Yunnan 2012

Skate to the Glacier route, Spring 2012, 950Km

View skate trek mingyong glacier 2012 in a larger map

  • aclimatizing at 2000m (5/10/2012)

    evening, yesterday i arrived in shaxi, after a long day on the busses. i decided to give myself five days rest to acclimatize to the altitude, and i rather spend the extra time in a quiet village than in kunming city or the tourist charade of dali. i’ll skip dali altogether this trip and came direct from kunming to shaxi. one four-hour bus ride to xiaoguan, a motor-rickshaw to the next bus station, a bowl of noodles, another four hours in a smaller bus to jianchuang, then immediately after, into a packed minibus, i arrived after about 40 minutes in shaxi. exhausting, but worth it; i thing my back hurts more after a day sitting on a bus seat than a day skating with a backpack. that is if i remember correctly, how much the pack troubles the shoulders after a day’s skate. that memory will be refreshed soon enough.

    this morning out in the fields in the rising sunshine, dark earth caking my shoes, i visited some farmers carrying water to the fields and others, gathering up juvenile rice plants in bundles, to plant in the paddy elsewhere. white wild roses in full bloom, golden rays of sunshine coating the landscape, and the mountains watching all from the east and west, 1500m above toiling villagers and wandering travellers; this isnt quite remote, but it sure is a long way from the city. overall, well worth yesterday’s long haul, to be able to wake up in shaxi.

    on the road over the mountains from jianchuang, i scoped out the route i planned to skate, and the minibus followed the awesome mountain road i skated twice last year. measured by the kilometer markers on the roadside, its a good 8km uphill from shaxi, and an awesome 12km downhill back to the crossroads, where i head on towards the yangtze river. i realized that is going to be a hardcore first day out, the very first leg several hours of extremely steep mountain road up! but i would like to set out from shaxi on my skate, and return to shaxi from the other direction, so that’s how it is.

    this afternoon i skated 6km up that road and back, got winded awfully soon on the first ascent, and burned up my left shoe footbrakeing on the way down. but i went halfway up the mountain with a couple of short breaks, and felt pretty good after that. on the way down i practiced pendy slides, which i still cant do very well, it always turns into a frontside shutdown slide or with me highsiding on the backside. that’s not on with a backpack though, so footbrakeing it is.

    tomorrow i must search the village for a shoe repair guy, an auto workshop, or a tyre dealer, and sort myself some kind of strap-on brake pad. i’ll eventually wear down my shoes, but i ought to prolong that. without my sail in action, my soles wont last long with me dragging them to the bottom of the mountain. the downhill here is always extremely steep, its rediculously fast, and of course, exhileratingly fun. i’m getting stoked to set out after tomorrow!

  • stage 1,yangtze river (5/17/2012)

    the first day and a half, my road was quite bad, for skating. for trucks and minivans quite ok, and there were a lot of those. after the initial climb out of the shaxi valley, i skated all afternoon in a light drizzle. not enough rain to get me soaked, but enough to make the road slick. i camped out at the edge of a field

    and was on the road again early, skating up up to the junction of the lijiang road. from there, it was an awesome downhill to the yangtze river, a brown, swiftly flowing snake of river slithering along a flatland between higher ranges, though not quite high mountains. i averaged 50km the first two days, then it seems i found my stride, and after camping the second night directly beside the river, i continued along the flats.

    campsite by the yangtze

    a fellow backpacker

    the road did roll up and down the edge of the mountains, following the river west, but i kept on at a good clip. day four was also more mountainous, but with equal uphills ands downhills, passing into the tibetain areas in the afternoon. this was clear from the architectures, the people, different from the flat along the river.

    crazy stinky Amorphophallus by the side of the road

    first gopuram on the way

    suprising myself, i made it to the bridge where i would cross over the yangtze and head up into the high mountains. that day i skated 70km and spent the night in a nice lodge at the top of the bridge. next morning, well rested, shaved and fed (on oats with milk and nescafe) i skated my base 50km, to the start of the first real climb of this trip. after a break, i charged on up, pushing, pushing, and in some spots walking it was so steep. up, up out of the gorge, i passed the 3000m mark i would guess, in the early evening.

    the gorge getting steeper

    all the villagers i asked on the way laughed at me, that i was afraid, when i asked about bears in the area. they said, only in the high forests…which incedentally i was passing through at dusk. the road went through really steep gorges, with no flat spot to camp to be seen, except for in thicket beside a running stream. as per bear-protection advice, not a good spot.

    sweet jasmine near the top

    finally in the high mountains!

    sketching out a bit, i kept it up, and was rewarded almost at nightfall, as i rounded one bend 21km up the mountain, finding a little rest area restaurant majong camp, with little cabins. awesome! lucky! and the folks there fed me and quartered me in one of the little cabins, and laughed i should fear the bears. there are no bears in these parts.

    in the night, i heard the wolves howling, which made the dogs in the yard go crazy barking and charging on their chains. so, no bears, but aparantly wolves. not so many, jusrt a small pack, by the sounds of them, with a higher pitched wail than north american wolves, a bit more like coyote, but with the same, forlorn, creepy “i’m gonna eat you, skater” feel, i was so glad to be in a cabin!

    next day, i skated to the crossroads, another 5km straight up, and arrived less winded than i expected i would. this was my break spot, from here i caught a ride to shangrila, where i will rest for two nights. i need to get off the board and chill some, before heading back out to the crossroads to continue my journey on the skate.

    here in shangrila (zhong dian) i was met by friends of friends, who stashed me in their guesthouse, and graciously allowed me to write a bit online. i await the use of the washing machine, oh, fresh socks and undies! strangely excited for that.

    in the piazza, waiting for my friends, i met a couple of vermont guys, on their way back to beijing. i asked had they seen any camping gear store, where i might find some light sweater, as its a bit colder than i thought it would be at night. one guy, who also lives in beijing, and knew of penghao theatre, offered to loan me his down jacket, which stuffs down to a tiny package. incidentally, a patagonia nano puff jacket, exactly the thing i thought i might acquire before my trek, but funds prohibited. crazy cool, i’ll return it to him when back in beijing, and he was stoked, to art once have a bit more room in his backpack. am very thankful for that, and find it funny, how always i am reminded, so small the world is, that neighbors meet, far from home.

  • stage 2 baima xueshan white horse snow mountain (5/24/2012)

    ok I made I within sight of the glacier, but only after an ordeal of a mountain, the white horse snow mountain. I caught a ride from zhongdian (so-called shangrila) with a monk in a minivan blasting pseudoelectro Chinese pop music, back to the crossroads.

    from there it was an hour or so up and around the bend, then an awesome 40+ km downhill, meeting up with the yangtze river again in the early evening, followed by a leisurely kind of uphill to the village of benzilan. it’s always cool when I ask where I am and find I have skated further than I thought!

    overnight in an ok hotel, and the beginning of a 2 day climb, 60km from 2000m to 4500! heavy duty, but the difficult part was that the road is halfway under construction, wih long stretches of dusty gritty stony dirt road full of diggers and trucks at work. basically, it sucked walking my board through a construction site for hours, skating for 20 minutes, then hiking through the dirt again. I broke down and took two rides through the worst of it, about 4km I didn’t actually skate. kind of a letdown as I had wanted to do it all on my own power, but enough was enough!

    back on the blacktop, I was in a private bliss again, pushing up through beautiful forests, the rhododendron are flowering now, throwing splashes of fuschia and rose pink upon the oaks and evergreens. simply awesome, even tired as I was from incessant climbing.

    I camped above the road looking across to the first snowy peaks leading up to the white horse snow mountain, really sleeping well regardless of the wolves howling in the distance and the dangling bells and munch munch clatter of herds of yak roaming about. yet the presence of free range yak eased my concerns of free ranging bears, as villagers don’t let stock roam if they know of the existence of bears in the neighborhood. anyway I hun my food from a tree 30m disant and off wind from my camp, and I didn’t leave the tent without the bearspray clipped on my pants. call me over cautious but I have had a bit to do with bears in the states, and they make me uneasy.

    well, no fending off of bears to report, just another 25km climb the next morning, finally reaching the first pass of 3 above 4200m around mid afternoon.


    I spent some time oggling the snow and ice and stone rising up into the sky, stopping at each pass for a breather. the air so thin up there, taking a breather is something of a misnomer.

    at the last pass I took dandan’s advice and camped. I worked so hard to get up there, maybe I didn’t want to fly down so quickly. too true, and I met some medicine fungus collectors up there, who fed me rice pork and veggies in their hut, and laughed and ogled themselves as I set up my tent behind their place, surrounded by thousands of praying, fluttering flags.

    dawn, and orange sunshine washed over, quickly overcome by rolling banks of fog which smothered everything but the fluttering of he prayer flags untill at least 10. I crawled back into my tent till it warmed up…

    downhill, downhill, a little bit uphill, and down again to Deqin. I ran out of food and water abou 2km from the town, not bad for the planning.
    restocked in Deqin, overnighted in a tiny village (that’s another story/post) and I was on my way again his afternoon.

    10km only, to feilai, where u checked into the first pleasant looking guesthouse with a rooftop room, 30kuai only.
    from here I can see the glacier…
    come a long way, baby!

    this morning heading down down the switchbacks, then I am hiking up to he town, to the ice, and beyond to the lotus temple.

  • halfway! mingyong glacier (5/27/2012)

    halfway! after an afternoon and a night, a morning viewing the ice floe, listening to the BOOM! and crackle of the ice, watching great blocks of ice break off of the mass and tumble down, carrying boulders and rubble down the slope with a great loud roar…after dinner with gezhen doje, the one monk at the lotus temple, camping, watching the sun rise orange and pink on the ice…i am heading home…but not before i visit the hot springs on the other side of the mountain…first ice, then hot water.

  • stage 3 – to the road and along the mekong (6/3/2012)

    from mingyong i rode back down the road, at least until the pavement ended and the dirt road continued. actually i skated a bit on the dirt road too, it was sloped enough to give me enough momentum to carry over the gravel and around the ruts, but it was a bumpy, harsh ride, dangerous not for the speed but for that falling into the gravel hurts and throws up ugly gravel cuts. i found that out last time out here i tried to skate through a gravel pit.

    up, up into another village, where in the middle of a big commotion, an old medicine woman was massaging the feet of a fat-man westerntourist, who had apparantly collapsed. after her massage, he could limp away on the arm of his chinese girl, but then the old woman seemed to have a heart attack, and the fuss was about geting her to stand again. hmmm…

    the locals directed me to the short-cut path, up towards the hot springs, a path which turned into the road and a good hour’s hike upstairs. the ‘hot springs’ were actually headed by a terribly run-down, trash-strewn yard with guesthouse and little kitchen buildings, overrun by dogs and pigs. the springs were directed into these little houses, where one can pay to sit in the darkness. yet behind the whole complex is the free spring, one pipe coming out of a wall, and a shallow pool of nice-nice hot water, where i soaked myself, then camped up above. not an amazing hot spring experience, but excellent to have a soak, in mildly sulferous waters.

    the next morning i was down into the paths, hiking all morning down the slopes to the trail along the mekong (lansang) river. rocky, shifting shale terrain gave way to a pretty good footpath, which led around and about, above the river, eventually taking me to the bridge, and a dry dusty access road up to the tarmac.

    trail along the mekong

    i was psyched to get onto the blacktop, and was at once greeted by some fast downhill and the first tunnel of this trip. well, it would have been fast downhill if not for the 50knot wind raging through the river chasm, which pretty much negated my forward motion, and though it lessened as i went downstream, was a constant companion my entire skate along the river.

    campsite by the mekong

    day 2 on that blacktop, i was stylin out in the morning, easily pacing 25 km, just getting into my stride with the oats burning clean, when i came to a place where the road was closed. here, the first pitfall of my journey. actually, it was a rockfall, which had smothered the new and the old roads with tons of boulders, which took workers until 8 in the evening to clear. thus i wandered the nearby village, skeptically viewing the ‘must-see’ church, complete with its history-room, upon whose walls were many many old photos of solemn french christian missionaries. these missionaries brought the grapes to the region and the wine-making techniques, and did their fair share of cultural subterfuge in the name of christian proselytization (sp?). it made me think about how, working in beijing, i feel the need to educate, and change the chinese mentality, at least in terms of food service, health and safety, quality and consistency, which are not values generally ingrained in young chinese workers’ minds. why do i find christian missionary work so distasteful, when i am also trying to ‘educate’ the heathens, i wonder?

    back into the flow, i skated downstream, skating into the dusk, through three tunnels, after which the darkeness scored a hit, and i crashed out. roadrash: not too bad; gear ruin: broken headlamp and split water tube, repairable; jilted stamina: i caught a ride 4km through the construction sites, showered and crashed in a cheap hotel, in a basic truck-stop town.

    thankful for my high tech backpack

    emergency stitch-up of my ripped pants


    the next day refreshed, i skated 70km along the mekong, to the place where the road forks. awesome, smooth, well-paced, beautiful countryside, a great skate on the road, rolling up and down pretty regularly. that’s the kind of skating i really enjoy to get into the push-coast-push that can keep me going for hours and hours. very cool

  • stage 4 – rain to weixi and beyond (6/3/2012)

    then began the rain, which didnt let up, and hasn’t let up much since. the weixi road was uphill all the way, but not so steep i couldn’t skate it. weixi sucked, a really drab, new-town chinese-style, and rain or not, i decided to move the next day. rain it was, and 5 hours uphill, followed by a shitty-nasty broken road downhill, through mud puddles and torn concrete, dirt road mixed with crappy pavement bits.

    patchwork asphalt!

    that really sucked, in the rain, but i came to a place where the road was perfect, for maybe 12km, downhill through a wonderful valley. too bad it was really pissing down rain, and i had to concentrate mostly on slippery turns and footbraking, it was more dangerous than fun. but that’s also a cool situation, somehow, keeping one’s mind on staying ont he board, on the road, when it has the potential to get really fast and out of control. its a rush to be at the edge of control, sometimes edging out beyond that edge, riding really fast. helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, slide gloves…these all really make me feel better, even if they wont stop me from breaking an arm or a leg, at least if i go down on the road, i can get back up and laugh about it, instead of clutching some pained scrape or new bruise.

    at the end of this ride, the road end, and turned into a cobblestone road, over which i hitched a 10km ride, and after a night in a hotel, took another 30km bus ride, to get out of the ricky pit and back onto the road. i wasn’t about to walk all that way through the rain, so the idea to ‘not skate it all’ was less distressing, and i was psyched again to get back onto what is labellled on the map as a ‘first-class road’. first class indeed, this road gave me a fantastic skate, even if mostly through drizzle, then a real downpour.

    the slope was enough to keep pushing just enough, to keep moving at a good clip, enjoying emerald green forests clinging to lumpy hills above luminous green rice paddy. really gorgeous, and after that, some uphill, then some more wet downhill, at which point i had had enough of skating in the rain, my front right bearings were grinding, and i was cold.

    i stopped skating at the crossroads, and took the next minivan over the ridge and down into shaxi. shirley greeted me at horsepen 46 with two awesome espressos. welcome home!

    so i have skated over 800km, 8 days up to the glacier, and six days back, a bit quicker than i had imagined. i will rest in shaxi today, then go back to the crossroads to continue. my plan is to skate, rain or shine, the dali road, and meet dandan when she arrives on the 7th. i expect that will take 2 and a half days, and will make up my 42km missing kilometers, those the rides i took past construction sites and the broken road, and give me my 1000km, which is my goal this time out.

    so, the remote, wild part of the trek is behind me, and 800km or a thousand, it was pretty awesome getting up there and back. but i am not finished skating yet…

  • to dali…950km skated! (6/9/2012)

    sun rising in shaxi

    sunshine again, back at the crossroads, on the dali road, and i was skating again. today i beat my personal best, skating 82km to lake erhai, less than 30km from dali. it started with a two and a half hour ascent, some sketchy downhill, long rolling flats, a little uphill, some fast high traffic road, then back into the flats…pushing.

    up and down

    along the flats

    sunrise at lake erhai

    along the flats in the morning

    arriving at tsai tsuen, dali

    i find it interesting that i haven’t gotten more tired as i skate further, in fact i seem to build up stamina, or maybe thats just in my mind, but i skate and skate and half-noticenotice the kilometers dropping away. have a nice dinner, rest a bit, then off into the evening with the same regular push. by the time i found a cheap guesthouse along the lake road, i had gone 82km! i was pretty impressed with myself, and the next morning at sunrise i was back on the road, again through the flats along the lake. as i made it up the last little hill to the ancient town of dali, and was ordering a cappuchino at a little cafe, i had been on the road from the crossroads for 24 hours, and travelled 110km. needless to say, i partied in dali, tanked up on espresso and munched down cakes in celebration.

    950km skated, feeling good, high on caffiene, and then my girl arrives, riding a new subsonic raven! (thanks scott, its a beautiful board!) dandan has come to chill out and skate some, its like paradise, some time together in the sunshine on awesome road with new kit to check out. i wont take her out on the road in the blazing sunshine, we’ll take it easy, but she said she wants to skate. she wanted to come check out what i am doing with the long distance thing, she skates a lot in beijing where its flat, and is enjoying going faster. well, here is a place to get going faster and skate further, and i chose a mellow mountain route we can skate and practice some. actually we drove down part of the route to get here from dali, and after she said, “i can skate that!” so i guess we”re on.

    i am calculating 950km having skated, though the distance i travelled is closer to 1075km. however i know for sure that 53km of the route i didnt skate, took rides through construction zones and over 40km of cobblestone track. as well, the hike along the mekon cut some kilometers off of the return route, not many, but i have a feeling altogether its about 950km. together with dandan i think i’ll get in the last 50km, to top off my goal this time out, but the trek in of itself is complete. anything now, skating with my girl, is just extra fun. =)

    950km upo the mountain and back, an awesome skate!

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