As a contrast to my recent discoveries about the outdoors, I sat down with Bryce Linden, who grew up hiking around Yunnan, to hear about his experiences.
What are your favorite places to hike in Yunnan?
Bi Luo Snow Mountain (photo by 驴妈妈)
The hike I did with my parents and Yujiang where we went over to the Bi Luo Xueshan (碧罗雪山). We went over to the Nujiang so that hike took 3 days and 2 nights. We basically drove up to Diqing to this old Portuguese church; we started there and hiked over the mountains and then down the other side and we got to the Nujiang. That hike was amazing because even though the landscape is similar, the foliage was completely different and there was a lot more wildlife.
Pictures by Bryce from the top of a snowy Cangshan in Winter 2018, where he camped
We’ve heard rumors that you bring a machete on hikes and that you carve your own path. Care to comment?
Oh, no! No, Cangshan’s forest is too thick for that! Once you reach a certain point, after the pine tree layer at about 10,000 up until maybe 12,000 or so, you have 2,000 feet of bamboo forest, and that is hard. There is no way you can push through that stuff! I mean, sure, you can hack it, but your arm’s gonna get tired. It just doesn’t work; it’s not as efficient as you think. And then when you go even higher you get to the azaleas and that’s even worse because those little bushes are hardy and really hard to cut, so no, I never really did any of that stuff.
Bryce at the peak!
Have you ever been scared on a hike?
I only felt scared like once when I was hiking on Malong feng. I don’t like hiking where if you slip you’re gonna die, you’ll do a couple somersaults and then… That just kind of scares me. I think when I hike by myself, I always take the most precautions and do what I can to minimize any sort of problems; I always bring more water than I need, I always have a certain deadline like a time when I always turn back, it doesn’t matter how close I am. I always say “Okay, I’m gonna turn back at this time.” I know if I come back beyond that I’m gonna come back in the dark. The main problem when people hike is that they don’t make one mistake, they make a number of mistakes. Remember when some of our staff got lost? That was on my mom’s birthday. Nala was with us on the hike.
“The Lost Hike”
I remember hearing about this but I don’t know any of the details. Tell me about it.
This was many years ago. There were a couple of the staff, Nala, my mom, and me. We were hiking above Zhoucheng, so we were hiking down from Xiaohuadianba (yes, this is on the same trail as my nightmare hike described in the first part of this article). There’s a road from Xiaohuadianba down to Zhoucheng, which is really bad and slippery. We were coming down that and we reached a fork by a hut and a little stream with some logs across the stream. The path just went straight, so my mom and I didn’t wait for the others there. We just went ahead because we were like “Okay this is very obvious, the path goes straight because we’re coming down. Go straight.” The path we were on was more traveled and we were thinking they obviously wouldn’t choose to cross the little stream, but I think they did. Then we stopped and went back and they weren’t there! Obviously they didn’t take the high road or the low road, they went to the little stream road. And then somehow they got wet, they fell in a stream or something and started to climb up and wound up on this cliff face. Nala was keeping them company. My mom and I got down the mountain and we came in to a surprise birthday party for my mom, and she had to tell Frank, “some of us are still on the mountain!” They used the GPS from one of their phones to track them, and some forest rangers went up and got them. They were down around 5am or so.
A note from Jeanee: For the record correction on Bryce’s account- we did not leave the staff behind. I like to believe I never would have left my team behind!
This is what happened-
I had slipped and was peeved that nobody was there to help me up. Eventually Bryce noticed I was behind and took the opportunity to hide in the bushes, jumping out to try and frighten me as I caught up (it didn’t work). We were following a flowing river bed so we did not rush this part. Nala had gone up ahead with the staff, strangely up to that part she had been with Bryce and me. In hindsight we thought it was prescient of her-maybe she sensed something was going to happen and she felt the need to protect the staff? Or maybe she just likes to be the lead dog!
At the fork in the road they accidentally took the wrong road and got turned around and lost in the woods.
Bryce hiking in Almaty, Kazakstan where he studied Russian this past summer
So the lesson here is make sure someone knows where you are?
Yeah and if you’re lost just stay where you are, but if you get off the trail, for example, and you stay where you are, then we’re probably not gonna find you. You can start yelling, but it’s hard to hear sometimes because the sound doesn’t travel very well. What baba (dad) likes to do, if we’re going down a path that isn’t promising, is to keep on going, but usually that doesn’t work because the path gets worse. Every time I’ve been in that situation and I turn around, I’ve saved time. It never makes sense to keep going if it doesn’t feel right. From hiking my whole life, I know when something doesn’t feel right; there’s no garbage, no poo–if it looks abandoned, like someone hasn’t walked here in a long time, it’s probably not good.
Have you done a lot of hiking on your own?
I started going up by myself when I was in middle school. In high school I would do one extreme hike a week, around 8 hours long. I’d always go by myself, because I’d get up really early and I’d bike to the destination and then I’d hike up. One time I biked to Wase and then I hiked up there, and that’s 35 miles. I would just throw my locked bike in the bushes and find the trail and go up.
A boy and his dog
One last question; do you have any general tips for beginner hikers like me?
I think that everybody should hike alone sometimes because hiking alone makes you think differently. You can’t rely on other people to help you, right? Sometimes you won’t have cell service and you can’t check your map or whatever, so you just think differently about things than you would if you were hiking with a group. Sometimes when you’re in a group you have one leader, and let’s say that person make a bad decision, but since you haven’t hiked alone and therefore don’t have the experience to sense that this isn’t a good decision, you simply follow instead of developing your own hiking skills. I think that that’s the difference between people who are experienced and people who aren’t. Hiking is walking, but it’s also about making decisions, especially when you’re going across uncharted terrain. You have to make the right decision at each point, and it helps to like have done that before, especially when you’re alone. You can’t simply follow, you can’t even debate; you have to decide yourself. So that’s something I would recommend in the beginning.
Red panda spotted on Cangshan
Things I learned from Bryce:
- If you get lost and/or split up and are not sure which way to go, stay in one place
- Make sure someone knows where you are
- If you’re at risk of coming down in the dark, turn around sooner rather than later
- Use Opencycle maps to find trails
- Don’t go down untraveled paths
- Don’t be afraid to go back if you think you’ve gone the wrong way! It’s safer to be on a path.
- Pick a spot on the mountain and just go up!
- [For Dali] Any place with graves will likely have a path; many locals also go up to pick pinecones
- You can see red pandas on Cangshan
- Go hiking on your own!
At first I didn’t take advantage of the hiking opportunities in Yunnan. Due to my urban upbringing, I’d never had any experience in the countryside. Also, I think I was scared of failing, falling in front of people, and showing a real weakness. This fear turned into avoidance of any attempt to spend time in nature. But now I’m starting to get it, the physical challenge, the incredible landscapes, and even the moments of struggle are all worth it. So if you’re not exactly the greatest outdoorsman, I’d recommend taking on a hike on your next trip to Yunnan. If 11-year-old Bryce can do it, and if I can do it, so can you. To get you started, here are some of my hiking recommendations:
May’s Guide to Yunnan Hikes:
- 中和寺Zhonghesi/感通寺Gantongsi/洗马潭Ximatan (The Cable Cars)
- Time: ~2 hours
- Difficulty: Easy-Medium
- Where to begin: If going up near Zhonghesi you can either take a horse trail up or the paved stone step path, the horse trail is a bit more pleasant and feels more like nature; if going up near Gantongsi the path is paved but follows a lovely mountain stream
- These hikes take you up to the Jade Belt Path, a paved stone path that covers 11 km of Cangshan
- Where to come down: where you started; a horse trail in the middle of the path; or at the Gantong/Zhonghesi cable car paths (walking). Alternatively, you can take any of the cable cars back down. For Ximatan (the midway cable car) you’ll have to hike up stairs from the Jade Belt path to get there.
- 宾川(Binchuan): 鸡足山(Jizushan – Chicken Foot Mountain) Hike
- Difficulty: Easy-Medium
- Time: 10 minutes (cable car) 2 hours (if you take the stairs) 2-3 days (if you hike over a ridge and up the back of the mountain)
- Where to begin: You have to pay an entrance fee and the bus/car should drop you at a place where you can either take a cart to the cable car or walk up. You can choose to walk up the steps or take the cable car up.
- If you decide to do the multi-day hike you can start from Xiaguan or Wase (it’s probably best to go with a guide who can also arrange where to stay)
- Notes: This mountain is considered holy for Buddhists and there are many amazing temples to visit. It’s a little bit out of the way, but it’s worth checking out the Huashou Gate to get good views of the mountain and temple.
- The mountain is also home to monkeys, feed at your own risk
- Time: 8-11 hours
- Difficulty: Hard
- Where to begin: Laping, Zhoucheng
- Notes: This hike involves two different alpine fields: 小花甸坝(Xiaohuadinba – “little,” higher), 大花甸坝(Dahuadianba – “big,” lower)
- It’s best to go with a guide who knows the road
- Things to see on the hike: alpine fields, sheep, yaks
- 电视台The T.V. Station
- Time: 8 hours-1 full day
- Difficulty: Hard
- Where to begin: If you go up behind the mountain behind the three pagodas, you’ll end up on a path that takes you high up the mountain.
- Notes: It’s probably best to go with a guide and be prepared for possible snow near the top
- 保山(Baoshan): 旧街(Jiu Jie) Old Growth Forest Hike
- Difficulty: Easy-Medium
- Where to begin: Get a driver to drop you off at the trail head (be prepared for a bumpy ride). Ask them to take you to “Jiu Jie Zi”. This hike takes you all the way to Tengchong if you do the whole path, roughly 11 hours. This is not a loop, it is just an out-and-back.
- Notes: don’t mind the bird photographers, who can be a bit grumpy. The path is a bit slippery, especially coming down on the rocks, so be careful.
- 保山(Baoshan): Waterfall Hike
- Difficulty: Medium
- Where to begin: The path near the 农家乐(Nong Jia Le) local inn
- Notes: this hike is gorgeous! Bring a suit if you want to take a swim in the hot spring; there’s a place to change!
- 香格里拉(Shangri-La): 虎跳峡 (Hu Tiao Xia)Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike
- Difficulty: Medium-Hard
- Where to begin: we started near the guesthouse, but some people spend multiple days on the trail and stay at guesthouses.
- Notes: Beware of the bends!
This is part 2 of my article on Hiking in Yunnan, check out part 1 here:
This article is part of our new column: Two PiA’s in a Pod:
Hi! We are Veronica and May, two recent graduates working at the Linden Centre as Princeton in Asia (PiA) fellows. May has been living and working in Xizhou as of September 2017, and Veronica arrived the following year. It’s very special that we get the opportunity to live in the Chinese countryside and integrate in the local community. Our daily interactions and routines are completely different from what we’re used to and it’s important to take the time to reflect deeply on our experiences and the lives of those who surround us. This column is an opportunity to do just that. We hope you enjoy!