Workers maintain a 40-kilometer section of road in the Tangula Mountains, the highest point of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway. (LIU DONGJUN/XINHUA)
If the "graveyard" seems daunting, think again. Before drivers need to summon up the courage to tackle it, they have to face 72 stomach-churning switchbacks that zigzag sharply, dropping nearly 1,800 meters before the road crosses a gorge known as "Dead man's ditch", which contains the Nujiang River.
Mo Wei, 31, and his comrades live at the top of the switchbacks, which are man-made and stand more than 4,000 meters above sea level. The officers are responsible for maintaining a 90-km section of highway.
Last month, as spring approached and the temperature rose, cracks began appearing in the road surface. Mo was busy showing a young colleague how to use a machine that fills the cracks with asphalt. His lips were dry, cracked and peeling due to long exposure to the elements.
"I have lived here for 14 years and I feel we work hard during every season. There is no time to rest," he said.
To Mo, the discomfort caused by the plateau's thin atmosphere, altitude sickness and strong ultraviolet rays is dwarfed by frequent, unpredictable acts of nature.
"In summer, we face mudslides, landslides and all kinds of disasters, while in winter, starting in October, we have to deal with heavy snowfall and thick ice that can trigger avalanches," he said.
Jian Yusheng, director of Mo's team, said that during summer the asphalt road surface often reaches a temperature of more than 160 C, causing black smoke to rise from it.
"It is under such conditions that our team repairs the road, shovel by shovel. After a whole day, only our eyeballs are white, even though we wear face masks," he said.
The road was sealed in 2012. Before then, Mo and his team knew nothing about asphalt maintenance. They used carts to carry sand from nearby mountains to even out the road surface.
Though the asphalt often gets so hot it burns the skin, that's a trivial concern for Mo.
"Our predecessors shed sweat and blood to create these 72 amazing switchbacks. We are proud to guard this road and continue that spirit," he said.
The narrow gorge that contains the fast-flowing Nujiang River is crossed by a suspension bridge that opened to traffic in January.
It is sandwiched between steep mountains that are notorious for "dropping rocks when the wind blows and collapsing when rain falls", said Shi Jianmao, an armed officer, quoting a popular saying.