Melting giant: Glacier no 1 (Xingjiang, China)

Glacier no 1 sits in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Located within the Tianshan Mountains 120 kilometers southwest of Urumqi, this natural wonder is the closest glacier to an urban community in the world.

(Trip done in October 2011)

View from the plane: this white line in the background was much more exciting than cocaine, the snow-capped Tianshan mountains!

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I wasn’t really well prepared, all I knew was that I only had 10 days off and was getting crazy being in an office! After some search on the web, I came across the existence of a Glacier near Wulumuqi….KABOOUM! this is it: Glacier no 1 (冰川一号)…

After dropping some stuff at the Baihualin International Youth Hostel* we left the next morning to explore the Tianshan mountain. My driver and guide was a funny dude that I met at the Hostel (I asked insistently if there was a possibility to sleep at the top of the mountain, they laughed and introduce me to Mr Feng…the only one that accepted to take me there.)

STAY:

*Baihualin International Youth Hostel

186 Nanhu South Rd
Shuimogou, Urumqi, Xinjiang, China
+86 991 488 1428

On the way to Tianshan mountain, we stopped at some local honey farm on the side of the road.

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The dangerous and narrow road to Baishui Glacier No. 1 is filled with trucks… and fat ass sheep! I was lucky that Mr Feng is used to it, and fully mastered the art of stop and go. The longest we waited was due to these creatures, really wanted to transform them into a Chuanr!

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Since few years now, the government invested billions to improve the infrastructures in order to secure the roads and accelerate trading of natural resource in this region. For more info, please read:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1414

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After 5 hours of mountain road driving, we reached the base camp of glacier no 1, which is deserted by tourists at this time of the year (October). I’m lucky enough because in one week the roads would be closed because of the extreme cold weather. My guide still didn’t want to stay overnight and stay in one of these yurts… I will only understand his reluctance later that night….

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We arrived in the afternoon, early enough to hike the 2 km that separate the Glacier from the main road. Normally it is strictly forbidden to enter the area with vehicles, since the pollution is fastening the melting of this cold beauty, however we saw people in SUV easily getting in by just giving few kuai to the guard at the entrance…no comment. My guide thought it was a bit silly to choose to go by foot, it would take us at least half an hour to the reach our destination because of the altitude. The glacier’s elevation ranges from 3740 meters to 4500 meters…so…well yep, I nearly fainted! no stars just colorful lights, not too bad. My throat was hurting but the cold was vivifying, anyway fear nothing with warming patch!

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The glacier was majestic, at the time we arrived, we didn’t see a single visitor since it was already late in the afternoon. We were just wandering around this impressive mountain of ice.

If I was on that picture, I would be a dot. Glacier no 1 is a scenic view with stretch of 2.4 kilometers, covering an area of 1.85 square kilometers. It was formed about 4.8 millions of years ago at tertiary stratum of Ice Age. It is famous for being considered as a”living fossil of glacier” because of a rich deposits of all periods.

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If I was on that picture, I would be a dot. Glacier no 1 is a scenic view with stretch of 2.4 kilometers, covering an area of 1.85 square kilometers. It was formed about 4.8 millions of years ago at tertiary stratum of Ice Age. It is famous for being considered as a”living fossil of glacier” because of a rich deposits of all periods.

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Rocks and lichen nearby the glacier.

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This is the right side of the Glacier easily accessible by foot

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When we got closer it was surprisingly noisy. The melting ice formed a tiny stream that produced a clear melody that contrasted with the threatening loud and empty echo of the glacier cracking and moving from far away. Yes it’s alive but this sound is the requiem for its slow death.

It’s not obvious on the pictures but the Glacier surface is dirty…

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“Numbers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences indicate that the rate of the glacier’s recession grows every year under increasing global temperatures. Over the four decades between 1962 and 2006, the glacier’s surface area had shrunk by 14 percent, from 1.95 to 1.68 square kilometers, while its thickness had gone down by 15 meters.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/26/opinion/26Schell.html?_r=0

http://www-es.s.chiba-u.ac.jp/~takeuchi/urumqi.html

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/photo/2012-08/08/c_131770901.htm

Mr Feng finally accepted to spend the night in a visitor Yurt, we negotiated 100RMB per person dinner included.

Here is our host preparing the dinner: Nan (=Xingjiang bread) + probably the best Chuanr in the world. The lamb was just hanging outside the yurt naturally frozen, she would just barbecue it with some salt. It was a mouth watering tasty meal..before the longest night of my life!

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STAY

Glacier Base Camp Yurt 100RMB dinner included.

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Dried Snow lotus Saussurea Xue Lian

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I nearly froze to death with 2 blanket, all my clothes, 4 warming patch…the cold was so intense that my mind was restless. Absolutely impossible to fall asleep even if your body is damn tired. The next morning I was welcomed by big black crow and fortunately the view was beautiful enough to make me forget about the longest 8 hours  ever.

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We left the camp and head to a viewpoint behind the Glacier that was the peak of the mountain.

Got punched by the sun!

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On the way back we cross again the Bizhao Mountains.

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