Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 13


Chapter 13. Exploring the Mountains near Lijiang

A banquet — early summer flowers on Mount Yulong Shan — a viewpoint at 4500m — the giant face of the main peak and its glacier — symptoms of mountain sickness — Mount Yao Shan near Ganhaizi — the moraine cirque and the Luoqu gorge

In Lijiang I again enjoyed enthusiastic help from the Dutch missionary A. Kok. He advanced money when my remittances failed to arrive punctually, he introduced me to the new district official, with whom he was on excellent terms, and — most important of all — he promised to take regular barometer readings as a basis for correcting the altitude observations taken on my subsequent journeys. Unfortunately he was not able to carry out this task for the whole period, and the altitude observations taken in the Mekong and Doker-la districts in 1915 were not corrected against his readings. Through the good offices of one of his men I was able to take colour photographs of three pure-blooded Tibetans from Qagcheng (Xiangcheng in Chinese), members of the notorious tribe whose lamas had plotted the murder in 1915 of Pere Th. Monbeig, a missionary with an interest in botany. Tibetans are reluctant to allow their photographs to be taken, and this prejudice is not easy to overcome as they believe that being photographed will "extract the soul from the body". The district official was a highly intelligent youngish man, a law graduate of Tokyo University, versed in European manners though having no command of any Western language, but still wholly Chinese in his ideas on the administration of justice: he had not progressed beyond the idea of extracting confessions by flogging. He at once invited Kok and me together with some Chinese friends and officials to a banquet at 9 o'clock in the morning. The two of us arrived at 9.30 and were of course the first.

"Yes", he said "if you make an appointment with a European for 9 o'clock, he will be there on the dot, but you'll have to send for your Chinese guests at 10 o'clock".

It was the best Chinese meal of which I ever partook, though my appetite was rather spoilt by the sight of the head cook, a dirty ragged coolie who appeared now and then at the door. The meal began with pastries and bottled fruit and Chinese macaroni with salt and pepper, both set out on little tables along the walk; then the following cold dishes, served simultaneously on a large table in the middle of the room; candy sugar, chicken livers and chicken skin, wheat porridge, pig's liver with turnips, honey cakes, chicken gizzard with cabbage, pumpkin seeds, duck eggs with ham, ginger sauce and paprika; then a number of hot dishes, served in succession: catfish, roast chicken in fat, two kinds of lake fish, seaweed with eggs, two sorts of pastries, sweet rice-meal sauce, and rice wine to drink and finally tea, accompanied by bean curd, "Mixed Pickles" and rice.

The people of Lijiang were somewhat excited and restless. The dujun had ordered soldiers to be levied, and as the Naxi people had the reputation of being quiet and submissive he planned to raise large numbers from the Lijiang district. The official divided the district into twenty parts and called for twenty recruits from each. But there was a "professor" who took a stand against the levy and had notices posted to the effect that the number of soldiers required was only two hundred instead of four hundred, and that the rest of them should go home. As might be expected, all of them reckoned themselves as being unwanted and set off for their homes. There was even talk of setting fire to the yamen, but the official got wind of it and had the professor put behind bars. All was then quiet. These events did nothing to create hostility towards ifor-eigners; on the contrary, many sought to enter their service so as to escape the levy.

As my tent had still not arrived, I at first planned to climb Yao-Shan, easily accessible via Ganhiai-zi, so as to make a survey. We should have to start from Ganhaizi before dawn to photograph the western side of the snow-capped range before the summits became veiled by cloud. I disclosed my plan to the prefect and he sent two soldiers to accompany me, but they made themselves a nuisance by their idiotic conduct On one occasion a Tibetan caravan was approaching us along the road, which here on the plain was wide enough to take thiree 'horses abreast They halted it by holding up their rifle butts. The horses recoiled in terror, tunned sideways and finally got jammed in an inextricable tangle which blocked the entire roadway. Such anttics helped no one, and it was only when I refused to tolerate their misconduct and ordered them to let the Tibetans pass by in peace that I was able to resume my own course along the road without being pushed into the rose hedges. In any case the Tibetans, being well mannered and experienced travellers, were always willing to give way and would, if necessairy, turn back along the track for a considerable distance.

Next morning Ganhaizi was shrouded in mist and rain and I had to withdraw, my aim unachieved, but I had at least got to know the first part of the main road to Zhongdian and enjoyed the flora of the pine heath — chiefly Roscoea and Iris, now in flower — and the abundant shrub vegetation, notably the tall Indigofera pendula with long lax racemes of haind-some blossoms in a delicate shade of pink hangiing down over the sunken road. In the splendid meadow near the lake, where I had seen Rimula vialii the year before, hardly anything was yet in flower.

On 4th June I went again to Nguluke and mowed into Schneider's former dwelling, a low and ill-ventilated attic, dimly lit by two of his photographic plates scraped clean and fitted into the roof as skylights. I was received with great friendliness, but when Li arrived he met with general consternation and black looks. I resolved to keep a closer eye on his activities so that he would have no opportunity of doing anything which might upset my good relations with the villagers. He must have had an uneasy conscience from the previous year, otherwise he would not have kept the main gate into the yard closed at all times; even the side gate he opened only on request. The Naxi villagers of Nguluke were indeed no longer the same as they had been when Forrest first arrived eleven years earlier. They were traders and horse copers — apart from farming, their [p.63:] main occupation was now the rearing of horses and mules, though they made no attempt at selective breeding — and towards botanists their attitude had become more mercenary. In 1914 Li's wrongdoings had goaded them to such a pitch that they had apparently voiced the intention of attacking Schnei-der one e/ening and giving him a beating, though Kok talked them out of it by reminding them of the far more severe beating which they would then receive in the yamen. Li had made himself objectionable in several ways. Goods which they did not wish to sell he simply snatched from them without paying; he forced his attentions on a Chinese woman living in the village, he smoked opium and committed variois other offences, for all of which the villagers telieved that his master must be largely to blame.

This year, as in 1914, most of my forays up the flanks of the mountain ended in pouring rain. The subalpine meadows at 3500m, later to be covered by the tall, lush Stmbilanthes versicolor, were still adorned by several species with large and sumptuous flowers —the low growing scarlet Incarvillea grandiflora, the blue Meconopsis delavayi and the curious Roscoea cautleioides together with various inconspicuous crucifers and other plants growing among a small sedge, Cobresia curvimstris. Lilacs and other shrubs were flowering at their margins and in the woods were several species of lady's slipper orchid, among them the dainty Cypcipedium ebracteatum growing in deep moss. It has two large, almost circular leaves spotted with brown, flattened against the ground, and between them it puts forth a succulent, waxy blossom speckled and striped with purplish brown (Fig.22). The Autochrome plates produced a faultless picture, even though the guarantee had expired fifteen months before. The hollow in which it was growing ran down from a rock face riven by a deep cleft, which was in fact a pothole washed smooth and rounded by water, visible from afar as a black void among the bushes. By staking out a measured baseline on the gravel plain of the former lake bed below the village I achieved a triangulation survey of the range, and at last obtained accurate altitudes for the summits; my figure for the nearer (south) main peak, Satseto, was 5450m [note #65: The height is now considered to be 5596m.]. Above the village, far above the cleft just described, was a tall rock face running obliquely across the steep slope; from what I recalled of Forrest's description it should be a good place for flower hunting. A woodcutter's track, each foothold separately hewn out, led steeply uphill from the south to its upper edge, and from there we saw the Lijiang plain spread out like a map at our feet From the top the path went straight down the rock face, which was clothed with shrubs, notably Daphne aurantiaca, a small, densely branched bush with numerous egg-yolk yellow flowers, moulding itself against the rocks, its stems often compressed into flat bands. Growing in large numbers among the bushes was the scarlet-flowered Roscoea chamaeleon, the finest of its genus. By midday I was down at the village again, and that evening, as promised, the district official came out accompanied by Kok. By taking advantage of my activities, he hoped to get a view of his Yulong Shan from close quarters.

He brought fine weather with him, and on the morning of llth June the sky was clear. Escorted by a large party we rode up through pine woods to the "great meadow", as we usually called it (Ndwolo), through a band of firs, then up a steep grassy slope with patches of bamboo, threading our way between rock outcrops along a stream until we came out above a huge rock mass shaped like a man's head, a landmark visible from far and wide. Beside it was the source of the streamlet The stones were padded with cushions of moss which I had already collected in 1914. However, I gathered further material, notably the crinkly-leaved Ptychomitrium tortula with clusters of short-stalked spore capsules, with the purpose of distributing. herbarium specimens of these splendid examples of the local mosses and — for the first time, I may say — of drawing the attention of botanists to the rich cryptogam flora of south west China, since its phytogeographical importance is no less than that of the flowering plants, which have already been studied by several research workers.

Up there, at 3700m, we dismounted at the edge of a tarn surrounded by boulders overgrown with spiraeas, berberis and honeysuckles together with a luxuriance of herbaceous plants. I discarded my heavy leather gaiters and, after checking that none of us had picked up any of the leeches which had already attached themselves to the horses' pasterns and the men's bare feet, we resumed the ascent on foot. Soon the last fir trees were below us, and we were climbing up steep grassy slopes between limestone crags. (My a few flowers were open yet, but these were exceptionally gorgeous: Primula secundiflora with dense umbels of pendent blooms of deep carmine, P. sinopurpurea, similar but with purple flowers, the large yellow flowers of Meconopsis integrtfolia and, in loose scree, the yellowish green bells, flecked with red and suffused with violet of Fritillaria delavayi The higher we climbed, the finer was the view of the green plain of Lijiang, with the neat brown timber houses of the Naxi villages scattered among hedges, the town itself with limewashed houses between its two hills, and beyond it the gleaming white obelisk erected beside the road from Heqing on the apex of a low spur projecting into the plain. Range upon range, the mountains rose up higher and higher as far as Ji Shan and Gang Shan near Dali, and indeed far beyond, though there they were of lower altitude and less jagged outline. On rock faces the larger rhododendrons of the tree-line were still in flower (R. adenogynum), and spilling out of the crevices were rough-leaved cushions of a crucifer, Solms-Laubachia pulchemma, studded with large pale blue flowers. Naturally I had to instruct the official in the elementary principles of mountaineering — not to talk continuously while ascending and other rules which we take for granted. He was soon far in the rear, assisted by a soldier who unwound his head-band and used it to tow him uphill. After entering the cirque (Pelchua) behind Hosayigo peak, a towering white scree-skirted trapezoid which belongs to the parallel chain close to the eastern side of the main [p.64:] range, I lost sight of him and of the entire landscape below me. I could no longer see far ahead since the sky had clouded over and the high crests were hidden by mist However, I was not willing to abandon my plan and climbed onwards in the direction which Forrest had indicated in his description. I soon came to snow, still unthawed from this level upwards. Wu Suolong's feet, shod only with straw sandals, began to freeze and he turned back, wishing me joy for the rest of the day. While I climbed up to the next crest — the northern border of the cirque — the official sat down to eat; nevertheless he had guts and soon resumed the climb, still towed by the soldier.

Another plod through the snow, and at midday I reached my goal. Reclining on the slabs of a sharp crest beneath a rock tower, we gazed down into a giddy abyss in which we saw the cleft and fissured snout of a glacier, with moraines running steeply down from it, a tiny round green glacial tarn, and the last black straggling lines of firs in the Luoqu gorge, which separated our viewpoint at 4500m from the main summit, Satseto (Fig. 20). The mist continued to rise and fall; sometimes it revealed glimpses of an immense rock face opposite us, but sometimes it engulfed us entirely and hail pelted down. Would, it lift and unveil Satseto in its entirety, if only for a few moments, and allow me to make a permanent photographic record of that splendid high alpine scene? The camera was screwed on to my ice axe ready for action and would need only minor adjustments to frame the picture as soon as the mist cleared. Tension mounted; would it remain persistently obscured, as it had been that morning when I was low down? Would I have to make die ascent again, with no greater certainty of success? Before long Kok arrived, followed more than an hour later by the official, still being towed. Once again he brought good fortune: after a few minutes die mist lifted and unveiled, from top to toe, one of the most splendid mountain views that mortal eye has ever looked upon. Directly opposite, barely more than a kilometre distant, the south face of Satseto, 1800m in height, rose up almost vertically before us, grey and fissured, marked only by a few flecks of yellow-brown or black. Hanging glaciers clung to every ledge and recess, the lowermost split by crevasses into gigantic ice blocks. Above the precipice was a steeply sloping basin of permanent snow; beyond that gleamed the ice domes and pinnacles of the crest wreathed by wisps of cloud, and high above them the peak itself, a superb white cone crowned by snow cornices. The summit ridge swept down to the left in a series of curves to join Unliipe, a jagged rock chain merely 5000m high, which curved round to the south east to bound the Pelchua cirque and tumbled down in a mighty precipice to the right towards the rocky pinnacle of Qialoko, which stuck out far towards the east Almost without a pause, ice avalanches and falling rocks thundered down the cliffs, while little waterfalls threw themselves over high rock steps from the left into the gorge.

The natural forces which build the mountains of the earth do not yet permit Yulong Shan the majestic calm of an ancient alpine range, for the mountain is not finally shaped and completed. It belongs to the "land of deep corrosions" [fig.66: This phrase is the title of the last chapter of Frank Kingdon Ward's book The Land of the Blue Poppy, Cambridge, 1913.] where erosion and reconstruction are still as active as they were in tthe Alps after the ice age, though indeed for other reasons. From the point where we stood the roick face plunged vertically down into the gorge in an unbroken drop of 800m, traversed only by a fiew fissures. Our men voiced their awe and wonder in astonished shouts of "Oi oi oi" which blended into a somewhat discordant chorus. We were indeed a strange assortment of races, though representative of this part of China: a Dutchman, a German, Chinesse, Naxi, Bai and Xifan. Before starting the descend I took another photograph of the view to the east, so as to have a record from this side of the moraine cirque spread out beyond the gorge. A second amd larger depression extends, sharply demarcated, into the low ridge which runs parallel to the snow range, to the east of Baishuibazi and the Baisha plain; it may well owe its origin to an even older glaciial tongue. We climbed down swiftly, and found our horses waiting for us on the "great meadow". Ho'w-ever, I had sent mine all the way back and by making a faster descent on foot I partially escapted the hailstorm which soaked the rest of the party. The official was rescued — though too late — and givem a meal in the little temple at the village. I had invited the guests to join me in my attic room, but so muich rain streamed in through the roof that straw had to be heaped on the floor to mop up some at least of the pools of water. All of us felt the after-effects of the thin mountain air in the form of headache or tightness in the head, which was still quite perceptti-ble though no longer really unpleasant For weeks afterwards everybody in Lijiang talked about Ithe heroic deed of then- prefect, who — though no one knew quite why — had climbed the mountain on foot However, I now recognized more clearly than ewer that any attempt to reach the summit would be practicable only when perfect weather could be relied upon, in other words in late autumn, but by then deep snow would probably make it impossible to pitch camp at a sufficient altitude and might imperil the success of the whole enterprise.

Next morning the official was called upon to settle a legal dispute. The villagers of Ngululke wanted to build a mill on their land beside a stream which, further down, flowed through Baisha, but Ithe people of Baisha would not agree to this, since they earned part of their living by grinding corn for Nguluke as well as their own. As the official set out, accompanied by about half the population of Ithe village, to view the locality, some people from Baisha came and asked him to postpone die inspection until he had visited their village. What they wanted, of course, was to offer him a better m<eal than the people of Nguluke could provide. However, he strung diem along by saying: "I'll come back again later"; and then decided in favour of Nguluke. In the following year, it seems, the Baisha villagers took revenge on their neighbours by insinuating flhat they had been involved in a case of robbery with violence which occurred near Ganhaizi. [p.65:]

On [3th June, a fine day, I explored the little wooded peak of Yao Shan (3825m) near Ganhaizi, my previous attempt to reach it from Lijiang having been thwarted by rain. The view of the more distant part of tie range and its continuation beyond the Jin-sha Jiang was quite instructive, but cloud hid the summits all day. I remained there, my camera at the ready, passing the time by collecting the lichens, mosses md liverworts which encrust the trunks of the firs md rhododendrons which grow on exposed windy crests at high altitudes. The view to the south and west was perfectly clear as far as Dali and Weixi. On the steep turfy mountainside I caught two young poisonous snakes and preserved them in formalin. Wemer later identified them as a new subspecies: Ancistrodon blomhoffi var. monticola. The darl red tree paeony Paeonia delavayi was in full bloom, but there was not much else, and the day's haul consisted chiefly of cryptogams.

I then made several visits to the old terminal moraine below the great gorge, Luoqu (Fig.21), with the aim of photographing the gorge and the precipices bdow the summit of Satseto from the east side. Alter several attempts spoilt by mist I was finally successful. I had realised from the outset that there must be a vista which would repay some persevennce. A professional photographer could take dozens )f pictures from different points along the moraine ridge and besides depicting the various groups sf peaks could compose individual views with weither-beaten pines and larches, twisted into pleasing shapes, in the foreground; yet I believe that some of my efforts were not entirely without merit To find ihese two species — pine and larch — together is most unusual. This was one of the few places where xerophilic pine forest and mesophilic mixed forest giew side by side, sharply demarcated from one anolher, on the same soil, dependent only on the aspect cf the slope. Here, at 3400m, Pimis tabulae-fomis and holly-leaved oak scrub covered all the south aid south-east facing slopes of the moraines and also the crests themselves, while Larix potaninii, accompanied just below the crest by spruces, firs and miscellaneous broad-leaved trees, covered the slopes facing all other points of the compass.

Another day was devoted to the huge gorge itself. The sandy plain of Saba — marshy in some spots — lay between the moraines and was covered by short open turf. Towards its margins there were shrubs — the yellow Potentilla fruticosa and Sibiraea levigata with erect spikes of brown flowers. Further into the gorge the track entered coniferous forest, which liere consisted of pines and spruces (Picea likiange,isis), a most uncommon combination which was due to the juxtaposition of sharply differing conditions for their growth. The well drained, arid talus sul)soil favoured the xerophytes, while in some places vhere the moraines —about 150m in height — approached each other more closely there were patches of level ground which were kept cool and, being at a fairly high altitude, offered conditions much more to the liking of the spruces. In the mossy, turfy hollows there were numerous dainty orchids such as the small red and white Oreorchis oligantha (a new species), the golden brown O. erythrochrysea and the tall pink Calanthe delavayi, together with the lax Pedicularis axillaris with finely divided leaves and long flower stalks, our own Pinguicula alpina and several lilies, notably Uliutn taliense, which resembles the Turk's cap lily.

Before long we were passing between two huge precipices, one to the north plunging down vertically from Tschaloko summit and the other to the south from the jagged-edged rock dome of Saba. Up to a line exactly level with the moraine ridges the ice-wom rock surfaces were so smooth and polished that no trees had been able to find lodgement, whereas higher up fair numbers of pines had rooted in the fissures. From a distance the whole scene presented a superb example Of glacial action, an ice age landscape unique in its perfection. Here, at the foot of the rocks, the traveller still sees the deeply incised grooves and scratches scored by the passage of the glacier. They commence high up on the walls and slope downwards along the course taken by the ice. In cool moist corners and in shady spots at the edges of bamboo thickets, woods and scrub there were dense stands of lush large-leaved herbaceous plants such as Cardamine polyphylla with fine flesh-pink flowers, Smilacina spp. with panicles of little bells of green or brown, and white-flowered Eutrema lancifolium. The strips of woodland at the foot of the rocks became gradually narrower and more difficult to penetrate, while the stream bed grew broader and more chaotic. I soon had to leave my pony behind and thread my way between rounded boulders as large as houses.

The recent moraines, brought down by the crevassed hanging glacier on the south face of Satseto, were no longer very wide. With some trouble I climbed round their exceedingly steep flanks, composed of fine sand cemented into a solid mass, and here, at an altitude of only 3625m, I collected some gorgeous alpine plants, notably a large-flowered low-growing wallflower, Cheiranthus forrestii, with a wonderful perfume, a large sand-wort, Arenaria ftidericae [note #67: A new species which Handel-Mazzetti later named in honour of his mother.] and others. So once again I returned with rich spoils. As in 1914, every evening the natives brought large quantities of plants to the farm where I was lodging. I accepted more or less everything which they collected, for I still had an uneasy feeling that my financial support from Vienna might cease or that further expenses might mount up, and for this reason I was glad to have material which I could convert into herbarium specimens and sell as duplicates.

[chapter 14:]