For those of you who have not shared in my fascination for the very impressive heights and “lowts” of the past few weeks then you have just one more day to endure my references to altitude for we are going to slide out the bottom of these great mountains of Central China in the next two days. Paradoxically the Tibetan Plateau is relatively flat on top with a few small hillocks poking into the cloud but today half way down to sea level we continue to meander through ever increasingly deep valleys and take our last switch back ascent. If you at home are finding it difficult to follow where we have been on the map, well you are not alone. We have three maps of Central China with us and they all have different roads and place names. Only the trunk roads and big cities seem to match. Paul and his brother Gerry have done this trip 3-4 times before and they get lost frequently even using GPS. We have no idea where we are most of the time and I shudder to think how we would get out of the country if Paul deserted us. At least Richard can read Mandarin but none of the maps with Roman letters are accurate. Apparently this a throw back to a time when the Republic purposefully kept maps vague in order to confuse invaders ( Russians I expect) . There may be good modern maps in Mandarin but we could not read them. As we leave our comfortable Sheraton Hotel in Juizhaijou we begin the second half of our descent.
This valley taking us down from Jaizhaijou is very alpine with lush grass and crashing torrents beside the road. Although there are no trout or salmon here in the rivers the locals clearly extract some other species of mountain fish from small fishing groins built into the river.
The river beds and drainage systems are constantly dredged and cleared to prevent inadvertent damming which can easily result in flash flooding.
As we float downwards the mountains on either side seem to tower even higher above us
And the houses beside the road seem very well kept and relatively luxurious.
John signals frantically to me to photograph to sign for Ka Zi from where all the craziest drivers originated no doubt.
The river in this valley has a series of gravel factories in its bed and the steep side interdigitate into each other with great green and blue folds
As we climb the roads seems to have been torn apart by frequent rockfalls
After a gear grinding hour we reach a beautiful summit with a mass of asalya and juniper trees.
Unfortunately the picnic area is a bit spoilt by a glitzy summit arch
As we tumble down the other side and in effect out of the high mountain ranges we experience a rocky switch back with a lot of off piste
As the valley flattens out we see signs of simple farming life with people drying grain and black sesame beside the road on their front porches
Paul finds our small hotel and after a shower we venture out for a meal.
All the best