The 21-mile long Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range towers over the Lijiang area and forms one side of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. At 5,596m, Fan Peak (Shanzifeng) is the tallest of the mountain’s 13 peaks.
There are three ways to ascend Fan Peak: along a treacherous looking iron walkway, by sad-looking mule, or by cable car. Once upon a time, the near-vertical walkway would have been an exciting prospect, but nowadays the cable car was my preferred choice.
Once inside the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Scenic Area, a coach takes you from the base of the mountain to 2000m, the cable car whisks you up to 4506m so quickly that almost everyone has to resort to using oxygen canisters.
Our friendly hotel had warned us of this and sold us a couple at £2 each, but hawkers up on the mountain were tripling the price for those in dire need. They were exactly the same Japanese air canisters sold in San Pedro de Atacama for £17 each…
Exiting the warmth of the cable car station, out onto the glacier, we saw that we had to hike the remainder of the mountain on foot.
I recently subscribed to a writing course that would prefer I claim that conquering the mountain was allegorical to conquering my inner demons, a battle of wills of man against nature or an epic personal struggle from which I learnt many life lessons.
In reality, it was climbing an awful lot of steps after rushing too fast up to a high altitude. The only lessons I learnt were that I needed to buy some thicker gloves, and spend more time on the treadmill.
Reaching the highest allowed point on the trail at 4,636m, we were still somewhat short of the peak at 5,596m. From here we could see not only the entire glacier, but more enjoyably watch those still struggling along behind.
I started to take a few photos, but a nearby group of Chinese girls were aggressively keen to get a photo with the puffed out foreigner with a red hat and matching cheeks.
Once I agreed to the first one, everyone else suddenly needed the same photo. If you’ve ever observed a Chinese tourist taking a quick snapshot you’ll know this was a long and laborious process. By taking so long, more people were arriving at the peak and joining an orderly queue a rabble clamouring for a shot.
Fortunately, a middle-aged stag group also arrived and proceeded to strip off their shirts to expose their pale and flabby torsos. This display distracted the photographers long enough for me to slip away back down the stairs, narrowly avoiding the roving Communist Party Representative arriving to investigate the undignified commotion.
Reaching the bottom again the skies had brightened so I rested my shaky legs outside the cable car station, whilst enjoying hot chocolate and a mystery meat sausage. The heavily spiced sausage was one of the bright red ones sold from unhygienic little stalls all over China. It costs almost nothing, looks terrible and tastes particularly delicious on a cold day halfway up a mountain.
Later our guide dropped us off outside the official grotty little canteen, where were given eight cold dishes for £1. It was good value, but I would have liked something hot after climbing about on the ice.
Jade Snow Dragon Mountain (玉龙雪山; Yùlóngxuě Shān ) is 25km from Lijiang.
The cable car is 170rmb for a round trip, although we paid 30rmb extra for a tour guide who got us discounted tickets, a free 80rmb Lijiang Old Town Preservation Receipt each and bypassed what looked like a hour or more of queuing.
He also let us skip getting weighed – visitors over 100kg have to pay a surcharge for the cable car. The tour included a lake in the afternoon and a trip to the town of Shuhe or Dali.
The best views of the mountain are from Lijiang, particularly at the Black Dragon Pool, where it’s also possible to see Old Man Peak standing out on the right and Black Snow Peak on its left.
Jade Snow Dragon Mountain forms one of the walls of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, but it’s not a great view from the bottom of the valley. During the summer months, it’s worth taking the cable car up to the Yak Meadow for more natural views of the mountains, with just a grazing yak or two for company.
Judging by the postcards and photos of the glacier from just ten years ago, global warming seems to be taking its toll here as well. Snow originally carpeted the entire peak of the mountain and the glacier has shrunk to a quarter of its size a decade ago.