aussie kayaker who relocated to Laos for quite a few years. He might still be there.

    Sweet sites! Thanks Roman.


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