Yǎdīng (亚丁) is a nature reserve located in Daocheng county of the Ganzi Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan. Yading is absolutely one of our favorite places in all of China. The combination of truly breathtaking mountains and the rich holy Buddhist significance of the area make for a pretty special place. We were inspired to go to Yading by a local friend from Beijing. Then when we found this great post on Yading, we knew we had to go. If you’re thinking about an outdoorsy Sichuan trip, Yading is definitely the place to go. Autumn is the best time to go to avoid the rain (in the summer) and cold (in the winter).
Yading is a huge natural reserve home to three holy mountains: Chenresig, Chana Dorje, and Jampelyang. The easiest way to get to Yading is from Daocheng, which is arduously accessible by bus or car from cities like Kāngdìng (康定) and Déróng (得荣).
Our hostel in Daocheng (our post on Daocheng) was able to setup a shared car to take us from Daocheng to Yading in the early morning. After about a 3 hour drive, we arrived in Yading village and looked around at a couple hostels. We ended up choosing to stay at the Dēngba kèzhàn (登巴客栈) (phone: 1332-0798-550), mainly because they still had a room with a private bathroom and their staff was super friendly. The room itself was super basic, had a bad sewage smell, and leaked quite a bit during a thunderstorm that night. However, if you’re in backpacker-mode it’s really not much of a surprise. On the plus side, their food was quite alright (very simple stuff, but clean and tasty).
As you approach Yading, which is generally over 4,000 meters, you’ll begin to see the snow capped holy mountain peaks. And when you look down the valley, you’ll see the crops far below.
All the drivers will stop in Riwa village for people to buy tickets into the reserve, which are 150 RMB per person. Since we didn’t get to Yading until around 10am, we decided to do a quick day-hike first, and start the big overnight hike the next day.
Day 1: The Frog Lake
The Frog Lake, or Xiǎowāhú (小蛙湖), is a short 4 hour round-trip hike from the Yading village. The entrance of the trail is found from behind the big grass parking lot where all the buses drop people off. Any local will easily be able to tell you where exactly the Xiǎowāhú trail begins.
This hike is a great warmup before circling the holy mountain Chenresig, which is most comfortably done over the course of two days. The Frog Lake itself is quite small, and if it hasn’t rained in a while, there might not be much to see. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful, not-to-intense hike through the woods. We even saw a local family of deer drinking at the lake.
Day 2: Circling the Mountain
The night before our hike around Chenresig (in Chinese, you call it zhuǎn shān (转山), which literally mean circling the mountain) was pretty restless. Incredibly powerful winds combined with lightening and torrential downpour made us quite apprehensive about spending the next night in a tent at nearly 5,000 meters.
When morning broke, the sky was covered in a thick layer of clouds. Over the next 2 days we’d experience a constant hourly change of blue sky, hail, fog, and rain. Rain gear that is easy to take on and off is a must.
Arrange with your hostel to get a car to take you to the trail entrance. We started at 6:30am and were on the trail by 7am.
It’s helpful to know the transportation options before your hike. We didn’t know the options, so we decided to hike everything. Our first day ended up being an 11 hour hike. We were completely and utterly destroyed by the end of the day, of course in a good way, but had we known how far we had to go, we probably would have taken at least one of the non-hiking options. So just know that you can hike the entire trail, but along the way you also have these options.
- Electric Car: From trail entrance to Chonggu. This part is fine to walk, but you’re mostly in the woods. In retrospect we would have taken the car for this portion.
- Electric Car: From Chonggu to the Luorong Grasslands. The advantage of walking is that as you approach the grasslands there is a nice walkway over the wetlands. The bad part about walking is the electric cars constantly honking at you to get out of the way, as there is only a single paved road. If you’re up for it, I think walking is the better option here.
- Horse: Luorong Grasslands to the Milk Lake. By this point you’re up pretty high and the views get spectacular. We stopped a lot to enjoy the scenery, which isn’t as easy on a horse.
- Hike: Past the Milk Lake your only option is hiking, which is a good thing, because it means there are basically no other tourists around.
The hikes takes you clockwise around Chenresig. On day 1 you’ll make it to the following landmarks:
- The entrance
- Chonggu Lodge
- The Luorong Grasslands
- The Five Colored Lake
- The Milk Lake
On day 2 you’ll cross over the top of a mountain ridge, and then begin descending down the mountain to Pearl Lake. From the Pearl Lake you’ll walk back to the Chonggu Lodge, where you can take an electric car back to the entrance. This map shows you the basic outline of the route.
- Chonggu Lodge
As soon as you hit the Chonggu Lodge, you’ll start to see the holy mountains Chenresig and Chana Dorje. And the views just keep getting better and better from there. On our first day we got a cloudy misty view of the landscape. When we came full circle the second day we got big open blue skies.
- The Luorong Grasslands
The Luorong Grassland are a high plateau grasslands complete with winding streams and ponds. Convenient wooden walkways allow you to navigate the fields and protect the grass. From here you’ll continue on to the Milk Lake.
- The Milk Lake
After about 3+ hours of muddy hiking from the Luorong Grasslands, we arrived at the Milk Lake (Niúnǎi hú – 牛奶湖), which stands at about 4,500 meters. The lake is created from glacier runoff and has a milky turquoise color.
- The Five Colored Lake
The Five Colored Lake (Wǔsè hú – 五色湖) lies directly to your right as you approach the Milk Lake. Because the split in the trail to the Five Colored Lake comes before you actually get to the Milk Lake, to save energy you could go up and check out the Five Colored Lake first, and then come back down and head to the Milk Lake. It’s hard to appreciate how beautiful this lake is in a picture. Basically, one side of the lake is bordered by cliffs that are the size of mountains. The scale in real life is absolutely astounding. When you’re there, you get that euphoric feeling of being small and insignificant beneath eons of natural beauty.
Most people turn back down the mountain at the Milk Lake. But, now is actually when the best part of the hike begins. By now, if you’ve hiked the whole way, you’re mostly likely on your 8th or 9th hour of hiking. At this point, we were really tired. Moreover, the weather kept changing between hail and rain. The wet cold at 4,500 meters totally sapped us of our energy.
Nonetheless, we soldiered on. You’ll follow a path up behind the Milk Lake (ask a local horse guide to point it out if you aren’t sure). From here on, you’ll most likely be on your own free of other tourists. As you ascend behind the Milk Lake, follow the trail markers and veer right once you’re up on the ridge. Keep Chenresig on your immediate right at all times.
You’ll eventually come to a valley after about another hour of hiking. If it’s been raining, you’ll pass a small pond created by rain runoff. This valley leads to the foot of Chenresig’s peak. Ultimately, you’ll come to a clearing where there is a stone hut. An old man lives in the hut. He’s been there over 30 years. His nephew was there at the time as well.
The old man is incredibly cute and friendly. He’s actually only 60, but looks much much older. He’s used to visitors, and will more than happily offer you some hot water and a fire. We had a tent which we setup next to the hut, which is somewhat sheltered from the wind. However, the old man’s nephew warned us that a hail storm would probably come during the night, and our tent might either blow away or get ripped open. (The nephew spoke Mandarin well. Whereas, we understood only about half of what the old man was saying.)
After sharing a fire, some food, and stories, we setup the tent and hunkered down for the night. We lasted a couple hours, and then around 11pm ran into the stone hut with our sleeping bags. Our tent actually did hold up. And our -5C sleeping bags were warm enough. The problem was the noise and the power of the hail. Our ultralight weight tent didn’t really put much distance between ourselves and the weather, and it felt like rocks were bouncing off our face.
The old man and his nephew were more than happy to have us in their little stone hut. The next morning I woke up to one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever witnessed. Trying to write about it or taking pictures of it is almost trivial, as you can’t really express it. You can only feel it, which is why you need to go there.
- Day 2 – Coming around and down the mountain
We got started early the next day; said goodbye to our new friends; and were off to go down the mountain. Early that morning we ran into a group of locals doing their annual circling of Chenresig. Amazingly, two of the women had babies wrapped around their bodies. These women were doing the entire hike in one day – a 14 hour hike at 4,500 meters. Not only that, they were doing it with a baby, with no rain gear, while wearing cloth shoes. Running into these people really made us suck it up and stop complaining about anything. Seeing them inspired me to carry less, rely on less, and to be tougher.
The second day of hiking starts hard, but then gets easier. You’ll soon pass a set of abandoned stone huts. You could have stayed there the prior night, but staying by the old man provides more protection from the wind. Plus, the abandoned stone huts have a lot of trash around them, which is a result of the locals who stay there.
Eventually, you’ll ascend up to a ridge where you’ll pass over the mountain range. Covered in prayer flags, from this point on you’ll be going downhill. An amazing view of Chenresig will become clearer and clearer on your right. After about 3 hours you’ll end up at the Pearl Lake. We actually found the Pearl Lake a little underwhelming. But, that’s probably because we were on amazing-view-overload. From there you’ll descend back to Chonggu Lodge and ultimately to the trail entrance.
Yading Itinerary Summary
- Shared a car from Daocheng to Yading Village
- Day-hike to the Frog Lake
- Spent the night at the Dengba Hostel
- Next morning got a car to the trail entrance; started hike at 7am
- Reached campsite at about 6pm; camped in the stone hut
- Next day descended mountain, arrived at the Pearl Lake by about 3pm
- Took an electric car down to trail entrance; shared a car back to Daocheng
- Stayed the night in Daocheng
- Left the next morning for Kangding