Amne Machin Farewell – A Descent

Early morning wind upon an Amne Machin ridge

Looking at the sky we see fierce white monotones and wind’s power, below in front of us on the earth lies a different story.

A last time for securing our gear on the yak. Our morning of departure

An avalanche’s disintegrating power has rearranged the land in front of us. A brutal black surge of turned earth, stones and newly formed shaped forms that stretch kilometres across the valley.

The results of an avalanche rearranging the landscape

It has only served to enhance in many ways an already formidable scene. Five years earlier Amne Machin released a colossal chunk of itself upon the land below and we are now grinding our way over this ‘reconstructed’ surface.

One of the memorable views we have on our last day of kora

We, for the first time on this portion of our journey, are steadily descending and with this knowledge comes an exhausted nostalgia and a twinge of sadness – we are exiting the main protective body of the Amne Machin range which fades to our right. ‘Civilization’ is coming closer step by step, though admittedly we still have much distance to cover…Michael is feeling this glumness as well. I am doing everything in my limited mental powers to stay in each progressive moment and not to let the mind jump ahead out of the now. I keep wondering at how we came to this point, where we are about to end….

Our caravan making its way out of the main Nom'sho valley

After packing up our camp for the last time there is a simmering of finality.
One of the more masochistic pleasures of expeditions within mountain abodes is that after a time the harsh beauties of the elements reconfigure the body and mindscape and everything in its simple way works. A groove is reached where one can continue indefinitely and this is only enhanced when travel partners are on that similar thread of ability and thought. Michael in his month along this journey has gone from a precisely trained endurance athlete to something more akin to a ‘grinder’. These elements, at these altitudes necessitate a test of the self more completely than any other – this is of course my very bias touch here. In the words of a nomad, “mountains draw the self out”.

Leaving the main Keersh Gul valley

Descents are most often when the body’s subtle complaints remind one that they do exist. The charge and blood inducing high of ascending has passed and now the earth and all of its trials and menial concerns beckon one back inevitably. Yes, mountains are an escape, but they are an escape that hit one’s morphology, one’s psychology and that nameless thing in the body that sings of something divine. It is something beyond, right here on earth.

Looking back from where we came...before climbing out of the valley

The yaks seem impatient to get home pushing ahead, as strong and steady as ever. Peaks become rounded hills, and the snowline dissipates as we continue. We are descending through a valley that splits the highlands and even the air around us is somehow diminishing in power.

Our stout mates for the entire trip - no better transport method, anywhere

Along a frozen river we tread, heading directly northwest now, metres of thick ice under our feet. A small batch of winter mud huts rest along the river’s watershed edge and pockets of life are springing up. I am almost dreading the return…it is the normal feeling for me, as I view this more as a departure than an arrival – a departure from the fortifying gifts of the mountains.

Our little terrier’s energy, however, has not for a moment diminished on the entire journey, with his nose dominating all he does. He is no doubt considering the meals and bit of rest and relaxation that he will be taking in.

Following in Gamzon's very competent strides...and that of her animals

Gamzon, our champion of silent competence is unchanged as well, but tells us that we will stop for tea at her sister’s home. Her voice leaves no room to question the wisdom; it is as close to an order as she has ever uttered to us.

Staggering view, sorry to leave...

Michael and his dark beard of red is starting to look the part of a ruffian and indeed our whole unit has taken on a competency and understanding of eachother…as well as a battle ready countenance.

Breaking through a valley we come upon our old friend the Nam River – surely the dilapidated town of Xiadawu, where we began this week long circumnavigation of Amne Machin, cannot be far. It isn’t.

Re-entering the town of Xiadawu via the Nam River

Gamzon and the yaks cross the ice-cold river and Michael and I must cross the thigh deep flow carefully. Our feet take only a minute to dry in the wind and sunbeams.
Coming up out of the valley we catch a glimpse of the town and it sinks in that this is the end, for now.

Sitting in a neat and tidy home thirty minutes later, Michael and I sit opposite one another with a table of biscuits, homemade bread and sweets between us. For the first time in a week we are holding glass mugs again, rather than our ‘do-it-all’ bowls.

Michael sitting for the first time in a week something other than frozen ground

We are both silent, and I feel in me a longing to bolt back into the mountains’ sanctity. A last night spent in the village with locals and a huge meal….tomorrow begins for us the slow and inevitable return to the provincial capital of Xining and a number of thermoses of tea to throw back, just to stay sane.

Jeffers trying very hard to remain seated indoors...the urge to bolt was only kept down by the mug of tea in hand

Thanks for following along and hope we were able to provide a little hint of colour to the fabled tsa’lam, the route of salt. I will be posting information about upcoming articles about this expedition in select publications as they become available. More tea and mountain blogs to follow as ultimately, this still remains a site for Asia’s ancient fluid and the peaks.


About JeffFuchs

Bio Having lived for most of the past decade in Asia, Fuchs’ work has centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories with an obsessive interest in tea. His photos and stories have appeared on three continents in award-winning publications Kyoto Journal, TRVL, and Outpost Magazine, as well as The Spanish Expedition Society, The Earth, Silkroad Foundation, The China Post Newspaper, The Toronto Star, The South China Morning Post and Traveler amongst others. Various pieces of his work are part of private collections in Europe, North America and Asia and he serves as the Asian Editor at Large for Canada’s award-winning Outpost magazine. Fuchs is the Wild China Explorer of the Year for 2011 for sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes. He recently completed a month long expedition a previously undocumented ancient nomadic salt route at 4,000 metres becoming the first westerner to travel the Tsa’lam ‘salt road’ through Qinghai. Fuchs has written on indigenous perspectives for UNESCO, and has having consulted for National Geographic. Fuchs is a member of the fabled Explorers Club, which supports sustainable exploration and research. Jeff has worked with schools and universities, giving talks on both the importance of oral traditions, tea and mountain cultures. He has spoken to the prestigious Spanish Geographic Society in Madrid on culture and trade through the Himalayas and his sold out talk at the Museum of Nature in Canada focused on the enduring importance of oral narratives and the Himalayan trade routes. His recently released book ‘The Ancient Tea Horse Road’ (Penguin-Viking Publishers) details his 8-month groundbreaking journey traveling and chronicling one of the world’s great trade routes, The Tea Horse Road. Fuchs is the first westerner to have completed the entire route stretching almost six thousand kilometers through the Himalayas a dozen cultures. He makes his home in ‘Shangrila’, northwestern Yunnan upon the eastern extension of the Himalayan range where tea and mountains abound; and where he leads expeditions the award winning ‘Tea Horse Road Journey’ with Wild China along portions of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. To keep fueled up for life Fuchs co-founded JalamTeas which keeps him deep in the green while high in the hills.
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7 Responses to Amne Machin Farewell – A Descent

  1. Peter says:

    A wonderful story, well-told, with stunningly beautiful photographs to boot.

    Thanks Jeff for your stories and observations during this amazing trek.

    Best wishes,

  2. Howard Diner says:

    Thanks for letting me share the journey with you.

  3. Pingback: Blog posts from Mei Zhang and others about China travel - WildChina

  4. David Turberfield says:

    Another stunning and inspiring adventure Jeff – good to see you are all safe and sound, although I imagine it won’t be long before you are off once more. Keep us posted! All the best. Dave

    • JeffFuchs says:

      Will keep you posted. Hope your own journeys with the clan continue to go well….and that the odd bit of tea is picking up the energy when needed. Travel well and regards to those titans of personality – your kids.

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