Eastern Tibet

Eastern Tibet: The Sacred Peaks of Golok

In July 2017, Explorers Club’s Adrian Bottomley embarked on the second ‘flag’ expedition sanctioned by the Hong Kong Chapter. Accompanied by China-based environmental photographer Kyle Obermann, the aim of the expedition was to attempt the first ever full traverse of a remote and spectacular mountain range that straddles the border of Sichuan and Qinghai –  the sacred peaks of Golok. A key objective of the expedition was also to connect and collaborate with a grassroots conservation initiative spearheaded by two local Tibetan monks.

The expedition proved to be logistically challenging for a number of reasons, not least due of the fierce territorial claims of different nomadic clans on various valleys throughout the range. In the end this only made it possible to complete the slightly shorter traverse from East to West (approximately 40km) rather than the originally planned route from South to North.

The range is typified by stunning, and slightly surreal, finials that tower above shark-toothed ridge lines and top out and around 5000m. The potential for exploring new climbing routes among these peaks is extensive and varied, and in itself would merit a return to these mountains with a group that had more technical climbing skills. There are also manifold opportunities for further exploratory trekking.

The ecological diverstity of these peaks is extraordinary; home to approximately 40 snow leopard, over a dozen nesting sights for the Black-necked crane and home to myriad rare flora, some of which are endemic to this specific range. Once such flower, is the seldom-documented Meconopsis Brabiseta (a lilac poppy that we found flowering throughout most of the range). There are also numerous rare primulas including the jet black Primula Melanantha.

Incredibly, we also discovered that the two Tibetan monks in question (Tashi and Gengga) had, over the course of eight years, single-handedly compiled an extensive diversity study of all the flora and fauna in the range to help educate and co-opt local nomads in to conserving this unique and prolific Alpine biosphere.

Finally, the peaks are also of particular interest to those interested in Tibetan Buddhist culture. One particular crystal-clear lake at the centre of the range is believed to be the inner sanctum of Chakrasamavara, the most important meditational deity in Tibetan Buddhism, and revered locally for being of such clarity that advanced tantric practitioners are believed to be able to see their future karmic path reflected in it’s waters. Indeed the immense beauty of the range is such, that it is easy to imagine the awe that must be felt by the trickle of pious locals who make this journey as a pilgrimage.

In July 2018, Adrian and Kyle will be leading an expedition back into these mountains to once again explore deeper into the range and assist Tashi and Gengga with some specific environmental objectives. On this occasion, the trip will be open to all.