I recently was off to climb in the Qinling Mountains near to Cui Hua Shan (Jade Flower Mountain) with a Chinese friend who had been one of my students. As often happens with climbers and others who pursue various activities, there is some sense of elitism or elan: as if one has some inner truth or purpose. As we departed, we spoke with a Chinese woman who saw us loaded down with our backpacks. As we left, the woman said to us, “You just want to suffer.” It did take a little bit out of my sail.
However, if you are in to pain and suffering the Qinling Mountains have a lot to offer. On one camping trip, I took five of my students to climb Turtle Mountain. It was a great trip, but if I had to find Turtle Mt. again, I would be at a loss. I have some frustration in that I can't find a good map of the Qinling Mountains that helps me to get back to where I was before.
I made a list for my students of those things to bring and what not to bring: no cotton allowed. In camping circles in the US, they have a phrase, “Cotton Kills”. Cotton retains water too well and cotton when wet only has 10% of its insulation ability. Also, cotton takes forever to dry and the body wastes a lot of precious heat trying to dry it out. Most hypothermia cases (low body temperature) happen when a hiker is cold, wet and exhausted and often the temperature is above freezing. The best camping clothes are anything synthetic or wool. An old pair of nylon dress pants is better hiking gear than Levis or cotton jeans. Read my lips: cotton kills.
Turtle Mt. is within 20 km of Xian in the Qinling Mountains (but today I couldn't find it). We hiked up a trail and got lost and explored a large mine that was quite interesting. We made it to the top of the mountain and set up our tents. You have to sniff around in Xian to find a good stove, but I recommend a gas or butane stove as the most user friendly. I also recommend a wind guard for the stove so the wind will not blow out the flame.
Instant food (pre-cooked and then dried) has become the standard in the US and Europe for camping. Heat the water and dump in the freeze-dried and instant food. But I would like to know why there is no instant rice in China? Thus instant noodles are great for camping and cheap. The old Chinese rule of boiling your water is a must. This is particularly true for foreigners who are not used to various bacteria and parasites of China. I highly recommend Imodium and anti-biotic in case of diarrhea.
On this trip to Turtle Mt., I was insistent upon being prepared for bad events. It did not rain, but we had all the jackets and tents in case it did. There are many tents available in Xian, but I recommend a good rain fly (that protects against rain) and an entrance that is not exposed to the rain when opened. Also, I ground cloth or trash bags are good to prevent the tent from getting holes in the water-proof bottom. But make sure the ground cloth is all the way under the tent. Otherwise, it collects rain and distributes it under the tent.
Sleeping bags are of various designs, but most will do for the summer. I suggest a mat to sleep on, but stay away from heavy ones and it only needs to be as long as your body. Your legs don't need a matt. A foam matt that does not inflate is the most dependable. Hiking boots are nice, but tennis shoes seem to work well for most of us.
On another hiking trip near Cui Hua Shan, we used ropes to haul ourselves up the hills because a recent rain had made the trails too slick. A kind person in the group, made a trip back down the mountain for water. In the Qinling Mountains, there seems to be a constant lack of water and it all must be hauled unless you want to boil it. Even then it is hard to find. Often I have to beg for water at the homes of local inhabitants.
I have been able to hike about 16 km from a reservoir west of Nan Wu Tai to a valley west of Cui Hua Shan through the Qinling Mountains. There are trails made by farmers or other travelers. Visit the monks in their solitary homes on Nan Wu Tai and the nine temples. Students as far as way as Singapore come to study on the mountain with their teacher. During one trip to an area near Cui Hua Shan, I walked through 100 bees who I thought were more interested in honey than in stinging me. They were.
I recommend the North Face jacket which can be bought for 180 RMB at the Moslem Market. Backpacks can be bought there also but are not the same quality and I feel are too small, but I use them. After 50 years, of camping, I have grown more cautious or I like suffering less. On one trip to see Pandas in the wild our guides said we did not need our North Face parkas. During the rain filled hike in, several of the guides left us because they had become too cold. Pain hurts.
Flashlights are essential in camping and the best fit on your head like a miner's lamp leaving your hands free. Like all things in camping, everything is cheaper if you buy camping equipment at other than camping equipment stores. Therefore, good headlamps can be found at electronic markets and are cheaper.
A knife is good on a camping trip as well as suntan lotion, hat, insect repellant, sunglasses, extra clothing, cigarette lighter, medical kit, duct tape, maps, compass, toilet kit, toilet paper, whiskey and a few other things. The best water bottles are empty coke bottles. They don't leak and they are cost little. Cheap cooking kits can be found at any store that sells pots and pans. Pliers are good to hold hot pans, repair things, and other uses. Take a cup for tea and a spoon. Raisins, nuts, and chocolate are good for lunch and require no cooking.
On one trip up a mountain on a disappearing trail, I eventually turned back without reaching the top, because I was afraid of losing the trail and there were a lot of cliffs. If I had gotten lost, I would have been in a world of hurt. On the same trip, I fell down a cliff of thorns as I followed an abandoned trail down a hill. Since a trail had been there in the past I knew there would not be a cliff at the bottom that would make me turn back. Poisonous snakes, bears, unknown bugs did not seem to bother me that much, but I knew they were there. I did end up in another valley and had to hitch-hike home as I was not going to climb back up that cliff of thorns. I may be crazy, but I am not stupid.
As usual China seems to offer the best and the worst. Some of the best hiking I have ever done is climbing Li Shan, Hua Shan, Cui Hua Shan, Nan Wu Tai, Lou Guan Tai, Tai Bai Shan: stone steps, paved trails, hostels to sleep in, food and drink at the top or along the way. On many of these you need no tent or cooking gear or even a sleeping bag. The other side of hiking and camping in China are poor trails, signs in Chinese or no signs, no maps, little water, garbage every where, few camping spots etc. At some places, there is enough garbage to make a camp fire. Also, there are suppose to be buses working with outdoor equipment stores to take people hiking, but I have had problems locating them.
In many ways, China is another Alaska of the US. One source says that China has more unclimbed mountains than any country on earth. China has the potential to be a big adventure-travel destination. The mountains and rivers are there.
On another trip to the back side of Mt. Tai Bai, I hiked up a river with a friend and slid down moss slickened rocks. Possibly one of the benefits of camping, hiking and climbing is that it lets us be children again and not take life too seriously. Or maybe we just want to suffer.