39 N – 113 E Shanxi(山西), China
Line Hunting Date: March 25, 2006
The 3rd point of the Shanxi 39th parallel expedition
After we completed our 2nd hunt of the day for 39N 112E around 2.30 pm, we continued east and hoping to reach this point before dark. A good part of the drive was on very poorly maintained road crossing a mountain range. The 130 km drive took over 2 and half hours. We reached the capital of Dai (代) county at 5 pm which was about 6 km from the confluence point. From the county town, it was evident that this confluence point located in the hills nearby. It will not be a straight forward hunt.
Desperately searching for a road before dark
Faced with limited day time left, we pressed hard toward the foothill hoping to find a route that will bring us close to the point. First attempt ended at 5.20 pm when we reached the end of road near a village with still 2.3 km GPS distance from the confluence point – too far to reach with two ranges of small mountains to cross. We did better with the 2nd attempt and able to reach 1.6 km from the confluence point by 5.40 pm with one range to go over. Knowing day light will run out around 6.30 pm, Button and Ray decided to dash for the point without spending more time to search for a closer entry point.
Desperately crossing hills and valleys for a glimpse of the point
From a distance, we had impression that the confluence point located near the top or on the other side of a 300 meter hill. When we started hiking toward it in a hurry, the terrain was more complicated than a simple slope. There were three ravines to cross at the first part of the approach which wasted considerable amount of time and energy. After half an hour of struggle, we only made about half way up this big hill. At which point, we were still 1.0 km from the confluence point and Button was faltering due to foot pain and hard to climb the dirt hill with street shoes. The hope for us to reach the confluence point before dark was diminishing.
The remaining or the hard core member of the hunting party decided to scramble to the top of this ridge to take a look at the confluence point. By 6.30 pm Ray reached the top of the ridge as sun was setting. From the ridge, the GPS distance to the confluence point was 580 meters. From the ridge position, it was clear that the confluence point located on the up slope of another hill across. To reach there, it will require the down climb of the eastern slope of the big hill and go up the 2nd hill which was feasible before total darkness. But the real challenge would be to the hour track back in the dark in less than secure slopes. It was clearly time to turn back – so close yet so far.
Go for broke with an alternative route of retreat
Just as Ray reluctantly decided to give up on reaching this confluence point, he noticed that there was a trail at the bottom of the valley near the hill where the confluence point located. This trail provided an option to get out of the hill areas safely in the dark which could be much easier than retracing through the slopes and ravines without trails. Plus, this option made it possible to reach the confluence! The decision to go for it took less than a heart beat - go after the confluence point and get out through an established trial.
The gamble paid off
It took less than 15 minutes to reach the valley floor and brought the distance to the confluence point down to 230 meters. Thankfully, the confluence point located in anpther small valley which made it much easier to reach. At entrance of this valley, there was still a small patch of snow which was the only snow or ice encountered during the entire hunt. Ray reached the confluence point right around 7 pm after a quick scramble. There was barely enough light to take the required photos. The all zeros point actually located 20 meters away on a 45 degree slope but not worth the extra effort to delay the retreat. The trail spotted on top was very easy to follow, in fact wide enough for tractors. There were two households in the main valley near the confluence point. In a little over half a kilometer, the valley trail run into a well maintained gravel road. Had we had enough time to find this road, we could drive within 300 meters to this confluence point. This is typical scenario for line hunting – the best approach usually found after reaching the point.
The real challenge of the day - Finding each other in the dark
The alterative route Ray took to reached the main road put him two set of hills from Button and Baolin. Under normal condition, it would be a quick cell phone call to coordinate a pick-up. But at this very critical moment, Ray’s cell phone totally out of battery. As a result, Button and Baolin had no way of knowing that Ray had come out a different way. Fortunately, Baolin had the foresight to drive the car to a more exposed position and flashing the emergency light. It was a strenuous task for Ray to leave the highway to hike toward the car in the dark. Again, there were multiple ravines to cross. Eventually, Ray faced with a gully too steep to cross but was in shouting range from Button. A few shouts managed to get the message across to meet up at the village below the hill. After another kilometer of rapid hike down the foothill into the village Ray reunited with the rest of the party around 8.30 pm. At this point, every article his clothing were soaking wet.
The longest line hunting day
Around 8 pm, Button and Baolin was sufficiently worried to call the local police to report the missing “hunter” in the hill. After the happy reunion, we informed the police about the positive outcome and started the long way back to Beijing. We reached Beijing at 2 am. Exhausted but happy.
This three confluence point day took a total of 19 hours, by far the longest day we ever had for line hunting. For Ray, this last point was the most physically demanding hunt – 3 hours of nonstop scrambling up and down hills and valleys. Of course, it would be one of the more memorable hunt. Lesson leaned – other than carry spare battery for GPS and camera, cell phone battery is also an important item for line hunting.
Rating of this hunt:
Degree of Challenge: 3 – we did the hard way but can be an easy hunt in retrospect. (1= very easy - drive to the point; to 5= a death march – glad it is over)
Scenery: 3– Pretty hill and valley in setting sun (Scale: 1= not interesting at all; 5= take your breath away)
Culture-social factors: 3– Very interesting looking old style village nearby which we did not stop (Scale: 1=dull; 5= most stimulating)