The yellow gravel road turned on itself, switching back up the escarpment. Rotting snow began to bank along the sides, the melt running down. The Land Cruiser, shiny black at first light in the town and in the village where the pavement still ran and we stopped for eight-treasure tea, was now dusted yellow and, as the road grew wet, was becoming mud spattered. It climbed the road steeply, engine revving, and you could hear the wet crunch of gravel under the tires. Finally, at the top of the plateau, where the March sky in western China was sharp blue--the dazzling sunlight through the tissue-thin air and off the crumbling white snow striking the eyes like pinpricks--was a green sign with white numerals, showing over 4,500 meters of elevation. I motioned to the driver to stop, and I got out with the interpreter so we could take a picture. The old man stayed in the vehicle.