In mid-November we left the White Water with a caravan of twenty-six mules and horses. Following the road from Li-chiang to the Yangtze, we crossed the "Black Water" and climbed steadily upward over several tremendous wooded ridges, each higher than the last, to the summit of the divide.

The descent was gradual through a magnificent pine and spruce forest. Some of the trees were at least one hundred and fifty feet high, and were draped with beautiful gray moss which had looped itself from branch to branch and hung suspended in delicate streamers yards in length. The forest was choked with underbrush and a dense growth of dwarf bamboo, and the hundreds of fallen logs, carpeted with bronze moss, made ideal conditions for small mammal collecting. However, as all the species would probably be similar to those we had obtained on the Snow Mountain, we did not feel that it was worth while stopping to trap.

At four-thirty in the afternoon we camped upon a beautiful hill in a pine forest which was absolutely devoid of underbrush, and where the floor was thinly overlaid with brown pine needles. Although the Moso hunter, who acted as our guide, assured us that the river was only three miles away, it proved to be more than fifteen, and we did not reach the ferry until half past one the next afternoon.

We were continually annoyed, as every traveler in China is, by the inaccuracy of the natives, and especially of the Chinese. Their ideas of distance are most extraordinary. One may ask a Chinaman how far it is to a certain village and he will blandly reply, "Fifteen li to go, but thirty li when you come back." After a short experience one learns how to interpret such an answer, for it means that when going the road is down hill and that the return uphill will require double the time.

Caravans are supposed to travel ten li an hour, although they seldom do more than eight, and all calculations of distance are based upon time so far as the mafus are concerned. If the day's march is eight hours you invariably will be informed that the distance is eighty li, although in reality it may not be half as great.

In "Chinese Characteristics," Dr. Arthur H. Smith gives many illuminating observations on the inaccuracy of the Chinese. In regard to distance he says:

    It is always necessary in land travel to ascertain, when the distance
    is given in "miles" (li), whether the "miles" are "large" or not!
    That there is some basis for estimates of distances we do not deny,
    but what we do deny is that these estimates or measurements are either
    accurate or uniform.

    It is, so far as we know, a universal experience that the moment one
    leaves a great imperial highway the "miles" become "long." If 120 li
    constitute a fair day's journey on the main road, then on country roads
    it will take fully as long to go 100 li, and in the mountains the
    whole day will be spent in getting over 80 li (p. 51).

    In like manner, a farmer who is asked the weight of one of his oxen
    gives a figure which seems much too low, until he explains that he has
    omitted to estimate the bones! A servant who was asked his height
    mentioned a measure which was ridiculously inadequate to cover his
    length, and upon being questioned admitted that he had left out of
    account all above his shoulders! He had once been a soldier, where the
    height of the men's clavicle is important in assigning the carrying of
    burdens. And since a Chinese soldier is to all practical purposes
    complete without his head, this was omitted.

    Of a different sort was the measurement of a rustic who affirmed that
    he lived "ninety li from the city," but upon cross-examination he
    consented to an abatement, as this was reckoning both to the city and
    back, the real distance being as he admitted, only "forty-five li one
    way!" (p. 49) ...

    The habit of reckoning by "tens" is deep-seated, and leads to much
    vagueness. A few people are "ten or twenty," a "few tens," or perhaps
    "ever so many tens," and a strictly accurate enumeration is one of the
    rarest of experiences in China.... An acquaintance told the writer that
    two men had spent "200 strings of cash" on a theatrical exhibition,
    adding a moment later, "It was 173 strings, but that is the same as
    200 - is it not?" (p. 54).

    A man who wished advice in a lawsuit told the writer that he himself
    "lived" in a particular village, though it was obvious from his
    narrative that his abode was in the suburbs of a city. Upon inquiry, he
    admitted that he did not now live in the village, and further
    investigation revealed the fact that the removal took place nineteen
    generations ago! "But do you not almost consider yourself a resident of
    the city now?" he was asked. "Yes," he replied simply, "we do live
    there now, but the old root is in that village."

    ...The whole Chinese system of thinking is based on a line of
    assumptions different from those to which we are accustomed, and they
    can ill comprehend the mania which seems to possess the Occidental to
    ascertain everything with unerring exactness. The Chinese does not know
    how many families there are in his native village, and he does not wish
    to know. What any human being can want to know this number for is to
    him an insoluble riddle. It is "a few hundred," "several hundreds," or
    "not a few," but a fixed and definite number it never was and never
    will be. (p. 55.)

After breaking camp on the day following our departure from the "White Water" we rode along a broad trail through a beautiful pine forest and in the late morning stood on an open summit gazing on one of the most impressive sights which China has to offer. At the left, and a thousand feet below, the mighty Yangtze has broken through the mountains in a gorge almost a mile deep; a gorge which seems to have been carved out of the solid rock, sharp and clean, with a giant's knife. A few miles to the right the mountains widen, leaving a flat plain two hundred feet above the river. Every inch of it, as well as the finger-like valleys which stretch upward between the hills, is under cultivation, giving support for three villages, the largest of which is Taku.

The ferry is in a bad place but it is the only spot for miles where the river can be crossed. The south bank is so precipitous that the trail from the plain twists and turns like a snake before it emerges upon a narrow sand and gravel beach. The opposite side of the river is a vertical wall of rock which slopes back a little at the lower end to form a steep hillside covered with short grass. The landing place is a mass of jagged rocks fronting a small patch of still water and the trail up the face of the cliff is so steep that it cannot be climbed by any loaded animal; therefore all the packs must be unstrapped and laboriously carted up the slope on the backs of the mafus.

At two-thirty in the afternoon we were loading the boat, which carried only two animals and their packs, for the first trip across the river. It was difficult to get the mules aboard for they had to be whipped, shoved and actually lifted bodily into the dory. One of the ferrymen first drew the craft along the rocks by a long rope, then climbed up the face of what appeared to be an absolutely flat wall, and after pulling the boat close beneath him, slid down into it. In this way the dory was worked well up stream and when pushed into the swift current was rowed diagonally to the other side.

After four loads had been taken over, the boatmen decided to stop work although there was yet more than an hour of daylight and they could not be persuaded to cross again by either threats or coaxing. It was an uncomfortable situation but there was nothing to do but camp where we were even though the greater part of our baggage was on the other side, with only the mafus to guard it, and therefore open to robbery.

About a third of a mile from the ferry we found a sandy cornfield on a level shelf just above the water, and pitched our tents. A slight wind was blowing and before long we had sand in our shoes, sand in our beds, sand in our clothes, and we were eating sand. Heller went down the river with a bag of traps while we set forty on the hills above camp, and after a supper of goral steak, which did much to allay the irritation of the day, we crawled into our sandy beds.

At daylight Hotenfa visited the ferry and reported that the loads were safe but that one of the boatmen had gone to the village and no one knew when he would return. We went to the river with Wu as soon as breakfast was over and spent an aggravating hour trying by alternate threats and cajoling to persuade the remaining ferryman to cross the river to us. But it was useless, for the louder I swore the more frightened he became and he finally retired into a rock cave from which the mafus had to drag him out bodily and drive him into the boat.

The second boatman ambled slowly in about ten o'clock and we felt like beating them both, but Wu impressed upon us the necessity for patience if we ever expected to get our caravan across and we swallowed our wrath; nevertheless, we decided not to leave until the loads and mules were on the other side, and we ate a cold tiffin while sitting on the sand.

Heller employed his time by skinning the twenty small mammals (one of which was a new rat) that our traps had yielded. We took a good many photographs and several rolls of "movie" film showing the efforts of the mafus to get the mules aboard. Some of them went in quietly enough but others absolutely refused to step into the boat. One of the mafus would pull, another push, a third twist the animal's tail and a fourth lift its feet singly over the side. With the accompaniment of yells, kicks, and Chinese oaths the performance was picturesque to say the least.

By five o'clock the entire caravan had been taken across the racing green water and we had some time before dark in which to investigate the caverns with which the cliffs above the river are honeycombed. They were of two kinds, gold quarries and dwelling caves. The latter consist of a long central shaft, just high enough to allow a man to stand erect; this widens into a circular room. Along the sides of the corridor shallow nests have been scooped out to serve as beds and all the cooking is done not far from the door. The caves, although almost dark, make fairly comfortable living quarters and are by no means as dirty or as evil smelling as the ordinary native house. The mines are straight shafts dug into the cliffs where the rock is quarried and crushed by hand.