Oct 01

Higher and higher..5,000mts elevation in Tibet

Higher and higher and higher into the cloud and snow we went!

What an incredible time we’re having.  I can’t keep up with journaling because the days are so long … and to be honest sometimes quite gruelling…. but today is a quiet day in Lhasa in Tibet Autonomous Region … so here’s a snippet of how the past week has been.

We decided to take the roof off as we left Deqen, even though it was drizzling a little. The thought of driving ‘lidded’ amongst the imposing mountains was just not an option. We put our snow wet-weather gear on, and chose to suck up the cold and moisture, to have the opportunity to be able to enjoy the spectacular geology and landscape of the Lacang Gorge, which is the beginnings of the Mekong.

It was a little daunting driving along the narrow roads with large conglomerate river rocks ready to rock and roll down at any time. Max was quite relieved to be passed these areas of overhangs, as we could see rumble slides constantly along the road.

Pockets of green terraced villages made opportunistic use of any flat land upon which to grow their crops. Bridges leaped across the river. Bricks aren’t delivered on pallets as we are accustomed to, but rather just piled into scattered heaps waiting to be reconstructed into protective walls. The buildings became more identifiably ‘Tibetan’ and Stupa’s scattered the hillsides.

Tunnel driving was a bit random as often they are not lit and have a silty-sludge that accumulates because it doesn’t get the rain to wash it away… and it quickly covered the windscreen. My job was to try and keep a clear vision for Max to see through, and miss the huge holes in the road… and cyclists who were riding without any form of reflection or lighting. EEEKS!

Things got a bit hairy later in the afternoon as it became colder.. and whiter!. SNOW… Yes SNOW. I was sooooo not expecting to experience snow quite so early on our trip; and as we climbed to about 4,500mts and into the Autonomous Region of Tibet and on to the Tibetan Plateau, it became whiter and whiter and visibility was practically zero.

Penny was gasping in second gear and Max expertly changed into 1st gear as I pulled myself up using the tracker bracket to standing; and leaned over the windscreen with a cloth and wiped away the snow every 30 seconds or so. Seems that my preparation in the tunnels earlier earned me my ‘stand-up and wipe certificate!.’

At 5,000 mts it was really strenuous and I was with Penny…. taking deep breaths and just kept going. I kept thinking to myself…”One breath at a time. One breath at a time. I can do it. I can do it.” I had to keep pulling myself up and wiping the snow off, because Max had to see and we could NOT stop. I felt so exhilarated when I saw the top of the pass and knew we had made 5,040mts in elevation.

Sunshine at last. Zogang to Ranwu Lake. OMGosh. The mountains. The geology. The hairpin bends!! 72 of them we were told.  It was just breathtaking. I’ve never experienced such mountainous landscape and because it was drier and higher, the vegetation exposed the character of the land.

The National road was quite good in the main, but we had to be concentrating all the time. Lines of rocks usually indicated a vehicle breakdown ahead. Sometimes the warning method of rock placement has been judicious; and at other times it’s the stationary truck which is seen before the three or four apple sized rocks placed at the rear of the vehicle.  Anticipating rock-falls is necessary. Bicycles and walking and prostrating pilgrims to the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa are also using the ‘318’, and navigating around them as well as the oncoming truck traffic requires full concentration.  

Small villages along the way were growing barley, and as it was harvest time, the triangular mounds of stalks dotted the fields. After about three weeks it’s then moved to drying racks that were often very close to the road; as every cm of ground was needed in the paddock for growing crops.

I was sooo excited to see the first sheep of our trip – and Yaks are becoming more prolific; and I’ve been knitting every day whenever there is a wait.

My knitting has provided an opportunity to connect with some of the women where we have travelled. Whenever I see someone knitting or crocheting I show mine and we have such a wonderful interaction together. These moments I’ve decided to not photograph, as they seem to be ones of personal experience rather than something to invade with my camera. I feel so fortunate to have had so many wonderful experiences with other women, through a similar interest in fibre arts and crafts.  

Penny is going great except for a bit of an ‘issue’ when we were descending in the middle of the day. “There’s just nothing under my foot honey. There’s just no spark at all.”   OH.

So … after a curve or two we found a safe place to stop and check things. Fuses. Spark plugs. Flooded?

Max legs up, head under the dash was a sight to behold! Penny started again and fixed…  we decided to get back on the road after a breakdown pit stop outside a small rural lunch kitchen. Boy did business boom for them that day!!!

So off we went and in about one km …. “Honey… we’ve got a major electrical issue. We didn’t actually fix anything. We’re just not getting any spark at all.”

After a few big breaths there was an ahhhaaaa moment……. and we realized that the main fuel tank was empty and because we had been coasting descending, we were unable to hear the usual tell-tale sound of the tank emptying. Switching to our reserve tank did the trick! What an embarrassing ooops that was!!!

Frost was on Penny’s cover in the morning at Ranwu Lake. I didn’t have much sleep that night because it dropped to about -4 and our room was so cold because there was a 2cm gap around our veranda door which enabled us to feel like we were camping. I think my body temperature dropped so low I didn’t realize it until morning and then got myself warm. All was good in no time we were driving through landscape which was just breathtaking. Around every curve, a white-topped mountain peeked out and expanded within our view.

Shining silver sentinels pierced the mountains… carrying energy for the development within the Autonomous Region of Tibet.

I could see the juxtaposition of the rural way of living in small villagers and the nomads; and the development of large scale community housing constructed by the Chinese Government.

The pine forests covered the mountains, in stark contrast to the previous day’s arid and rocky landscape.

We’d had some tough days driving so we took primarily the Motorway from Nyingchi to Lhasa, which ran alongside the national road along the river valley; but meant that we had better road conditions and still see pretty much the same thing; small dotted rural villages and extensive construction.

Due to our planning and gentle rise in sleeping elevation, neither Max nor I have had any problems with altitude sickness. I’ve only had a mild headache the first night in Shangri La; and not a single symptom since then. I do however get puffed brushing my teeth and when I first stand in the morning… but that is to be expected. I’m so relieved that we haven’t had any altitude sickness though. Were here at Lhasa at 3656 for five nights as preparation for our next jump in elevation toward Everest Base Camp, and we’re coming up to a run of a few sleeping elevations of over 4500mts… so hoping all will be well then too. We have made precautions by carrying oxygen and medication; and also have an exit plan should it be necessary.

We’re in Lhasa now and already had a couple of fabulous days here… so stay tuned for my next report on my adventures in Lhasa.

About the Author:
I am a Journeywoman. I live my life as an explorer. An adventurer. An Observer. An Artist. There is no differentiation between how I live my life and the art that is an expression of it. It is through my experience adventuring the unknown, that I learn more about myself. My aim through this connection is to live where my expression is fully in alignment with the essence of who I am. “In the field of Fine-Art Photography, Julie stands apart from others with the way she sees the world and expresses her connection within it. Julie Stephenson’s photographs are sublime. Her work is an expression of her deep connection; and a gift to the world.”

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