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  • Jeff Fuchs

Amne Machin Farewell – A Descent

Early morning wind upon an Amne Machin ridge

Looking at the sky we see fierce white monotones and wind’s power, below in front of us on the earth lies a different story.

A last time for securing our gear on the yak. Our morning of departure

An avalanche’s disintegrating power has rearranged the land in front of us. A brutal black surge of turned earth, stones and newly formed shaped forms that stretch kilometres across the valley.

The results of an avalanche rearranging the landscape

It has only served to enhance in many ways an already formidable scene. Five years earlier Amne Machin released a colossal chunk of itself upon the land below and we are now grinding our way over this ‘reconstructed’ surface.

One of the memorable views we have on our last day of kora

We, for the first time on this portion of our journey, are steadily descending and with this knowledge comes an exhausted nostalgia and a twinge of sadness – we are exiting the main protective body of the Amne Machin range which fades to our right. ‘Civilization’ is coming closer step by step, though admittedly we still have much distance to cover…Michael is feeling this glumness as well. I am doing everything in my limited mental powers to stay in each progressive moment and not to let the mind jump ahead out of the now. I keep wondering at how we came to this point, where we are about to end….

Our caravan making its way out of the main Nom'sho valley

After packing up our camp for the last time there is a simmering of finality. One of the more masochistic pleasures of expeditions within mountain abodes is that after a time the harsh beauties of the elements reconfigure the body and mindscape and everything in its simple way works. A groove is reached where one can continue indefinitely and this is only enhanced when travel partners are on that similar thread of ability and thought. Michael in his month along this journey has gone from a precisely trained endurance athlete to something more akin to a ‘grinder’. These elements, at these altitudes necessitate a test of the self more completely than any other – this is of course my very bias touch here. In the words of a nomad, “mountains draw the self out”.

Leaving the main Keersh Gul valley

Descents are most often when the body’s subtle complaints remind one that they do exist. The charge and blood inducing high of ascending has passed and now the earth and all of its trials and menial concerns beckon one back inevitably. Yes, mountains are an escape, but they are an escape that hit one’s morphology, one’s psychology and that nameless thing in the body that sings of something divine. It is something beyond, right here on earth.

Looking back from where we came...before climbing out of the valley

The yaks seem impatient to get home pushing ahead, as strong and steady as ever. Peaks become rounded hills, and the snowline dissipates as we continue. We are descending through a valley that splits the highlands and even the air around us is somehow diminishing in power.

Our stout mates for the entire trip - no better transport method, anywhere

Along a frozen river we tread, heading directly northwest now, metres of thick ice under our feet. A small batch of winter mud huts rest along the river’s watershed edge and pockets of life are springing up. I am almost dreading the return…it is the normal feeling for me, as I view this more as a departure than an arrival – a departure from the fortifying gifts of the mountains.

Our little terrier’s energy, however, has not for a moment diminished on the entire journey, with his nose dominating all he does. He is no doubt considering the meals and bit of rest and relaxation that he will be taking in.

Following in Gamzon's very competent strides...and that of her animals

Gamzon, our champion of silent competence is unchanged as well, but tells us that we will stop for tea at her sister’s home. Her voice leaves no room to question the wisdom; it is as close to an order as she has ever uttered to us.

Staggering view, sorry to leave...

Michael and his dark beard of red is starting to look the part of a ruffian and indeed our whole unit has taken on a competency and understanding of eachother…as well as a battle ready countenance.

Breaking through a valley we come upon our old friend the Nam River – surely the dilapidated town of Xiadawu, where we began this week long circumnavigation of Amne Machin, cannot be far. It isn’t.

Re-entering the town of Xiadawu via the Nam River

Gamzon and the yaks cross the ice-cold river and Michael and I must cross the thigh deep flow carefully. Our feet take only a minute to dry in the wind and sunbeams. Coming up out of the valley we catch a glimpse of the town and it sinks in that this is the end, for now.

Sitting in a neat and tidy home thirty minutes later, Michael and I sit opposite one another with a table of biscuits, homemade bread and sweets between us. For the first time in a week we are holding glass mugs again, rather than our ‘do-it-all’ bowls.

Michael sitting for the first time in a week something other than frozen ground

We are both silent, and I feel in me a longing to bolt back into the mountains’ sanctity. A last night spent in the village with locals and a huge meal….tomorrow begins for us the slow and inevitable return to the provincial capital of Xining and a number of thermoses of tea to throw back, just to stay sane.

Jeffers trying very hard to remain seated indoors...the urge to bolt was only kept down by the mug of tea in hand

Thanks for following along and hope we were able to provide a little hint of colour to the fabled tsa’lam, the route of salt. I will be posting information about upcoming articles about this expedition in select publications as they become available. More tea and mountain blogs to follow as ultimately, this still remains a site for Asia’s ancient fluid and the peaks.



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