20-Oct-2007 -- Our journey to 29N 103E led us to some areas that few foreigners have reason to visit. That's what I like about visiting the confluences here in China; one can visit places that are interesting and welcoming and you don't have to worry about getting caught up in a sea of tourists. Though I like poring over maps and examining little roads and villages, I hadn't thought that this little area of Sichuan would have such a nice appeal. Once we got off the main Chengdu to Leshan highway and onto the windy back roads, I started to feel more at home. I really enjoy the countryside here. People smile more often it seems.
We arrived in the town of Ebian after dark and soon found the noodle restaurant Targ had been excited about. Outside the restaurant there were some shao kao (barbecue) sellers with an assortment of skewered vegetables. We grabbed a bunch of sticks of the mushrooms and instructed the laoban that we wanted them spicy. He didn't have to be told twice. This is Sichuan after all. The noodles were excellent in this little shop, as is common in China. The spicy barbecue mushrooms made for a tasty addition to the noodles.
It drizzled rain pretty much the whole evening up in the forest covered mountains in this area. It was going to be a pretty wet hike as we soon would find out. We had planned to leave Chengdu around 3pm on a Friday, travel to the confluence area and stay in a local guest house and then begin our assault to the point early in the morning. We would return to Chengdu Saturday evening because of anxious wives who only allowed this certain amount of time. Therefore, our trip was to be like a 'lightning strike' (my words). Fly there, grab the confluence and fly home. Actually, flying is an appropriate word for how Peter drove up the narrow cliff-lined dirt/gravel track up to the guest house where we would stay the night before the confluence assault. Trust was key. Trust in Peter's ability to cheat death, trust that the rental car's worn tires and brakes would hold up to the g forces and trust that there wouldn't be a herd of goats/pile of rocks/farm tractor or missing piece of road around the next blind turn, of which there were many.
We had a break in the action as Peter screeched to a halt in front of the dam's main gate. Our friend Tony was not able to make this attempt on the confluence, but he asked that we bring a gift to the guys at the dam (as he had hung out with them and had a good time during the last attempt). Imagine getting a knock on the door in the middle of a rainy night and you see three foreigners holding out a case of beer. They seemed pretty pleased with their good fortune.
We continued up the road in the trusty Citroen and found the power station worker's hotel in which Peter, Targ and Tony had stayed for one night during the last attempt. Peter decided to continue driving to see if we could find better accommodations, and we did! Only a few miles away from the confluence lies a brand new tourist resort, only completed months before. It was built in the Yizu motif to celebrate the group of people who live in this area of Sichuan. The 30 some mini chalets were painted in yellow, red and black with many geometrical patterns, as is the characteristic of Yizu art. We negotiated with a kind young woman to stay in one of the chalets. The price was a little bit higher than the worker's hotel down the road, but the accommodations at the Yizu resort were much more comfortable. Too bad not more tourists had been there to experience this interesting place. We might have been the only travelers there. Too bad also that our chalet had only two beds, and Peter had to sleep on the floor. Thanks for volunteering, Peter!
In the morning we set out early while it was still dark. The young woman at the hotel had warned us to stay on paths in the resort as we might get lost. Not any chance of that... we had three GPSs among us. We jumped in the car to see if we could find a track that might bring us a little closer to our goal. Again, Peter amazed us by taking the Citroen up a rutted, rocky mud pit that didn't even resemble a road. We got up a ways before sliding diagonally towards a mud hole that could have been either one inch or two feet deep. Not wanting to risk it (a first for Peter!), we parked the car and made our way around on foot. Since the way to the confluence had been mostly scouted already during Targ and Peter's last trip, the beginning was pretty straight forward. We passed by a small village made of small thatched huts. In fact, it seemed to me to be one of the most rudimentary villages I have seen in China... The people who lived there really had it rough. The trail was actually an old logging road that zigzagged and backtracked its way up the mountain. It was mostly overgrown on the bottom slopes and completely overgrown up higher. It was actually kind of tough going as the high grasses we walked through were dripping with dew. It was a very foggy day, and visibility was quite low, maybe 30 meters or so. There were many streams cutting across the old logging track and many places where an old (or new) landslide had come across so we had to pick our way around. At around 3000 meters or so we ran into some snow, which continued to get deeper and deeper as we walked higher and higher.
It was a nice quiet hike and we chatted a bit and walked our own pace as well. A depressing part came when we were about 2km (as the crow flies) from the confluence but we never seemed to get any closer. This seemed to continue for about an hour or so. We were walking up the old track and suddenly it disappeared into a snowy, rocky stream bed. The water wasn't as high as the time when Peter came by the last time, and we could make some decent time by just following the stream directly up the hill. When I looked at our track on the GPS screen, it seemed as though we were going around the mountain but still not getting any closer to our goal. After walking through the stream bed for a half hour or so, we found the remains of the old logging track again, and this time the trail took a turn - directly towards the confluence point. This was with about 800 meters to go, and the trail went completely straight as an arrow toward the confluence. We could see some old structures made of logs along the track, but none of us could make out what they were. Perhaps they were old encampments, abandoned long ago. Finally with around 70 or 80 meters to go, we hit a switchback in the trail. It was clear that the confluence lay only minutes away up a very overgrown section of forest filled with a thicket of rhododendron bushes. We three attacked the hill with GPS in hand, all trying different ways to get to the point first. It was walking a tightrope along snow covered fallen logs and using rhododendron branches like pull up bars to climb the steep slope. We shook down piles of snow from the branches onto our own heads but nothing seemed to matter - only the confluence at this point. We finally got a good reading (the point seemed to keep jumping around on my GPS) next to a small bed of moss under a big tree. It was a happy wintery success for all of us. Now came the task of hiking the 12.5 kilometers back to where we parked the rental. I did well for a while but then got super tired. My hands were swollen from the cold and lack of gloves, my back was sore from the backpack that seemed to be loaded full of bricks. My parched throat wanted water but I dared not stop to pull the bottle from my pack as Peter and Targ's blistering pace would leave me behind. My legs felt like lead and refused to move more than a snail's pace. The only thing that kept me going were my feet, resting on clouds of glorious comfort in my pair of Asolo Fugitive GTX Gore-Tex lined hiking boots, on sale at REI.com for $89.99. Pick yours up today while supplies last. A pair of Gore-Tex pants (paired with waterproof gaiters) also proved to be true life-savers for me. Every hiking trip I'm on I learn something new, and just one of the things I picked up on this trip was keeping dry will keep you happy! I was asked more than once from Targ and Peter if my feet were wet yet. (The whole day we were hiking through thick heavy wet/snow-covered grass as well as crossing/walking through streams.) I almost (almost!) felt bad saying they were still dry...
That evening we arrived at the car and made it back through the windy mountain roads, the constant road construction, had a stop for delicious noodles (at the same place as before) and made it back to our homes in Chengdu late that night so Targ could make it for a flight back home the next day. Our lightning fast confluence strike was complete! Nice work guys.