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Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, near Lijiang

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Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Cable Car

The black line in the middle is the steep and scary walkway

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…

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Looking Up

Note the walkway heading upwards

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.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Peak

Fan Peak

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.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Looking Down

Looking back down Fan Peak, towards the cable car station

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.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Walkway

There are signs everywhere saying "Keep to the Walkway"...

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 Dragon Snow Mountain Lake

We visited Lanyue Lake after climbing Jade Snow Dragon Mountain

Visitor Tips

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.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Glacier

What's left of the glacier

 

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Author

Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.

9 comments

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  • Hi there,
    I just stumbled upon your blog today and have found it very interesting. I’m planning a “summer camp” trip with about 20 students from Guangdong province. We’ll visit Yunnan and see many of the places you’ve written about. Any advice for large groups going to 玉龙雪山?
    Thanks and great work!
    Enjoy China 🙂

    Reply
    • You should be fine with a large group – just arrange a meeting point before the climb as a few may get tired and come down early. That marker in the second photo would be ideal as there’s lots of space and great views.

      Also, get your oxygen sprays in Lijiang, before you set off to the mountain – we tried a few and found the Japanese ones tasted and smelt better!

      Have a great time

      Reply
  • Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the interesting insight and especially the picture of the scary walkway. A couple of friends and I will be in Lijiang from 1-12 August 2012.

    We plan to use these twelves days as a high-altitude training camp for the adventure race season in autumn and winter in Hong Kong and the region. One of the things we want to do is ride our mountain bikes to the foot of Jade Dragon and then walk to the 4680m point, either on some trail or via the scary walk way. We are quite fit and have done quite a few 5000m rides and hikes in Asia and South America (my highest is 7008m).

    I was wondering:
    – When were you there and what was the temperature at the top?
    – Was the wind strong on the top and do you remember how cold it felt?
    – You mentioned that a bus takes you to the start of the cable car: is this bus ride inside a restricted area (i.e. no cyclists or pedestrians allowed) or not? And do you remember whether the walkway is easily accessible without having to pass some security guards or ticket office?

    Thanks and best regards.

    Siegfried (based in Hong Kong)

    Reply
    • Hi Siegfried,

      We were there in early January, so it was particularly cold – the temperature on the mountain was at least 10C cooler than Lijiang, so subzero. In August, Lijiang is about 30c, so I’d estimate the mountain as being 15-20, which isn’t that cold. The wind wasn’t particularly noticeable.

      I’m not sure that the bus ride wasn’t through a restricted area, but I don’t remember seeing any large car parks. There are wall around the whole area so I’d imagine you’ll need someone’s permission to climb the walkway.

      There are plenty of other trails in the area – check out the Tiger Leaping Gorge upper paths (not the one we went on!)

      Good luck – sounds like fun,

      Steve

      Reply

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