Most of China’s tallest snow-capped peaks are found along the fault line running along the south-western borders: their unique formation offers utterly breathtaking scenery for anyone brave and strong enough to climb them. But often, weather conditions around these mountains can be unpredictable, making a tough climb even more perilous. Amateur climbers who fancy taking a shot at the summit should probably just enjoy the views in a coffee table book, or explore the surrounding scenery instead. If you are intent on tackling the climb, you have to choose the right season to travel, and double check you have the right high-altitude equipment. Better still, get a local sherpa or guide to show you the way.
1) Namcha Barwa (南迦巴瓦峰)
Also known as Namjag Barwa, this is the highest mountain in the Nyingchi region of Tibet, with an altitude of 7,782 metres. Like a giant pyramid, the imposing and sharp triangular summit is often shrouded in mist and cloud, adding an extra air of menace. It is situated in the Brahmaputra Canyon, with the south side facing the Indian Ocean, and tropical rainforests rising up the sides of the valley forged by the Brahmaputra River. Various hardwood trees stretch across the tropical foothills, right up to the chilly snowline, creating a ‘natural museum’ of sorts. Of interest, there are natural hot springs at the foot of the mountain, and if you are feeling fit you can climb to base camp and have a look around.
The best time of year to visit Namcha Barwa is in the autumn, when the air is clean and pure. One of the most stunning places to visit is the mountain pass between Bomi and Sejila along the Sichuan-Tibet highway.
Accommodation: Zhibai Inn, in Zhibai Town (the last town on the road through Grand Canyon). This is also the reception centre for visitors to Namcha Barwa; they can provide accommodation and meals here.
Getting there: Take the bus to Nyingchi from Lhasa (8 hours, 80 RMB). From Nyingchi you can take a long-distance bus to Pai Village, but from there to Zhibai Town there is no public transport, you’ll have to book a private car (or hitch a ride!)
2) Minya Konka (贡嘎山)
Seated between the Dadu and Yalong rivers, Minya Konka (or Gonggar Shan in Mandarin) is the tallest mountain in Sichuan Province and is known as the “King of Shu Mountains” (Shu is the ancient name for Sichuan). Minya Konka has numerous peaks, deep ice and snow and poses many threats to climbers. So bizarrely, it’s still highly popular among mountain climbers! The surrounding region contains over ten highland lakes, some situated at the foot of giant glaciers, some surrounded by beautiful pine forests: the water is crystal clear (but probably too chilly for a skinny-dip). At the foot of the mountain there are over ten hot springs for you to soak your weary feet in: most notably Erdaoqiao Spa and Hailuogou spa and swimming pool in Kangding County. In the region there is also Paoma Shan (Galloping Horse Mountain… how evocative!), Gonggar Temple, Ihakang Temple (塔公寺) and other Tibetan Buddhist temples and places of worship, all resplendent with Tibetan and Yi minority culture.
The best time to visit is early May and June; at this time the temperatures are high enough to stay warm at night, and precipitation levels are still fairly low (nothing worse than climbing a mountain with soggy socks).
Admission: 75 RMB (on top of that there is a flat ‘tourist fare’ charge of 80 RMB, and a return cable car ticket will cost 150 RMB per person)
Accommodation: The town of Moxi is the accommodation nexus: there are plenty of hotels (and health spas!) here. Gonggar Guesthouse: 0836 3266 666; Glacier Hotel: 0836 3266 418
Getting there: Take a shuttle bus to Kangding from Chengdu’s Chadianzi bus terminal (buses leave daily at 09:00, 11:00, and 13:00). From Kangding you can jump on one of the many tourist buses headed for Minya Konka.
3) Mount Everest (珠穆朗玛峰)
There is no higher peak in the world! Yes, the summit of epic (this time used without hyperbole) Mount Everest is the highest point a human can stand on planet earth. Just imagine the view! Unfortunately it will also cost you around $25,000 USD and four years’ training to get the necessary permits and requisite level of fitness in order to reach the top, so for now you can just make do with tramping around the foothills at the bottom of Everest. Known in Tibetan as Jomolungma (“Holy Mother”), you’ll probably be moved to exclaim something similar when you are exposed to the full might of this mountain. The official height of Everest is 8,848 metres, which will leave you gasping, but good luck catching your breath: at this perilous altitude the oxygen content of air is four times less than in Tibet’s Eastern plains. Surprisingly at this altitude there is still some active fauna living the ‘high life’: long-tailed grey hair langurs; Himalayan gibbons; and the Himalayan mountain goat: the chance to sight such rare creatures is a big draw for many visitors to the area. Generally speaking, the weather here is quite bad, and sunny, clear days (like above) are limited. There are just two ‘seasons’ to visit Everest safely: these are May, and Sept/Oct. You can enter the mountain area from the New Tingri Hotel, where they will undertake all relevant procedures.
Admission: 180 RMB, plus 400 RMB car rental (necessary to reach the base)
Accommodation: The only place to stay near to Everest Base Camp is in Rongbuk, where beds will cost between 10 and 15 RMB. From here there are great views of sunrise and sunset. The last good hotel before you enter the mountain site is the Everest Hotel (珠峰宾馆) where you can shower. There are en-suite options, and standard rooms cost around 330-340 RMB.
Getting there: Travel from Lhasa to Shigatse (日喀则) which takes two days, then find a ride to New Tingri. Be warned the remaining 100 km to base camp is not an easy route, and it may be easier to rent or navigate a van or car from Lhasa yourself at a price of around 2,000-3,000 RMB, the journey taking around 4 days.
4) Meili Mountain (梅里雪山)
This mountain has also enigmatically been called ‘The Snow Prince’ and is situated in the mountain range between the Nu River and the Lancang River. It sits an average of over 6,000 metres above sea level, and in total has 13 peaks—the highest mountain in Yunnan Province. The main (highest) peak is called Kawagebo peak, and is partly made of rare marine glacier which stretches continually. This is considered a holy mountain by Tibetans and thus the prevalence of Buddhist temples is notable, in particular, Denggong Temple. The sight of rain falling on the cliffs and it cascading down over the rocks as waterfalls is a particularly stirring sight, especially in summer. The mountain is also home to lush forests, lakes made of melted glacier water, and a variety of wild animals. The ideal season to view Meili Mountain is from October to May each winter/spring, particularly the end of October where the air is clean and clear.
Admission: 60 RMB per person, including access to the Mingyong glacier, and the waterfalls.
Accommodation: Naxi Guesthouse in the old town, Deqin County Hotel, Feilai Temple, and inside Mingyong Village are all viable and reasonably priced options.
Getting there: There’s a bus every day from Shangri-La County (Zhongdian) which costs 40 RMB; you can also lease a rental vehicle for about 500 RMB (there and back). It’s also possible to rent a car from Deqin for a few dozen RMB; you can make the journey in about two hours.
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Keywords: tallest mountains in China climbing mountains in Tibet how to get to Everest base camp mountaineering in Tibet
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