The unBalanced ecoLOGist: All Juniper All the Time, up to 4200 m a.s.l.

The morning, not surprisingly for a dry desert at 3200 m, dawned bright and blue. Apparently the average 200 mm of annual rainfall here all falls during the monsoon season of June-July (into August). The rest of the time it’s dry dry dry.

I was awakened by a trumpet (recorded or live, I couldn’t tell) playing Reveille at about 05:00 to awaken the high school students for their morning calisthenics.

After a quick breakfast of steamed buns, boiled eggs, and fried dough, we set off for a short drive to a nearby valley; the road terminated at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, where apparently the monks enjoy basketball.

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The Qu ri gang monastery at the entry to the Qu ri gang valley, 30 minutes outside of Dulan city.

We parked the car just outside the court, and started our walk up the valley to explore the junipers (Juniperus przewalski) treeline.

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Juniper is the only tree that grows here, and it reaches treeline at varying elevations depending on temperature and moisture availability. This view is looking towards the north.

In this vast mountainous terrain, it’s hard to get a sense of scale. My initial perception was that the hilltop and treeline we were heading for was maybe 2 km distant.

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The juniper zone, from the bottom to the top. We were aiming for the small hill at the top of the picture.

Eight km from the monastery and more than 3 hours later, we reached the top.

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This photo of the monastery is from just below the top (treeline) of the juniper zone. Click on the photo for a larger version so you can maybe find the monastery.

The monastery was at about 3300 m asl. The base of the treeline was at about 3800 m asl, treeline was at about 4250 m asl, and the peak we reached before starting down was just over 4350 m asl (about 14,250 feet above sea level, or just under 3 miles high). The air was pretty thin up there, but the views were simply unbelievable (click on the thumbnails to start a slideshow of larger images).

It’s always useful to look down, though, as the flora in this valley is widely known for its diversity, and the marmots were playing in the sun.

Two hours later, we finally reached the monastery again. All told, around 15 km of hiking, 1000 m of elevation gain and then loss, and about 5 hours hard hiking. Magnificent!

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360 degree panorama from 4350 m (click for larger version)

On the way back to Dulan, we detoured briefly off the road to view one of the Buddhist sky burial sites. This massif was distinctly different in size, shape, and probably geologic composition from the surrounding mountains. Not being Tibetans, however, we couldn’t enter the site, but even from half a km away, it was mighty impressive.

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Sky burial site near Dulan City (click for larger version)

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