Mar 18

Camping in the Tundra (Destination: Northern Tibet)

Mon, Sept 30, 2013

We had a 9:00 departure from Lhasa. It took nearly an hour to get out of the sprawling city and then we entered the Tibetan plateau. It had rained pretty hard in the city overnight and that meant there was fresh snow on many of the peaks of the plateau…absolutely gorgeous. We saw 10’s of thousands of yaks along the way…definitely the cash animals of Tibet. The guide says a single yak is worth 10,000 yuan (over $1,600) We found a really lovely spot along the highway to have lunch. Very alpine looking and even with some pretty little blue alpine flowers and with little pica rodents.

By 4:00 we found our bush camp for the night. Just as we rolled in, it started snowing! We set up our tents in some wet snow, but later it stopped and then was quite nice, if not a little cold. I walked around and took pictures of picas, yaks, and some reflecting ponds.  As dinner was being prepared, a pack of wild horses galloped by. We had a great chicken curry and potatoes for dinner. There was a nice bonfire thanks to some wood I found in a deserted apartment block (broken door and bed frames).

Steps: 9,124

Tues, Oct 1

It was 39 degrees in my tent this morning but had to be freezing outside as there was a thick layer of frost on our tent. I was on cook group today so I had to get up early and start preparing breakfast at 6:30 am. On travel days, being on cook group means you need to boil water for hot drinks and set out milk, cereal, and cut fruit for breakfast. At lunch, you need to cut tomatoes and cucumbers and set out bread and cheese or salami for sandwich lunch. For dinner, you help cook a full hot dinner followed by hot drinks. Doing this for a day then relieves you of this duty for at least the next 5 days (much more if we have city days, when no one has cooking duty because we go to restaurants instead). After bush camp breakfast, we started our long drive. The terrain we pass thru in the morning is probably best described as tundra – frozen earth, frost, and snow.  Even though it was the start of China national day, we didn’t see much celebration as we entered China proper by late morning, except for the fact that we saw several hundred Chinese military trucks on the highway over the past 2 days.

 

Sadly, we had to say good bye to Ciwan, our Tibetan guide at the border of the province. Thanks to Ciwan, I visited some tea houses I wouldn’t have otherwise. We crossed 2 high passes today – over 5200 meters and like the heights we had reached in Tibet. We had lunch overlooking a great snowcapped mountain.

By afternoon, mountain scenery was replaced by high plains. There was less livestock and more wildlife as we drove along. The wildlife I saw as we drove along included several antelopes, many picas, giant (and I mean huge) hares, and a fox that was red on top, gray on its belly, and had a white tip of a tail.

We got into bush camp around 5:00. This was our highest elevation bush camp at over 4800 meters. I got very nervous about the temperature of this bush camp as the puddles as we approached still had a thin layer of ice on top by late afternoon.


It was a bit sunny as we set up camp and cooked dinner of vegetable stir fry with garlic and ginger. However, as the sun went down, it got very cold. I stood by the fire until about 9:00 and then tried to stay warm in my sleeping bag and tent.

Steps: 8,017

Wed, Oct 2

It was a very cold 30 degrees inside our tent this morning. There was even frost on the inside! Thank goodness for the thermal silk long underwear I bought before the trip. After a very quick breakfast, we left a little early for a full day of driving. We saw lots of wild donkeys, deer, and antelope along the way. We were still on the high plateau but with views of snowcapped mountains in the distance.

By late morning, we had another problem with stuff in the fuel line but luckily it took less than one hour to fix it this time. We stopped at a small shop and had instant noodles for lunch since the bread bought in Lhasa was going stale and we were trying to catch up time.

As the afternoon drew on, we got further into the desert and the Kunlun mountain range. We saw some green lakes because of damming and lots of solar panels in the desert. We arrived into the city of Golmud around 6:30. Golmud is a pleasant enough town, with wide clean streets and not alot of traffic. We set out to find the night market but there wasn’t much, so a few of us just bought some deep-fried things on skewers – tofu, meat, vegetable, and fish patties. We stopped at the supermarket on the way back to get something for the following breakfast.

Steps: 9,203

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