China Adventures

Cangshan Mountain: Black Dragon Pools and Summit Ridge Traverse Hike - Camping (2 Days)

A challenging 2 day, high-altitude hiking and camping trip on Cangshan Mountain in Dali, Yunnan province. Day 1 involves 1,750 metres of elevation gain from 2030 metres all the way up to our campsite next to the Black Dragon Pools at 3780 metres, while day 2 involves climbing up to the summit at 4030 metres followed by an epic 10 km hike along the summit ridge!

  • Key Info
  • Discounts & Inclusions
  • Hiking Distance: 25 km
  • Departure Time: 9 am
  • Hiking Duration: 14-15 hours
  • Back in Dali: 5pm (day 2)
  • Hike Level: 4 - strong
  • Price: 1400¥/ $215

Meeting/drop-off point: Hotel pick-up and drop-off in Dali Old Town

Day 1: Hike to 3780 m and Camp

Hiking distance: 7 km/5-7 hrs

Elevation gain: 1750 m

Incl. meals: snacks, lunch, dinner

Day 2: 4000 m Summit Ridge Traverse 

Hiking distance: 18 km/8-10 hrs

Elevation gain: 250 metres

Incl. meals: breakfast, lunch, snacks

Highlights

Camp at 3800 metres!

Hike a 4000 metre summit ridge!

Experience a pristine alpine environment!

Upcoming trip:

Detailed Itinerary

This is a physically and mentally challenging but very rewarding high-altitude hike. On day one we begin at the base of Cangshan Mountain at just over 2000 metres above sea level and hike up the mountain to a group of pristine alpine ponds called the Black Dragon Pools located at 3780 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 4030 metres (13,450 feet)! After reaching the summit, we traverse the summit ridge at an average elevation of 4000 metres for approximately 10 km before descending the mountain into Dali Old Town. This is a 25 km hike over 2 days with a total elevation gain of approximately 1750 metres on the first day and 250 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!

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High-altitude hiking and camping in Dali, Yunnan Province, China.

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 2030 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.

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We cross the river, then start hiking up the mountainside through a tranquil pine forest. 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 both spectacular views down into the deep river gorge and up to the high reaches of the mountain.

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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.

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After hiking along the donkey trail for about 2 hours, we emerge onto a small plateau at an altitude of approximately 3200 metres (10,500 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.

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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.

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After lunch we continue hiking up the mountain for about 2 hours, before reaching a large forested plateau at approximately 3780 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. Surrounded by wind-swept pine trees and massive rhododendron bushes, this high altitude pond is truly a place of serene natural beauty.

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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!

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 as the sun goes down. After 5-7 hours of hiking steadily uphill (and 1750 metres of elevation gain in one day!), you will look forward to eating a nice dinner, watching the sunset and having a much deserved sleep!

Day 2: Hike to the Summit and Summit Ridge 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. 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 pools, the summit ridge is blocked from view by a cliff. Getting to the summit ridge involves first hiking up a small scree slope to the base of the cliff, then traversing along a narrow path that zigzags up the cliff face to a wide plateau above it.

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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.

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The 10km hike along the summit ridge is challenging but the views and landscape are absolutely stunning!

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After about 5 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 and 4 hours to make it all the way back down the mountain to Dali Old Town.

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 and warm clothing made of lightweight, breathable fabrics (no cotton!), as well as walking sticks and snow gaitors are essential from November to April.  Proper rain gear is also essential from June to September. Walking sticks and snow gaitors can be rented for 50 RMB per person.  Sleeping bags and tents are provided as part of the trip package.

Level 4: Hard

This is a 25 km high altitude hike over 2 days so you need to be in strong physical condition. Day 1 involves a total elevation gain of 1750 metres, while day 2 involves 250 metres of elevation gain to reach the summit of Cangshan mountain, followed by a 10 km hike along the summit ridge at an average elevation of 4000 metres.

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