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Trip Report: Taking On China’s Yading Big Kora Trek

night camping shot tent glow

OFF INTO THE WILD WET YONDER
How does this sound for summer travel conditions: daily rain and fog, a week of hiking six hours/day with a 20 kg pack, muddy trails loaded with cow patties, high altitudes, and the very real risk of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)?

Where do I sign up, right?

Despite these less-than-enjoyable realities of the great outdoors, getting out of the city again was a top priority of mine this past summer so I took on the challenge and headed out to China’s Yading Nature Reserve smack dab in the middle of the rainy season.

If you happened to read my trip report on the Yading Small Kora trek, you’ll know that this was not my first time to the reserve. Last November, after completing the short trip around one of the three holy mountains that dominate this area, I had my mind (and my boots) set on completing the more challenging Big Kora route sometime during the summer, once again doing so solo. But with all this talk of wet conditions, several people asked why bother going during the annual rainy season and not fall, when conditions are all but guaranteed to be clear and dry? Well, mainly because it was the only way I would have enough time to properly acclimate and get the most out of the trip versus trying to squeeze it in with a rushed holiday sometime in October or November. While it was worth taking in those autumn colors and striking mountain views along the Small Kora route, about halfway along I got AMS and it persisted for a few days, notably hampering the overall experience with some nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Translation: No fun. This time I brought along some Diamox, the recommended medication for AMS, and I began taking it a few days before arriving at Yading.

So there you have it, mid-July rolled around and I found myself packing for my trip and looking forward to seeing Yading again. I decided to make it sort of a two-leg journey, with the first stop being in the town of Kangding and then a few days later onto Yading. Of note, this is just after spending over three weeks between Thailand and Myanmar—eating rich spicy food, drinking beer, exploring temples, and pretty much sweating in the heat each day. Also worth mentioning is me getting a robust bout of the “tropical trots” that just did not want to quit. Bad street food was the culprit, but I’ll bypass any further details and just say that it did not leave me feeling in top shape for a strenuous trek. No time to dwell on that, however, as I wanted to make sure I was focused on having all my gear in order and on reviewing the Big Kora trail details (mostly from a great trip report over on josephrock.net).

I used the same pack as my last trip, a 45-liter bag, nothing fancy about it at all. Minimal clothing, tent, tarp, sleeping bag, rain gear, first aid kit, cooking gear, food for seven days, and a handful of other essentials, including my camera and a hefty battery pack for any recharging needs. Cooking gear consisted of one of those incredibly small Esbit folding pocket stoves, lots of solid fuel tabs, and a single 700 ml aluminum pot.

With everything squared away, I caught my night flight to Chengdu and dozed overnight at the airport for six hours so that I could catch my connecting flight to Kangding first thing the next morning. I planned a full two-day stop in Kangding (elevation 2,650 m / 8,700 ft), and then a long bus ride to the town of Daocheng. The other option is flying pretty much straight from sea level to the Yading Daocheng airport—the highest commercial airport in the world by the way, sitting on a plateau at 4,411 meters (14,470 ft). Reading up on Kangding, it seemed like an enjoyable enough place to spend a few days—it’s a bustling little town straddling a small raging river at the bottom of a narrow, steep sided valley. There are also a few trails up the mountains above town, making for a decent opportunity for a short conditioning hike at a lower altitude.

(Quick tip: If you want to get a bus from Chengdu to Kangding,  Xinnanmen bus station is the best option. You can view bus schedules and directions here)

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Downtown Kangding

FIRST LEG—KANGDING SHOVING MATCH AND ACCLIMATIZATION
Most people opt for one of the daily busses from Chengdu to Kangding but I flew in, knowing I would still have a long bus ride ahead of me to get to Daocheng/Yading. Near the end of the quick one-hour flight, looked out the window and caught fantastic views of layered sawtooth ridges and spires in the early morning light. We touched down at the tiny Kangding airport and I felt a slight tingling sensation in the face and hands when getting off the plane. Not surprising. The airport sits at just over 4,000 meters in elevation so that, along with shortness of breath, are normal symptoms for many at these heights.

Thinking I could get easily get a taxi into Kangding proper, I passed on the cheaper shuttle bus that was idling nearby, waiting until full of passengers. There were plenty of cars and drivers available, all loitering out in the parking lot waiting for people like me fresh off the plane. My thinking was it would be nice to get dropped off direct to where I need to go rather than at the bus station, not knowing how far it was to the center of town. The drivers crowded in fast, jostling each other violently to get closer to me and a few other tourists as we exited. A real shoving match ensued, guys shouting loudly and coming just short of throwing punches. Welcome to Kangding!

They finally settled down and I got in one of the cars. Then, it turned out that the taxi touts still wanted to wait to fill the car with more passengers but almost everyone had already left the small airport so I was stuck there for a few hours pissed off and waiting for the next flight to arrive, bringing more people seeking transport to town. Not too happy about this boneheaded poor decision first thing in the morning—let’s chalk it up to lack of both sleep and oxygen.

(Quick tip: In case my experience hasn’t convinced you, while the RMB 40–50 price sounds good for the 45-minute taxi trip into Kangding, always opt for the shuttle bus. As I discovered later, the Kangding bus station is just a 10-minute walk to the center of town. Just follow the river.)

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On the way to Kangding from the airport

I eventually got a ride for RMB 40 with just two of us in the car. Saw dozens of mountain bikers along the way; cycling trips are more popular than ever in summer here. Crazy drivers were also in abundance—it’s standard practice to ride the middle line of the road, tailgate like it’s going out of style, and weave around slower cars with reckless abandon even through curves… anything goes.

Finally arrived in Kangding and was let out in front of the somewhat derelict-looking Kangding Hotel. This is where the narrow side street is, leading uphill to the Zhilam Hostel. I walked about five minutes up what is less a road and more of a wide concrete path that winds steeply up the hill. Found the hostel no problem but all rooms were booked so the staff directed me back down the hill to where I started, telling me the Yongzhu Guesthouse would probably have plenty of rooms. Dumped my bag off there and kicked around town for a while, and snapped some shots in the evening. The next day greeted me with drizzly weather but I managed a quick hike up the mountain that looms over one side of town. This was a mountain hike typical of tourist areas around China: stone steps the whole way up, prayer flags festooning the trees, and a ticket booth at the top requiring you to pay RMB 30 to access the small mountaintop viewing area.

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Tibetan prayer wheel (just behind Himalayan Coffee)

Another really early start the following morning. I trudged along to the bus station just before daybreak, found my bus and settled in to cramped seats. The ride was long, around 10 hours, and I dozed at best as I could. A guy in front of me had a bad cough and was hacking up so loudly I thought he might start choking up one of his lungs. He was also repeatedly slapping himself hard on the back of the head every 20 minutes or so… never a dull moment on the long haul bus in China! The roads were in great condition, though. Surprisingly. Plenty of switchbacks, several quick stops along the way, but no rockslides or other issues causing delays so I felt that I lucked out, especially as this was a rainy time of year and there are frequent rockslides, sometimes blocking roads for hours. I arrived in Daocheng and caught a shared taxi van ride right away to Riwa (aka Shangri La), just in time to catch the last bus into Yading Village.

(Quick tip: There are no direct bus routes leading all the way to Yading Village. Take one of many shared taxi vans from Daocheng to Riwa. RMB 50 per person. Don’t worry about finding them, they will approach you. At Riwa, you will be dropped off at the bus station where you must buy your ticket to Yading. As of July 2016, the cost is RMB 270.)

Yading Village pretty much consists of all nearly identical Tibetan-style stone guesthouse hotels, plus lots of construction mess but not nearly as bad as Riwa in that regard. This area is still gearing up for increased numbers of tourists I guess. I got a nice private room at Desha’s, a new place right in the middle of the village. Bargained them down from the RMB 250 asking price to RMB 120. Had a nice hearty meal and called it a day, with hopes that I could catch up on some solid sleep before starting the trek tomorrow.

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One of the many Tibetan-style hotels in Yading Village

YADING VILLAGE TO BAIYU CAMP—FALSE START ON A SUNNY DAY
I caught one of the frequent buses that takes people from the village about 10 minutes down the hill to the actual entrance to the reserve. If you want to take the electric tourist cattle carts, that is an extra charge. If you’re not afraid to use your own legs to get around just follow the signs and walkways. I meandered along one of these leading into the Luorong grasslands area, just past an open viewing area and electric cart bus stop (on the left) and the Chonggu Monastery (off to the right). I was keeping an eye out for where I could cut to the left across the road and (hopefully) onto the start of the real trail that you are supposed to take to begin the Big kora circuit. As I had read, it’s a bit further along but is unmarked and tricky to spot, and requires some walking along the road that is designated only for the dumb tourist carts.

Found some steps leading up to the left of the wooden walkway and onto the road and, directly across from me next to a small sign there was a clear trailhead. Well, that almost seems too easy I thought, but it led in the direction that it was supposed to, further up and into the forest, slowly bearing left from roughly parallel to the road. After a good 30 minutes I got the feeling that this wasn’t the right trail and it turns out I was right. I soon came out to an opening from the trees and saw a stone farmer’s hut in the distance, hemmed in by steep hillside most of the way around. I wasn’t too far off, but I was basically on the wrong side of a craggy steep hillside and ravine which lay on my right. The only way was to backtrack down to the road and look for the next trail that would take me past this area and around to the other side.

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Looks inviting…but wrong way

I trotted along the road as fast as I could with my heavy pack, not wanting to be spotted by the cart drivers because I’ve read that they are known to enforce payment for being on this special thoroughfare. Apparently lowly pedestrians are not allowed. More than that, I was afraid they would stop and tell me to get back on the designated plank walkway, throwing a monkey wrench in my efforts to even get started on the trek. After just a minute or two I glimpsed what looked like a very faint, hardly used trail. Heard an electric cart coming along so I darted into the woods anyway and shuffled further in, even though I was still clearly visible from the road. I walked on and another cart came by, slowed to stop for a moment, I know they were checking me out but I ignored them and I heard the hum of the motor resume, leaving me be. Continuing on, the trail grew more distinct and as I looked down at the road to where it makes a really tight right turn, I saw another clear trailhead so I knew I was now on the right path.

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If you see this small log bridge, you are on the right path towards the Baiyu camp

Much further along I came out to an open area above the treeline, with full views of the valley heading up to the left where the first campsite sits— this is referred to as the Baiyu camp. I kept on the trail for about 30 minutes until arriving at a stone hut with half a roof and set up camp right there. This was also my first chance to test out the pocket stove and fuel tablets in the field, at altitude. I bought a few lighters in Kangding as backups just in case the waterproof matches didn’t work. The fuel was slow to light, as to be expected, but as long as there is no wind (or a really solid windscreen set up with rocks if conditions are windy), should work fine.

What’s great about this first campsite is that it’s possible to see all three of the holy mountains if the weather is clear enough. Experiencing mild and mostly sunny conditions all day, I started thinking I might just luck out and have some decent weather for much of the trek (I was dead wrong as it turned out). I made sure to get some photos and video footage of the peaks, knowing that this would be the only chance on the whole route to take them all in.

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Afternoon view of Mt. Chenresig from the Baiyu camp

DOGGONE IT—OVER THE FIRST PASS, STUMBLING INTO A MARSH
Got a late start on the second day and slowly began making my way along the rocky slope further up this shallow valley. Took it slow now being up at 4,500 m (14,800 ft) shouldering my gear, which included a full load of food and over two liters of water. The Diamox seemed to have helped, or maybe it was the two days spent in Kangding, no way to know. Either way, no signs of AMS, just difficulty catching my breath. I eventually reached the first pass which featured a creepy scarecrow-like figure festooned with prayer flags. As the valley leveled out a bit further down on the other side, I spotted two huts, clearly inhabited, just off to the left. Being cautious of the likelihood of dogs here, I veered off the trail and to the right well away from them.

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A mountain effigy greets those who reach this first pass, at nearly 4900 meters altitude

It seems no excursion of mine to the region would be complete without some kind of run-in with Mastiff guard dogs (read about my other experience about halfway through my other trip report). I’ve never been bitten but it does happen so it’s something to be aware of, especially in places like this where very few travelers come through. So, sure enough and right on cue, two dogs came trotting out on high alert from within one of the huts despite my attempt to give a wide berth. They let out some gruff barks and strutted a bit closer. This got my heart going a bit so I just made sure that I kept moving further away. The problem was, the trail was closer to them and in front of me now was marshy runoff from a creek. No choice but to slosh through it like a jerk, thoroughly wetting my boots for a few steps before stepping on drier ground. A bit anti-climactic, sure… but that’s a good thing.

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The rainy season greenery knows no limits here

Further along came the main stopping point along this leg of the trail—a collection of several large huts regularly used by Yak farmers in the area. I was invited in to rest by a friendly family with two small children and they plied me with a chunk of hard sour Yak cheese and a giant disc of hearty flatbread. It was already early afternoon so I didn’t linger long here and was directed to head down and slightly to the right, pretty much where the water was flowing. There seemed to be a trail just off to the left as well but a heavy fog and drizzle had really set in by now so it was hard to see anything ahead. I hoped this would get me to where I need to go—much further down the slope, across a creek, and eventually around the lower flanks of a ridge and into another valley leading up to the next campsite at the Mt. Chanadorje meadow.

Given the steady rain, I figured the trail was going to be waterlogged but it was especially rough going here among the jagged rocks, flowing water, sharp brush and dense plant growth. Despite the locals directing me this way, it seemed to have gotten me a bit off the main trail and forced me to do some real bushwhacking but I pushed on, as tedious as it was, just taking extra care not to slip and twist an ankle. I connected back to the proper trail and it led steeply down to a small log bridge over a creek that tumbled down to the bottom of the valley. From there, the way led into a forest trail that wound its way up and down among the trees and hanging moss. I reeled in mild shock seeing a figure a little ways ahead with limbs looking askew. At first glance through the trees it looked like a real person but it turned out to be another odd looking effigy with old weather-beaten clothing offerings. Perhaps it functions as a guardian of sorts but looks like a stand-in for something straight out of a horror movie. After some time, the trail opened up into a new valley leading to the base of Chanadorje. Talk about a long day—I got there in the evening and the rain let up just long enough for me to cook a quick meal out in the open then crawl into my tent.

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Arrival at the Mt. Chanadorje meadow camp

SHROUDS OVER CHANADORJE—AMONG WATERFALLS, MORAINES, AND YAKS
The next day saw a continuation of the steady drizzle that went on all through the night. I had high hopes of catching some clearer views of Chanadorje, so I decided to stick around for an extra day, explore up among the glacial moraines and try my luck with the weather. While hunkered down out of the rain I heard some people approaching and popped my head out of the tent, seeing three local guys standing there looking surprised no doubt, at coming upon a lone foreigner camping out here. Not a bad feeling getting thumbs up of approval all around from the hearty locals when I told them I was going around all three mountains over the next four days. One guy had a rifle slung over his back, for wolves, he said.

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Exploring closer to the glacial moraine slopes and waterfalls

Conditions remained drizzly and fogged out all day, even continuing through my second morning here so I broke camp and continued on the kora trail which leads up into a forested area. Worked my way up for some time and crossed another small mountain pass, which then opened up to grass and shrub meadow which appeared to drop off on the far side into another valley shrouded in fog. Bearing up to the right I crested the top of an incline where both Yaks and horses were grazing, and continued on a trail which led along the slopes of a valley towards Yaka Pass. As the trail led lower down along the valley, it became increasingly waterlogged, with lots of areas completely swamped out in a good 5-6 inches of water. I went up just off trail to slightly higher ground and found a perfect spot tucked between some trees to make camp. Didn’t cross paths with a single person today.

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Made camp among the trees, just before the Yaka pass

YAKA PASS—OVER THE MISTY MOUNTAINS AND INTO MIDDLE EARTH
More of the ongoing monotonous drizzle waking up the next day. Definitely used to it by now but my boots were still thoroughly wet, as there was no chance to dry out in these conditions. That’s the way she goes. The next big stage on today’s hike was crossing Yaka Pass and then winding down through a ruggedly beautiful valley carpeted in rich greens and dotted with huge rock outcroppings. I slowly made my way down and over to the right side of this valley, with any views of the landscape ahead completely obscured. After the trail passed through more rocky areas and then a massive scree slope, it began to wind its way relentlessly up again with numerous switchbacks, resulting in what felt like the equivalent to crossing yet another pass. Now very high up, hugging the steep sides of this valley, I caught glimpses of numerous waterfalls and a river far below. If only the fog could lift here, the views of the surrounding mountain ranges would no doubt be stunning.

The trail finally topped out and began to lead down to a hanging valley basin ahead and to the right. A fast-moving river flows here, coming down from the sheer heights of Mt. Jampelyang, the second of the holy peaks which I was now making my way around. Half of this basin (also referred to as “the Ampitheater”) was backed by strikingly sheer cliffs which continued further along to the left, forming a gigantic wall-like ridge.

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The amphitheater campsite and back side of Mt. Jampelyang

I was able to see where the trail led off in the distance, a precarious-looking line that cut straight through a very steep scree slope just below the base of the cliffs. Set up my handy mini-tripod and got some decent shots of my tent at this idyllic campsite. Had some dinner and turned in, wondering what was in store for me tomorrow traversing the scree slope trail.

OVER THE ROCKS—AND ON TO ROCK’S ROCK
I left camp close to 9 a.m. the next morning and approached a large hut that sits in the middle of the basin. The same guys I met at the Chanadorje camp happened to be here, along with a few others and their dog. We said some hellos and I continued on, looking up at the steep trail that lay ahead. Later, when reaching the scree slope trail, I was surprised to see that it wasn’t nearly as sheer as it appeared from the camp below. More than steep enough to encourage rock slides, though, so I didn’t linger too long.

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Scree slope trail below the cliffs

After rounding a final large rock outcropping, the trail turned, once again revealing a new valley. Minutes after reaching this point, the fog thinned and the sky was brightening, revealing a blue-green lake fed by a small waterfall. I plodded on, tired but enjoying what seemed to be improving weather. The trail eventually began to traverse large areas of flat solid rock and it really warmed up as the sun made a brief appearance for the first time in days. This valley provided some great views of new and completely varied mountain formations. Who knows what lies deeper among these peaks and ridges—rarely seen colorful alpine lakes, hidden waterfalls, or maybe some unexplored caves?

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Yetchesura Valley, on the way to the Joseph Rock campsite

Thinking on that, I caught sight of the day’s final destination—a flat, grassy depression punctuated by a large rock. This marks the place where explorer Joseph Rock once camped during one of his exploratory missions in the area back in 1928. I chose a spot for my tent carefully. With so much rain, most of the basin was already waterlogged but a few small areas right next to the rock were still firm enough.

A few hours later several Yak herders came along and squatted for a smoke break under the big rock to get out of the misty rain. Soon after, one of them managed to gather up his herd from high up on one of the slopes. This was in part with the help of two dogs who were making the rounds, driving the Yaks closer together to cross the flooded out far side of the grassy basin. After watching all of this, I began to hear the jingling of collar bells approaching from behind me as I stood by my tent. One of the dogs had circled around and was lingering nearby, checking me out… maybe wondering why I wasn’t falling in line with the rest of the group who by now had all made it through the water. Sorry fella, wrong tribe. Just a solitary biped here settling down for the night.

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Rock’s rock!

BALLS OUT—THAT’S THE WAY SHE GOES
I woke up after a fitful sleep and was mulling over either camping for another night on the last leg of the Big Kora or just going all out and making a push for the whole thing in one day. From Rock’s Rock there’s several hours of hiking down to Wisdom Lake, up another pass that connects to the Small Kora, and down to the back of the third mountain on the circuit. There are more derelict stone huts in that area plus flat grassy areas for tents. This is where most choose to camp for the last night of the trek.

Knowing I would soon come to the point where the Big and Small Kora routes overlap, I would be retracing my steps from last fall. The views here weren’t that much of a draw a second time around, especially in the mist, so I decided to make a push to “git ‘er done” today. Being low on food was a factor as well. I was thoroughly sick of my dense homemade trail mix bars and pasta dinners (I’d been eating macaroni and vermicelli noodles every single night).

So I moved on from Rock’s Rock and let me tell you, I was already feeling completely worn out even just starting out in the morning. I was dehydrated and burning more calories than I was taking in with my snacking and dinners over the past week. The body works overtime at altitudes like this.

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Wisdom Lake looking towards Chenresig and the three-way pass

Soon enough, I came to Wisdom Lake and felt my spirits lift as it’s one of the standout views to take in along the trail. The main trail seemed to lead down around to the left side (clockwise) going around the lake but smaller paths can also be taken to the right side. Being rainy season, some of the far right side looked muddy and waterlogged so I was glad to avoid that way. On the other side of the lake there were also several huts with plastic roofs, plus grazing Yak nearby, one of the many active camps used throughout summer by locals.

After making my way far down to the other side of the lake, then ascending the other side, the trail finally leveled out at the three-way pass. This small plateau area allows access to trails either heading down to Milk Lake and further down back to Luorong Grasslands near the start of the trek or (to the left) the other trail takes you around the last part of the kora behind Mt. Chenresig. I continued this way, feeling pretty good about getting through the trek today.

Crossed paths with some Chinese hikers on what appeared to be an organized outing. They were seriously geared up to such a ridiculous extent that they looked just like mountaineers heading to Everest base camp: double trekking poles, reinforced knee-shin heavy-duty winter pants, gi-normous packs, face masks, a couple of disposable cans of oxygen, and more… all brand-new gear without so much as a scuff to be seen. They were heading the opposite way, not sure if it was a reverse Small Kora trek or part of a different route they were heading to. They didn’t have ropes, ice axes etc. (mountaineering attempts on these holy peaks aren’t allowed-all three of them have never been summited)

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Besides a scattered handful of locals, the only other trekkers I saw during the entire week

I made my way down the rocky trail as it descended to a small alpine lake and past the spot I used last year for a campsite. Came to the stone hut and just kept pushing on at a good clip without any breaks, knowing I would have one last big mountain pass to cross. After some time on the trail, I decided to take just a quick rest near a few spots strewn with litter. Who are these people who throw their trash around here? Mostly locals, tourists or both? What a disgrace. Maybe a portion of the entry ticket fee should go towards a mandatory trail etiquette lecture at the park entrance, rather than on extending the paved roads and adding more garbage cans (which people don’t seem to know how to make use of). I slowly continued on and tried to pace myself as the trail ascended more steeply again.

Up ahead I caught sight of a small group but couldn’t catch up to them. Only after plodding up closer to where the ascent begins for the final pass did I come upon the group—a local Tibetan family including grandma, a few small children and even a small baby bundled to the back of one of the men. They greeted me and motioned for me to join them while they rested and passed around some snack cakes. One of the kids, a boy of about 10, flippantly tossed his plastic cake wrapper into the wind, as the dad looked on softly clucking at him. Well I guess that’s one of the explanations on why littering still continues, with parental disciplining like that.

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Getting closer to the last pass behind Chenresig. Altitude 4600 meters.

The drizzle started in again so the family got up and I walked along with them, donning my reliable eight dollar poncho. The young boy fell in step with me, staring and trying to make conversation with this curious foreigner. He hopped around, loudly saying “Shenme! Shenme!” (“What! What!”) while pointing at my mini water filter and bag. I showed him the screw-on filter and took a drink. Beyond that, I wasn’t much of a conversationalist as I tried to catch my breath the whole time, stopping frequently and eyeballing the rocky trail above. The boy seemed to grow bored so he bounded up the trail on his own, playfully kicking at rocks along the way and was soon out of sight in the mist. I pushed on, not wanting to be passed by the aunties and grandma who brought up the rear.

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Greeted by the sun, a brisk wind and countless prayer flags

Finally reached the narrow notch in the rock and stood here for awhile among the 1000s of prayer flags flapping in the wind. The sun was peaking out on this side of the pass and I had a pleasant enough hike downhill, despite feeling a bit sore in the knees. I made my way further down through old growth forest and down towards Pearl Lake. There is a new viewing platform here and loads of day trippers looking fabulous taking selfies in front of the impressive Mt. Chenresig. I snapped a few shots of the mountain and headed further down the trail back to Chonggu Monastery as it grew quite warm and sunny, a nice ending to my completion of the kora circuit.

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Pearl Lake and Mt. Chenresig

FINAL COMMENTS
Despite the monotony of dreary rainy weather almost every day, it was a rewarding trek. I was surprised that I never got caught in a summer hail or lightning storm, or even windy conditions, spending so much time in high valleys and open areas near mountain passes. If conditions were worse, it would have made it very challenging keeping the flame lit and concentrated enough under the pot to even boil water or cook.

When doing trip planning, I really wanted to take a side trip off of the main kora and check out some other random lakes and valleys but decided against it, mainly because I was going solo but also it would require extra food for another 2-3 nights of camping. That’s a fair amount of weight to add to an already heavy-ish load.

Going solo? There are obviously pros and cons. Many might think it amounts to a lonely and somewhat boring trip, especially if spending a full week out in the mountains. And that’s a valid point. It can be great sharing a fire, food, and stories with a few others. For me, there are two main factors pushing me to take advantage of some true solo time: the noise and constant presence of people in urban areas of China, and secondly, it forces you to simplify things and give the brain a break in certain capacities. How often do you get to spend countless hours in just “being.” Let the mind wander without always being around chitchat, gossip, Facebook, headphones… just hours on the trail.

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Yetchesura Valley

On a practical level, I would not recommend going solo on a trek like this unless you are experienced doing long treks and are self-sufficient. If I had gotten hurt my only option would be to attempt to continue on or wait for help on the trail, something that could easily take half a day or longer as there is no way to tell how often people will come along this little used circuit around the mountains to offer help. The fact that you probably won’t be able to communicate with them makes it even more of a challenge.

And as for choosing Yading over other outdoor attractions around China? Well, if you are looking for a solid alternative to the horrors of the noisy, plastic, mainstream Chinese tourism experience, then this is an excellent option. Once you get past the popular day tripper areas closer to the entrance to the reserve, you can find a real sense of “getting away” into more wild mountain country where there is no WiFi, phone signal or megaphone wielding tour guides. This balance of accessibility yet (relative) remoteness is what makes this region stand out.

For a closer look at the stunning beauty of these mountains, along with the different stages of the full trek, check out the video.


Any questions or comments about the trek? Have at it below!