Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China

My only hiking experience before Ed started “poisoning” my mind, was a 2-3 hour walk at MacRitchie Reservoir in Singapore. Or maybe 10 hour hike along Orchard Road. So how did I end up hiking and camping at Daocheng Yading, located in a lesser known part of Shangri La in China?

I enjoy nature. Just that I never really had enough leave to spend walking on days in the wild. And it does not sound “relaxing”. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen a wide variety of picturesque natural views in my travels. However, being a typical Singaporean, I guess I just wanted to enjoy the destination and not the journey.

Through Ed, I started to re-open all these childhood dreams I had about the great outdoors and started thinking that enjoying the outdoors can be more than jumping from one destination to the next. So after our marital vows were made, I suggested a campervan trip in New Zealand for our honey moon. It was a childhood fantasy I had for many years after reading shelves of Enid Blyton adventures. Anyway, this is another story that I will share another day.

Fast forward, on our second year of marriage, we are back in China. Hiking. (I stayed for 8 years in China and lived facing a mountain that is just across the road, but hiking the mountain remained only a thought for the 8 years I was there). Anyway, this is essentially my virgin overnight hike and I so “smartly” chose (my FIL gave me some choices) one that is averaging an altitude of 4500m but it was the “flattest” and the shortest.

So, what is the big deal for 4500m? Well, above 2500m, our bodies will likely suffer from AMS (acute mountain sickness). Now, we were aware that we may suffer from AMS. So we took precautions like getting medication from the pharmacist (need a doctor prescription first, and the doctor warned me that the medication can be totally useless or in some cases, make you feel worse), and reading up on how to cope with AMS.

So the place on hand is Daocheng Yading in Sichuan, China. This is a part of Shangri La that is less explored. After going online to search on logistics, figuring out the best way to get there, etc, we decided to fly there from Chengdu.

The route we are planning is a pilgrimage trek (Kora) altitude averaging 4500m that the locals take annually to show their devotion and seek blessings. The route brings them a full circle around the mountain and the locals usually finish the circuit in a day. We recommend you to cater 2-3 days and before that, spend 2-4 days to acclimatise so that you can focus on enjoying the breathtaking (pun intended) scenery.

So there were 4 of us on this expedition.
Ed – Experienced hiker
FIL – 70 year old experienced hiker but first hike after heart attack
HJ – virgin hiker
Me – virgin hiker (kinda)

Off we go!

Below is my account of this memorable trek written one year after….

17 April 15
We took Silkair MI938 from Singapore to Chengdu, reaching at 2215. Short shuttle to hotel to stay for the night.

18 April 15
We took an early flight from Chengdu to Daocheng lasting 1 hr flight filled with amazing views of the snow capped mountains. Daocheng Yading Airport is located on a plateau 4,411 m (14,472 ft) above sea level, making it the “world’s highest civilian airport”. Temperature was 0˚C upon landing. Due to the high altitude, one of our companions already started to feel the effects of AMS with blue lips and blue finger nails before we even boarded the shuttle bus.

On the shuttle from airport to Daocheng town, the bus stopped mid way and a nurse came on to explain about AMS and recommended medication. Do not buy the overpriced AMS medications as it is essentially vitamin C!!!!

We booked a hotel with Jiang Sange, but ended up staying with his sister (蓝色地平线酒店)as his hotel was under renovations. Jiang San Ge was extremely hospitable. He took us around town looking for fuel for our camp stoves. We only managed to find 75% alcohol from pharmacies. We tried it on the stove and it worked, though not too well. San Ge recommended that we go over to the village at Yading the following morning and acclimatise there for another day. Very useful advise. He then arranged for our transport to Yading and helped us to book a place.

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China Inn 1
Inn at Daocheng

We met some local tourists at San Ge’s place who ventured to Yading before they have acclimatised and were sick throughout their walks. In fact, some have decided to cut their trip short as they were feeling totally miserable. In fact, we saw many tourists ordering oxygen tanks to their rooms. We also saw “Oxygen Bars” at the airport. So do acclimatise.

We tried to look for a guide through some contacts we found online, but rates were double of what we saw online. HJ started to feel stronger effects of AMS with headaches and nauseas. So he had to rest the entire afternoon to night.

We packed our hiking vs non-hiking stuff and kept the non-hiking stuff with the hotel as we will be heading back after the trek.

19 April 15

Ed kept waking in the night to slight stomachaches and felt nauseous. He felt very unwell and couldn’t eat breakfast, but managed to finally vomit which helped. So yes, AMS hits even the fit and healthy.

The car ride to Yading tourist center took slightly more than an hour. After paying for the park fee, we transferred to a coach as only these coaches can venture into the region.

Coach ride took us into the mountains offering fantastic views of snow caped mountains and tibetan architecture. We stopped at Yading scenic enterance stop 2, and walked to our Tibetan inn few steps away. Turns out to be a very simple inn with not much amenities and a room costs 80RMB per night. However, they were very hospitable and helpful.

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China - inn 2
Relaxing with the lady boss
Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China Inn 1
In the little hut next to the inn, where the landlord is staying. He invited us in to share his fire, some local food and stories.
Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China Inn 4
Our friendly hosts – Xiao Mei (left) and her cousin, the lady boss of the inn

We were surprised to learn that there was no “professional” guide that we can engage. Apparently any local will know the way but no one was experienced in bringing tourists up. A 25 year old female helper at the inn offered to bring us but later changed her mind as she was worried she may freeze to death sleeping in the snow. So the landlord, a middle aged man offered his help.

We finally settled on the price of 300RMB per day, despite reading online that it was 200RMB per day and they even prepared food for the campers, but I guess that was not for times of snow. (We gave Xiao Mei an additional tip after as she helped me to carry my bag for almost 2 days)

20 April 2015

Rise and shine to a beautiful morning! Standing at the entrance of the inn, we could see the mountains and it was totally breathtaking.But the old man had changed his mind in the morning. The young woman that initially offered felt bad and eventually agreed. She packed her bags and we were totally amazed with it. Talk about travelling light. She only brought a little haversack or day pack with her rolled up insulated reflector tied to the top and a plastic bag of pre-packed bread rolls. We called her Xiao Mei, meaning little sister.

View from our little inn

After eventually settling on our guide, we decided it is too time consuming to wait for the bus that brings us to the park. So we trekked along the road so if the bus passes, we will hitch a ride.

The locals recommended that the right Kora direction is to head for Luorong Ranch (落绒牧场), Milky Lake (牛奶海), then circling Mt Chenresig, we will pass several valleys finally back to Chonggu Monastery.

The hand drawn map by the inn keeper

The park has a developed touristy area that you can take an uphill walk on mainly tarmac roads, or take a buggy to Luorong ranch (落绒牧场). The walk was filled with quaint spots beautiful scenery. However, the initial walk was already starting to prove challenging for my FIL and myself…

Wondering why I am doing this
Father and son

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China- map

We reached Luorong Ranch before noon and stopped to join other tourists in taking pictures of the 3 holy mountains or “Rigsum Gonpo” in Tibetan, in front of us. The 3 peaks were “Wisdom” (Jampelyang), “Power” (Chana Dorje) and “Compassion” (Chenresig).

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China- Tibetan flags
Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China- Tibetan flags

As we were not permitted to stay overnight and no camping was allowed on Luorong, we could only pitch our tents after the rangers knock off work at 5pm. So we clowned away while waiting…

Fooling around while waiting

Without a tent, Xiaomei needed to stay in the stone huts. These stone huts were built for cowherds who may stay overnight in summer or for villagers who came into the mountains to harvest truffles and some other wild produce in summer. (Yes! They have truffles!) We started to gather firewood for Xiao Mei to keep warm and for us to cook with in case our 75% alcohol stove did not work. Later, Xiao Mei suggested that since the stone hut was big enough, we should all sleep in there. We agreed as it will save us some trouble.

Luckily we have firewood for cooking as the 75% alcohol stove could not barely light in the low oxygen condition. Thus, we ended up using the firewood. First dinner was miso soup with dehydrated vegetables and rice with vacuum packed braised meat. Xiao Mei had a Tibetan giant pan cake that she tore off a little to nibble with some soup we gave her. We then had some ginger tea to keep us warm. Luxury in a stone hut.

After dinner clean up, we prepared for bedtime. However, to keep Xiao Mei warm, she kept the fire burning and the smoke from the firewood was so bad that we kept coughing and tearing. Amazingly Xiao Mei was perfectly comfortable with the smoke. I guess they are used to it. So after 1 hour, we decided to pitch our tents outside. By then it was dark.

21 April 15

After a quick breakfast of oats, we packed up and moved started trekking further uphill towards the Milky Lake and 5 coloured Lake. I was so slow that Xiao Mei offered to carry my haversack as she said at the rate I am going, we may be taking a 5 day hike. =P

We arrived at Milky Sea about lunch time and stopped for lunch and to enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately, it was a dry season so the lake was smaller. I was a little disappointed as I was really expecting a SEA or a much bigger lake. However, it was still a welcoming sight. Or honestly, a welcoming break. After lunch at the Milky Sea, we carried on a short walk to Five coloured lake.

After the lakes, we kept walking to Col. 1, one of the valleys, for our night’s stay. The sky was getting dark and we were all extremely tired. Despite being hit intermittently by AMS, Ed was still doing better than me in terms of hiking. I was just so tired I had to rest for 5 counts for every 10 steps I take. The day’s trek was mainly steep uphill treks and I was trying to focus on moving forward and not let my mind wander.

 

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China- lake

Finally we are descending!!!. But I was also worried that it will get dark before we reach our campsite and so I hastened my foot steps. and descended so fast that I started getting giddy. When I finally caught up with Xiao Mei near our camp, I was so relieved to see her that I puked! Alas, when we arrived at our stony campsite, we realised that could not set up our tents and had to stay in the stone hut… Again…

Mountain Hike at Yading Shangri La China-Stone Huts Night2
Roof of our hut on left, our neighbouring hut with no roof on right. Stoney grounds everywhere.

We told Xiao Mei that we cannot survive with the smoke choking us in the hut. And she said no issue, as she found some “blankets” along the way.

As we started in dismay at the slabs of stones on the floor, she explained that sleeping on stones is actually very warm and comfortable! None of us believed her, but it wasn’t as if there was any other choice. So we spent the next 30 minutes trying to rearrange the slabs of stone as evenly as we could so that we could lie on it.

Once done, we got ready to start the fire for water and dinner. Alas, the place was so stony, there was no source of fire wood! Desperate, we tried our 75% alcohol again. This time, we removed the inner rim of the burner so that more air could flow through, in the hope that more oxygen can help the fire burn better. Luckily it ignited more easily tonight though the water still took forever to boil.

While we were boiling water, Xiao Mei went to “gather her blanket”. She came back with long branches full of leaves fanning out like peacock’s tail. After 2 trips, she had enough to build a pile about 20cm tall. She then explained that this is a type of plant that keeps pests (like rats) away and can keep her warm. She then proceeded to cover herself with the thick layer. We felt really bad and offered her all our spare clothing to keep her warm but she insisted she is fine and only took a pack of heat pads from us or her hands. She was so exhausted she just drank her tea and ate some bread and fell immediately into deep slumber.

By the time we were done boiling water, HJ was already sound asleep. I was curled up in my sleeping bag, still feeling nauseas and Ed actually wanted dinner!! So he cooked while we all slept.

Surprisingly, the stone floor was really very comfortable. We slept better than the first night. Or maybe we were all truly totally exhausted. But the stone hut really kept us warm. So warm that we had to unzip our sleeping bag partially in the middle of the night.

21 April 2015

The morning was wet. Stepping out of the stone hut, we were greeted with wisps of cloud that made the place more magical and beautiful. The air was damp from a shower in the middle of the night and looks like rain is set to re-visit.

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China-Morning fog
What we woke to…In the clouds

Xiao Mei said that we need to ascend again today and looks like it will be snowing there, so we should hurry. After a hurried breakfast of just some breakfast bars and warm water, we broke camp.

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China-Coming down

Then we finally reached a plateau with another hut. Much to our relief, Xiao Mei announced that we are nearly there!!! With these words, the mood lifted. Even when the snow had turned to slate, it did not dampen our mood. Xiao Mei even started singing Tibetan songs for us when we took our lunch break in the slate…

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China-final rest
In chirpy mood!

After a quick lunch of more chocolate and cereal bars, we continued descending and the landscape started turning more woody as we neared the end of our hike.

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China-Jubilant
Jubilant!

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China-nearly there

Although downhill, it was still a very long walk. After an hour or so, we finally arrived at Chonggu Temple. We strolled past the Pearl Lake (卓玛拉措) and visited the 800 year old monastery and started walking back to Long Long Ba where we started and I felt a cocktail of emotions as we came to the end of my virgin hike. I am glad I came on this trip. Will I do it again? Sure, but next time I will get a little fitter first.

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China- Chonggu Temple

Mountain Hike at Daocheng Yading Shangri La China-coloured flags
Walking through the bridge of coloured flags near Chonggu Temple

After the hike, these are the must haves that I personally recommend.

Gear Must-Haves:

  • Sunglasses (to protect against snow blindness)
  • Cap
  • Sunblock
  • Lip balm
  • Good merino inner top
  • Waterproof warm pants (we wore snowboarding pants, my FIL wore thermal pants with a waterproof outer pants)
  • Fleece jacket
  • Down jacket
  • good waterproof trekking shoes
  • warm socks
  • Good pair of waterproof gloves
  • Balaclava / scarf
  • Good down sleeping bag
  • lightweight tent
  • ready to eat food supplies (no cooking required)
  • big metal mug for cooking water
  • water filter
  • camera
  • a pair of good walking sticks
  • big water bag
  • small thermos flask (luxury)

For more information on other hikes and bike trips that Ed does, you can visit his blog.

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