According to local records, Yinchang Valley in Wolong was once rich with deposits of gold during the Qing Dynasty. The entrance of the valley bristles with sheer precipitous cliffs, and under these cliffs the turbulent river crashes its way through. The splashing sound thunders throughout the whole valley, offering a warning to newcomers: the steep mountain path is rugged and rough. The terrain of Wolong Nature Reserve is strategically situated and its inaccessibility makes the transect lines the most difficult to traverse while conducting the 4th National Giant Panda Census. What will this team, made up of provincial survey workers and staff from the Wolong Nature Reserve, encounter when they attempt to enter the area?
At 8:00am on July IS, 2012, three groups led separately by Zhang Liang, Zhang Kaiqiang, and Chen Yingkang struck out for Yinchang Valley. All group members, together with hired guides, numbered a total of 30 people. Because the transect lines were very long and quite far from Wolong County, it was estimated that this survey would take 9 days to complete, so everyone carried heavy backpacks. As the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake caused the deformation of the mountain, everyone struggled across the terrain. Landslides and heavy rain added more challenge to an already difficult route. On the map the distance did not seem far, but the team arrived at Fengxiangping around 5:00 in the afternoon.
On July 16, the team went through the wet undergrowth to Dengcaoping. The rushing torrents of the eight meter wide river blocked the way. A temporary bridge made by herders had been washed away by floods so they decided to fashion a new one using tree trunks. First two comparatively smaller trunks were made to stand against the other side of the river. Then a big trunk，with a length of 15 meters and diameter of 40 centimeters at breast height, was placed upon them. Thirty strong and capable people moved the big trunk a little forward bit by bit. It took them four hours to set this bridge across the river. By the time they crossed the river, it was 6:00 in the afternoon so they camped at Dengcaoping.
On July 17, the rainfall grew heavier. Team members scouted the trail and came back and said there was another river ahead and the wild current had become even wilder in the heavy rain. The team gathered in the tent. There was an iron chain hanging over the river. Though Zhang Liang and Chen Yingkang had borrowed rope trolleys from their relatives, if the rusty chain became overburdened, it could break and result in some very serious consequences. But some adventurous members like He Tao insisted on using rope trolleys, while Zhang Liang argued it would be too dangerous. In the end, safety concerns won out and they decided to build another bridge when the rain lessened.
In the afternoon, the rain finally relented a little and the team began to build the bridge. Six people were chosen to slide along the iron chain to cross the river and several hours later another bridge was set up. The team returned to camp to wait in hopes the rain would stop soon. In the evening, however, it was raining harder than ever. Everyone was so worried what the morning would bring, and slept anything but soundly.
On the morning of July 18, they awoke disheartened as the new bridge had been washed away by floods and the current had strengthened. Crossing the river was the only way in which the teams headed to Ergou and Reshuidi could carry out their survey. Though angry and fretful, they had to return to camp and wait. Because the first bridge was also washed away, they could not retreat. Due to the mud in the river, the team used rainwater for drinking and cooking.
Team members were aware of the continuous wet weather and the signs of mud-rock slides. As the rain grew harder at night, everyone packed their bags and slept with all their clothes on. They took turns keeping watch in order to avoid accidents. Around 2:00am, the noise of a downpour mixed with the roaring sound of a mudslide filled the air. The men on duty shouted and the whole team moved quickly. Thirty members with 30 flashlights looked after each other and ran for their lives. Fear is an instinct as well as the struggle for survival. Running in the rain at night, the memories of the earthquake flashed into their minds. They also thought of their loved ones at home. They finally found a safe place, tired and soaked to the skin. They waited for dawn in the rainy dark night.
On July 19, they looked in the direction of their camp when the dawn was just breaking. Everyone was shocked when they saw the scene. Their three simple tents together with a set of bowls and pans had been buried in the mud. They counted themselves fortunate to be alive though they’d had a long night in the heavy rain.
“On Jiily 19, 2012, Zhang Kaiqiang, Zhang Liang, Wang Xuping； and Song Hongcai from San-jiang Protection Station in Wolong visited this area for the 4th Giant Panda Census, The team wrote these words with a red marker pen on a dead tree, along with two cartoon pandas. This was to bear witness to their terrible experience and unknowns in the wild ahead.
It was quite difficult to go forth. But all agreed not to return home with empty hands. So the two groups led by Zhang Kaiqiang and Zhang Liang decided to move forward to Ergou and Reshuidi, while another team led by Chen Yingkang would say goodbye to them, headed for another transect line. Though the bridge they built was broken, the iron chain was there. The two groups of 19 people slid along the iron chain one after another with their packs. It cost them two and a half hours.
On July 20, the dangerous terrain was more difficult due to continuous heavy rain. The team members even ripped apart the waterproof tent doth to use as rain coats to protect themselves from the cold rain. They reached the intersection of Ergou and Reshuidi roads but were too exhausted to construct another bridge across the river there. Each team member forded the river, the water reaching the necks of several shorter team members. Six days passed before the two groups finally leached their destination.
At the same time, the group led by Chen Yingkang had already began their survey. Mr.Chen once a special operations solder, was concerned about the treacherous mountains and if the guides would be able to withstand the physical rigors required. These guides were his friends and relatives whom he had hired. Because this area was too far from home and dangerous, most villagers were not willing to come. If there was an accident, how would he explain to their families? Their bowls and pans had been buried in the mud, so they had to ration themselves with dry food in order to survive for more days. No one could be quite certain how many days it would take before they could return home.
From July 21 to July 26, two groups went on separate tasks. Zhang Kaiqiang’s group headed for Ergou and Zhang Liangs group for Reshuidi.
The survey groups went up through the alpine meadow to the forest valley, from an altitude of 1,600 meters to 4,800 meters. The survey adventure was fraught with difficulties and dangers. The rain didn’t stop until July 24. The mountains were cloaked in heavy fog. The visibility was less than five meters. Group members yelled at each other along the way to avoid getting lost. They ate porridge in the morning and plain steamed rice in the evening. Simple meals were feasts for them. They rationed some rice just in case. They were very lucky to find a cattle shed to stay in at night, where they could make a fire to dry their clothes and shoes. In the meantime, Zhang Kaiqiang and Chen Tingkang’s groups had to sleep in makeshift tents, startled by the strong wind at night.
In the afternoon of the 27th, Zhang Kaiqiangs group met Zhang Liang’s group at Reshuidi. The next morning, two groups of 19 people went through Four Maidens Mountain and got to Bal-ang Mountain. On the 29th at noon^ they arrived at Rilong Town, Xiaojin County. The groups finally walked out of deep mountains after fourteen days. Though they were shabbily dressed and stubble from thier beards covered their faces, they were in high spirits and joked that they were really the red army who climbed snow mountains without face-paint. Zhang Liang and Zhang Kaiqiang, two of the group leaders, were able to relax their frayed nerves at last. Everyone came back safely and the guides could return home.
Chen Yingkangs group had to double back after the survey was completed because of their limited dry food. Consecutive days of heavy rain made matters worse, landslides and mudslides were seen all round in the area. No pots meant no real meals. They had rainwater to wash down dry food. Chen Yingkang suffered from acute gallbladder inflammation, but fortunately no one got injured and all 11 of the group came back safely.
They spent almost half a month instead of the nine days they had planned to finish the survey task. The team found only one old activity trace of giant pandas. It was estimated that giant pandas left the area after the earthquake that happened on May 12, 2008. Perhaps pandas will return when the ecology is restored and the team of the 5th Census team will have the chance to encounter them.