Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 29


Chapter 29. Autumn in the Lijiang District

Fungi — the American zoologists — views of the Yulong Shan from Lozhatso - an ascent through snow —autunn flowers — the Jinsha Jiang gorge and its cataracts

There were still plenty of tasks to be done, but the fine weather needed for them was a long time in coming. Rain fell from dawn to dusk, charging to snow 200 m above the village, and it was cold, misty and abominably dark. What made it ever more annoying was that most of the nights were beautifully clear. Gleaming in the bright moonlight, the snow-capped peaks soared into the dark sky, while the main summit, peeping over the col between Hosayigo and Unlupe, seemed to look straight down into the house where I lodged. Under such conditions there was an abundant crop of fungi sprouting in the woods round the village, but it was so vet tiiat I felt disinclined to go hunting for them. One of the natives brought me a basketful every day — over a hundred species of toadstools in all. I had then dried on a bamboo mat over a charcoal fire, mace notes of tiieir colour and form, and then, when the) were hard and dry, left them in the room until theh softened sufficientiy to be pressed between paper into a somewhat flatter shape. There were others which seemed unlikely to respond well to drying, and these I pickled in alcohol. Although much of tiiis labour and money was spent in vain, the identification of toadstools from preserved specimens being very difficult, part of the material yielded results of some value, more especially as no one had previously studied the fungi of the Chinese mountains. The inconspicuous mosses of the heavy meadows and fallow fields round Lijiang proved of special interest: one of them, Brachymeniopsis gynnostoma, constitutes a new genus, Aong-stnemiopsis julacea was previously known only from the high mountains of Java, and Astomiopsis simnsis belongs to a genus otherwise represented oruY by two species from the Andes. Zhao had colected 450 specimens of flowering plants for me anc dried them very neatly, an operation which was easily performed in his house. He could no longer remember what wage I had agreed to pay him or hov much of it he had already received tiirough Kok, but he said that I would certainly know how much it was. I sent all the collections to Lijiang and had them soldered up in tin boxes. I had to ride there twice in the foulest weather, for all this work had to be carefully supervised to make sure that none of the joints were left open. An imperfecdy soldered tin box is worse tiian none at all. I invariably nailed down the wooden crates myself, as the Chinese would certainly have driven the nails into the tin lining.

On 8th October the skies at last brightened. The fine weather of autumn began and I was able to set to work. On the next day I was expecting the American Zoological expethtion — Mr and Mrs Andrews and Mr Heller from the Zoological Museum in New York — having already heard of their arrival in Lijiang. They were lodging in the temple and as I arrived tiiere to call on them I was astonished to be greeted with the words:

"Do you have clean hands?".

The next sentence made the situation clear:

"You've arrived just in time to deal witii a case of blood poisoning".

I helped Mrs Andrews to open a whidow on her husband's finger, possibly caused by handling arsenic, and in a few days it had healed. They were experienced hunters; Mrs Andrews travelled on horseback wearing men's clotiiing, and she describes in their book [note # 145: Roy Chapman Andrews and Yvette Borup Andrews, "Camps and Trails in China", New York, 1918.] the amazement and delight with which the ladies of the Pentecostal Mission in Lijiang greeted her sudden appearance, despite her unconventional dress. Our conversation turned first to the question of good hunting grounds, but I was unable to give them much advice as I had never taken any interest in such matters and could offer nothing more than hearsay and my inexpert appraisal of the terrain through which I had travelled. Contrary to all expectations, Andrews and Heller caught a rich assortment of mammals in their traps on the Yulong Shan.

In order to complete my map I decided to climb a minor summit which promised a good view of the snow peaks and the mountains to the east of them.

[p.128:] Its name was Lozhatso [note # 146: Lu-zher-dsu on Rock's map (12,200 ft = 3719 m)] and it was situated in the range on the east of the Dagu road, directly opposite the enormous Luoqu gorge. Seen from Nuguluke, it had the appearance of a low pyramid of white scree. My first visit was unsuccessful. Although the morning was enticingly fine, by midday the range was hidden by a bank of cloud through which individual peaks emerged fleetingly here and there, and though I took compass bearings, photography was impossible. Two days later, on 12th October, I set out again and this time, luckily, I had glorious weather all day. We took the main lijiang-Dagu road, which we reached at the edge of the forest, but soon branched off to the right over a narrow transverse ridge covered with bushes and perforated by sinkholes. This was one of a number of such ridges which, though only a few paces from top to bottom, carved up the gorge into several separate ravines. The gorge itself, perhaps originating in earlier times from the Gaba glacial lake, debouched into the Lijiang plain. Riding through pine forest and across turf, we soon came to the foot of the mountain, and I was actually able to ride halfway to the top along a kind of timber chute. For the rest of the way I climbed through holly-leaved oak scrub, reaching the rounded summit at 3625 m, just north of the white scree pyramid, after a three hour journey from the village. The Yulong Shan [note # 147: Yulong Shan was climbed on 8th May 1987 by an American party led by Eric S.Perlman. American Alpine Journal, 1988,30,265.] range was now revealed in its entirety just opposite. The gigantic snow peaks towered into the blue sky, flanked by knife-edged ridges of ice; very few rock faces were visible, and they were powdered with recent snow. To the north and slightly to the west of Satseto was the second main peak, Dyinaloko, evidently its equal in height (5450 m). Like a recumbent giant, the mountain range, slightly indented by the headstreams of the Baishui torrent, sloped down to gently undulating forest and the broad meadow known as Gaba, at one time a lake. On the south side of Satseto was the colossal Luoqu gorge, its mouth opening directly opposite us. During former ice ages its glacier had pushed huge moraines far out into the lowlands. The whole vista, though by no means the largest, is perhaps the most perfect and most beautiful example of glacial scenery to be seen anywhere in the world. The largest of the present-day glaciers on this side was fed by a snowfield high up on Satseto, and its fissured snout hung down the slope to an altitude of 4075 m. Starting from the neve basin, a high snow-covered rock wall led up to the crest, and the latter itself had a vertical overhang. Having at last had this clear view, I realised that I had to give up any thought of climbing the main summit, even though it might be attainable by really capable mountaineers. To the north the chain of rock pinnacles, foreshortened from my viewpoint, seemed to merge into a continuous wall, and vanished behind one of the lower heights, a rounded dome above the Heish-ui torrent known as Konsago. All round me were mountains, the ranges between Yongsheng and Yongning, and those round Muli and Dagu. In the clear autumnal air all the snow-capped tops were so distinct that I could even see, far away to the south southeast, the ranges of the Yunnan tableland. Bull at that moment I was more interested in the less distant scenery, the mountainous terrain on either side of the Yangzi to the northeast of Lijiang. All of it was lower than my viewpoint on Lozhatso, but several peaks stood out distinctly, notably Tomanyo, a pointed cone projecting near the river with a gleaming white temple on its top. However, I was unaible to make any sense of the tangled confusion of valleys; there were evidently several blind-ended channels similar to one to the south of my viewpoint, in which the Yi settlement of Gwube was located.

Unliipe, a summit roughly 5000 m in altitude in the southern part of the Yulong Shan, had previously struck me as being not too difficult a climb, and what I saw of it' on that day strengthened that impression. Rain fell in the night and next morning the mountains were shrouded in cloud, but on 14th October I was able to tackle the ascent Starting from the Pelchua cirque, familiar to me from the expedition made in June 1915 with Kok and the .Chinese official, I had to climb up to a broad, steeply sloping ledge which led on to a lateral ridlge. This was not very steep and looked as if it shoiuld offer a climbable route to the top. Taking the Hast remaining nails I drove them two at a time into my climbing boots, choosing the points where they would give the best grip. Indeed, I had no others, since the boots made in Kunming had given up the ghost in the Nu Jiang, but as an extra precaution I took crampons as well. The American party lhad pitched their tents on Ndwolo, the great meadow, and their local hunters and muleteers had found shelter under trees and boulders; now that frost lhad banished the leeches and the brook, swollen by the snow, came further down the slope, it made a good campsite.

At 8.45 am, just as I was dismounting from my horse, I met the Americans above the huge crag below which the spring emerged. They had put out traps overnight and had had a rich haul; all their pouches were filled with mice, moles and other such creatures. I went on uphill in (he mist which had just gathered, but bore too far to the left, missed the cirque and found myself on the screes, now thiclkly covered with snow, sloping down from the ridlge. The mist lifted again, giving me a view of the route before me. My objective, a three-pointed nock pinnacle, stood out pale grey against the blue sky, and Satseto itself emerged for a moment from the mists enshrouding it. The snow had already slid off the avalanche slopes and was piled up below them less than two metres deep. As the sun had not coime out, I was able to cross the mountainside without serious danger, deviating round the avalanche slopes either below them or above their uppermost extensions. However, I often broke through the snow crust to a depth well above the knee.

On starting the climb up to the ledge I wanted! to send Lao Li back and take the rucksack myself as; he was wearing thin shoes and was getting very cold, but he said he would go with me wherever I went. The route continued up an extremely steep snow- [p.129:] slope with rocks projecting here and there. The crossing of the avalanche slopes had already cost precious time, and now we were plodding even more slowly forwards; every step had to be stamped out or chopped out with the ice axe. We were fatigued by constantly breaking through the snow crust, and at such altitudes, especially when breathing air above the snow, one has to pause after every few steps with pounding heart and aching head. An easier, less steep pitch led on to a little sharp-edged ridge which gave us a view of the next part of the ledge; seen in profile it looked exceedingly steep, and the rock crest, now we were close to it, proved extremely slippery. We were at 4750 m. Vestiges of flowering plants were still to be found, but it was already 1.30 pm. The peak, and indeed the whole of the mountain above the spot we had reached, were again hidden in cloud. To reach the summit would have taken another Wi hours at least At 6 pm it would be dark, and in any case I had accepted an invitation from the Americans to dine at 5 pm. I therefore gave up any hope of reaching the summit, photographed the view to the east, though even in that direction it was not entirely free from cloud, and started to descend. At the beginning of the steep pitch Lao Li was seized by an attack of dizziness. He turned round so as to face the mountainside; and hi some stretches I did the same so as to get a secure foothold in the steps kicked out with the toes of my boots, but proceeding cautiously in front of me and obeying my detailed instructions he managed the descent successfully. 148 Once below the ledge we sat down and glissaded through the snow, to his great amusement We then walked down through the cirque a good deal faster than we had ascended.

Although the snow had been lying for some time a few flowering plants were still undamaged, notably Delphinium fomestii, its papery pale blue flowers with their conspicuous veins well preserved under their caps of ice. There were also deep blue gentians and Lomatogonium, and somewhat lower down the azure blue Allium beesianum I spent an enjoyable evening with the Americans in their heated tent, finally descending late that night to the village by the light of a lantern. In 1918, when they had returned to China for a further expedition to Mongolia and I was in Hunan, we resumed a friendly correspondence despite wartime conditions.

On 16th October I told the men to assemble the kit for a short excursion and load it on three pack animals. The cook of course thought that two animals would be sufficient, but after causing an hour's delay by his endeavours to pack everything into two loads he at last agreed that 1 was right I set out westwards over the pass from Ganhaizi to Yuluo with the object of mapping the Yangzi gorge where Handel-Mazzetti was an experienced mountaineer, and though he makes no mention of a rope, Lao Li would have been roped to him. Andrews describes their meeting: "While we were far up on the mountainside, Baron Haendel-Mazzetti appeared armed with ropes and an alpine snow axe. He was about to attempt to climb the highest peak which had never been ascended but the drifts turned him back several hundred free from the summit. He dined at our camp and as all of us carefully refrained from "war talk" we spent a very pleasant evening." (Camps and Trails in China, p. 123)

it breaks through the mountains. The police hut on the pass, though built only one year previously with funds provided by traders having an interest in the security of the route, was already falling into ruins; however, a strip of woodland had been cleared along the side of the track so as to deter bandits from mounting ambushes.

From Yuluo I made a halfday trip on foot up to a viewpoint above the bend in the great gorge. It was situated on the slopes of a high forested dome called Lamidyi which jutted out in front of the main crest of the Yulong Shan. As I reached a minor ridge the view suddenly opened out, revealing the narrow stretch of the gorge as far as the Dagu basin. The vista was magnificent hi its scale and equally splendid in its colouring. On the right was a uniform grey wall of rock with a few snow-filled recesses. It was Atsako, a line of pinnacles lying to the west of the northern part of the Lijiang range, foreshortened and apparently merging into one. On the left was an arid yellow mountainside sloping steeply up to Mount Chata Shan. Its summit, probably over 5300 m high, located straight in the line of the ridge, was concealed by the higher part of the latter, but gradually came into view as we climbed higher up the slope. Far below us was the white water of the rapids where the river surged between the vertical walls of the gorge. Gaunt pine trees blocked parts of the view, and I had to shift from place to place to find a spot from which to take a photograph. We wasted some time in trying to pull down a pine tree which was in the way, but although it was already half chopped through and withered it resisted our efforts. The next viewpoint was not so satisfactory, but we improved it by snapping off the top of a young oak.

On the way back I visited Labazi, a hamlet occupied by Buyi, a people who had migrated from Guizhou [note #149 : Most Buyi still live in Guizhou today (S.G H.).] but whose condition had degenerated. They lived in low houses built of earth with shingle roofs. The men, always clothed in black, were in the fields, but the women were friendly and offered me chewing tobacco.

That afternoon I took the ferry and rode up to Qiaotou at the beginning of the Xiao Zhongdian valley. Ladsagu was situated somewhat above the river, opposite the entrance to the gorge. The water, seemingly almost stationary, pressed straight towards the slopes of Dyinaloko. Just above the river was the subtropical zone — steep slopes, grey or yellow in colour, with scattered scrub; next came the warm temperate zone — red steppe dotted with pale green pines; above this were the temperate zone mixed forests in their multicoloured autumnal garb, then the dark green subalpine fir forests, above them the high alpine zone, here certainly very barren, grey and windswept and finally the snow-capped spires. It would have made a superb colour photograph. The summit of Dyinaloko was still just clear, so I swiftly set up the camera, but then, like a Mohammedan woman, the mountain hurriedly veiled her snowy countenance. I waited for half an hour, but she did not reappear. I was peculiarly unlucky in that although I passed the spot several times, I was never able to photograph the whole view.

[p.130:] The next day was devoted to a journey on foot into the gorge itself, on the very path along which I had mistakenly set out the year before. Now, in the rainy season, the xerophytes of the subtropical zone had spread out their leaves. Nouelia insignis formed quite large thickets, though in its present state of development I completely failed to recognise it at first, and even the gnarled bushes of Randia lichiangensis had put out their dark green leaves. One of the herbaceous perennials was Aconitum coriophyllum, a new species which mimicked our native wolfsbane. After two hours we came to a village called Luoyu, beyond which the track climbed up in zigzags to get round a steep rock ridge sloping down to the bend in the river. As we reached the top the roaring of the water, over 800 m vertically below, thundered in our ears. On this side the river abruptly broke into a stretch of tumultuous rapids, practically amounting to a cataract Squeezed between the pillars of a stratum of hard rock, a vertical bed of limestone running north and south between the phyllite, its waters crashed down in a torrent, forming a clearly discernible arch, though from above it was impossible to estimate the height of the fall. From there downstream the river was white with foam, one rapid following another in the depths, of the gorge which the water had cut through the yellow rock. This gorge splits the: Lijiang range into two parts, tie Yulong Shan with its peaks Unliipe, Satseto and Djinaloko to the southwest, and the Haba Shan to the northeast. The irange as a whole is set at an angle to the lie of the geological strata. The track ran along the gorge at about one third of its height. I searched for a place from which to photograph the entire vista, from the cataract at the bottom to the snow peaks at the top. An awesomely steep gorge, filled with rock-strewn primaeval forest, led up to the screes, above which were colossal precipices crowned by the snow-topped pyramid of Djinaloko. Mere words cannot express the immensity of this almost vertical face, over 3500 m in height Perhaps I can give some idea of its scale when I say that I needed two plates, one above the other, to photograph it — and I still feared there might be a gap between them. Once again, unfortunately, the summit was partially obscured by cloud. The snow mountains in the southern part of the range were indeed superb, yet the rock peaks of the northern part, gradually diminishing to heights 500 to 1000 m below them, were hardly less splendid. From that viewpoint they did not merge together: each had a character of its own — here a narrow pinnacle, there a sharp crest sloping down more steeply on one side than the other, then a massif built of numerous towers which seemed to have been bent upwards, the niches between them scoured smooth by the winds, and lastly a gigantic snow-capped obelisk. If you picture the Drei Zinnen [note # 150: The Tre Cime di Lavaredo] of the Rosengarten in the Dolomites and enlarge them to twice their actual size, you may get some impression of what the mountain really looks like, although it lacks any such narrow towers.

High up the mountainside small bla:k patches of fir forest clung to the steep slabs. The most northerly part plunged down to the river in an unbroken vertical rock face over 2000 m in height, and on this side a triple peak, hardly less steep, soared up to the same height This was Shuchamba, an outlier of the Haba Shan massif. Opposite us, on a steep turfy slope in the depths of the gorge, a few Lisu families had built their huts at a spot called Dahosa. The only access to these isolated dwellings can have been by ladders up the rocks. The track, here negotiable by pack animals loaded in Tibetan style, continued through the gorge at the same height Further along it we saw Dyipab, a Naxi hamlet of a few houses; still further on there was said to be another called Bundua. The old pine trees growing here had flattened asymmetrical tops drawn out towards the northeast: the result of the persistent wind which swept round the crest from tlie opposite side of the gorge. Down below there was said to be a route along the river, consisting of notched logs "like the one on the Drung Jiang". As I hid not time to explore it I turned back along the original track to Qiaotou. Next day I followed the unsurveyed ptrt of the Jinsha Jiang along a beautiful valley to Ax, the river — very broad and perfectly smooth — flowing down towards me. Two days' brisk marching then brought me to Lijiang.

There I found enough to keep me busy for three days. In my absence Zhao, who claimed to understand farriery, had attempted to shoe my nice little horse, and had botched the job. The consequences did not become apparent until I had set out again. For the last two days of the journey I had to let the horse travel without a load, and on reaching Lijiang I had to leave it under Kok's care until it recovered. I tried a motley collection of mules, as the Lijiang ponies were far too small and quite worthless. The prices asked for mules were very high — up to $300 — and none of them was suitable. Many of them were intractable, and most of them could not toerate the crupper; it slipped up over the tail and alhwed the saddle to ride up on to the neck. This of course made the mule furious and if I had not managod to jump down at the right moment, the mule and the unsecured saddle would, between them, have given me a nasty fall. When riding mules, the Chines s did not use a crupper; instead they had a rod which lay across the backs of the animal's knees and which was connected to the sides of the saddle so as to hold it in place. This device never remained clean and I therefore wished to avoid using it.

[chapter 30:]