Hiking Through the Holy Peaks of Yading

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).

Comment: An airport in Yading is already completed, and will open at some point in 2013. With the new airport, hordes of tourist will likely follow, so the sooner you can get to Yading the better.

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.

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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.

Tip: After about 200 meters from the entrance, the trail forks. Bear right and follow the higher path. We went left and ended up having to climb up a waterfall and do some bushwhacking, which was fun, but not necessary.

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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
  • Campsite

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.

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  • 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.

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  • The Milk Lake

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • Campsite

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.

Comment: We gave the old man some batteries and 100 RMB. Later, a local Tibetan told us we didn’t need to give him money. Obviously, I’m sure the old man wasn’t offended by getting money, but the local, who knew the old man personally, pointed out that this old man really doesn’t care at all about money. He’s lived in a tiny stone hut on top of a mountain for the last 30 years, so it’s obvious that his main priority isn’t making money. It’s better to give the old man something he can use. The most treasured thing someone gave him is a hiking stick. The old man cut off both sides of the aluminum stick, and uses it to blow air on the fire. We tried it, and it works really well.

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  • 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.

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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.

Comment: The local Tibetans litter a lot on the mountain. While this is truly a shame, I can’t really blame them. Littering is very much a part of their lifestyle and culture. For the nomads, they are used to just throwing things on the ground, because there are no trash cans or garbage dumps. The problem is that more and more of the stuff they use these days is non-biodegradable. It’s not just Tibetans though, Chinese people also litter a lot on mountains. Hopefully, as Eco-tourism grows, more earth friendly people will visit these places and create a culture of preservation and respect for nature.

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

Finding Yading on a Map

15 thoughts on “Hiking Through the Holy Peaks of Yading

  1. sharon

    gorgeous photos and i’m sure the moutains and lakes are beyond incredible in person. Thanks for the posting and all the clear directions. i totally want to go now

    Reply
  2. meetmychina

    love the photos..absolutely breathtaking…very jealous of all the adventures, interesting conversations and awesome hikes you both are enjoying. keep it up!

    Reply
  3. Pingback: A Half Kora Around the Holy Mountain Amnye Machen | China Nomads

  4. Royden

    Hi,

    I’m considering flying to Shangri La (Zhongdian) travelling from there > Yading > Chengdu during end-Nov. I understand it will be very cold, sub-zero or lesser. May I know if it is too cold to handle and will they close Yading during that time? Will there be regular buses for the route I am intending to do?

    Thank you very much!

    Reply
    1. zac Post author

      Hi! As for the cold, I can’t speak from experience. But if you’re an experienced winter hiker/camper and have the appropriate equipment, then you’ll probably be fine. If you’re not an experienced winter camper, then I wouldn’t recommend doing an overnight on Yading, as the chances of severe weather are very high.

      I’m not sure about whether everything will be open / accessible (especially if there is heavy snow). I’d recommend calling the Yading Backpackers’ Youth Hostel (Hostelling International page) (phone: 86 0836 5728994) to ask about weather / park accessibility in the winter months. They speak limited English there, so it’ll be helpful if you can speak some Chinese.

      As for buses, again I’m not sure, as we hired a car. The route from Shangrila to Daocheng/Yading is quite popular though, so if there isn’t a direct bus there’s definitely going to be cars/vans/mini buses that you can find in Shangrila. Also check flights, as there is a new airport in Daocheng. Sorry I can’t give you more exact answers, but hope this helps a little.

      Reply
  5. Svenja

    Very interesting tour and great fotos!
    We are travelling to china in march and april. Might it be possible to trek in that area then or is there usually still snow?

    Reply
  6. Mark

    Svenja, did you go to yading? I will be going the end of May and would like any advice you can give. We plan on camping along the way. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Lee Frankel-Goldwater

    Dear China Nomads,

    I wish to thank you for this excellent guide. I had the opportunity to walk this path a few weeks back, and your post was the most thorough discussion I’ve found on the wide interwebs. Without it I would have been without much to go on as few in the hostel knew about the Kora (circle the mountain). The old Tibetan owner knew, but even with my Chinese I felt bashful to bother him too much when he was with family.

    In kind, I would like to share a few updates and notes that might help others along the way:

    1. Firstly, the Tianya Hostel in Yading Village can be reached via this phone number now – 13402852296. You can call them and they will pick you up after drop off from the tourist bus to the village. It’s really only a few hundred meters or from where it drops off but hard to find if it’s your first time there.

    2. Even with Chinese language skills, this is a challenging journey, as one cannot expect to encounter English speakers along the way. I would also not recommend going alone. I fortunately met a Tibetan pilgrim that turned out to be a wonderful companion, and I’m ever grateful for his assistance. I also printed this post to a pdf and kept it on my phone, which came much in handy along the way.

    3. The images and general description of the path here is rather dead on. It is hard to miss the general trail as long as you keep the mountain on the right hand side. There is also a semi-reasonable map available at Tainya which I recommend purchasing. The area with the “old man’s hut” cannot be missed, and would have made a perfect place to stop for an overnight. There was no one there when I came, and I believe that anyone can use the hut if they need it.

    4. Bring water purification tablets / filter if you intend to stay over. There is not a good water source other than the streams and lakes encountered along the way. The lake water cannot be used unfiltered, but I hear the streams are an option.

    5. One should really take a few days to acclimatize if you expect to make any decent time. I was able to do the circle in one day, only with the help of my companion, who was kind enough to place my gear on his donkey. I’d had a very limited time to be in the park, given travel plans, and journeying alone I was hesitant to try a solo overnight. Now that I’ve done it once though, given the chance, I believe I’d (we’d) be fine.

    6. There is a doozie of an uphill at the veritable climax of the climb, about 2/3 of the way through the walk. Even if you’re in good shape this journey is going to be tough. Take your time, and be mindful of the body’s needs. Make sure you have rain gear, food, and water. You’ll need it.

    7. Walking to the grasslands is certainly a lovely option. I did this the following day, as because it was raining in the early AM on my circling day I got a late start (7am-sh), and jumped on the electric car to the grasslands. This ended up being worth it, because had I not done so I would not have met my guide-friend (who asked no money from me but for sharing the cost of the donkey, a nominal fee, as he was finishing the 5-day circle and brought the creature for his old knees!), and likely would not have accomplished my goal.

    8. This is not a “fun” journey, but the effort is worth every step. The test of body, mind, and soul will stay with me for life – and I regret not a second of it. I wonder how it would have been to do the circle in two days, and in kinder weather. In July there were showers and a bite to the air, and while it was overcast the clouds at times parted to share with me an epic expanse worthy of stories. No camera could capture the soul of this place.

    Anyone called to this adventure, prepare, trust, take your time (unlike me). If you open up to this land, and are willing to pass the veil, it might just change your life.

    Blessings and safe travels,
    -Lee

    Reply
    1. zac Post author

      Wow! Sounds like you had an amazing journey. Thank you for sharing and for giving updates on current information. Happy trekking!

      Reply
    2. Cesca

      Dear Lee and Zac,

      Thanks Both for sharing your experience. It has been great inspiration and in fact we decided to visit kham area and yading in a couple of weeks.

      A couple of questions that maybe you could help me answer:
      – sleeping bags: is it enough with comfort temperature around -2degrees C? I suppose that with the tent it would be enough…
      – is it easy to find a guide that would be willing to guide us during the 2days? In the same village is it easy to find?

      Thanks a lot for your useful posts
      Cesca

      Reply
      1. zac Post author

        Hi Cesca,

        The sleeping bag situation will depend on what time of year you’re going. If you’re going now, it can get pretty cold, though -2C should keep you warm enough. Just make sure you’ve got adequate rain gear. If you want to book a guide ahead of time, I’d say check out one of the international hostels, as they’ll know guides who are more used to taking foreigners. Enjoy your trip, it’s such an amazing place!

        Reply
  8. Jewell

    Oh my these pictures and your stories make me want to do this trek during my upcoming visit to China I am planning. It will not be until early February likely. I imagine it will be pretty cold during this time. Although I do have some practice with winter hiking/camping (sometimes maybe -10c in finland) I think it is something I am leery of trying to tackle on my own. I would gladly pick up a travel companion, but I’m not sure how well traveled it sounds like this area is , or if there would even be others who are up to the task and willing. I guess it’s probably not likely that it is something that will happen for me …at least during this visit. It really looks like a great experience though. I also don’t speak any Chinese, and I plan on printing out some flashcards with more essential phrases as recommended by another individual who spoke no Chinese, and went to china.

    Reply
  9. elena

    Thank you very much for the guide.
    To those who plan the full kora around Mt Cherenzig: please take a pack of Omez (omeprazol) tablets for the old man in the hut. He is suffering from pains, and we couldn’t help him. The hut is just before the 2nd pass 3 min down the main trail.

    Reply

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