It was almost like staying at the Four Seasons. A few exceptions perhaps…The hard, cold ground didn’t quite resemble a double stuffed air mattress and the air conditioner seemed to be permanently stuck in the on position. Room service also had an obscene obsession for oily noodles and potatoes for three meals a day…but I won’t be complaining to reception. Four days of horse trekking up in the snow capped mountains of Songpan, a small town near the Tibetan plateau have finally come to a finale. Four wonderful, sunny afternoons clambering over sheer cliff drops, pristine forests, and lush, sparkling rivers – – all on top of colorful mountain ponies. I was in pure Ashley heaven.
With only a little arm twisting and sugar coated words, I convinced Cara, Niki, and Tim to join me on the horse trekking adventure. Though none of them had ever ridden or properly camped before, they were eager for the opportunity to be real “City Slickers” and signed their John Hancocks next to mine with no hesitation. Looking back, as I recall numerous death stares from Cara as she tried stopping her eager horse from trotting over the side of the hill, I wonder how I kept them for keen for the entire experience. Camping in the cold wind, sleeping on frozen ground, and sitting on a bony horse for seven hours a day can get a little tedious for an unenthusiastic outdoorsman. However, I loved every minute of the trip.. As Niki cited, I certainty felt at home on the back of Sniffles, my sturdy gray pony…until he threw me over the side of the mountain that is (but we’ll just keep that between you and me!)
Our group summed up to seven including Sonya from the UK and her amazing six year old son, Harris. I’m trying to figure out a way to carry him in my backpack but have yet to come up with a plan. We were each supplied with a guide, a mountaineering Marlboro man who grew up on the rocky terrain and could pitch a tent in two minutes flat. Unfortunately, they also constantly liked to whip our horses purely with the good intentions of making them plod along the tricky trails at a faster than normal pace. A pointless effort for the ponies would only sputter step for a bit and run into one another, nearly knocking each other off the ledge in the process. It was a giggle for awhile until I wound up upside down on a steep cliff side. Only a few bruises and a wounded pride as a souvenir.
After an early morning breakfast and seemingly endless cups of hot, murky tea, we saddled up our ponies and ambled along the snow covered paths leading up to Ice Mountain. We were usually off the trail by around 2 pm everyday, giving us plenty of time to peruse the neighboring villages and countryside. As we explored, our savvy guides would hike into the forest and cut down copious amounts of wood for the nightly fire as well as armloads of branches used to pad our sleeping bags at night. Evenings would find us sitting around camp, trying to chat despite our severe language barriers. The young blokes sang beautiful songs, all in perfect tune and harmony. We tried our Western version of some bonfire sing-alongs but wound up butchering Robbie and Bob Marley to bits. sorry boys Cara and I brought along a few bottles of Fire Water, a horrid tasting 50% alcohol concoction that the cowboys loved and I could barely swallow. It warmed us up nicely for the long night on the cold ground. So did our hot water bottles, the best 7 yuan that I have ever spent. With that handy contraption to snuggle with, I went to bed comfy and toasty only to toss and turn and wake up with it frozen solid by my feet. Yes, it was that cold.
Ice Mountain was spectacular! It took a little over three hours across some nail biting, narrow cliffs to reach the snow peaked base camp. We ambled along some slate covered ridges where Sniffles had a bit of trouble keeping his footing. It was best to just close your eyes, hug the ponies neck and wish to be back in Kansas. No worries though – we made it and we able to walk around quite a bit to satisfy our curiosities. It was then much too steep for us to ride back down so we allowed the horses to stumble and slip before sliding down ourselves. Back at camp, we warmed our frozen fingers by the fireside and napped in the sun. Poor Cara was traumatized. Her quote for the day was, “someday I will marry the perfect man….he won’t like camping at all!”
We stayed near a lovely Tibetan village for two nights. The town itself was quite small and was snuggled into the valley between towering mountains on either side. We meandered down to the one store city center in search of hot chocolate. I was in seach of hot chocolate. The English boys wanted beer of course. At the end of a dusty path sat a sole mom and pop, sunning themselves on their rickety patio next to a sign claiming “The Best Cold Beer.” We were sold and spent the rest of the afternoon visiting with the couple. The rest of the town was set up in traditional Tibetan style. Beautiful prayer wheels dotted the landscape and colorful prayer flags fluttered from every house. The Tibetans themselves are wonderful people, so friendly and eager to chat. Perhaps a trip to Tibet is in the near future.
I think everyone was ready to kneel and kiss the ground as we came trotting into town at the end of our forth afternoon. Hot showers had never been so appreciated. I washed my hair three times! God bless Herbel Essences shampoo. A plateful of banana pancakes later and an “upgraded” room with actual heating blankets and Cara and I were blissfully happy girls.