At 6:00 am Litang was still slumbering in the cold air of a city at nearly 13,000 feet. The morning stillness quickly evaporated as our soon to be driver, Ado, honked his horn in front of the locked gate of our hotel. We piled our bags of food, clothes, camping and climbing gear into Ado’s jeep and headed southwest out of town toward the Genyen Massif. Rinchen Chuta was also accompanying us to help with various logistics during our expedition and give us a better insight into the local culture of the region. Ado and Rinchen were from the same village and chatted in Tibetan, non stop, like a couple of teenagers catching up after summer vacation. Meanwhile, Eric, Szu-ting and I bounced around in the back seat watching the morning light illuminate the boulder strewn hillsides. As we ascended through a series of tight switchbacks the mist began to lift. At the top of the pass we were treated to an amazing panorama of the full Genyen Massif. The Genyen range was even more expansive than I remembered from my 2006 expedition. A multitude of granite spires poked through distant glaciers with most summits still unclimbed. After another hour of dust and bumps we could drive no further, we were in the tiny village of Zhangma, the end of the road or so I thought.
In Zhangma, I had a tremendous sense of deja vu. We parked the jeep in the same place as in 2006, I sat in the exact same seat and drank tea in the same room while talking with the horse packers as I did during the last expedition and the same old woman held the horses as our bags were strapped onto their backs. But as we headed out of town toward the river things looked different. Instead crossing the sketchy suspension bridge there was a brand new concrete bridge spanning the river. What had been a narrow trail, just passable by horses, had been transformed into a road that a two wheel drive car could safely navigate. Instead of crude mini hydro generators the remote farm houses now had power provided by miles of high tension electrical wires.
An hour into our trek Mt Genyen, at 20354 feet, came into view with its snowy summit contrasting with the summer temperature we were experiencing 10,000 feet below. After following the dirt road for six miles, we then turned south and continued on a spur road another three miles to its terminus. At the end of the road was a large construction site. When I asked the horse packers what was being built, they told me it was the new location for the Lenggu Monastery. I was shocked. The Lenggu Monastery was built over 600 years ago and was one of the few monasteries that was not destroyed during the cultural revolution of the 1960′s. In the end, the lure of modern conveniences that a road side location could offer made the remote yet stunningly picturesque original Lenggu Monastery relocate to the “suburbs.”
Even though the road ended, a new motorcycle accessible road continued the remaining two miles up to the doorway of the old Monastery. We climbed slowly up the remaining distance. Clouds surrounded Genyen and the rest of the valley’s peaks obscuring their summits, but I knew they were there watching us. As we neared the Lenggu Monastery, we heard voices. In 2006 there were only seven monks living in the monastery. Today, we watched dozens of monks in red robes spilling out of the entry way like ants looking at the intruders approaching. We waved and the monks waved back and returned to their studying. We continued following the horses another half mile up the valley to a flat meadow next to the river where we installed our base camp.