In January, our 2012 WildChina Explorer Grant winner William Bleisch finally had a chance to set out on the first steps of his expedition. Difficulties with permits had delayed his departure and William was extremely excited to hit the trail. Check out the first installment of his adventure journal below!
This last week, with WildChina’s support, we took the first steps to Ailaoshan. We had a team of 8 people: Zhao Tianxiao – an expert on gibbon conservationism from Fauna & Flora International; Yang Xing – a local adventure travel leader from Yuxi; Liu Jian – an enthusiastic executive who is also a dedicated photographer; Li Bo – the Xinping Ailaoshan Nature Reserve Vice-Director; and 3 local forest guards (Chen Zhongping, Zhang Yuande and Li Derong, who is an impressive 59 years old). We hiked across the Ailaoshan Provincial Nature Reserve 50 kilometers (31 miles) from southeast to northwest.
The trip took us four full days, two of which ended with us setting up camp in the dark. Starting at a forest station above Jingxing Township in Xing Ping County at 1,953 meters (6,405 feet), and ending at the Jinshan Yakou guesthouse on Rt. S307 in Zhenyuan County at 2,409 meters (7,901 feet), each day involved 7 to 8 hours of hiking with full packs, climbing up peaks as high as 2,644 meters (8,672 feet) and down to valleys as low as 2,000 meters (6,560 feet).
Though painful at times, it was well worth it. The trail was everything I had dreamed it would be. It was just like the Appalachian Trail through the southeast USA, only with bamboo and gibbons! Spectacular ridge-top views of distant peaks and cloud sea below, dark tunnels through dense jungle, carpets of moss underfoot, forests of giant rhododendron, gentians and fragrant mountain tea flowers, rocky cliffs, and waterfalls.
We found signs of the golden cat, Sambar deer, and large raptors. This time unfortunately, the gibbons’ calls eluded us. Since water was scarce in the dry season, we had to camp low down the valleys, out of hearing range. But an early morning at any one of a number of listening posts gave visitors a chance to hear known groups calling. Definitely something I’ll try to catch next time!
If you have any questions about William’s expedition, our WildChina Explorer Grant, or travel in China, send us as email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to assist you.
Photos by William Bleisch