It is 2.30 AM, we are on 4200m, and ready to make it to the second peak of the Four Sisters Mountain on 5200m. Ready because the sky is clear and the stars are shining brighter than ever, the conditions look good and we feel tired, but ok. Nevertheless, I am quite scared, scared of not making it to the peak, because during our 5 hour sleep, I woke up really dizzy and nauseous. Clearly the altitude had impacted me, that much I had expected, but the question I was now afraid to ask myself was if 5 hours on 4200 m was enough acclimation to make it to Erguniang peak on 5200m?
It all started couple of months back when Elias and I decided to travel to China. As any true hiker and mountain lover, I could of course not give up this awesome opportunity to hike some of the picture pretty mountains in Sichuan province. After quite a lot of research we decided to hike the first two peaks of Mount Siguniang or Four Sister Mountain, as it is also called. Our starting point was a small village called Rilong. Rilong is approximately 4 hours drive from Chengdu. It is not much to look at as it is basically just a stop where you can gather some strength and acclimatize for your hike. The village serves as an entrance to all three valleys in Mount Siguniang National Park. The park comprises Mount Siguniang and the surrounding three valleys, namely Changping Valley, Haizi Valley and Shuangqiao Valley. To hike the Dafeng and Erfeng and (the first and the second sister) you trek through Haizi Valley.
Hiking in Changping Valley…
We decided to have two days (one day + one evening) in Rilong in order to acclimatize. On the second day we did a small hike in Changping Valley. You can get to this valley directly from the village. Buy the ticket in the visitor’s center and a small bus will take you up to a small and still in use monastery. From there you can hike for hours. First four hours will be on a wooden trail, traditional Chinese style, but you could do a several day hike in this valley, probably not meeting any tourists as most tourist only walk for an hour or so on the wooden trail and then turn around. I think there would be some really nice hiking opportunities in this valley so if you would like to go more on your own, without a guide, this could be the place to do it.
We did not get to the end of the wooden trail but it was a really nice walk anyways. On our way we saw some waterfalls and a nice lake with the Four sisters mountains in the background.
Finally ready to hike Haizi Valley and two of four sisters…
On the third day we started our hike to Mount Siguniang. The trail goes via the Haizi Valley (which by the way does not really feel like a valley, but rather a ridge) and starts from the same Visitor Center in Rilong. First we hiked up the wall behind the visitor’s center. On the top of the wall we met some Chinese tourist who had ridden up on a horseback and wanted to have a picture with us. This happens quite a lot in China, since there are not that many non-Asian tourists around 😀 After saying bye to our Chinese fans we hiked along the ridge, or valley as they like to call it, more or less alone.
Already from beginning of our hike we could see the four sisters mountain snow tops. Along the road we saw Chinese women and men picking herbs and mushrooms. It is a big tradition there, and so the locals could just stay in the mountains for weeks to pick herbs and mushrooms.
The dark dirt trails were easy to follow. Every once in a while some trees offered protection from the sun, but for the most of the time we were walking between yaks on open grass fields. In the horizon as far as we could see there were white mountaintops. I kept asking our guides about the names of the mountains around and if they were “hikable”. Sadly I only got negative answers. I do not know if they just did not want to encourage us or if this really is true that most of the mountains in the park are not being actively hiked. It’s really a shame if the latter is the case, because there is soo much potential for really nice hikes 😀
We also saw a lot of Yaks. They do look a little scary, but in fact they are used to people and were not dangerous or aggressive. We could get really close to them since they were at the times sleeping on the trail.
After three more hours on the trail between 6000m high mountains, with amazing scenery, we spotted a quite big lake down in the valley. From there it was just about one hour hike to the base camp. We camped outside at the Erfeng base camp, but there was also a possibility to stay indoors in a very simple sleeping dorm where thin mattresses were provided.
After we were all settled in, one of our guides cooked dinner for us in the rather simple but fixed base camp kitchen. Sitting in the small dark hut, after a 9 hour hike, having only our headlights for the light, we would have probably eaten almost anything that we got served, but the food exceeded our expectations. Our guide cooked several different dishes, including rice, noodles, different vegetables, soup and some meat. It all seemed so fresh and was tasty so no complains there!
We then tried to rush to sleep as we were to wake up 2:20AM for breakfast. For breakfast we were served Chinese rice soup/porridge, bread and some fried vegetables – not exactly traditional western breakfast, but it was ok and experiencing new traditions was part of the experience we wanted to have.
The night, as I already mentioned, did not pass without worries, but at least we were not freezing 🙂 Slowly we started the hike and tried to not lose the sight of our guide in the darkness. As I was walking there in the middle of the night, I could not really think that it was heavy or long way to go. I was just concentrating on breathing deep and well and on walking slowly. On the steep areas I only saw the warm air from my breath under the light of the headlight. During the breaks and on non-steep areas, I tried to take in the scene of white mountaintops shining on black starry sky as the moonlight hit them. While we were walking the moon was rising higher and higher and then suddenly the sky started turning lighter, first purple and then orange. When you walk as slow as we did, you really have the time to notice these things and take it all in 🙂
Without really thinking about it, it was light as day and we were climbing up a steep long wall of snow, pushing our crampons deep into the snow on each step. And when I say steep, I mean it. This hike required us to do some scrambling and was quite steep. I really needed to concentrate in order to not get a too high pulse. The wall was really long and steep, and the worst part was that I had no idea on how long it was until the peak, since it was not visible. Just when I was starting to have my doubts about the wall ever ending and us ever seeing the peak, we got to a plateau and could see the peak! We were so happy, I was so excited and psyched to go on that I did not want to have a break!
Our guide was not sharing my enthusiasm. He did not want go any further because of the snow conditions! We were max 250 hm from the peak!!! We tried to talk him into it, but he meant that the snow did not “feel good”. I must say, that both me and Elias considered the snow to be fine so we are not sure why he had a different opinion. Even though it was incredibly disappointing to not go on, you just have to respect the decision of the guide in these situations. So we did. Not happy about it, since we were both feeling fine, no altitude sickness, the weather was perfect and the peak was so close… but ALWAYS listen to your guide, right?
So we headed down, still quite happy, because the view in front of us could not let us feel anything else than pure joy.
We were back at base camp around 10 and decided to take a nap before moving to the DaFeng base camp. DaFeng base camp was just 200 m lower and 1,5 hours walk from ErFeng base camp. So now you probably wonder why we did not do the lower peak first and then the higher one. That was actually the initial plan, but since we heard that the weather was going to be bad on the third day we decided to change plans in order to get best conditions on the highest peak.
During our walk to base camp the weather turned colder and windier. Once in base camp, we sat up our tent again and just when we were ready to go to sleep it started to snow. Due to the “bad” weather, we were to only ones to camp outside. We were allowed to sleep until 4.30 AM this time and got luxurious 9 hours of sleep.
In the morning the sky was cloudy and the ground was white. After some porridge and coffee we started the ascent. This time the trail was much more rocky, but not that steep. Once again were the only ones hiking. It was hard to spot the peak because it was covered in fog and before we knew it our guide said that we were almost at the top. I almost did not believe him! How could we be on 5000 m so easily? Where is the altitude sickness, the headache and the muscle ache? Unfortunately we got no stunning view from the 5038 m peak, but at least we made it to the top this time 🙂 🙂 🙂
The hike was easy and we were back down in base camp at ten o’clock. Since we were so quick and were not really tired, we decided to descent down to Rilong even though the initial plan was to spend the night and then head down the next day as we had to descend more than 2000 m.
Just when we got to our hotel in Rilong it started to rain heavily and then to snow. We only had time to acknowledge that we made the right decision heading down a day early, before we fell asleep at 7 PM. We woke at 8:00 AM the next day to a completely white Rilong. It is safe to say that we were really happy that we had an experienced driver to take us over the mountains back to Chengdu …
We did also some other hikes while in China, so I will be writing some more posts about hiking in China soon. Below you can see where we were during our travel. The red pointer is were Rilong and four sisters mountains are located.