The International Steam Pages

Shibanxi Holiday 2010 - The Huangcun Horseshoe

Click here for the Shibanxi Holiday 2010 report.

Click here for the extended Shibanxi Holiday 2009 reports.

For those with sufficient time, this mega walk can be combined with elements of walks 2 and 3 of the 'Bagou Short Circuits' - instructions for this are given at the end - the total walk will probably take some 5 hours!

This was perhaps the best hike we have yet done in the area, an extended loop based on Huangcun. If anyone reading this account is seriously interested in repeating it, please get in touch and I will happily supply a sketch map - I am not prepared to accept responsibility for getting unprepared hikers lost by putting it on my website. The weather was not really conducive for photography and the pictures do not really do justice for the beautiful scenery, you'll just have to take my word for it!

Like other visitors, some time ago, we climbed the steep steps to the south of the line some couple of hundred metres short of the terminus at Huangcun which give an excellent bird's eye view of the railway almost all the way from Bagou. It's a bit of a climb, the body language here says it all:

The area at the top is completely flat, you could get several football pitches on it and, for the area, it is strangely uninhabited by vegetation. Only when we reached the far side and found we had to descent slightly did we realise that, in fact, it is actually the spoil tip for the old coal mine at Huangcun! The steps must have formerly have been a cable incline. The stream from the valley behind it vanishes into the tip and I assume there is (or was) some kind of culvert underneath. Beyond, the path continues up the valley, there are paths on both sides rising steeply but there was no need to follow them at this stage.

After a while, the valley path reaches a dam which I assume controls the stream and may well provide water for the village. 

At this point, we had to turn right up the hill and very soon reached a truck road, I assume this is the lowest branch of the one which starts below Bagou and which gives excellent views of the railway from its south side. Rather than return to Bagou we again turned right and followed the winding dirt road with views of the spoil tip:

Of course, as often happens, it ended in the middle of nowhere. This was not a problem as a small path continued into a cultivated area and beyond where it joined a main path upwards (which had we had seen rising from near the spoil tip). 

This, as they say, is where the story really begins as it climbed right to the top of the ridge where there was a 'cross roads'. Ahead we could see down into another valley but we were faced with the more practical choice of 'left or right'. For various reasons we chose right and found ourselves on a path which followed the narrow ridge up and down westwards - in fact it was like a 'Great Wall Hike' without the wall. This was the view to the south and the other picture shows Yuehong on the ridge - yes there was a path under her feet!

We could see and hear the small mine at Huangcun and away to the north was the settlement above it which we had visited a few days earlier and, as planned, revisited later on this hike:

Eventually the hill broadened out as we approached an area we had been to before on our return from Huangdan in June 2009. The yellow flowers were extremely photogenic, it was just too bad they were miles from the railway...

We knew from experience that we had to be careful in this area as we had explored one dead end which had required a long back track. In fact, it was not too difficult once we realised that we had to make what amounted to almost a U-turn at the 'cross roads' just after the first house and this brought us to a more familiar 'cross roads'. To the right was a known dead end, ahead was a path straight down which we knew would take us to Huangcun but we turned left on the truck road which followed the ridge. Although parts resembled a burned wasteland, in fact it was being replanted with young bamboo.

Not wishing to take the road down to Huangdan, shortly after we took the minor right fork still following the ridge and this brought us to a major junction which we had passed through on the main path between Huangcun (right) and Huangdan (left) - see the Huangdan Hike.

We had only been going for some 2 hours by now so we continued along the ridge, soon leaving the road which went down (to the left) and returning to a traditional path (on the right) for the next section which curved to the north. Emerging from the wooded section we could see a cleared area ahead with a small village below us to the right. The path became another truck road downwards and at the first junction we turned right on the minor road as we needed to head east again. Quite where the road ahead led we could only guess but it certainly wasn't going to lead to Bagou quickly (in this we were totally wrong - it would have led us round the ridge and directly to Bagou as we found later on our north west passage walk). By now we were heading downwards and feeling quite pleased with ourselves as we were some 2/3 round the horseshoe.

After one last curve round the hillside once again our road came to an end in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, a small path carried on albeit significantly more steeply. Although it was completely hemmed in, it was going in vaguely the right direction and we had no choice but to follow it. I half expected it to lead straight down to Huangcun but after descending into a small valley it followed the contours instead. Just why, was fairly soon made clear as we joined another path which led us down to an inhabited area just below the forest line. Yuehong was showing unusual confidence in my navigating ability but this was the comforting sight shortly afterwards. 

This would have taken us down to Huangcun but instead we carried on along the contour until we had to pass through another inhabited area just above the original small mine there. There was just one more small valley to cross before we found ourselves at the end of the lower branch of truck road which rises behind the station at Bagou.

In fact, having left Bagou as the second passenger train went up the valley, we were back in town in good time to see the third train - the entire hike had taken just over 4 hours...

If you have plenty of time and energy, you can walk the entire ridge on the south side, west side and north side of Bagou in one expedition, it's a simply wonderful way of spending a dry day when it's too dull to photograph the trains. Here's how:

(Part of Bagou Short Circuits Walk 2 which includes a full illustrated description) Leave Bagou by the truck road that rises diagonally under the mobile phone towers and follow as it curves around at the top until you get to a crossroads with a small shop on the left. Turn right and follow the truck road steeply up to the ridge. Walk on with occasional views down to Bagou, ignore the path which descends to the right (this is the descent for Walk 2), walk on past the abandoned house, ignoring the path on the left which leads to the Three Kings Shrine. Soon after the truck road splits, the (main) left fork is described in 'Bagou Follies', but take the left trail which clearly follows the ridge (this is now part of Bagou Short Circuits Walk 3 in reverse). Follow this along the ridge until it joins another main truck road - turn right back up to the ridge and follow this for some way, ignoring the branch roads to the left. Eventually you will come to a cross roads with a path to the right which follows the ridge. Take this and you will see views which include the Huangcun spoil tip on the right. After a while you will get to a cross roads - the path coming up from the right is that described above - you need to go straight on along the ridge - part of the Huangcun Horseshoe. And then carry on through the relevant sections of the North West Passage and the Huangcun - Bagou North Side reports.

Rob Dickinson