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2 Day Hikes, Cangshan Mountain, Dali, Yunnan Province
Black Dragon Pools and Summit Ridge Traverse 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 Ridge and Traverse
We wake up in our tents, enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee and have breakfast. After breakfast, we pack up our tents and get ready to head up to the summit ridge. Cangshan mountain actually has 19 summits strung out along a 20 km long summit ridge, which lies directly above and behind our campsite. At roughly 4000 metres above sea level, the summit ridge is about 250 vertical metres above our campsite and takes about 1.5 hours to reach.
From our campsite next to the lakes, the summit ridge 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 ridge 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 ridge.
The 10km hike along the summit ridge is challenging but the views and landscape are absolutely stunning!
Hiking the summit ridge in winter:
After about 4 hours of traversing along the summit ridge, we begin our descent. 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 Dali Old Town.
Views during the descent:
Important notice: Snow is common at elevations over 3000 metres (9,850 feet) from November through May, so please remember to dress accordingly. Proper hiking boots, a warm jacket, warm socks and walking sticks are recommended. If needed, gators can be rented for 20 RMB.
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.