Entering the trunk of my car from the south, the hiker will first encounter a descent that is at first merely steep and then nearly vertical along a stable but slippery surface. The view from the top of this precipice is spectacular; take a moment to enjoy the sight of the rolling gray plains below and the far black cliffs beyond.
The descent itself is best begun at the precise center of the cliff-face. Edge down onto the wide, solid shelf cut by wind and rain of centuries past. There you will find a curious hook-shaped batholithic formation to which one might easily attach any number of climbing ropes. Rappelling down from this point should not prove overly difficult for the experienced climber.
Arriving at the bottom, you will see that the valley floor is composed of a soft flannel-like shale that provides a thoroughly pleasant walking surface. Strike off due north up onto Spare Tire Plateau. While there is little here of interest to casual tourists, the stark beauty of this area will long haunt the dreams of any who experience it first-hand.
From the northern edge of the plateau, observe the medial moraine beyond; it was formed by an encounter between the Glacier of Unread Magazines and the Glacier of Brochures Having Something to Do With Peruvian Sweet Potato Exportation. The western zone of ablation often produces breathtaking ice formations. Beyond it is the northern edge of this tightly enclosed country, a black, unscalable wall of aphanitic stone.
Look briefly back at the country you have covered, and also at the sky, heretofore unnoticed, dark cumulonimbus speaker clouds and the cirrus wires against a dark metallic upper reach. Now, follow the edge of the plateau eastward until you reach the massive karst uprise also known as Extra Jug of Oil. Follow its dull gray western edge back to the south, then take the trail that cuts sharply left, leading you to the eastern extremity of this world. Another short jaunt south will take you to the Regolith of Broken Kite Equipment, a region best left unexplored by anyone wishing to see their loved ones again.
Head west beneath the cliffs you first descended, taking great care as you near the far side to avoid entering any deeper into the Swamp of Unknown Sticky Substances than is necessary. From here you will see Window Scraper Ridge and the Drumlin of Cardboard; both offer fine views to those able to climb them.
If at any point the trunk slams shut above you, once the reverberations have ceased and you have become accustomed to the vast darkness, feel your way to the closest wall, and follow it back toward your climbing ropes. Curiously, no matter which wall you follow, you will encounter a series of small, interlinked caves whose entrances went unremarked as you concentrated on larger, more visually striking features of the landscape. Entering any one of these caves, and following farther and farther and farther back, you will arrive at the place where, as an adolescent, for no reason other than the adrenal thrill of theft, I once stole the hat of a man who was probably homeless. It was a fine leather hat with a wide brim, well-worn but sound. I did not need it at all. He needed it, I am sure, very much. I do not often go to this place. But I must keep it close if it is to serve for anything at all.
(A Version of this piece first appeared in That’s Beijing.)