Monday, June 29, 2015

Pollution to Mount Haituo

OK, here's a quick rundown on the pollution situation in Beijing and in Jackson Hole. There is a small mountain range in between Beijing and Jackson Hole so generally, we have a lot less pollution here than in Beijing. In the distance here is the mountain that separates Beijing from Jackson hole:

The above photo was taken on the day with the lowest pollution levels we have seen since our arrival here. That day, June 17, the AQI (Air Quality Index) was 23. The AQI is a China specific index which is rated like this:

So 23 is pretty good. The index for Beijing is generally around 100 - 130, since we've been here we've only rarely seen it go over 175 (until last week). We can check the numbers on the China Weather app on our cell phones. Besides the above descriptions published by the government, what do these numbers really mean. Well here are some examples taken on different days (for those who understand these numbers):

We cant get numbers for Jackson Hole or anything believable for the nearby cities. So we'll use the Beijing numbers as reference

OK, that's the background context and in the meantime, for the past couple of weeks, Lyle and I have been wanting to climb mount Haituo which is the mountain the hikers we met had climbed. We had planned on doing it Tuesday which is a day off for us. Sunday and Monday turned out to be nice sunny days (even though rain was forecasted) so we where hoping for the same on Tuesday.

6:00 am Tuesday it looked rather grey. I checked the Pollution index and it was 260. Well that doesn't seem very good for a hiking day. Its about the highest we've seen it since we've been here. I went over to Lyle's house and he hadn't surfaced but his roommate was ready to go. We talked about the pollution and decided to go anyway, hoping it would get better later in the day and also better as as we get higher up the mountain.

The trailhead is a 16 KM bike ride away. We head out, and becasue of a bridge construction detour, we are forced to take the main road (G110). Well the pollution was pretty bad as the air was thick to start with and all the exhaust from the trucks just stayed right there on the road. Once we got off the main road we had about 10 KM to go, all up hill, and by the time we got to the trail head, the air was certainly better than on the highway - OK, encouraging.

It's a small mountain road we were on and there is not much warning on where the trailhead is. But there is a sign, here it is, it says "Small Haituo".

we pedal along a couple of hundred yards and come to a parking lot with a staircase leading to a trail, must be it:

Also on the side of this parking lot are signs advertising the proposed 2022 Beijing winter Olympics. Now we see many such signs all over the place and we know that the proposed Olympic site is nearby. And although the official decision isn't till July 31, the developer of the Jackson Hole resort is convinced that it is already decided it'll be Beijing (the only other contender is Almaty Kazakhstan). At any rate, on closer inspection of this poster we learned that the parking lot we were standing in is right smack in the middle of the proposed Olympic Village.

The "path" starts out like this:

but after a kilometer or two it is like this (and is pretty much like that the rest of the way):

Shortly after this picture was taken my climbing partner found that his back was too sore to continue so he turned back and I continued alone.

On the way are some flowers that remind me of our British Columbia dogwoods. But I don't know enough about them to know if they are related:

So far the trail is nice soft dirt and the incline is gentle all the way to the weather station about 4 KM up the trail:

And right after this weather station it started to climb very steep. Its hard to tell in the following photo but the incline is about 45 degrees and it just keeps going like that with hardly a break. From the weather station to the top is only about 3 KM, but it is also 850 Meter rise in elevation. OK, so maybe its not 45 degrees all the way - but it sure seemed like it.

So by now, I am totally out of breath. I have to stop and rest frequently to catch my breath. I'm wondering am I really in that bad of shape that I'm breathing so hard or is it the air is so bad that I have to breath twice a much just to get enough oxygen.

And I see in this photo, there where indeed some flat spots in the trail. This is a little oak forest. Reminds me of the Gabriola Island Gary Oak woods by Drumbeg park.

Finally I broke out of the trees and was met with this site of white Lilac bushes as far as I could see.

Of course I couldn't see very far and it was here that I knew for sure the pollution wasn't getting any better as I go higher. Also here, since I was in the clear (clear of trees) I was now back in cell phone range and I could check the Pollution Index. Beijing was listed as 315 - that means stay indoors and try not to breathe.  And here I am outside all day breathing as hard as I possibly can. I thought I must be the only crazy person out here today. Everyone else must be heading the pollution warning and they are restricting their outdoor activities.

I checked my GPS and it said I was at 1911 Meters elevation. That's encouraging, less than 300 M to go.

Oh, I thought I was above the tree line but just over the next hill I run into a little woods of somethimnk like Larch maybe, I'm not sure, never really seen these trees before except in landscaped gardens:

Further along I took a longer rest. The summit is almost in site here. I laid down and closed my eyes and fell asleep - not sure how long. Other than the thick air, its quite pretty out here, Lots of red flowers in amongst the grass

And some white flowers:

And these, I know, they are poppies:

After my rest here, I left my pack with heavy water bottles etc and walked the last 10 minutes to the top. And here it is, the monument says 2198 Meters.

Originally I was planning on continuing past this small Haituo summit to go all the way to the Big Haituo. But after feeling so exhausted in the pollution I had decided to turn back here. Then, looking down at the saddle between small and big Haituo, I saw what looked like horses. I couldn't imagine what horses were doing up here so I went to take a look.

As I headed down the path towards the horses a man appeared in front of me from a path coming from the other side of the mountain (there are paths merging here from 3 sides of the mountain). Here you can see the man, the horses, and through the pollution you can almost see the Big Haituo summit.

And I don't like to show this photo with all the garbage, but here it is. I couldn't imagine what all the garbage is doing there. Later I figured its probably from campers. They camp here and just leave their garbage. But in the moment all I could imagine is that these guys are packing garbage up on pack horses to dump up here on a heavy pollution day when they think no one in their right mind would be here to see them.
Well now that I'm this far I'm re-energized and decide to hike a bit further, its a long level stretch from here so its not any more climbing. Then this thing appears, I have no idea what it is:

Then around here, things got weird. I thought I heard a shout behind me. Again, but why would someone be calling for me up here, it makes no sense. Again the call. Also it looks like people running towards me. I keep walking slowly forward. Finally they catch up to me, I wait and let them catch up. Three young guys about 25 years old. One guy asks me three questions in English: where are you from? are you alone? do you speak Chinese? They didn't appear to be curious about me at all because they asked no more questions. I asked all the other questions in the 'conversation' to which they mostly answered "I don't know".

So I start imagining that they are nervous that I am here witnessing the horses dumping garbage, and they want to shut me up somehow. As a test I pull out my phone and ask them to pose for a picture. They say/signal NO, NO PICTURES. Now I am really suspicious because everywhere I go people want to have their picture taken with the foreigner. But I give him my phone and ask him to take a picture of me which he seems to be happy to do.

And then they signal and tell me to come back with them. I don't know why, but I also really didn't want to make the whole trek to Big Haituo so I turned back and walked just a bit ahead of them towards the guys with the horses. It was kin of surreal. I walked past the old men with their horses  sitting around their campfire and by now there were 5 of them. I didn't know if I was going to be mugged or something. The three young fellows 'escorting' me back stopped and talked to the horse men and I said hi and stopped to scratch the nose of a horse. Then I kept going back up to the summit, with the three kids just behind me. As I was going up we passed 5 or 6 hikers with big camping backpacks coming down into the saddle camp. I made it to the summit and turned right to head back down towards my pack and that was the last I saw of the three guys.

Well it was all downhill from there. 2-1/2 hours to get back to my bike. It was 6:00pm by this time and I was exhausted. I was really notice how it hurt my throat and lungs to breath. The 10 or so KM of downhill cycling was great but back on the main highway I was trying not to breath hard because it hurt. I was also feeling a bit nauseous.

And on the way down I passed at least another 15 hikers coming up. So not everyone in China stays home when the pollution levels hit extreme - I wasn't the only crazy person out there that day.

I slept 11 hours that night. And fortunately, the next day my throat and lungs felt about 75% better. Now its 5 days later, and I'd say my lungs are 85 - 90%. But its been hazy and polluted the whole 5 days. First thing this morning it was only 155, but right now the AQI is 214.

That's the end of my pollution-hiking story. Had to get that one cleared off my phone and on to the blog because I'm heading to Beijing in the morning to meet Carole who is coming back from Shenzhen (where the pollution index is always below 50).

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