China Adventures

Cangshan Mountain: Black Dragon Pools and Summit Hike (1 Day)

A very challenging but rewarding high altitude hike up Cangshan Mountain in Dali, Yunnan province from its base at 2030 metres all the way to the summit at 4030 metres! This is a 15 km round-trip hike with a total elevation gain of 2000 metres in a single 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!

  • Key Info
  • Discounts & Inclusions
  • Hiking Distance: 15 km  :
  • Departure Time: 8 am :
  • Hiking Duration: 10-12 hours  :
  • Back in Dali: 6-8 pm :
  • Hike Level: 4 strong                      :
  • Price: 850 RMB :

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

Hike to Summit of Cangshan Mountain (4030 m)

Hiking distance: 15 km/10-12 hrs

Elevation gain: 2000 m

Incl. meals: snacks, lunch

Highlights

Drink from crystal clear alpine ponds!

Summit a 4000 metre mountain!

Experience a pristine alpine environment!

Upcoming trip:

Detailed Itinerary

Cangshan Mountain: Black Dragon Pools and Summit Hike (1 Day)

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This is a long and very challenging one day high-altitude hike. We begin at the base of Cangshan Mountain at just over 2000 metres above sea level and hike far up the mountain to a group of pristine alpine ponds located at 3780 metres (12,300 feet), before continuing up to the summit at 4030 metres! This is a 15 km round-trip hike with a total elevation gain of 2000 metres in a single day, so you must be in very strong physical condition. Serious hikers willing to challenge themselves will be rewarded with spectacular scenery, stunning views and a real sense of accomplishment!

 

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.

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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 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.

 

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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 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.

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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 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.

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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 alpine ponds 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!

After 5-6 hours of hiking steadily uphill (and 1750 metres of elevation gain!), we relax and enjoy the tranquil alpine atmosphere for a while before continuing up to the summit at 4030 metres.  The last 250 metres of elevation gain is the hardest but also the most exciting part of the hike. Your legs and lungs will be burning, but once you stand on the summit, you will be overcome with joy!

From the alpine ponds, 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.

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The ponds covered in snow:

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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.

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Standing next to the lake with the summit in the background:

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On a subsidiary peak just below the summit ridge with clouds rolling in:

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Ridge leading to the summit:

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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.

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Hiking to the summit in winter:

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Standing on one of Cangshan mountain’s 19 independent summits at 4030 metres (13,290 feet):

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With Erhai lake more than 2000 metres below, the views from the summit are simply awesome 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 (snow or no snow), it takes between 3-4 hours to make it all the way back down to Heyang village. Our driver will be waiting for us in the village to drive us back to Dali Old Town.

This hike can also be done as a 2 day camping trip (insert link).

Important notice: Snow is common at elevations over 3000 metres (9,850 feet) from November through April. 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.

Planning a trip ahead or want a private tour?