Glacier trekking at 4300m
July 1st Glacier Travel Blog› entry 323 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Portia (USA)
Portia and our taxi driver Chao Yu Lin turned up at our hotel a little after 09.00. After buying some basic provisions such as cookies, fruit and water, we were on our way to the July 1st Glacier. Located in the Qilian Shan mountain range, it is situated just 120km South of Jiayuguan, making it the ideal distance for a day trip.
As we left the town and entered into the barren wilderness that typifies this area of Western China, the road began to deteriorate and snow capped mountains replaced factories on the horizon. The earth was now a mixture of yellow and browns, with tufts of grass sprouting up on rare occasions.
Large red and yellow trucks, carrying away the booty of the lucrative mining industry, which is in the region, passed us at sporadic intervals. Soon we came across one that had crashed into a ditch, this didn't seem like the kind of environment that you would want to get stranded in. I imagined what the great explorers must have thought as they passed into such terrain, and not for the first time in recent days, my thoughts wandered to Marco Polo.
The 2 and a half hour journey had been a scenic treat, although Julia was feeling a little car sick. The road had disintegrated into little more than a gravel dirt track for the last 60kms, caused by the overloaded heavy goods vehicles.
The taxi took us to the trail head, located at 3900m (12,900ft) and from here we were on our own. I wrapped up in my jumper, coat, hat and gloves and this initially seemed adequate in keeping the cold out. A steep flight of steps began our journey and it was immediately obvious that we were at altitude, as i began puffing my arse off, after only 15 steps. This was clearly not going to be a gentle stroll in the mountains.
The 3 of us finally made it to the top of the stairs, but what lay ahead was a dirt path that seemed to snake endlessly upwards into the horizon. There was no sight of the Glacier, this wasn't what I'd anticipated.
Climbing ever upwards, the views of the valley below were wonderful, and dead ahead we could see two mountains both with snow capped peaks. A persistent wind picked up, and although it wasn't strong, it was enough to send chills through you. To add to this, the snow started to fall and it seemed hard to believe that the previous day we had been getting sun burnt, in harsh desert surroundings, located only 120kms away.
It took just under 2 hours to reach 4300m (14,200ft), from where the Glacier was visible. The weather during this time had really deteriorated, and the views had steadily diminished as we neared our target. This probably helped in my next decision, which was to imitate a mountain goat and go down the steep slope towards the glacier, on an unmarked path.
Julia tentatively followed at first, but soon decided that although she loved me, she wasn't willing to follow me to my imminent death, so stayed where she was. All the while, i was questioning how the hell i was supposed to get back up again. Small details like these were easy to push out of my thumping, spinning head, which was a result of mild altitude sickness.
When i reached the base of the Glacier, i realised that it was all worthwhile and shouted for Julia to get herself down.
The Glacier reaches a thickness of 120m, with an average depth of 70m, making for a lot of beautiful humps, bumps and ridges. I could hear the water running beneath the ice and soon recognised that the section i was on wasn't that thick or compact, as my foot plunged down, accompanied by half of my leg. I decided i was really pushing my luck now, so told Julia to come no further and stayed on the periphery myself, trying to locate rocks to step on. I edged my way around and managed to get some great views of the fascinating ice formations. This is what I'd come to see.
My camera battery ran out at just the wrong moment, as i found myself balanced on a rock under some stalactites. I took my gloves off to get the spare one from my bag, when it hit home just how cold it was. My fingers began to go numb, in a matter of just a few seconds. Time to go. A few more photos and i began clambering back up the mountain, which was surprisingly easier to ascend than descend. It had been a fantastic experience and i was delighted that i had gone that extra mile to get a close up look.
Going back down, the weather slowly but surely improved, although i was still pretty cold. It only took 45 minutes to get back to the warmth of the taxi, where Chao told us that it had also been snowing at this altitude. We stopped at the ticket office to get some warm water to make coffee, before setting off on the long drive back to Jiayuguan.
The journey was made more intriguing on the way back, by Portia becoming translator. This allowed the two of us to quiz Chao about a wide range of topics that were of interest to us. Tibet, the Chinese government, his opinion of foreigners and the Chinese media were all discussed and it was fascinating to get the views of a Chinese citizen.
What really surprised me, was the fact that he seemed informed about the lies that were been told by his government, relating to certain aspects of society. Although he didn't seem overly enthusiastic about the current regime, he had no solution as to how it could be replaced.
On a personal level, I still believe that although the government may not always act in the best interests of the people, they do at least keep a unified, developing country in line. I could imagine how China may disintegrate without such a strong central influence, leading to turmoil and even civil war - its happened in plenty of other countries over the last century, so sometimes better the devil you know. Time will tell i guess.