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The Bewitching Snow-covered Jiaozi Mountain

Bizarre "scultures" on Jiaozi Mountain--pine trees laden in snow
In Luquan County, the Jiaozi Snow Mountain towers, unknown to most travellers, but only 180 kilometres from Kunming. During the Chinese New Year festival last year, we arrived at Sifangjing, the foot of the mountain 3,200 metres high, and headed for the base camp 4.5 kilometres away. Within half an hour, mountains sickness hit me; I felt weak and sweated incessantly.

After passing a broad expanse of flourishing camellias and azaleas, I was greeted by a frigid gust on a winding mountain path--my first taste of the power of the chill and the "alpine climate". At then snow-line at 3,700 metres, I caught sight of a tranquil, glistening world of snow and ice decorated with snow-laden azaleas. The beauty did not, however, distract our attention from the icy path for long since the route was so slipper that we had to walk as carefully as toddlers who had just learned to walk.

The base camp nestled in a dense pine forest and azalea shrubs was on the northern slope of Jiaozi Mountain at 3,750 metres. The cottages standing amidst the snowy world were a warm invitation to us shivering mountaineers.

Early the next morning, we continued our trek,k bringing our own food and water. Before long, we reached the Huaxi (Flower Stream)--a clear gurgling stream with azaleas lining both banks. From here to Tianchi Lake we had to climb up the "One-line Sky"--a narrow path with an increasing gradient flanked by precipices on both sides, showing only a narrow crevice of blue sky. By the time we reached "The point of Despair", where the snow was about now foot deep,some members decided to give up and head back to the camp, while others declared that the only thing they wanted to do was go home.

Sliding" on the snow
The pines here, laden with snow, looked particularly gorgeous. After a break, we started off towards Tianchi Lake. The land around the lake was relatively flatter and the vegetation changed: the azalea bushes were much shorter, and snow tea-leaves were discovered among them. We arrived at the lake at noon and ate heartily to replenish our energy.

Tianchi Lake boasted marvellous scenery all round. To its left on a slope was an expanse of "Dead Forest" where withered tree trunks stood like brave soldiers who had died a heroic death on the battlefield. Later, we played games on the frozen lake but became exhausted after only 10 minutes, which reminded us we were 4,070 metre high!

After having a great time, we started our descent, passing Mubanhai, Immortal Field, Elf Pond and finally Moon Rock. This was the most adventurous section of the whole journey: we had to force ourselves through a slippery cleft between two precipices, using chains fixed into the rock to assist climbers. Yet we were rewarded as we passed the "gap"-a view of a spectacular ice fall, 30 metres high and 10 metres wide, glittering under the blue sky.

Tips for the Traveller

Scenic spots: Jiaozi Mountain, 4,211 metres above sea level, gets its name from its shape, which is similar to a jiaozi (sedan chair). Scenic spot include the base camp, Flower Stream , One-line sky, Tanchi Lake, Dead Forest, Mubanhai, Inmortal Field, Elf Pond, Moon Rock as well as the ice fall. The region is affected by a vertical alpine climate, hence vertical vegetation variations are noticeable. From late October to late March the summit is covered in snow. The base camp in the valley of Dahaiqing is built above the snow-line. Walking from Sifangjing to the base camp takes about two and a half hours.

Recommended itinerary

Day1:Travel 180 kilometres from Kunming to Sifangjing at the foot of Jiaozi Mountain (6 hours). Then walk or go on horseback up to the mountain base camp and lodge there.
Day2: Tour the scenic spots on the mountain, bringing along self-prepared lunch. Lodge in the camp.
Day3 Leave the mountain after breakfast and return to Kunming by coach. It is advised to join the local tour which costs 350 yuan (including lodging, transportation, tickets and meals on the journey).

Horse rental and meals on the mountain are excluded.

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