Shaanxi the province of 1000 hills

After over 50 days on the road you think you have seen all the desert can offer. Running along on a path next to the wall, things couldn’t be better. Ahead in the distance we could see the velvet brown hills of the Shaanxi province, a misty haze glowing orange in the morning sun. It was crisp this morning, our tents were frozen over and patches of the ground were white with frost. Smoke from the little farms in the valley were forming a long white patchwork of cloud as there was not a breath of wind to disperse it. We were discussing what a nice change this is going to be, loping through these hills, a chance to increase our daily distance. Slowly we jogged to the top of the first hill, rising up over the crest we look on into the distant patchwork hills, nodding in the morning light.

Something struck us as being a bit strange. Where has the rest of the hill gone? In front of us lies a 250m deep donga and 100m wide. It looked as if a giant hand had just scooped away the soil. Across we could see a little farm, but no way to get there.

After a 1 hour detour, down around, over and up we finally get back onto our bearing and head off to our lunch meeting point.

Hill after hill this continued. As we got deeper into the rolling hills, so they get worse and the eroded gouges deeper and steeper. Even the goats in this area seemed to have a nervous look about them. The sides that we had to descend and climb back up were powdery, dry and brittle. The situation was starting to get a bit on the dangerous side. On numerous occasions Braam or I would have our footing crumble and down we would slide a few meters in a cloud of dust. The going was really slow. Our meeting point for the morning was only 18km, but it was now midday and we had only covered 10km as the crow flies, but on our GPS shows we had gone 23. We had no option but to push on as there was no way that the crew could reach us. The other problem, we had no food!

Deciding that the quickest way would be to follow one of the eroded ravines. On we went. The further we went, the higher the sides got and the more difficult the waterfall lips got to climb. Every time you climbed up , the footings would crumble and break. This was eliminating any chance of us turning back as we could not get down the faces with no footings (our comfort was always seeing goat tracks, they had now stopped). The worst had now happened, we had come to a waterfall that was too high to climb, we had to turn back. No foot or hand points.

The first drop we managed to slide down and basically fall over, but the next was one of the highest, our crumbly mud hand grips were broken, and it was too high to slide over. What now? We had to go down! I felt a bit panicky, we had to stay calm and think! Just over the edge was an old root, our saviour. We threw the contents of our ruck sack over the edge and then joined them together by the straps. We now had 1 chance to throw the strap over the root and then climb down using the rucksack as rope. Braam said he would lean over and lasso the root; I held his arm and anchored my foot into the wall. The plan worked and down we went all the way back, finally finding a way up and out by following a goat track.

We ended up covering 46 km to get to our point 18km away and arrived at camp 5:30 in the evening, totally “dusted”.

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