This is the first in an occasional, but surely lengthy series in which we explore shorter trails in and around the Dali area. For the weekend of October 22-23, we set off from Xizhou to cross Mt. Cangshan.

The first part of this route follows a trail blazed by Kublai Khan’s army in the 13th century, but more recently upgraded courtesy of the Great Leap Forward. This stone was erected (accidental symbolism, surely?) in August 1958 to commemorate the heroic aspiration of the labouring masses, whose lofty spirit and ceaseless toil would make the mountaintops ring with the sound of machinery. The fallow land would grow fruitful and welcome multitudes, thanks to the Great Communist Party, Mao Zedong, etc..

Anyway, back to the beginning with a fine omen as viewed from the window of Chateau Red Rock.

The first part of the trail follows an easy dirt path, offering great views back over Xizhou and Lake Erhai.

The overall elevation gain is around 800 meters, and about half of that was accomplished in the first hour – opening up a view over most of Erhai and the Dali plain.

Further up, the route narrows and there are some nice sections of stone-paved trail. A 10-strong mule team passed us at this point, but the animals detoured along a secondary path that was hidden from my prying camera.

With most of the climb done by midday, the rest of the day’s trail was a gentle stroll along the ridge path leading into the ‘V’ above.

Looking back, you can see the flat, wide trail to the right, and our last sight of Erhai in the distance.

The remains of the stone road built in the late 1950s became clearer as we entered the broad pasture called Huadianba. This was the focal point of the GLF plan: 250-hectares of virgin land to be transformed by industry, mining, agriculture and herding.

It was a fiasco. The land was totally unsuitable for farming, and since only pack animals could negotiate the road up and down, it wasn’t much use for industrial development, either. Rather than multitudes of happy labouring folk, Huadianba is now home to this yak herd. The yaks seemed contented.

It’s terrific for camping, though! Tina tucked in early, after which an unseasonal downpour began. It lasted all night and all the next morning, after which we decided not to press on; instead, we retreated back the way we had come (camera stowed deep in the dryest recesses of my pack, so no more pix). We shall return!