WildChina > WildChina > Snow-bound Glory – Amne Machin Rises

The following is an excerpt from Jeff Fuchs’ Tea and Mountain Journals, a blog by explorer, photographer and writer Jeff Fuchs.  Jeff is the 2011 recipient of WildChina’s Explorer Grant.  He and friend Michael Kleinwort are currently traveling through unknown portions of the Tsalam route in Qinghai.

Below is a piece from their journey…

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Snow-bound Glory – Amne Machin Rises
ne of the practical necessities of a journey in Mother Nature’s realm – a solar charger
We are moving higher yet – moving into ‘higher than highlands’ on a sheet of ice that is perhaps 2 km’s wide. It blankets the valley with its wide, white grace giving the landscape a clean and almost clinical beauty. Winds run wild, streaking happily across these worn down valleys picking up minute shards of ice and snow and hurtling them around.
Snow-bound Glory – Amne Machin Rises
Fire upon the frozen earth is the first priority of our day – followed by tea, footwear-warming and then a thawing out of the bones
Nighttime temps plunged the night before and even fast rushing glacial streams are in the midst of thawing themselves out in the punishing neema (sun). We are making our way through the Aron Mu valley with the Aron Mu River slicing beneath the ice we are now treading upon.
Snow-bound Glory – Amne Machin Rises
Frost covers the back of one of our yak with nighttime temperatures plunging
It is a day of plodding and grinding with real distances and our impressions of how much terrain we are covering being at odds. In these vast spaces judging distances has become a daily deception. Following Gamzon’s rough pattern over the ice as she plods along the path it is obvious that she ‘knows’ not only the route, but the nature of the route. She is choosing the path with the least risk of plunging through crevasse or ‘hole’. The yak seem to ‘smell’ or sense intuitively the portions of disguised ice to avoid. At one point the yaks, who are leading, swivel their powerful frames left and circle a portion of ice for no apparent reason. As I pass over the portion they’ve steered clear of my walking stick plunges into to a mini abyss that spirals metres down.
Snow-bound Glory – Amne Machin Rises
Windblown snow and ice that cover perils in the form of ‘tunnels’ and holes that often plunge metres into mini-chasms
Mountain-‘scapes’ have always held the power to impose themselves upon the will, burrowing into the psyche with power and just a tinge of the ominous. Punishing and soothing, these spartan heights have their own soundtracks and have that rare ability to provide an environment by which to edit the mind’s errant wanderings. Mountains can still the mind like few other places.
Snow-bound Glory – Amne Machin Rises

We once again pass the 4,500 metre barrier. Our days have at times been an unending series of ascents and dips – climbing up only to descend around the next desolate bend. It is in this way the land dictates the pace entirely.

A laser-like sun is bouncing off of the ice, ratcheting up the heat. We haven’t seen the colour green in a week – all that we have seen is coming out of its dry winter shell.

The grinding of our past days has taken relatively minor tolls on us. Michael’s feet are in dire condition, though, with his nails falling off in his socks and an entire layer of his sole slowly peeling off, but he has been powering through the constant discomfiture with stoic tenacity. It is only one night when I see the extent of surface damage that I marvel.

Snow-bound Glory – Amne Machin Rises
Michael’s feet show the physical price of intense days on the road

My single ailment was ‘received’ this morning while loading the yak. My four-legged friend twice cracked the identical spot of my left ankle within four minutes with a solid blow from a hoof. They were shuddering blows that resonated down into the frozen earth below me. There is a strange twinge in the left foot just below where the hoof hit, though nothing that affects motion (yet). It has given me cause to be wary of the massive hooves of our black and white friends.

We haven’t yet glimpsed the Amne Machin range on this day as there is layer after layer of mountains that obscure or long view but at one juncture Gamzon shouts something that gets taken by the wind. She repeats, “Nom’sho” pointing further northwest.

Moments later, while trudging through melting snow, she looks over to Michael and I nodding…and there it is.

Snow-bound Glory – Amne Machin Rises
The hallucinatory space of Nom’sho valley

A numbing view of a valley (Nom’sho) that is so vast that it seems to continue to expand as we take it in. I need to swivel my head back and forth to take it in, to fit it in to my mind’s eye. To the left a powdering of snow rests on stone peaks, between which are shimmering rivulets that wink with the sun’s blaze upon them. Another valley to the left – massive and flat careens off west. What holds us is the great funneling valley and passageway ahead with Amne off to our right. There is that ever-present urge in me to flit across to its base and begin the long ascent up its cloaked flanks…it is an urge that has been fulfilled many times, but will never cease. A friend once termed this “the eternal hunger”, this often tunnel-vision desire to climb.

Michael quietly pads up beside me and speaks of this space. “There is nothing at all here to muddle this space, besides us”. While he contemplates this stunning vastness I’m dreaming about ascending a not so distant crest on the mountain, but knowing that to do so will be to offend the deities that the locals hold dear – akin to a kind of sacrilege. The two tongues duel it out in my head, one a desire that courses through every vein, another of enormous respect for the locals and their precious animistic mecca’s.

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For the full post, please visit http://www.tea-and-mountain-journals.com/
Images: Jeff Fuchs

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