Day 9 - Shattered after another day of hiking, but also our first rain-free day in Yubeng!
Today we went to the Ice Lake, a glacial lake high in the mountains. The path was beautiful, if muddy, starting of relatively flat before the inevitable switchbacks began through the forest. After about 2 hours we reached Base Camp. There are still several log dwellings there, left over from the ill-fated Japanese assault on Kawagebo.
We rested and had snacks before pushing on for the final hour to reach the Ice Lake. The lake itself was beautiful and well worth the climb, nestled in a cirque below a glacier. We circumnavigated it, jumping through and over the braided streams that feed it. What we'd forgotten to take into account was the outlet, which was wide, deep and fast. Four of us turned back and retraced our route, but our tallest member forged on successfully, though at it's deepest the water reached high on his thighs, which would have meant waist deep for the rest of us.
Our descent was uneventful, and the entire walk took us 8 hours.
We had another lovely whole chicken soup for dinner, but before dinner we sat for an hour around the fire in the common room drinking tea and chatting.m There was a man tuning and then playing an erhu. Dad had a go, without much success.
We had the option to try a local wine with dinner and, despite the reputation of Chinese wine, gave it a go. Tea here is served out of beautiful earthenware jugs, but the was served in an ugly white bowl with a metal ladle. The wine tasted very like balsamic vinegar - not a great choice!
I can't say I'm a huge fan of Upper Yubeng. The streets are muddy and filled with horse, mule, cow and pig droppings. The place where we are staying is the least likeable we've stayed in so far (but I'm aware it could be much worse) - particularly the bathroom which, while it does have Western toilets (everywhere we've stayed has) the sink, shower and toilet drain through an only partially covered culvert on the floor. Needless to say it doesn't smell great. The great redeeming factor is the view, down to Lower Yubeng and up to Kawagebo.
Day 10 - Woke up this morning to the sound of heavy rain. This was not a good sign, as there was no way we could avoid hiking today.
We packed our stuff, breakfasted, hired a mule to carry our gear and, with the rain still falling, we trekked out of Upper Yubeng. We weren't leaving the same way we'd come in, instead going via Zidang and making the route a semi-circle.
The path was wide and well-marked, but muddy and mired with mule poo. It was relentless uphill to a pass (approx 3,680 m) but because it was a mule track the gradient wasn't as steep as most of our other treks. We fell in with a very nice young man who it transpired with a communications officer with the Chinese airforce. He had trekked into Yubeng yesterday, only to be summoned back to work. He shared his (low-cocoa Chinese airforce) chocolate rations with us and we spoiled him forever by sharing our (rich, 80% cocoa, New Zealand) chocolate with him and kept with us through the whole trek, acting as our self-appointed guide.
After about 4 1/2 hours (1 3/4 hours uphill, 2 3/4 downhill) we reached our destination, met by our driver Sulee. We were cold, wet through, tired and delighted to see him. As our airforce officer was heading in the same direction as us we offered him a lift.
The plan was to drive to Dequin, get a bite to eat and drop off our new friend, before carrying on to spend the night in a nearby village with a vineyard and Catholic church. But by the time we reached Deqin we were frozen and bone-weary, and the idea of spending another hour or so driving in wet clothes to a village we might not even see due to the heavy fog that had descended and where there was no guarantee of a hot shower was a bit much for all of us.
So we stopped in Dequin for lunch (two highlights: spring rolls (a taste of home!) and a divine dish of edamame beans, shelled and lightly cooked with garlic, of which I ate almost the whole plate) and to find a hotel.
Luxury (well, comparative) and hot water! First things first Dad and I hung out all our wet gear (basically: everything), fashioning a make-shift clothesline and draping everything else over chairs and laps, while I washed the muddy stuff (socks, boots, shoelaces etc) in the bathroom sink. Then scalding showers (there was no other temperature option) and a bit of a relax.
No need for dinner tonight as we'd eaten lunch so late, so we just relaxed in our room writing postcards and reading. At one point one of our friends dropped by with a bag of oranges he'd gone out to get which made him very popular indeed!
And, rather sadly, that was the end of our 5 days of trekking. It had been amazing - incredibly hard work every day but extremely rewarding. Beautiful mountains, glaciers, lakes and waterfalls, endless mule-poo strewn mud and switchback climbs, and evenings full of relaxed satisfaction.