08-Mar-2003 -- This confluence lay middle of the Wolong Nature Reserve established as a protected area
for the Giant Panda. There are an estimated 2,000 wild pandas in China and the majority
are in this area. Even so, they are extremely shy of people and sightings are extremely
rare. This area is about 150 km (90 miles) northwest of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan,
where we live.
This confluence hunt was originally planned to be a bus and bike trip. But a closer
look at the topographic map revealed that the best route to the confluence was a narrow
valley for three quarters of the way, then a scramble to the point near a 4,782 m (15,684
ft) peak. So I decided to leave the bikes at home and opt for a hike in. Also, public
transportation options are limited to a 6:30 AM bus and no return options. So we rented a
van and seven of us met at 7 AM near the center of town.
On this trip there was Naxin Chen, a guide for Bike
China Adventures (on his third confluence hunt), Wanhui Zhao (on his second), Xueying
Peng (on her first), Longchuan Li (on his second) and his wife, Jie Deng (on her first),
Xiaoerlang "Small Boy" Larry (on his fourth) and myself, Peter Snow Cao, founder
of Bike China Adventures (on my tenth).
It was a chilly morning and still dark when we assembled at the gates to Huaxi Medical
University. Larry arrived ready to tackle Mount Everest with full climbing gear of rope,
dozens of carabiners, straps, and other climbing paraphernalia. He said he almost brought
his crampons. The rest of stared in disbelief. If we really need all that stuff, it is
going to be one heck of a hunt.
Getting out of town at that hour was easy. Morning traffic hadn't picked up yet. On the
way, we passed through Dujiangyan, the location of the most sustainable hydro-engineering
project in the world, founded 3rd century BC before China was unified as one nation.
While the location is not far, it still took three hours to arrive because of hilly
narrow winding roads and slow traffic. Along the way, Larry led the group in a number of
songs. Just north of Dujiangyan a huge hydroelectric project is underway adding a
multitude of construction trucks to the traffic mix. At 100 km from Chengdu, we reached
the turnoff to Wolong Nature Reserve entering a peaceful winding road along side a river.
The first town was Gengda and we stopped for breakfast and supplies. Old Ye (Leaf) was
manning the stove at the restaurant and prepared nine bowls of tasty noodles and a dozen
eggs for the group of hungry confluence hunters. Larry found a Chinese machete in the
market and thought it would be a useful addition to the multitude of stuff he was already
As we continued up the Wolong valley, views of beautiful snow-covered low-lying
mountains had us wondering what we were in for. It looked like it had just snowed that
night before as the trees looked freshly dusted.
We passed the Wolong Panda zoo where the parking lot was buzzing with tour-group
activity. At 10:30 AM we arrived at the entrance to the valley that would lead to the
confluence, Silver Mine Valley (Yinchanggou). There is a small gate marking the entrance,
and when we arrived a group of five men were waiting for the rest of their group to return
from a walk up the valley.
After parking the car down the road at a nearby house for safety, I took a GPS reading
and was surprised to find the confluence was 11.5 km away "as the crow flies."
(Do crows really fly in straight lines?) When I had measured the map at home I came up
with a distance of about eight kilometers to the confluence walking through the valley.
This thought struck me as a bit odd, but I put it out of my mind for the time being. Larry
had brought a big bag of mandarin oranges and a can of soup for everyone. Getting started
had everyone buzzing with excitement, and we were soon on our way.
The valley entrance is at 2,500 m (8,200 ft) and is framed by sheer cliffs on both
sides and only marginally opens up further up. A noisy small river, almost big enough to
raft, provided constant company as we made our way upriver. Our route was to follow it
almost to its source and then break off and climb into one of its tributaries finally
ending up on the side of the mountain.
Within a half a kilometer of the valley entrance we came across several groups of
people panning for gold. Apparently the silver had run out, but there was still gold
available in the area. Each operation had four or five people working: two people would be
digging the bank, another bringing the diggings to the pan, a sieve the size of medium
size frying pan. The person operating the pan would take the diggings, dump it into the
pan, then scoop water and pour it over the diggings while rocking the pan back and forth
looking for the bright specks of gold. The panning had a detrimental effect on the water
quality. The water downstream of the panning was a turbid while upstream was sparkling
blue and clear as a bell.
This valley has been slated for development and had already begun with the construction
of two bridges crossing the river. Aside from this, the road construction had not yet
begun and there was only a narrow path leading up the valley. After about one km, the path
deteriorated to a scramble along the riverbank. The footpath crisscrossed the river every
few hundred meters on two or three small tree trunks lashed together with wire. About
every 500 meters or so the path would climb high above the river to get over a steep
section of riverbank. This "path" was usually no more than crushed underbrush,
and often involved a bit of a scramble pulling on nearby bamboo for assistance. It was
evident that few people go up this valley. I was glad I hadn’t brought the bikes.
They would have been a liability after only one kilometer.
The air temperature was cool, about 5° C (41° F), but the sun was out and, as we were walking at a brisk pace,
we quickly warmed up. The ground temperature was still below zero and it was not long
before we were passing a multitude of frozen waterfalls. The trail continued to meander
back and forth across the river and occasionally there was a rickety ladder to climb.
Along the way, we came across a band of six Tibetan boys about 18 years old that Larry
labeled "The Cowboys." They were heading up the valley to tend their 300 head of yaks grazing on the high
altitude grasslands. Their job was to give the yaks salt once a month to keep them
healthy. They were a high-strung group, laughing, joking and singing songs. Our arrival
was a novelty in that valley because few tourists ever get past the first kilometer.
When we met them, the Cowboys were finishing their lunch of rice, and bai jiu (a
wickedly potent rice wine that can be used for gasoline in a pinch). They were lounging on
the bank and smoking cigarettes and held their dog back so we could pass. Tibetan dogs are
renown for their viciousness. We asked them about the trail conditions and what was ahead
and they said there was a big hot springs with the tantalizing temperature of 30° C (86° F) that was big enough to hold
more than 60 people. Our group was psyched until they added it was too far to get there
today. We continued on our way.
Getting GPS signals in this narrow valley was very difficult. Aside from the very
beginning of the trail, most of the time there was not enough sky to get a reading. When
we did get one, it became clear that I had missed grossly judged the distance to the
confluence. I began to think about how I computed it. Starting with a 1:500,000-scale
topographic map, I had made an enlargement (200%) making the scale 1:250,000. Then I
measured the distance in centimeters and found it to be about eight. Then I made the fatal
error of converting the centimeters directly to kilometers, forgetting about the 2.5
factor. So instead of eight kilometers, it was really a twenty-kilometer hike. Oh boy! I
realized that there was no way we could make it to the confluence and back before dark.
I informed our group about the development and everyone seemed to take it well.
Although it was difficult, it was still a wonderful hike up a marvelous hidden valley. The
sky clouded up around noon, and it started to snow lightly. The river rocks had beautiful
ice formations. There was snow on the ground in some areas and Li said that this was the
first time he ever walked on snow and thought it made for a very comfortable hike.
The Cowboys soon passed us carrying unbelievably little for a multi-day trip: one had a
small sack of rice, another had a small sack of salt and a third carried the kettle. The
other three were unencumbered. Their traveling method was to run or jog along the path as
fast as they could for 15 or 20 minutes, then stop to take a break and smoke a cigarette.
Zhao and I ran along behind the leader while peppering him with questions. He said he has lived in this area all his life and had only seen a wild panda twice. He moved with
the ease and grace along the trail while Zhao and I tried to mimic his style. Once we got
winded, we stopped and waited for the others to catch up.
I was able to get another GPS reading and we were now 5.99 km from the confluence. The
time was 3:30 PM and sunset was at 7:10 PM. The Cowboys said it would be dark by 7:30 PM.
Reluctantly, we decided to throw in the towel at that point and head back. I took some
photos of the valley and the GPS. We had climbed to 2,700 m in four hours. It was clear
that in order to reach this confluence, it would require an overnight trip.
Leaving the Cowboys to continue on their trip up we returned the way we came, this time
carefully observing our surrounding. The area was full of small bamboo shoots of the type
pandas love. I could understand why this area was a favorite.
On the way back we passed a frozen waterfall where Zhao had stored a bottle of water.
Retrieving it he found it refreshingly chill and enjoyed a long swig. Larry, was bringing
up the rear and turned back early. He left a pile of mandarin oranges and a note on a
small boulder along the path telling us when he turned around. He added that we should
take our time as there would be hot soup for the last person to return.
Chen was having knee problems. He said that while walking up hill was no problem,
walking down was very painful. Previously, I had similar problems when walking on Mt.
Emei, a holy mountain with over 50 kilometers of steps. I said he should try walking
backwards when going downhill. He tried it and said it helped. Jie Deng wore casual
street shoes and had difficulty on some parts of trail. I suggested that Li buy his wife
some real hiking shoes for the next time.
When we reached the place where the gold prospects were, they were just finishing up
their work. One group had found about 5 grams of gold that day, and was pretty satisfied.
We arrived at the valley entrance at about 6:30 PM, eight hours after we had begun. On the way back we discussed how we can make the next confluence hunt a success.
Most people slept on the way back. Larry kept me company chatting away to keep me awake.
We arrived back in Chengdu about 10 PM exhausted, but satisfied with a great day of
hiking. We promised to try again later in the year.
I would like to thank everyone for keeping up such good spirits throughout the trip. We
all had a great time and look forward to our next confluence hunt.
（队长曹雪磊先生（Peter Snow Cao）是一位由美国旧金山来成都定居的美国，他的文字洗练，层次分明，可读性极高。下面我将把他的报告用中文直接翻译出来让大家欣赏）。