Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Rescue" from Minyong: One Trip Report from Yunnan, China

Trails without sign posts, the Red Bull Trail, the first 24 hours, not just interested in you but respecting and admiring you as you do them, the police kid, the wildly waving man, the guy with the scratch on his leg, the park ranger (or superintendent?), the Yak Herder, the tame yaks, the yak herder's hut, the sketchy climb past the lowest waterfall, the sketchy bushwhack past the upper waterfall, avalanche gullies scraped down to bedrock and slick alpine tundra, the spacey head above 14,000, the crushed rhododendron that stung my nose like a soup spice did my tongue, bushwhacking through rhododendron mixed with birch and bamboo, zig-zagging down-trails through meadows ringing in yak bells, the deep bark of a mastiff a thousand feet below, giant hemlock five feet across with bear claws and the police boy tumbling off, jumping a cascade with the steaming maw of an ice cave just below, wondering what was to come of us, the cell phone call in the rhododendron to a female voice on the other side speaking English, the Yak Herder who looked like my Uncle Zinn and scrambled up a leaning birch to get better cell reception, his pack full with a liter and a half bottle of home made liquor, fry bread, herbs and roots and orange phallic mushrooms, and the furry genitals of a black Asian bear, with great pantomime stories of the hunt and the function of its medicinal powers.

The moraine ridge leading to the moraine covered in heather and lichen and dwarf rhododendron, flowers and plants like those back home and those we didn't know. The good solid rock five four maybe leading to where we could step onto the glacier with a view 7000 feet down to the Mingyong Village below. The Ranger's and Yak Herder's route discussions. The Yak Herder's speed and agility in soft green shoes with no apparent tread, his glee in pointing out our up-tracks in the dust of thar and yak trails, his excited voice on the phone announcing us, his discovery. The mixed birch and hemlock forest with an understory of rhododendron. The texture of the glacier, its headwalls and layered rock, its cracks. And the smooth, thinning icefall now ice ramp that fed it, the firn with no ice worms at 15,500 feet. The pass and the pika and thar tracks to the next glacier, it dead, no cracks, just white and black, handsome long tailed pipits like snow buntings picking slow crawling midges off the surface, but no worms. Huge boulders precariously balanced, posed to pin a leg, if not an arm, the glee of stepping onto tundra and following trails past bivy caves, huts, flowers and views in the shade of morning cloud after a week of high altitude sunshine had toasted my lips, the runs at 15000. Sleeping on everything I had, waking at 2 am for a jet boil brew. Scouting the route on the tourist boardwalk and walking with David, a Chinese researcher studying Tibet architecture. 7 hours up from the hut, class V and VI bushwhacking and climbing with class II brush as desperate handholds, horses in town walking the streets, tucktucktuck of a tractor, and horses looking for goodies like a sweet plastic bag on the street, gentle people living with their animals horses pigs and yak-cattle all tame and pettable. Little orange cats and massive black dogs on chains. Fear of rain, crossing yawning meltwater gorge on avalanche debris of old snow, rocks and a forest peeled from the hillside. Boulders marked with the year the glacier had passed there -- a km in five years of retreat. Scouting through binoculars handing them back and forth seeing the same routes Thai describes, splitting up to take trails see where they go, reporting, then debriefing. Squeezing melted fun sized bars into our mouths eating slightly stale chips from split bags and unbroken fresh ones from bloated bags. Coffee and poptarts for breakfast, red rhododendron flowers, fir trees, spruce trees, pine trees two kinds of hemlock, larch trees, cottonwood and aspen, a tinge of yellow up high but summer down low, tashi delay to dark-skinned-almond-eyed people and nee how to white-colored ones on horseback, everyone skinny, everyone happy, the long looks from Han women as we walked past shirtless, pointing to leftovers on tables for dinner (no language other than survival sign), popsicles and Beer at trailhead when all five "rescuers" leave but Police-boy and we not yet congratulating ourselves, going to the police station and again the English speaking female voice on the cell saying that we will not be fined but to "leave town as soon as possible", this spoiling our plans to packraft through town on the Minyong Glacier's runoff stream. Police-boy and the border guard drunk and staggering down the street, terraces from above, yak foothills, river gorge gardens and fields, high mountains for worship and life giving waters from ice and snow above.

The Yak Herder mimes how rocks fall his arms waving akimbo head shaking tongue rolling out eyes closed hands ringing his own neck, the lands above yaks are dangerous. He stops in His downhill run to show poison plants and dig for herbal ones. He tells us with hands milking and holding fingers to head and then pumping an imaginary pole that he is a yak milker and butter maker happy and smiley and fast uphill and down and jumping his fifty year old body (he looks) across waterfalls and gorges, slipping effortlessly down slimy slides and tangled thickets. He makes me feel cautious and slow and THAI falls several times the only time I see THAT. Police-boy his slouching down the trail his hat sideways his jacket hanging loose off one shoulder. The border patrol guy waving furiously to go his way and yelling my way off. Cameras and cell phones in their hands in the bush in far SW China. Sharing cigarettes and chocolate, building a little hut to show that we need to get stuff at the hut where we'd left gear hidden and a small bag of food hanging like an offering that they had accepted, and lots of wood and a clean space, they'd seen our headlamp lights and five had come looking and found us.

We didn't really know where it was, nor how to get to it, but the Red Bull Trail was down there somewhere, and then we found it, soon after the Yak Herder found us, eating raspberry crumble from the bag and drinking water from the creek, in Yunnan China one mile maybe two from Tibet, on mountains, unclimbed and unclimbably sacred off-limits to us, with no worms on their glaciers, alas, we have to come back to the high wet mtns of China again and we will.

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