I’m now back home in Hong Kong after returning from a trip to south-west China, an area I’ve trekked in many times over the last ten years. The walk was an eight day traverse of the Balagenzong area with four 4,000m + (13,000+ feet) passes, including one 4,600m (15,000 feet) pass; the Jay Zay Ge La at the top of a valley called the Tashi Nime Long Ba (all Tibetan names). Balagezong is a 5,545m mountain, holy to the local Tibetans, and becoming increasingly familiar to me as I try to explore different aspects of the mountain almost every year. It’s located in the extreme north of Yunnan province on the border with Sichuan and at the edge of the Tibetan plateau. The area is in the “Three Parallel Rivers” UNESCO World Heritage Area, where for some distance, the upper reaches of the Yangtze, Mekong, and Salween rivers run parallel to each other through magnificent, arid canyons before heading off on their separate ways. Don’t ask me how far the trek was in horizontal terms – in the Himalaya such distances are secondary to the vertical ones!
This was a very important trek for me. I’m 48 years old, and after my second dose of spinal surgery in 2010 (L4/L5 herniated disc, the first surgery was in 2002) I had to quit running and was unsure if if I’d ever be able to trek again. Then I discovered the ultra-lightweight community. My old pack was an 80-odd liter canvas Sea to Summit Karijini. It was a solid, bomb-proof companion for many wonderful treks over the last few years. Boy did I love that pack! Empty, and dry, it weighed 3kg (6.6lb)
The Mariposa performed beautifully. I’ll admit to being very skeptical when I took it out of the box last summer (when I was out of action for another, non back related health reason) but then you would be if you were used to a 3kg bomb and yak and back-of-Chinese truck proof pack. The outside netting pockets seemed very vulnerable. I should have known that an object designed with so much thought by an engineer would work okay. The pack was perfect. The outside pockets are so well thought-out and cut that they are not really “outside” at all, and things put in them are as secure as if they were within the pack itself. The netting didn’t catch on anything despite scrambling through some narrow trails in rhododendron forest and some other, more thorny less friendly bushes. Reaching water bottles from the lower pockets was easy, and they stowed quite securely there after a drink. Having to care a little more about my gear (not dropping it on rocks and then sitting on it, not throwing it in to the back of a vehicle) had a rather unexpected consequence. I became much more mindful about not just the gear, but everything – my footfall, my surroundings, life. This was a serendipitous discovery that will require more pondering over to clarify and articulate.
I’ll be writing more about this experience. It was my first light-weight trek and I managed to get my base weight down to 5.1kg (11.2 lb). Not quite “ultra-light” yet, but I’ll get there with a little tweaking of my cooking gear and a lighter tarp. The first two days I had tears in my eyes – not of pain, but joy at the knowledge that I’d be able to continue my passion. I’ve got the ultra-light weight backpacking community to thank for that.
It was my companion’s first trek. He’s an English friend who lives in a small town about two hour’s drive from the trekking area at an elevation of 3,300m. I’ve known him for years and his Chinese is much better than mine, but I know the local area quite well. He might be an ultra-light weight convert before he even gets in to trekking.
Regards, and thanks!