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2 Day Hikes, Cangshan Mountain, Dali, Yunnan Province
Black Dragon Pools and Cangshan Summit Hike Camping(2 Days)
A challenging but very rewarding high altitude hike that begins at the base of Cangshan Mountain at just over 2000 metres above sea level and takes you far up the mountain to a group of pristine alpine ponds located at 3750 metres (12,300 feet)! We camp right next to the ponds and enjoy an epic sunset before continuing up the mountain the next morning to the summit at an elevation of nearly 4100 metres (13,450 feet)! This is a 20 km hike with a total elevation gain of approximately 1700 metres on the first day and 300 metres on the second day, so you need to be in strong physical condition. Serious hikers willing to challenge themselves will be rewarded with spectacular scenery, stunning views and a real sense of accomplishment!
Day 1: Hike to Black Dragon Pools and Camping
From our meeting point in front of the West Gate of Dali Old Town (大理古城西门) our van takes us 9 km north to a small farming village at the foot of Cangshan Mountain called Heyang Cun (literally “Sun Crane Village”). The hike begins at the top of Heyang Village at an elevation of about 2050 metres above sea level. From our drop off point, it’s a short walk past scenic terraced fields, up into the foothills of Cangshan Mountain. Once in the hills we meander through a tea plantation overlooking Heyang Village and are afforded our first panoramic views of Erhai Lake.
Next we dip down into a little gully before arriving at the mouth of a narrow mountain gorge with a small but fast flowing river gushing out of it.
We cross the river, then start hiking straight uphill through a tranquil pine forest on the mountainside. After a short but vigorous hike, we emerge out of the forest at the edge of an overhanging cliff one hundred metres above the gorge where we are rewarded with spectacular views down to the river and up to the high reaches of the mountain.
From here the trail turns steeply upwards as it hugs the edge of the gorge. As we begin to gain in elevation rapidly, the terrain on this section of the hike is slightly demanding but we continue to be rewarded with breathtaking views deep into the gorge and back towards the lake. The trail eventually turns away from the edge of the gorge and back into the forest where we pass by the narrow opening to a deep cave that seems to suddenly appear out of nowhere. We continue to hike through dense, lush forest for another 30 minutes before arriving at a plateau at about 2,450 metres (8,038 feet). Here we take a short rest before following a well-worn donkey trail used by local villagers who hike into the hills to harvest various wild forest products, such as bamboo, mushrooms and medicinal herbs.
After hiking along the donkey trail for about 2 hours, we emerge onto a small plateau at an altitude of approximately 3100 metres (10,170 feet), which offers spectacular panoramic views of the entire Dali region. Here we rest for a while and have lunch while taking in the views.
This spot offers sweeping views of rural Dali and Erhai Lake. At 250 square kilometers and 40 kilometres in length, Erhai lake is the 9th largest freshwater lake in China. At 1,972 metres above sea-level, it’s also the 2nd largest alpine lake in the entire country.
In addition to spectacular panoramic views of the entire Dali region, this spot also offers fantastic, ever-changing views of the Cangshan mountain range in either direction.
After lunch we continue hiking up the mountain for about 2 hours, before reaching a large forested plateau at approximately 3750 metres (12,300 feet) above sea-level. After a short walk through the forest we arrive at a pond located at the base of a huge cliff face. Surrounded by wind-swept pine trees and massive rhododendron bushes, this high altitude pond is truly a place of serene natural beauty.
We take a much-deserved rest at the first pond before walking over to two other nearby ponds located at the same elevation. The setting of these lakes is absolutely stunning and the views are spectacular. It definitely isn’t easy to get here in one day, but the reward for doing so makes the effort well worth it!
The ponds at sunset:
The ponds covered in snow:
Our campsite is in a beautiful, well-sheltered spot surrounded by pine trees, right next to the ponds. We pitch our tents, then prepare dinner and start a fire as the sun goes down. Don’t forget to bring a bottle of wine or spirits with you too; there’s no better place in Dali to relax with a drink and watch the sunset! After 5-6 hours of hiking steadily uphill (and 1700 metres of elevation gain in one day!), you’ll certainly enjoy the tranquil alpine atmosphere while sitting next to a warm fire with a drink in hand!
Day 2: Hike to the Summit
We wake up in our tents, enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee and have breakfast. After breakfast, we pack up camp and get ready to head for the summit. Cangshan mountain actually has 19 summits and one of them is directly above and behind our campsite. At roughly 4050 metres above sea level, the summit is about 300 vertical metres above our campsite and takes about 1.5 hours to reach.
From our campsite next to the lakes, the summit is blocked from view by a cliff. Getting to the summit ridge involves first scrambling up a small scree slope to the base of the cliff, then hiking along a narrow path that zigzags up the cliff face to a wide plateau above it.
In the middle of the plateau is a large pond that lies just under the summit at an elevation of about 3900 metres (12,795 feet). From the pond, it’s a simple hike up a grass (or snow) slope to the summit.
Standing next to the lake with the summit in the background:
On a subsidiary peak just below the summit ridge with clouds rolling in:
Ridge leading to the summit:
View from the 4030 metre (13,290 foot) summit with several other independent summits overlooking the highest and largest pond of the entire Cangshan mountain range.
Hiking to the summit in winter:
Standing on one of Cangshan mountain’s 19 independent summits at 4030 metres (13,290 feet)!
With Erhai lake more than 2000 metres below, the views from the summit are awesome, indeed – on a clear day! No matter what the weather is like though, it’s always satisfying to stand on the summit of Cangshan Mountain!
Depending on pace and conditions on the mountain (for example, snow or no snow), it takes between 3-4 hours to make it all the way back down the mountain to Heyang village. Our driver will be waiting for us in the village to drive us back to Dali Old Town.
Important notice – winter weather: Snow is common at elevations over 3000 metres (9,850 feet) from November through April and windchill temperatures can dip below freezing (celsius). Proper hiking boots, light weight, warm clothing made of wool or synthetic fibres (no cotton), as well as walking sticks are highly recommended. If needed, gators can be rented for 20 RMB.
Important notice – acclimatization:
Altitude sickness is a risk with all high altitude hikes, especially those that involve large elevation gains in a short period of time. Fortunately, altitude sickness can be prevented with proper acclimatization measures, such as spending several nights at a minimum of 2000 metres before commencing a high altitude hike, drinking LOTS of water, taking altitude sickness prevention and treatment medications such as acetazolamide (Diamox) and/or doing acclimatization hikes. Acclimatization hikes are arguably better than medication because they lack side effects; they also have the added benefit of being really fun!
Cangshan Mountain Acclimatization Hike:
For those interested in hiking to the top of Cangshan Mountain in Dali it is recommended to first do a one day acclimatization hike on Cangshan Mountain to 3000 metres. The elevation of Dali Old Town is roughly 2000 metres above sea level and the top of Cangshan Mountain is just over 4000 metres, so it is essential to be properly acclimatized before attempting to summit Cangshan Mountain. A one day hike on Cangshan Mountain from roughly 2000 metres to 3000 metres and back is a good way to prepare for safely getting to the summit. All hikes to the top of Cangshan Mountain are high altitude hikes that involve roughly 1700 metres of elevation gain in one day and then camping one night at roughly 3750 metres above sea level before continuing to the summit the next morning. If you have already spent at least 3 nights in Dali Old Town then it is not strictly necessary to do a one day acclimatization hike to 3000 metres beforehand but we definitely recommend it!
Are you planning far ahead but your favorite trip is not on our schedule at the time you’re coming to China? Are you an indepentdant traveler that wants to keep the costs as low as possible? Just let us know your favorite trip and starting date at least 6 weeks in advance and we will add your trip to our hiking agenda. As soon as we have 6 people joining the trip we are good to go!
Are you planning far ahead but your favorite trip is not on our schedule at the time you’re coming to China?
Are you an independent traveler that wants to keep the costs as low as possible?
Just let us know your favorite trip and starting date at least 6 weeks in advance and we will add your trip to our hiking agenda.
As soon as we have 6 people joining the trip we are good to go!
Private tours are great ways to travel if you have a group of friends, family or colleagues ready to explore nature together.
Also for school trips or company team building activities, a private tour is the way to go.
We have experience guiding trips with up to 60 people from international schools and companies.
Price for private tours will vary depending on the number of people, the chosen transportation and accommodation.
Let us know your desires and we will customize a trip for you.