I recently returned from a 3 week jaunt out in China’s westernmost province: Xinjiang. This place has been sort of a holy grail of sorts for me, a place I’ve always heard so much about but never had a chance to go due to it’s distance from the east coast where I reside. But then, an opportunity came up for me to participate in a mountain trek in the Tian Shan mountains, just outside Urumqi, where we would be camping/hiking for 8 days in the wilderness, which coincidentally was one other thing I’ve been wanting to check off my China bucket list. So the first leg of my ‘wild west’ trip was set.
The local church I attend was leading a group of youths out into the Xinjiang wilderness and needed a chapperone, and I volunteered faster than a neutrino flying around a hadron collider. The trip was through a company called Journey Wilderness Adventures and anyone looking to explore the wilderness of northern Xinjiang should contact Chris and check it out. I was really excited about this trip because of the spiritual aspect as well, as JWA caters to people looking to get out of their city lives and connect with God in nature. This trip also includes one day of fasting and solitude, which was quite challenging, but infinitely rewarding. They accommodate groups up to 12 and can cater to your age group, timeline (summertime), and physical abilities, although all of the trips require at least some level of physical fitness. All of the trips meet in Urumqi 1 day before, and head back to Urumqi leaving 1 day to reflect and share about your time with the group.
Not surprisingly, the most fantastic aspect of this trip is the scenery. Xinjiang has some of the most diverse landscapes I’ve ever seen, and we could literally walk from grasslands to sand dunes to pine forests to rocky mountain crags, all in the same day. Not to mention we’d sleep with 50 degree temps at night, and hike in 80-90 degree weather in the day. All this of course, with 50 lbs. of gear on your back. This may seem like a lot, but with the quality equipment JWA provided, it wasn’t all that bad. Chris and his crew have all top-notch gear, from lightweight tents, folding camp stoves, and a water filtration system that could fit in the palm of your hand. All of our food was dehydrated and had to brought into the wilderness, with each of us carrying a dinner that would be eaten according to our menu’s schedule. Each day we were assigned one of following tasks: cooks, water team, journalist, Leave No Trace inspector, and leader of the day (navigator). Most of these sound pretty self-explanatory, less Leave No Trace inspector. Leave No Trace is a minimalist movement among outdoorsmen (and women) all over the world to minimize waste and reduce the impact people have on nature/wildlife, or more simply put, keep our beautiful places beautiful. This is something I knew nothing about, and although it seems radical, I can see how this ideology could really make an impact in preserving this planet. I say it seemed radical because we were required to eat the entire apple, core and all. If you dropped a macaroni noodle on the ground, you ate it. Want to wash your dinner bowl? Great, but you can only use your tongue and saliva. Time to brush your teeth, but don’t spit, you gotta spray that stuff so it doesn’t leave a big white pile of crud on the ground. The idea is that when you leave a campsite, it should look like you were never there. It took some getting used to, but I think it’s an amazing idea and I fully support the movement. It really makes you think, “What if we could get this sort of mentality in the average city dwelling consumer?” It could really make an impact not just in the wilderness, but in urban areas as well. It’s the sort of shift in thinking I personally believe must take place before it’s too late, or this earth will be destroyed.
So off we went, each day cleaning up our campsite spic and span, taking every spec of trash (minimized) out of the woods from whence we came. Overall, we stopped at 4 separate campsites during the 8 days, including one at the base of a mountain next to a river made from melted snow runoff. We stopped there about day 4, where we got the chance to jump in and wash up a bit, even though it was freezing…..it was totally worth it. After that we, as a group, entered a 24 hour fast, and one whole day of solitude in the woods, without talking or communication with any of the group members. My solitude day started out on a bad note, as I lost my brand new hiking shoe in the river as I was crossing it. We were miles away from anything that could remotely be considered civilization, so I had to get that shoe back. I ran down the river and eventually found it caught on a rock. I went out and got it, but on my way back my sandal fell off my foot, and shot down the river. Feeling disgusted and as though there were some evil force trying to stop me from getting the most out of this day, I ventured further down river, where I saw my foam sandal swirling around in a small pool. I jumped down and grabbed it right before it was shot out, and finally I could start what was to be a long day of reading, prayer, and meditation. Almost losing my 2 types of footwear was totally worth it.
It was an awesome time to be free of all distractions; no phones, no internet, nothing.
No tourists, just you, your group, and the great wilderness of northern Xinjiang……that and the occasional Kazakh local cruising by on horse (or motorcycle!) herding their sheep. Because Xinjiang and Kazakhstan share a common border, many people in this area, though technically considered China, are still living here as remnants of their homeland, seldom speaking much Mandarin, but extremely friendly/curious nonetheless.
I can’t say enough about this trip, so just look at the pictures below, they speak for themselves. And let me know if you have any questions!
Up next: Urumqi