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Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

In Brief: Photos from our hike in the Zhangye Danxia Landform and ascent of the world’s third-tallest sand dune.

We climbed a dune for views of a desert lake …, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

A lake in the Badain Jaran Desert.

The Badain Jaran Desert expedition was one of our new trips in 2013, and we’ll definitely be heading out there again in 2014

While we were out there passed through Zhangye and visited the Danxia Landform, a place that’s getting more and more famous. When you take a look at the photos, it’s easy to see why.

The main goal of the trip, though, was an ascent of the world’s third-tallest sand dune, the 1605m high Bilitu Peak. Luckily it’s not 1605m from the bottom to the top, or we would never have made it up! We made a climb of more than 300m, and with all the slipping and sliding in the sand that was tough enough. As well as being the third-tallest dune in the world, Bilitu Peak is the tallest in China, and is the world’s tallest stationary sand dune.

Our trip started off with a quick look about Jiayuguan, the closest airport to the desert. Then we drove on to Zhangye.

Zhangye City was an old Silk Road stop, and there are quite a few historical landmarks in the area. One of the places we visited was the Big Buddha Temple.

Newly popular, but older than the Big Buddha, is the Zhangye Danxia Landform, about two hours out of the city. We did some good hiking in the hills of the landform, enjoying a picnic lunch (and some timely moon cakes courtesy of Anders) on a high hill right in the middle.

From Zhangye we headed for the desert. We drove to a small town on the edge of the desert, where we met up with our jeep team, who then drove us further into the desert.

The Badain Jaran desert contains many lakes, but it’s best known for huge sand dunes, many of which are over 600m tall. Our drivers took us up and over many of the biggest – very skilful driving!

We passed several of the lakes on the way to where we’d set up camp on the third evening of our trip. We had dinner at a local nomad’s house, and then returned to our camp for a bonfire under the light of a full moon.

The next day we were up early for our ascent of Bilutu Peak, a steep and grueling climb, but worth the effort in the end!

Hiker Anders took this shot of the Reclining Buddha in Zhangye, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Hiker Anders took this shot of the Reclining Buddha in Zhangye.

From here we started our hike through the hills of the Zhangye Danxia Landform, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

From here we started our hike through the hills of the Zhangye Danxia Landform.

Coloured hills all around, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Coloured hills all around.

Hills and blue skies, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Hills and blue skies.

The Danxia Landform covers a large area, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

The Danxia Landform covers a large area.

The hiking group, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

The hiking group.

Beautiful colours in the hills, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Beautiful colours in the hills.

More of the coloured hills, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

More of the coloured hills.

A big open view, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

A big open view.

Hills and peaks, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Hills and peaks.

, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

This area is named “The Praying Monks”.

A type of local wildflower named Jinyinhua, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

A type of local wildflower named Jinyinhua – Gold and Silver flower. People use it for tea.

Walking through a secret valley, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Walking through a secret valley.

Here’s where we had our lunch break, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Here’s where we had our lunch break.

Tasty moon cakes, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Anders brought some tasty moon cakes to share with everybody.

 A huge grasshopper on the road, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

A huge grasshopper on the road.

In the distance, pointed white hills, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

In the distance, pointed white hills.

Hiking through the hills, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Hiking through the hills.

Salmon Hills, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

This part of the landform is called “Salmon Hills”.

We climbed up on to a ridge to take some photos, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

We climbed up on to a ridge to take some photos.

Spectacular hills in the afternoon light, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Spectacular hills in the afternoon light.

A weirdly-weathered small hill, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

A weirdly-weathered small hill.

Moon cakes were on display everywhere we went, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

We did this trip during Mid-Autumn Festival, and moon cakes were on display everywhere we went.

Our jeeps drove us into the desert, passing this lake, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Our jeeps drove us into the desert, passing this lake.

Cows grazing by a lake in the desert, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Cows grazing by a lake in the desert.

We climbed a dune for views of a desert lake …, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

We climbed a dune for views of a desert lake …

and to slide down from the top!, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

… and to slide down from the top!

These donkeys are not too sure about an approaching hiker., Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

These donkeys are not too sure about an approaching hiker.

Beautiful sunset light by the lake, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Beautiful sunset light by the lake.

Our jeep drivers were waiting for us over the dunes, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Our jeep drivers were waiting for us over the dunes.

Hikers in the desert, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Hikers in the desert.

Starting the climb up Bilitu Peak, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Starting the climb up Bilitu Peak.

Made it to the top, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Made it to the top!

Yes, I made it too, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Yes, I made it too!

We said it was a tough climb, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

We said it was a tough climb – no joking!

The marker at the top, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

The marker at the top reads ‘Bilutu World Geology Park, Alashan Desert”.

The GPS measurement of our climb, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

The GPS measurement of our climb.

Nice work, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Nice work!

You made it, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

You made it!

High five, you made it too, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

High five, you made it too.

And you! , Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

And you!

And you, too!, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

And you, too!

Everybody up on the top, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Everybody up on the top.

Difficult to climb up, easier to get back down, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Difficult to climb up, easier to get back down.

Walking down the sand dunes, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Walking down the sand dunes.

The fast way down, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

The fast way down.

Monastery was built during the Qing Dynasty, around the 17th century, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

This monastery was built during the Qing Dynasty, around the 17th century.

Another side of the monastery, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Another side of the monastery, photo by Anders.

The courtyard of the temple, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

The courtyard of the temple.

Super-guide Yanjing’s famous high kick has been all around China, Badain Jaran Desert and Zhangye Danxia Landform, 2013/09

Super-guide Yanjing’s famous high kick has been all around China.

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