Hiker still missing months after venturing into no man's land in Tibet
Liu Yinchuan Photos: image.baidu.com
Liu Yinchuan, a 30-year-old outdoor enthusiast, remains missing since he got around a checkpoint to get into Qiangtang, China's biggest nature reserve known as 'no man's land', in northern Tibet on October 23, 2017. Liu had planned to hike through Qiangtang, Hoh Xil and Altun Mountains, the three uninhabited highland areas respectively in west China's Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang.

According to local police, the hiker didn’t carry enough food with him for such a long-distance trip, and rescue teams searching along his planned route haven’t found any trace of the man so far. Liu's family, rescuers and netizens concerned about his whereabouts only have fragmentary information from his social media posts before departure, reported a Chinese newspaper.

Liu posted about his adventurous voyage in WeChat's Moments (also known as friends' circle) a few days before he set out. He had planned to leave from Shuanghu county in Tibet's Nagqu prefecture on October 23, traverse Qiangtang, Hoh Xil and Altun Mountains, and finally arrive at the Huatugou town in Qinghai.
Liu Yinchuan in the Ngari Prefecture in July, 2017

The planned route is nearly 1,505 kilometers, with the highest point being 5,429 meters above the sea level. At an average speed of 7.42 kilometers per hour, it would take him around 60 days to finish the journey. “If I'm not back before December 20, please wait for another 10 days, and if I'm not back till January 1, 2018, please don't come to look for me. Just remember that I'll try to be alive,” he wrote.

On October 23, Liu arrived at Shuanghu county as planned only to find that hikers are not permitted to enter Qiangtang. So, he decided to take a roundabout route to steer clear of the checkpoint. “(I) wish not to be caught and sent back. Everything will be fine after (I) pass by the glacier,” he wrote.

Xiang Qiang (alias) with the Shuanghu county police station told the Beijing News there is only a dirt road of around 90 kilometers connecting Shuanghu and the glacier, a scenic spot in Qiangtang nature reserve. “A checkpoint has been set up along the way. If we spot unauthorized visitors, we'll send them back,” Xiang said, admitting that in such a vast area, Liu had a big chance to have made a detour and evade the checkpoint.

Some working staff with the Qiangtang nature reserve administration told the Beijing Youth Daily that more and more travelers are bypassing permission to enter nowadays. “There are only 780 conservation personnel for the whole protection zone. They patrol everyday but it's impossible for them to cover all the places they're supposed to keep an eye on in one day's time,” he said.

Liu is generally believed to have not prepared well for his adventure. His post in WeChat Moments indicated he had spent several thousand yuan to buy 10 kilograms of sliced dried beef and five kilograms of cheese for food, a down-filled sleeping bag designed to withstand -20℃ degree, silica gel tent easy to put on a snowfield, 45w solar panel, and a mapping software downloaded to his cell phone.

Xiang indicated the food was not enough for such a long-distance hiking and the sleeping bag he was carrying may not be able to resist Antarctic cold with temperatures sometimes dipping to -40℃. Tourists going for glaciers in Qiangtang are usually recommended to drive off-road vehicle and bring satellite phone, while Liu didn't have these equipments.

The hiker never updated his WeChat Moments after October 23, 2017, when he entered Qiangtang, where there is no cell service, and he was last seen on October 31, when a tourist driving through Qiangtang came across the hiker and took a photo with him.

Qiangtang, Hoh Xil, Altun Mountains, and Lop Nur in west China are all known as no man's land due to harsh natural environment and capricious climate over a vast area ranging from arid desert to frigid highlands, snow mountains and glacier. Outdoor adventurers are attracted by not only the land's unspeakable scenic beauty but the desire to challenge the limits of life.

At the beginning of November, just after Liu Yinchuan embarked on his journey, the movie Seventy-seven Days hit the big screen, which is based on the true story of Yang Liusong, an adventurer-author traversing Qiangtang by foot and a bicycle in 77 days to search for purpose in life. The movie once again drew widespread public attention to the no man's land in western China.

Qiangtang, meaning "northern highland" in Tibetan language, is a high-altitude plateau in Tibet, and home to over 100 kinds of wild species. Being snow-covered throughout the year, temperatures in the evening could drop below -30℃ in the winter. Those who want to hike through the vast area would be exposed to sandstorm, snowstorm, oxygen deficit and beasts, said local police.

A netizen who had spent a week in Qiangtang agreed. “It's really a no man's land. There is no road, with all liquid water frozen into ice. So, vehicles would get stuck in the ice holes several times per day. During a snow storm, people could not identify objects within a couple of meters,” he said. It's known that from the year 2000 till now, only 10 Chinese have succeeded in traversing the Qiangtang Nature Reserve.

On the other hand, China's government has long restricted outdoor enthusiasts from traversing the land citing concerns over ecological environment degradation and threat to endangered species.

According to a report by the Beijing Youth Daily, on November 20, 2017, about one month after Liu ventured into Qiangtang, the environment protection authorities of Hoh Xil, Altun Mountains and Qiangtang jointly issued a notice, prohibiting any individual or entity from traversing the nature reserve without permission.

The notice claimed, in recent years, some outdoor explorers had arbitrarily organized group activities to intrude into the core areas of the protection zones, wrecking havoc on highland ecological environment and habitats of endangered wildlife.

The newly released affiche regulates violators would be turned over to local police, and even face criminal charges. Meanwhile, responsibilities of casualties caused would be undertaken fully by violators themselves.

UNESCO certified the Hoh Xil nature reserve as a natural heritage site last July.

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