Archive for the ‘Shimian’ Category

Camp No.04 at Hailuogou Glacier

Sunday, November 1st, 2015
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Getting off the “Sky Road” – Yaxi Expressway, and passing through the downtown of Shimian County (石棉县),  we steer our four-wheel drive vehicle north along the provincial road offcially known as “S211”.  It is a mountainous road with two lanes total ( one lane for each direction ), on the side of steep cliffs with frequent sharp turns and curves, and possibly falling stones and rocks. Much experienced Mr. Chen is  definiltey the right person to rein and tame his own white horse steadily on the road full of potential risks.

Shimian Moxi S211

A mountainous road with two lanes total on the side of steep cliffs.

Around 12:00 noon, October 07, 2015, we finally get to Moxi Town (磨西镇), safe and sound from the risky, not-easy-to-control provincial road “S211”. With our vehicle running into the streets of Moxi, we are a bit amazed at the sight of the mixed-style buildings flanking the streets, Tibetan and modern Han, clean though a bit touristy, slightly different from “the old Moxi Town” in our minds. Much delighted the town is the gateway to Hailuogou Glacier. So here we are!

Moxi Town

Moxi Town

We drive in the direction according to a huge signboard pointing to the “Hailuogou Service Center” where we are supposed to buy our today’s entrance tickets. With our vehicle parking in front of the service building, we lose no time in grapping a bite to eat and drink bottled water, then stride to the ticketing office.

Inside the service building, bombarded with Hailuogou tourist information, flyers and brochures, soon we find out a half day is far from enough for a highlight trip to Hailuogou Glacier. Apart from its magical glaciers, Hailuogou Glacier Park is well known for its pristine forests and hot springs. There are four viewing camps to visit in the park and shuttle buses are linked to Camps No.01, No.02 and No.03 while Camp N.04 is accessible by cable car starting from Camp No.03. Camp No.01 and Camp No.02 are mainly designed for viewing primeval forests and bathing in hot springs.

So we decide to go up to Camp No.04 (海螺沟4号营地) this afternoon and forget Camp No.01 and Camp No.02 since our aim is to see and touch glaciers. But we have to leave Camp No.03 (海螺沟3号营地) for tomorrow, which allows people to have the chance to be immersed in the real and magical glaciers, quite different from Camp No.04 where you are only able to have distant views of the glaciers.

Entrance ticket: 92 yuan; shuttle bus: 70 yuan and cable car ( from Camp No.03 to Camp No.04): 150 yuan ( return). Tomorrow we have to purchase again the tickets for entrance and shuttle bus ( No more cable car ). A bit exorbitant, right?  Yes, domestic admission fees rise year on year in many places!

Hailuogou Entrance

Hailuogou Main Gate and Shuttle Buses

The shuttle bus ride from the Service Center to Campsite No.03 ( where we change for cable car up to Campsite No.04) is much longer than we expect, almost one hour driving along the zigzag 30km road ascending from Moxi Town at 1600 meters up to Campsite No.03 at 2980 meters. Our local shuttle bus driver is very much adept at controlling the bus like a toy in his hands, quick and safe encounter with other buses at turns and curves.

In the course of the one hour drive, I flip over the flyers and brochures on hand to get aquainted with the basic knowledge of Hailuogou Glaciers (海螺沟冰川). Hailuogou (literally Conch Gully ) is situated in the southeast of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province, on the east slope of Mount Gongga (7556 meters ). Hailuogou Glacier is regarded as a low altitude modern oceanic glacier.  Also known as No.1 Glacier, Hailuogou Glacier is 14.7 km long ( the longest among the 71 glaciers on Mount Gongga) with highest height of 6750 meters and lowest 2850 meters.

Hailuogou Glacier ( No.01 Glacier ) has three cascading steps from high to low: 1) The First Step – Neve Basin (粒雪盆), or firn basin, granular snow, the upper part of the glacier, where it has not yet been compressed into ice; 2) The Second Step – Large Ice Fall (大冰瀑布),  500 to 1100 meters wide and 1080 high grand glacier cascade which is the highest and grandest icefall in China;  3) The Third Step: Glacier Tongue (冰川舌),  6 km long and penetrating into the pristine forest, forming a rare natural landscape with the mix of glacier and forest.

Camp No.04 Hailuogou Glacier

Our bus comes to a stop on the flat and spacious ground at Camp No.03

Our bus comes to a stop on the flat and spacious ground at Camp No.03 and a busload of us disperse. After a short break ( using a toilet or stretching a little bit ),  some go on hiking on Camp No.03 to look for the real and crystal glacier ice; others like us continue to take cable car up to Camp No.04 for a glimpse of the Grand Ice Cascade and Neve Basin on the top of the 14.7km long Hailuogou Glacier. We choose the latter and leave the search at Camp No.03 for the glacier ice for tomorrow.

Hailuogou Cable Car

A 6 seated cable car

Carrying our camera backpacks, we walk to the ropeway station. The 3500-meter long alpine ropeway, one of the longest of this kind in China, spans the core zone of Hailuogou Glacier,  crossing the glacier valley and allowing us to see through the transparent alpine  cable car and view the endless primeval forests and the surfaces of glaciers covered with dirt, dust, sand and river stones.

Hailuogou Glacier viewed from our cable car

Hailuogou Glacier Valley viewed from our cable car

A little bit disappointed at the somewhat black surfaces of the glaciers valley, covered with dirt, soil and other materials. The “glacier” comes from the French word “glace” ( glah-say ), meaning “Ice”. A glacier is a huge mass of ice that moves slowly over land.  There are two kinds of glaciers: alpine glaciers and ice sheets.  Hailuogou belongs to alpine glaciers that move from mountainsides downward through valleys.

Getting onto Camp No.04 shrouded by fog and clouds,  we suddenly realize that viewing the Grand Ice Fall or Firn Basin is contingent with weather conditions! In the case of inclement weather ( rain, fog, overcast), the top two steps of the glaciers – Firn Basin and Great Ice Fall are shrouded in fog or clouds, sometime even the whole glacier valley submerged in clouds!

Observation Deck at Camp No.04 of Hailuogou Glacier

Observation Deck at Camp No.04 of Hailuogou Glacier

Upon our arrival on the observation deck at sea-level 3600 meters, we find most of the glacier valley and the top firn basin and the great ice fall are partially covered by clouds. What we can do is to wait for clouds to disperse or the sun to appear. Though a slight chance, we don’t give up and try to grasp any moment to have a  glimpse into the true faces of the glaciers.

Suddenly the sky turns a bit bluer and brighter, and the clouds over the second step of the glacier are lifted and the Great Ice Fall appears!

Grand Ice Cascade

The clouds over the second step of the galcier are lifted

I lose no time changing for my long-range zoom camera lens and shoot a clear photo of the Great Ice Fall.

Hailuogou Grand Ice Fall

Zoomed-in photo of the Grand Ice Fall

Shortly the top part of the clouds over the Firn basin also thins out and the Firn basin becomes transparent with sunlights passing through the clouds. Good luck follows us and we are able to view the top part of Hailuogou Glacier – the Firn Basin,  granular snow, the upper part of the glacier, where it has not yet been compressed into ice.

Firn Basin of Hailuogou

A zoomed-in picture of the Firn Basin and the Grand Ice Fall


A zoomed-in picture of the Firn Basin

A zoomed-in picture of the Firn Basin

People make use of the momentary blue sky to snap multiple pictures and do selfie as well. Within less than half hour, clouds come close again and gradually blanket the Firn Basin and the Grand Cascade Icefall. It again looks grey and gloomy.

I see  a lot that I cannot see clearly with my own eyes thanks to my long-range zoom camera lens.

Long-range zoom camera lens

My long-range zoom camera lens help us a lot

Pointing at the glacier valley below,  I zoom in the glacier ice for a close-up view,  glacier mass ice and ice caves. It is said that Camp No.03 is the ideal place to find clean and crystal glacier ice.

 glacier mass ice and ice caves

glacier mass ice and ice caves

People do selfie with a backdrop of white clouds and blue sky.

Selfie on Observation Deck at Hailuogou Glacier

Selfie on Observation Deck at Camp No.04 in Hailuogou Glacier

We are much luckier having viewed the Firn Baisin, the Great Ice Fall as well as the glacier valley while quite a number of tourists see nothing due to the heavy fog and clouds capping the whole Hailuogou glacier valley.  Content with what we have seen,  we take the cable car down back to Camp No.03 where we change for shuttle bus again back to Moxi Town.

Just an anecdote about Mr. Chen, my self-drive travel buddy ( a former English teacher at a military academy ) : He looks a bit confused, carrying three cameras.


Mr. Chen, my self-drive travel buddy

Any questions on Camp No.04 of Hailuogou Glacier,  just drop a line.

Add-on: Camp No.03 of Hailuogou Glacier.

Most Beautiful Sky Road in China

Friday, October 30th, 2015
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Ya’an (雅安) is our transit springboard to further explore the West Sichuan. Our today’s destination is Hailuogou Glacier Park ( 海螺沟冰川森林公园). We are supposed to reach Moxi Town (磨西镇) from Ya’an by noon, an approx. 300 km drive and then start up our visit to Hailuogou Glacier on the same day. Moxi Old Town is the gateway to Hailuogou Glacier and Mount Gongga (贡嘎山). Moxi is a town in Luding County in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan.

Before setting off for Moxi Town,  I stride to a viewing spot protruding a bit into the wide Qingyi River (青衣江) where I snap a clear picture of the huge covered bridge not far from our ibis downtown hotel Ya’an. It is a wide bridge topped by 2-3 storey buildings with typical roof tile eaves of Chinese traditional architectural style, a seemingly busy city hub for dining, shopping and recreation.

Ya'an Covered Bridge

Ya’an Covered Bridge

Still intoxicated by the beauty of the bridge and the layers of buildings cascading down the hillsides on both sides of the river valley, I hear Mr. Chen calling my name urging me to get on and go.

Mr. Chen takes most of the driving  on our West Sichuan trip. He tells me that today we”ll drive along Yaxi Expressway (雅西高速) which is lauded as the most beautiful “Sky Road” in China! Really? Why “Sky Road”? Feeling I’m still skeptical of the “Sky Road”, he suggests me searching online for Yaxi Expressway.

Oh, my God! A good amount of information on “China Sky Road” instantly appears before eyes. Yaxi Expressway starts from Ya’an and ends at Xichang (西昌),  a section of Beijing-Kunming highway, 240km long and a ladderlike road “leading to the sky”.  The “leading to the sky” here has two meanings – 1) The 240km expressway is made of 270 viaducts,  an elevated roadway that stretches 240 kilometers, designed to minimize impact on the environment and driving on the numerous viaducts makes people feel like driving in the air; 2) For driving each kilometer, we ascends by 7.5 meters along the expressway. There are also 25 spiral tunnels used to reduce the effect on mountains. The construction of Yaxi Expressway took 5 years and opened to traffic in April 2012.

The “Sky Road” is really a boon on a seemingly monotonous drive from Ya’an to Moxi Old Town.  We don’t drive the whole Yaxi Expressway and we will get off  Yaxi expressway at Shimian (石棉县), then turn to the north along the provincial highway S211 to the direction of Moxi Town.

Drive from Ya'an to Shimian

Drive from Ya’an to Shimian

While still overjoyed at the timely blessing, I’m kindly advised by Mr. Chen to the effect that among the 300km drive, for the first 200km, we have the luck to experience the so-called most beautiful “Sky Road” in China, but for the rest of the 100 km, we”ll face the tough challenge driving past narrow mountainous roads sided by risky and steep cliffs with the possible falling stones and rocks. It looks like both a gift and ordeal from God to test us. So let’s go!

Overcast, we have a gloomy morning, without white clouds and azure sky, but not too bad, it allows us to have the effect of viewing Chinese paintings in black and white framed on route.

viewing Chinese paintings in black and white framed on route.

Viewing Chinese paintings in black and white framed on route.

Driving along the elevated highways high above the valleys and through the tunnels, we are excited and thrilled at the pristine beauty of the scenes flying past. The famous Dadu River (大渡河) accompanies us snaking parallel to the highway for most of the drive trip.

Yaxi Highway

Drive on the elevated highway

Nearly all Chinese know about Dadu River due to the famous heroic legend “Seizing of the Luding Bridge” in the course of the Long March in May 1935 and we will talk about it later. Dadu River is 1062 km long, the large tributary of Min River (岷江) which is in turn the largest tributary of Yangzte River. Within Dadu River basin, there are rich tourist resources including the historical site of “Seizing of the Luding Bridge”, Mt. Emei, Hailuogou Glacier and Mount Gongga.

Dadu River

Dadu River (大渡河) accompanies us snaking parallel to the highway

The 25 tunnels on Yaxi Expressway have greatly shortned the drive distance in the mountainous areas. The tunnels are deep and long. For example, Nibashan tunnel has a depth of 1,650 meters and a length of 9,962 meters on the left line and 10,007 on the right line, lit brightly and driving safe.

Yaxi Expressway Tunnels

The 25 tunnels on Yaxi Expressway have greatly shortned the drive distance

The relaxing and leisure 2-hour drive ends at Shimian Service Area (石棉服务区).  We take a short break in the service stop, relaxed and recharged, ready for next leg of the mountainous trip – Driving along S211 and getting to our destination today – Moxi Old Town ( Hailuogou Glacier ). So we get off Yaxi Expressway and enter S211 ( a provincial road ) leading to Moxi Old Town.

Shimian Service Area

Shimian Service Area

Any questions on ” Sky Road”, just drop  a line.