The China Trek Challenge 2010 has finished, exhausted trekkers are home, resting and recuperating. It was not called a challenge for nothing!
The day of arrival saw all the 17 participants arrive without incident, the last of them getting to the hotel in Chengdu just after midnight. Aged 18-61 and mainly from Australia but with people from London, Washington, Hong Kong and Blenheim in New Zealand, the group was varied but linked by a common love for bears.
On the first full day we spent the morning at the Moon Bear Rescue Centre. A great tour, given by Lisa, was appreciated by all and added to the enthusiasm for the challenge that lay ahead. The afternoon was free for people to explore a bit of Chengdu and buy last minute supplies for the trek.
Day two and we were off to the Panda Sanctuary. There by 8.30am, we had plenty of time to explore the largest breeding research centre for pandas in the world. A lovely lunch and we were off for a flight to Songpan. Destroyed by a major earthquake two years ago, Songpan was being rebuilt but was a wonderfully atmospheric place for all the construction going on.
And then the trek began – three nights, four days of testing conditions. Comfort zones were abandoned, preconceived ideas challenged. Three of the party were unable to complete the trek, through illness brought on either by food or altitude. The remainder got to the end with a feeling of achievement that is hard to describe. The elation at hitting our highest point of 4,200m will stay with me forever.
Then it was back to Songpan for a dodgy shower and some non-trekking food. The next morning saw us rise at 4.30am for a 5am departure to the airport. As dawn broke, it was clear that it was snowing and we were delayed. The delay lasted for only four hours (at one stage it looked like we could be sleeping there), but it was long enough to mean that our time at the largest Buddha in the world had to be curtailed. A 40-minute boat trip instead of a three-hour walk was the revised plan.
From there we arrived at Emei Shan. A delightful town with fantastic carvings in the red sandstone and waterfalls seemingly everywhere. The hotel here was very good and a tremendous hot springs spa was attached. The next day saw the beginning of trek number two.
Stairs.... stairs and oh what’s that round the corner? ....stairs. Physically demanding yet completely different to the first trek, our walk through the Monkey Forest was interspersed with old Buddhist Monasteries and monkeys. An event filled first day, saw a few tempers fray , aggressive monkeys that bite and the oldest Buddhist monastery in the world. It was great fun.
Day two and more stairs – we all knew we had 24km to do and we had to do it. To everyone’s credit all of us got there. We were rewarded with hot showers and warm rooms and a pre-dawn call to get to the top of the mountain in a cable car and hopefully se the sun rise. It was not to be however, as cloud covered the summit making visibility difficult beyond 20m. Back down and we were off, the four-hour bus ride back to Chengdu welcomed by many as a time to relax and sleep.
A trip in the evening for some to the Sichuan Opera was amazing. Comedy translates in any language and the performers were skilled and very funny. Well worth a visit.
The final day was for most of us the highlight. Eight hours with Jill at the sanctuary seeing behind the scenes and hanging with bears. Emotional, enlightening, humbling and fun. It was a great day, made all them more fantastic when we saw Oliver walking on grass.
A final night in Chengdu and we were off back home. This has been a trip none of us will forget, with many highs and, for some, a few low points largely brought about by illness. The bears made all the challenges worthwhile though – it’s been a truly wonderful two weeks.