Tracking the Gna and the Sublime

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, August 12, 2005

I sit here in front of the computer, my mind within three realms at once: Fuerza Bruta, Joe's Garage, and Chasing the Gna, all congealing into one sublime.

Fuerza Bruta brings me back to Argentina, where just months ago I was climbing Aconcagua with Kevin and the Hong Kong crew. Fuerza Bruta's images bring me back to some hot steamy nights on Martha's Vineyard. Fuerza Bruta also brings me back to Gordon and Christina's wedding where I met Steph, who happened to have just seen Fuerza Bruta in Buenos Aires, her last stop on a South American tour.

While looking at the Fuerza Bruta web site, I'm listening to Joe's Garage, which, once again, brings me back to Martha's Vineyard and several years of Jam Nights and other very memorable events at my old pad. So, perhaps, I'm feeling a little nostalgic again.

Naturally, I brought a little music with me in mini disc format for times like these. Here's a brief low down: Alman Brothers, Aterciopelados, Beck, Ben Harper, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Buddy Guy, Coldplay, Fela Kuti, Frank Zappa, Funkadelic, Grateful Dead, Herbie Hancock, Isaac Hayes, Jack Johnson, James Brown, Jerry Garcia, Jimmi Hendrix, Junior Welles, Kinky, Led Zeppelin, Los Amigos Invisibles, Massive Attack, Moby, Morcheeba, Morphine, Neil Young, Orishas, Ozomatli, Pearl Jam, Peter Gabriel, Peter Tosh, Radiohead, Spearhead, Stevie Wonder, Supreme Beings of Leisure, Ohio Players, Thievery Corporation, and Ween.

This all leads me to the final congealing ingredient of the sublime: Chasing the Gna.

Here's the story...

Gomba, Xiao Lin and I jumped into the WWF Toyota Land Cruiser, heading northwest to Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve. Baimaxueshan--White Horse Snow Mountain--is located in the heart of the reserve, soaring to over 18,000 feet and covered in glaciers decending its sheer faces. Our destination was the abode of this mountain. Below the mountain, in its abode, were the Yongdui grasslands nestled in a u-shaped glacial valley surrounded by razor-sharp ridges and alpine lakes.

The valley and ridges are uninhabited for eight months of the year. For four months, the nomads live here, in four stone and wood shacks. The nomads arrive from their Yangtze River communities in early June with their sheep and yaks to graze in the pastures. In October they leave, returning the pastures to the hooves and paws of the wildlife presently confined to the ridgetops.

After parking the green Land Cruiser, we hiked two hours down steep switchbacks; across an adolescent, crystal, and roaring river; and up into a side valley--the one with the Yongdui grasslands.

At the head of the valley was the Baimaxueshan ecotourism lodge, now vacant due to a lack of a plan and funds. It only cost $10,000 to build, but was presently unusable. It needed the plan, the finishing touches, the marketing, and more. Many questions needed to be answered.

We arrived at the lodge and set up our camp--sleeping bags, a wood fire, and my Optimus Stove. Dinner was served:

Fried Potato Cakes with Pork Smothered in Tomato Garlic Ginger Sauce
Boil potatoes over the open fire, with several cloves of garlic.
Mash the potatoes, add powdered milk, powdered egg, some water, some salt, and flour.
(no need to measure anything: you're camping)
Get your hands dirty and make the cakes; coat in flour.
Meanwhile, on the Optimus Stove, using yak butter, fry garlic, pieces of pork, ginger, basil, hot pepper, salt, and tomato.
Set aside the pork and tomato sauce near the fire to keep hot.
Fry the potato cakes, flip when golden brown.
Pour the sauce over the potato cakes.

You like'a the sauce?
The sauce is good, eh?

To pass the time, we threw a few pork ribs into the coals. There's nothing like eating ribs over an open fire in the middle of the forest.

Yes, it rained, thanks for asking.

The next morning, we began our journey up the valley. A few hours later, we were eating lunch in a small, nomadic cabin with a Yongdui nomad and a Buddhist monk. Lunch was tsampa, yak butter tea, and milk tea.

Toast some barley flour and store in a five pound sac.
Add yak butter, some salt, and some sugar (if available; we didn't have any)
Mix with your hands then set aside.
After drinking some yak butter tea, knead the mix between your hands and fingers to create a ball; give it to the person next to you.

Xiao Lin, Gomba, the nomad, the monk, and I headed further up to an alpine lake, then to a ridgetop. There it began to rain--again. The monk and the nomad left us: they had butter to prepare. Here we began our tracking, up in the thin air surrounded by large mountains, clouds, cold rain, rocks, alpine tundra, and crystal lakes--the sublime.

I found Tibetan Wolf scat, then as we headed across the steep, slippery ridge and its many rockslides, we found signs of the Gna. We followed them across the entire ridge in the pouring rain. My senses were heightened, but I still lacked the antelope-like skills of Xiao Lin or the lunging and jumping abilities of Gomba, so I trailed behind, sometimes gripping the cliff with one hand, one foot slightly fitting on a slim patch of grass and another foot on a wet rock, as I reached around the rocks with my other hand, precipice below.

Finally, around the next bend, we found the Gna--14 of them--a herd of Blue Sheep, just before they ran across the next pass. This was my first sighting of Blue Sheep; it felt satisfying to see them.

By now, hours later, my waterproof clothing was no longer waterproof and I was soaked.

The cabin was now distant and the day was getting late. The rain strengthened. Although I was soaked and my extremities were losing heat, I still felt warm in my core. We descended through thick Rhododendrons, bringing me back to the Yale-Myers gnarled-laurel research transects Joe, Adrian, and I (Prism Pimp, Monkey Boy, and Scribe in no particular order) suffered through.

Back down in the Yongdui grasslands, we traversed the river and, a couple of hours later arrived back to the cabin, drying our clothes with the smoky fire.

I live for this.

The next day (still raining), we retraced our steps, ending at the WWF Land Cruiser; the car heater felt good on my soaked body as we listened to Tibetan music driving back down towards the Yangtze.

So now I'm back in Zhongdian, listening to Joe's Garage, thinking about my imaginary black Mexican Stratocaster--the one I sold on eBay before coming here.

"This is the central scrutinizer"...FZ

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neilw on

Life on the brink...
As one of the peripheral scrutinizers I'd like to add my support to the proposition of what indeed we will ultimately have lived for. Proximity to the edge is of course tasty ,maybe more salty mixing the taste of sweat with blood... closer to the center lies calm , inner vision (SW) and the taste is much sweeter.
You,re chronicling faster than I can keep up with now that I have signed on to your itinerary. Beware on the slippery rocks . With you in spirit Neil

carolyn on

I live for this
I'm so happy that you're doing what you've always wanted and having a great time! No matter when you get to India, I want to come visit you. Just let me know if I need to get any shots. Then I'm so there.

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