Over the May holidays Yang Xiao escaped the crush in Dali and returned to Laojunshan, which we first visited on the Tea Trail to the Yangtze exploratory trek in May 2010. We failed to find a viable south-north route over the range to Shitou on that occasion; Yang Xiao hoped to do better this time out.

Yang Xiao ascends the lower south slope of the Laojun range, which peaks at 4,247 meters above sea level.

Laojunshan is best known for its abundance of rhododendron species. Early May is just about the perfect time to hike here. I’ve posted a number of flower pix lower down. The example above is a Rhododendron yunnanensis, if I remember rightly.

Laojunshan is also notable for its alpine lakes. These three are probably the most famous, collectively known as San Cai Hu.

While I stayed home, Yang Xiao was joined on this trip by our friend Adam Kritzer, who runs Climb Dali.

Our intrepid duo’s tent below Taiyi Feng, the 2nd-highest peak of the Laojun Range, next to Yue Hu (“Moon Lake”).

Adam helps himself to fresh spring water. We’ve noticed Europeans and, especially, North Americans tend to be nervous about drinking untreated water in China’s wilderness. In Yunnan’s high ranges we can usually find excellent water sources; it’s the treated water in town that we’re worried about!

Yunnan was still in the grip of drought during May. The weather didn’t break until the second week of June.

In the distance you can just see the line of the road that leads up to the Qunlong Shanzhuang, a little-visited tourist restaurant-guesthouse in the “99 Dragon Pools” area on Laojunshan. It’s a long, bumpy 4-wheel-drive up a dirt and stone track, but well worth it if you’re interested in the primeval rhododendron forest on the slopes above the restaurant.

If you were to hike up into that forest, you might meet this gentleman or his fellow villagers. Zhao Runqing was foraging for Cordyceps sinensis, or caterpillar fungus, which fetches a fine price among Chinese convinced of its magical medicinal properties.

Some of Zhao Runqing’s cordyceps collection.

I’m not sure about this rhododendron…

…or this one.

Primula sonchifolia Franch.

This, however, I think is a Rhododendron phaechrysum, with lots of small Rhododendron racemosum in the background.

I think this is a Rhododendron rubiginosum.

And here’s the Rhododendron racemosum close up.

Damn my memory. I’ll fill this one in as soon as Yang Xiao gives me back the Yunnan flower bible.

This is an interesting one. I’m not even sure if it’s a flower or a fruit!

On the north side of Laojunshan, Yang Xiao and Adam reached the village of Lanxiang, which is mainly inhabited by people of the Bai ethnic group. Yang Xiulan shows off the local style, which is quite different to that of the Bai here in Dali.

Having successfully negotiated Laojunshan, Yang Xiao and Adam departed the area via the valley that leads through Shitou to the Jinsha River. Yang Xiao says the route they followed was good overall, but too narrow for a mule team in places. Older villagers confirmed that caravans formerly passed that way, however, and that a viable trail is still intact. We’ll be heading back to Laojunshan to find it…