Late September 2006Banjifeng Base Camp is about nine hours North of Chengdu via roads varying in quality. There is an urgency in the pace of construction leading one to believe the pristine, untouched days are numbered. At 3500 m, Base Camp has the look of a car dealership with a huge parking lot, buildings with granite tile floors, and white tile ceilings. The plumbing and electrical facilities are not yet in keeping with this quality. The restaurant and assembly building is staffed by about 7 young women who serve large meals. At night, they dance. For special occasions, they don the dress of the local Tibetans. They cook their food over a wood fire. Water is always delivered boiling, requiring one to carry a thermos.
The hike to Camp One, is through a virtually untouched cloud forest. Moss shrouds everything, spanish moss hangs from the trees, and water features are everywhere. Bird calls are heard. The way is steep, muddy, and often foggy. The days I was there, late September, the cloud cover would only open for 5 or so minutes each day, around 0700. An amazing time. Like the old Chinese prints, of nearly vertical mountains rising into the fog with waterfalls of 300 meter descents. The treeline is reached at 4000 m. The vegetation changes quickly at that zone. Fantastically twisted shrubs about 5 m in height. Then abruptly, all vegetation above knee height ends. The trail, due to sparseness of use, is not well visible. There are sections that are marked. The massive rainfall enables the vegetation to quickly overtake it. A pack raincover is recommended to reduce snags.
Above the treeline, the way is still steep, muddy, an even more slippery due to wet grass. I was happy with my trekking poles, others using their ice axes.
At 4500 m Camp One is reached. On a beautiful ledge, completely surrounded by a cirque of rock faces and snow capped peaks when not obscured by fog and rain. Climbers will require a guide since the way is not always obvious and frequently in heavy fog which comes quickly. At upper elevations, the rain is snow and 2 cm snow was received in Camp 1 one night. I didn’t see the mountain itself until the fourth day.
Camp 2 is perched at 5000 m on the glacier. It is very dangerous, overhanging a cliff. It had plenty of fresh snow. The way to the summit, 5430 m, is achieved via a ridge. This is frequently exposed rock.
I got sick at Camp 1 and was unable to overcome it and continue. Additionally, my clothes got soaked due to lengthy, sudden and prolonged trips outside in the pouring rain. I stayed an extra day in Camp 1 as the party moved to the higher camp hoping to get better and dry out. The ear infection alone, having upset my balance made it dangerous to continue up. At Camp 2, they had their own problems due to the heavy fresh snow and would not have been able to send someone down to guide me up. They did however, via SAT phone, arrange to have a taxi waiting at base camp. Still wearing my muddy wet clothes, I moved rapidly across that part of China from taxi to taxi to bus, my progress speeded by 100 kuai tips. I went from Camp 1 at 0800 to Chengdu at 2000.
The people I met were extremely hospitable. I could not, however, imagine attempting this without a working knowledge of Mandarin. Most mountaineers already have the requisite strong stomach. Both are necessary to chew Yak meat while making plans as the rain pours outside at 4500 meters.
The mountain is not well known in the west. I went up with Ma Yihua and AAIC. I contacted them through http://www.camptour.com/climb/banjifeng.htm.
Why do we climb? The mountains of the world are peopled by ethnics in exotic outfits, driven to the land no one else wants. There are wonderful animals, vegetation and scenery. We need to push ourselves to our limits and beyond. We want that rush of constantly being close to the edge. We go to one of the earths extremes. Banjifeng has all these qualities. Though the steepness and logistical factors make this not an entry level mountain, its relatively low summit makes it achievable in about 6 days. For the mountaineer with little time, working knowledge of Mandarin, and full range of mountaineering skills it is perfect.