Our thanks to London based teacher Allan Cairns for this blog based on his recent 25 day school expedition to China and Eastern Tibet.
Setting off from Chengdu to cover the 230 km, and 3,200m in height up to Rilong took a four hour journey by minibus, through some spectacular views and what seemed like endless tunnels, some almost 9km long. We came into our base for the next day, having began our course of medication to assist with acclimatisation to the high altitude we now found ourselves in. Resting was enough for the rest of the day, and being particularly careful not to over exert ourselves in this new environment.
The following morning, we set off on our trial walk, climbing up to almost 4,000m, with the help of our guide, a 75-year-old Tibetan, in great shape, who oversaw our progress. The higher we got, the more impressive the views became. At this point, a few of the group came to the realisation, either through anxiety or illness, that they could not attempt the full trek to summit the fourth sister of Mount Siguniang (standing at over 5,000m. Leaving them in the guesthouse, the truncated group set off in an attempt to climb above the clouds.
The opening leg of the trek finished at a wonderful camp situated between two lakes, at around 3,800m. Here, we enjoyed some tremendous home cooking which warmed us up on a cold night. When we awoke, we found that our the outside of our tents had frozen solid! It didn't take long for the sun to beam out however, and it accompanied us on the next leg, climbing to 4,400m to see the picturesque Rhinoceros lake. Our guide for the day, Mr Hoang, kept us entertained with jolly singing, interspersed with a few renditions of a unique Tibetan dance.
Day three featured a drastic rise in height from our first camp between the lakes, where we made base camp (4,700m) in preparation for an early summit the next morning. An early night was necessary here as we awoke the next morning at 3am, affixing head torches and adorning several layers as we set off after breakfast, aiming to climb the remaining 500 or so metres which would take us to the top. We climbed through cloud to the snow topped peak of the mountain, pausing several times to catch our breath as the oxygen grew thinner and thinner. A helpful wire chain fence guided us the final 100 metres up, and as the sun brilliantly reflected off the surrounding peaks, we had made it. With safety concerns meaning that we could only linger for 15 minutes at the summit, we then began a hazardous descent through snow and ice. Here, our guides were indispensable, helping ensure that our footing was secure.
A brief rest back at base camp allowed full comprehension of what we'd just achieved, before we set off back for Rilong, camping gear all packed and carried by the mules which accompanied our expedition. Having the option to come back down the mountain on horseback or walk, depending on how much energy we had left, we made our separate choices. As we came back into the village, there was a feeling of elation. Looking back at the mountain we had climbed, it sunk it further. This had been a huge challenge, and it felt so good to say that we had managed to do it. Truly unforgettable!
To arrange your own school expedition to China to climb Mt Siguniang (or another of our fantastic adventures), then get in touch.