Photo Gallery 054: The Role Of Individual Trek Team Leaders In The Giant 100 Bln Chinese Outdoor Sports Market

摘要: Team leaders are essential in outdoor sports. A good team leader can keep the mountaineers away from danger and have fun at the same time, while an incompetent one may leave mountaineers in life-threatening situations. In TMTPost Photo Gallery 054, we followed an outdoor trekking team to understand the role of a competent team leader in a market with potential worth of 100 billion yuan.

(Chinese Version)

Editor’s Note:

Why do we climb mountains? “Because the mountains are out there,” British explorer Mallory said. His answer has been always inspiring to lots of outdoor enthusiasts who carry backpacks and conquer mountains one after another.

Participation rate of outdoor sports in Europe and the United States is relatively high. Take the United States for an example, half of the United States population participated in outdoor sports at least once a year. However, China only has 130 million outdoor sports enthusiasts, though this figure is rapidly rising in recent years. Based on General Sports Administration’s estimation, the market scale of the Chinese outdoor sports market could reach 400 billion yuan by 2020.

Team leaders are essential in outdoor sports. A good team leader can keep the mountaineers away from danger and have fun at the same time, while an incompetent one may leave mountaineers in life-threatening situations. In TMTPost Photo Gallery 054, we followed an outdoor trekking team to understand the role of a competent team leader in a potential market worth of 100 billion yuan.

On May 2nd, 2017, three hikers were trekking on the Ancient Xinjiang Xiate Route. The mountain behind them is the towering Heavenly Moutain (Tianshan).

On October 3rd, 2016, the Xinjiang team, “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer”, a name chosen by the team leader from a popular Chinese martial art novel, was at the Ancient Wusun Route. SPW’s outdoor experience began in 2008, his team leader experience started from 2012 onwards. At the beginning of 2017, he left the professional club and started his own outdoor club.

On March 18th, 2017, SPW was introducing Xinjiang's trekking routes to recruit team members for the club at an outdoor sharing party at Sanlitun SOHO, Beijing. He gathered rich outdoor experience after being the team leader for five years. SPW has led his team and gone through various famous routes in Xinjiang region, including Wusun Route, Langta Route, Xiate Route, Huanbo Route, Mengkete Route, Bogeda Route, etc. Among these routes, he was most familiar with the Bogeda Route. Once he stayed in Bogeda region for three months to lead non-stop one outdoor team after another. Based on the weight of the equipment (from heavy-load to light-load), the price of different outdoor experience projects ranged from 2,000 yuan to 8,000 yuan.

Being involved in the circle for five years, SPW has received various relevant certificates from the China Mountaineering Association, including Outdoor Tutor certificate, Rock Climbing Tutor certificate, Drifting Tutor certificate. He is now an LNT-certified instructor, and has served as a coach at Leadclimb Outdoor Instruction Center. He also served as the vice captain at the Special Training Brigade of Xinjiang Mountaineering Friends Rescue Team and often participated in rescue operations.

On April 28th, SPW led a small team of 12 members, left Urumqi for Zhaosu and hiked via the Ancient Xiate Route, one of the top mountaineering routes in China. The Xiate Route went through the Heavenly Moutain and linked the North and South Xinjiang together. The full length of the route reaches 120 km, lasting from Zhaosu in North Xinjiang to Aksu in South Xinjiang. Besides, the route includes various landscapes, from grassland, pastures to glaciers and primitive forests. It is said that Hsuan Tsang also went through the Xiate Route when he went on a pilgrimage for Buddhist scriptures.

In previous years, they would leave from Aksu regiona, climbed over the Heavenly Moutain in the north and finally arrived at the Xiate Scenic area at ZhaoSu County. However, due to the flood of Muzalt River caused by the glacier meltwater in 2017, all the mounter clubs had no choice but to shift from the original path and instead leave Xiate for Muzalt glaciers. On the morning of April 30th, SPW hired two horses from local herdsmen to carry four mountaineers’ backpacks and send packages to the first-day-camp. Therefore, they had to shift from the heavy-load mountaineering to a light-load one.

The team were going through the Xiate grassland, which had been covered with snow. In an outdoor trek, "heavy-load" means that mountaineers have to carry all the personal items, including tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes, gas stoves, water, food, etc. A heavy-load backpack often weighs more than 20 kg or even 25 kg; while a "light-load" trek means that there are horses or porters who would carry the necessary supply from one camp to the next, so mountaineers themselves only need to carry the necessary food and water.

The snow didn’t seem to stop even after a day and a night. The snow was so thick that the horses didn’t want to move forward. SPW had no choice but to pay the herdsmen and continue their trek. "If there is a reasonable chance to reduce the load, I will certainly seize the opportunity," SPW said. He found that many people thought that outdoors mountaineering meant hiking when carrying a heavy bag. "We should help change such stereotype. After all, mountaineering is not show-off, not self-torture. If you can do it in a more comfortable way, why not?" he explained.

The snow was the deepest deep in the forest. At this point, it was too strenuous to walk in the snow, so the team leader had to walk in front of the team to pave the snow and make it easier for other team members to move forward. After going through these routes and rivers repeatedly, the scenery no longer meant for him. "As the trek leader, I have to make sure that each mountaineer is away from danger and finish the trek happily and safely", he said. Even at the same place, he would learn something when he came with different mountaineers. "These unexpected gains are the most memorable and fortunate things in my career,” he told TMTPost.

When several teams met together, there could be a small-range "traffic jam". In such circumstances, some mountaineers would complain that mountaineers in the front were moving forward too slowly. Different mountaineers have different purposes when participating for a trek: some of them came to challenge their limits, others signed up to relax themselves or take pictures, still others came here, however, to “torture” themselves. Many people are not well aware of the risk of outdoor activities, believing that mountaineering is about asking a few people to carry backpacks in the snow and competing with each other. Those who carry the largest and heaviest backpack but go the fastest would win and show off by saying that they’ve "completed challenges that are extremely dangerous and almost impossible" in their WeChat friend circle. However, SPW didn’t think so. "Such mentality is not right. Outdoor expedition is not outdoor adventure. The nature of outdoor trek is about being responsible for oneself, one’s family and teammates.

It was 19:20, April 30th. After arriving at the camp, the mountaineers began to boil water, cook dinner and refuel themselves. If it is a light-load team, the team leader and collaborators would also prepare breakfast for the mountaineers. Sometimes, the team would even assign chefs to the team.

Mountaineers rushed to participate in the Xinjiang Xiate Route trek from all over China. One of their main purposes is to climb over Hada Muzidaka Sakamoto and see the Muzalt glacier that covers 150 square kilometers. On the morning of May 1st, except for two mountaineers who didn’t continue to trek and stayed at the camp, SPW led other mountaineers headed for Hada Muzidaka Sakamoto. Their plan was to climb over the mountain, see the glacier before the weather worsened and return to the camp before darkness befell.

Mountaineers could hardly take steps on the mountains after two days of snow. In order to help mountaineers avoid going the wrong path, SPW had to explore the way time and time again on the way.

The team arrived the foot of Hada Muzidaka Sakamoto to add food and water. Proper equipment is very important in outdoor treks. In fact, 70 per cent of the consumption in an outdoor trek occurred when in need of equipment procurement and replacement. While a 2,000-yuan all-in-one pot can melt the snow and boil the water within three minutes, a 200-yuan pot can not achieve such efficiency. However, most mountaineers prefer to buy cool equipment than to choose more expensive business services. That’s why long treks charged with only 1,000 to 4,000 yuan are the most popular. "At present, the outdoor trek market is generally dominated by low-end consumers who prefer low-cost trek teams and bear all the necessary material by themselves, so many clubs have to offer inexpensive trek routes at the expense poor service and incompetent team leaders, which could generate great security risk,” he explained.

At the foot of Hada Muzidaka Sakamoto, mountaineers could see that it had begun to snow on the mountain. Erratic climate changes are typical in Hada Muzidaka, the boundary between North and South Xinjiang. As the weather had deteriorated, SPW decided to withdraw to the camp for the sake of time and safety. As a leader, his greatest duty is to ensure "safety". "Safety is the foundation of all, and taking risks is not the true meaning of the outdoor treks. Bringing everyone out of the mountains safely is the responsibility of trek team leaders," he explained.

On the way back, a mountaineer picked up a pack of about 2-pound cabbage, which was left by other teams. It is common for mountaineers to reduce the burden of their load by discarding thing. "There are mountaineers who would give up their pots, burners, tents, or even cameras on the way," SPW told TMTPost.

Whether to torture or relax oneself, some people do get addicted to Xinjiang treks. The mountaineers SPW’s team encountered on their way back had gone on mountaineering for more than once in Xinjiang. They decided to take a panoramic picture during the rest.

It was still early before darkness befell when SPW brought several mountaineers back to the camp. After missing the Muzalt glaciers, SPW decided to break the camp and camp near another glacier, the "Xiate glacier". On their way to the new camp, SPW and collaborators were building a “stone bridge” for other mountaineers.

On the morning of May 2nd, the snow stopped. When mountaineers went out of the tent, they could see the shining sun in the distant snow-capped mountains, as if they were in a fairy tale world. It always makes people excited when they can see the sun in a world of ice and snow.

SPW led the team and resumed their journey to Xiate glacier with light loads.

After two hours of trek, they reached the tongue of Xiate glacier. When some members wanted to go to the glacier, they were immediately stopped by SPW, since it could be very dangerous to walk on the glacier tongue, especially when the glacier was covered with snow. Oftentimes, the snow would hide the deep ice crack in the glacier underneath glaciers. These cracks will move along with climate change, so mountaineers might lose their lives if they accidentally stepped on the ice crack.

Just half an hour after the team arrived at the Xiate glacier, SPW was informed that the weather was worsening and it was better if everybody went back to the headquarter. After another two hours of trek, they all returned to the camp safe and sound.

SPW began to contact the vehicle through the satellite phone to have cars pick up mountaineers. Outdoors weather is always fickle. Soon after they arrived at the camp, the snow storm quickly dispersed and the weather turned fine. Erratic weather changes could have fatal consequences sometimes. "Nobody shall take a chance. Never think that you are strong and be over-confident. Your life is not your own. To better reflect the outdoor spirit, mountaineers have got to cherish their own lives,” he explained.

Along the way, the team's collaborators were always collecting cigarette butts. "No littering and all the garbage must be carried out of the mountain," this is an important rule in outdoor treks.

After a short break from the Xiate glacier, the team broke the camp and walked for about another four hours. Finally, they walked out of the mountains at 20:30.

Without any injury, the prime time of an outdoor trek team leader is only about ten years. SPW was already 44 years old, not a young age in the circle. He told TMTPost that he’d participated in many years of formal training to learn necessary outdoor knowledge, so that when he could not lead teams anymore, he could get involved in route planning and outdoor trek coach training, etc., share his expertise and years of outdoor experience with other mountaineering enthusiasts, help people understand the risks of outdoor treks and learn how to better protect themselves in outdoor activities.

Long-term outdoor treks have left lots of damage to SPW’s lumbar, knee, ankle, etc. Whenever he saw mountaineers compete over load weight, trek speed and distance, he would discourage them, explaining that such mentality was of great harm to the body, and that many damages in outdoor activities couldn’t be fully recovered. Only by better protect oneself can one go further in the outdoor trek circle. SPW was planning to design some more comfortable routes at his club, so that mountaineers could better enjoy outdoor treks.

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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @flybutchery, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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