Glacier trekking at 4300m

July 1st Glacier Travel Blog

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A lorry crashes on the poorly paved road

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.

Snow capped mountain, on the journey from Jiayuguan to the July 1st Glacier
An old man with a herd of grazing sheep was the only sign of life that we encountered for quite some time, i wondered what hardships he had experienced within his lifetime.

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.
Frozen ground and snow capped mountains. Scenery on the journey from Jiayuguan to the July 1st Glacier.
The small entry office was occupied by a couple of miserable looking people and their cute little dog, which seemed over the moon to see some happy faces.

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.
Me on the trail to the Glacier, which is supposedly THAT "----" big!
30 minutes after setting off and having not covered all that much distance, we came across a Chinese man on his way down. A smile and Ni Hao (Hello) were exchanged and this would be the only sign of life that we would encounter. In such harsh conditions there were no plants, only a few patches of moss, which coated the never ending expanse of rocks and boulders.

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.
Portia climbing the trail, towards 4300 metres


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.
Jagged ice formations and a small stream of water, on the July 1st Glacier
Portia wasn't having any of it, i can't say i blamed her! By the time Julia made it down to the edge, i was already trying to pick my way across the gigantic ice mass, to a couple of interesting formations that i had seen.

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.
Stunning stalactites and stream, which moulds the Glaciers shape


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.
Me at a snowy July 1st Glacier


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.

almond72 says:
Yup, Deats, now you get it why the government behaves the way they do. You can't have somebody with the personality of big bird to run that country. :D
Posted on: Aug 05, 2009
Deats says:
Especially as i have no insurance!
Posted on: May 28, 2008
portia says:
ah, and another travbuddy commented on my entry that he did take the train! but it was very hard to get a ride from the mining town to the glacier.
Posted on: May 26, 2008
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A lorry crashes on the poorly pave…
A lorry crashes on the poorly pav…
Snow capped mountain, on the journ…
Snow capped mountain, on the jour…
Frozen ground and snow capped moun…
Frozen ground and snow capped mou…
Me on the trail to the Glacier, wh…
Me on the trail to the Glacier, w…
Portia climbing the trail, towards…
Portia climbing the trail, toward…
Jagged ice formations and a small …
Jagged ice formations and a small…
Stunning stalactites and stream, w…
Stunning stalactites and stream, …
Me at a snowy July 1st Glacier
Me at a snowy July 1st Glacier
A view of the start of the July 1s…
A view of the start of the July 1…
The Qilian Shan snow capped mounta…
The Qilian Shan snow capped mount…
Grazing sheep
Grazing sheep
Scenery on the journey from Jiayug…
Scenery on the journey from Jiayu…
Scenery on the journey from Jiayug…
Scenery on the journey from Jiayu…
Roadworks block our route to the G…
Roadworks block our route to the …
Scenery on the journey from Jiayug…
Scenery on the journey from Jiayu…
Scenery on the journey from Jiayug…
Scenery on the journey from Jiayu…
A cold river, icy ground and snow …
A cold river, icy ground and snow…
Scenery on the journey from Jiayug…
Scenery on the journey from Jiayu…
Frozen ground and snow capped moun…
Frozen ground and snow capped mou…
Our taxi for the journey to July 1…
Our taxi for the journey to July …
Snow capped mountain, on the journ…
Snow capped mountain, on the jour…
Who stole my wheels?
Who stole my wheels?
The start of the trail to July 1st…
The start of the trail to July 1s…
Julia and Portia making their way …
Julia and Portia making their way…
Beautiful scenery along the path t…
Beautiful scenery along the path …
Beautiful scenery along the path t…
Beautiful scenery along the path …
One of the snow capped mountains o…
One of the snow capped mountains …
Julia and I wrapped up warm on our…
Julia and I wrapped up warm on ou…
This is how i saw the trip from un…
This is how i saw the trip from u…
Some patches of moss was all that …
Some patches of moss was all that…
Julia and Portia make their way al…
Julia and Portia make their way a…
Ice on a mountain slope
Ice on a mountain slope
Starting to get a dusting of snow,…
Starting to get a dusting of snow…
My first sight of the July 1st Gla…
My first sight of the July 1st Gl…
July 1st Glacier
July 1st Glacier
Jagged ice formations on the July …
Jagged ice formations on the July…
Jagged ice formations and a small …
Jagged ice formations and a small…
July 1st Glacier
July 1st Glacier
Fascinating ice formations on July…
Fascinating ice formations on Jul…
Fascinating ice formations on July…
Fascinating ice formations on Jul…
Stalactites hang from the Glacier,…
Stalactites hang from the Glacier…
At the edge of the magnificent Gla…
At the edge of the magnificent Gl…
Venturing onto the Glaciers edge
Venturing onto the Glaciers edge
Section of Glacier with a honeycom…
Section of Glacier with a honeyco…
Cold enough for stalactites to for…
Cold enough for stalactites to fo…
Pretty stalactites hang off the Gl…
Pretty stalactites hang off the G…
A view of July 1st Glacier
A view of July 1st Glacier
A view of July 1st Glacier
A view of July 1st Glacier
Interesting rock at July 1st Glaci…
Interesting rock at July 1st Glac…
Interesting rock at July 1st Glaci…
Interesting rock at July 1st Glac…
Julia at July 1st Glacier
Julia at July 1st Glacier
Me at July 1st Glacier
Me at July 1st Glacier
Mountain scenery around July 1st G…
Mountain scenery around July 1st …
Mist envelops a mountain
Mist envelops a mountain
Rocky slopes on the path to the Gl…
Rocky slopes on the path to the G…
Rocky slopes on the path to the Gl…
Rocky slopes on the path to the G…
July 1st Glacier
photo by: Deats