MOUNTAIN BETA: Haba Xueshan/Haba Snow Mountain/哈巴雪山 (5396m/17807 ft.)
Normal Route: PD-/Grade II/30º-40º snow-glacier travel/1300m
Haba Xueshan is one of mountains towering over China’s famous Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the world’s deepest. Along with its neighbor Jade Dragon Mountain, a massif of 13 peaks to the SW, these mountains are some of China’s biggest mountaineers encounter when approaching from the east of the country.
Though Haba is often overshadowed by Jade Dragon’s extra few hundred feet, Haba is an excellent destination that avoids the crowds along the main route on Jade Dragon Mountain. The main tourist town in the region, Lijiang, is essentially a funnel to Jade Dragon Mountain, and consequently there is a cable car system and boardwalk that covers the area beneath Jade Dragon’s main summit. Climbing the main summit is actually banned by the local government.
Haba, on the other hand, is a much quieter mountain being far out in the mountainous countryside 4+ hours from Lijiang. The mountain itself has a great intro high-altitude normal route up its east side, while there are still some untapped big wall alpine challenges on the monstrous south face and the giant south ridge. While the mountain does receive a fair amount of large Chinese expeditions—everything from ambitious individuals with lots of money to corporate groups doing large-scale team building trips—you can have a fairly quiet experience on Haba during summit day, if you play your cards right.
The Normal Route is, at maximum, PD (Peu Difficile) 30º-40º, if you take the direct slabs start. If you take the regular trail out of base camp, the route could arguably be F (Facile), with the only real technical challenge being the huge open snow slope halfway up the glacial cap of the mountain. Even then, some locals have established a fixed line most of the way up the glacier. In a nutshell, Haba is a great, largely non-technical peak for those new to altitude or those looking to practice mountaineering skills for bigger objectives.
WARNING: If you are the kind of mountaineer looking to do your own exploration/climb without beta, stop reading here!
Approach to Base Camp (4-6 hours)
The way up to Haba Basecamp can be a little difficult to find, since it is a series of linked cattle trails starting from the top of Haba Village (哈巴村／Haba Cun) up through the forests from the village at ~2600m to base camp at ~4100m. Once you are on the main trail, though, it will be a fairly simple hike.
Start from the main road of the village. A good starting point is the Haba Snow Mountain International Hostel (more on this place later). From the front door, turn left (south) until you reach a series of low houses with a local news bulletin board on your left that has the characters 哈巴村村务公示栏 (Haba Village Service Announcement Board). Directly across from that board on the right side of the road, there should be a small path on the left side of a low, one-story house leading into some farm fields. Take this path, and soon you will encounter a fork in the road that crosses a small stream. Cross the stream and hang a left through the fork.
This dirt/mud path will eventually reconnect with a concrete road of the upslope village, Longwangbian. From here, follow the road uphill until you hit a small concrete T-junction. Hang a left and follow the winding road up past a white sign advertising Haba Clouds Inn. You will eventually hit the top of the village, marked my a basketball court and a large-ish two story building that may have, at one time, been a temple. Directly ahead of the basketball court is a stream with a concrete bridge over it. Walk to the bridge and exit the concrete road on the bridge’s right side; you will skirt the stream with it on your left. The road will turn back to dirt and mud as you hit a few cattle pens that the trail passes. At this point, you may encounter other climbers on their way to base camp riding donkeys for the approach. Following the local guides and their livestock will make the rest of the approach trivial.
Otherwise, follow the dirt trail and cross a small stream crossing the trail in a small depression. After this, the stream, which is now significantly bigger, should be on your right. The water here is OK to drink, though some may want to treat it with iodine tabs or a Steripen, since the donkeys make constant trips up and down the mountain along the stream (and do what donkeys do…).
On your left, there will be some wide gullies. Take the second one. There should be some large logs on the trail pointing vaguely in the direction you are supposed to go, but the trail is rather obvious and well-worn at this point. The important detail here is to turn left at this second large gully, and NOT to continue straight. The trail marking the way up to the first meadow should be fairly well-cut by the trade route donkeys that make trips to base camp and back. Follow this switchbacking trail up through the forest, passing a concrete water reservoir box along the way. The swtich-backs will lead you to a huge open meadow with great views across the valley.
Cross the meadow, following the switchbacks up into the woods. After more woods wandering, you will end up in a smaller meadow with roughly built shepherds huts and livestock pens. You will skirt along a small fence before the trail turns directly uphill. Go straight uphill, passing a big, dead tree trunk with a sign in Chinese telling you to extinguish your fires （防火）. Avoid the trail that goes directly next to the tree with the sign and hike straight uphill back into the woods. It may seem counterintuitive since the trail past the dead tree is very clear, but the clear pack animal trail will restart in the trees.
NB: There will be many signs advising locals and tourists alike to put out fires （防火）or not to smoke in the forest （禁止抽烟）. Aside from the white sign mentioned above, following the signs is also a great indicator for finding your way to base camp.
Your next landmark will be a small wood hut with an unfinished outdoor picnic area. It gets used a lot for big expeditions to stop for lunch on their way up to base camp. 30 minutes up from there is a small clearing with great views of the distant mountains. This is usually a good lunch spot that is a bit quieter than the hut below.
After the clearing, you will re-enter the final small clearing with more shepherd huts and livestock pens. Here you will encounter another fork. Follow the trail across a dry stream bed marked by bright white sand and a pile of big slate stones.
After this, the trail will get muddy as you wind up the final few hundred meters to base camp. The trail will begin leveling out for a kilometer, as it traverses through the forest to reach the huge clearing where base camp is. Once in the clearing, you will hit a (mostly) dry stream bed. The traditional base camp is dead ahead. HOWEVER, avoid the exorbitant fees of base camp and turn left into the stream bed (towards the big slab on your left/to the south. Follow this stream for 5-7 minutes (there usually is a small stream at the very bottom of the stream bed that is great for water runs). You will first pass a pile of tall triangular boulders. Continue past them until you see a single lone boulder preceded by a meadow on your right side. The backside of this boulder is tucked away from the base camp huts and has enough space for 2 tents.
Base camp has amenities for climbers, but is rather expensive. There are multiple stone huts where you can stay, but each night will set you back ~¥150 night ($24.47/night). Camp sites run about ¥30/night ($4.89). Food at base camp is also outrageously expensive (by Chinese standards).
There is also a pretty bogus peak fee that has been instituted in the last 2 years on the mountain, which costs ¥200/person ($32.63/person). Even if you try finding a private campsite up the clearing towards the big slabs leading up the mountain, the people who run base camp are pretty good at seeking people out, especially foreigners who are more recognized because of their relatively few numbers on the mountain.
However, do not let these facts dissuade you. There are a few free, quiet campsites up towards the head of the clearing. One of the best is stashed behind a boulder. Before you arrive at base camp, you will reach a stream that is mostly dry (though there is a good small stream in the middle which is great for filling up on water).
Follow the stream up hill for around 5-7 minutes. You will first see a stack of large triangular boulders. Pass them and continue upstream until you see a singular large bouder with a small grassy clearing in front. The far side of this boulder is suitable to two 2-person tents, and the boulder itself has a few fun boulder problems, too. The little field in front of the bouldering is also great for practicing rope technique for glacier travel.
The two main options for your acclimatization day are:
1.) Black Lake: This lake is situated to the W-NW of base camp. The hike takes ~4 hours. Just follow the cattle paths out of base camp heading W-NW, and as long as you do not head down the mountain, you will likely end up at Black Lake. The Lake itself is a dark pool of water in a small valley beneath many rock towers that surround Haba’s lower reaches.
2.) Scout the summit day route: This option is highly recommended, especially if you elect not to hire a local guide (local guides cost especially if you elect not to hire a local guide (local guides cost ¥300/day or $48.94 a day). Head up the massive slab towering above base camp or take the regular trail that skirts the slabs along the left side. The direct slabs is recommended, as it lines you up for almost a straight shot all the way to the glacier. Hiking up for a few hours along the route will allow you to pick up on the landmarks you will need for navigating in the dark on summit morning.
Most parties in base camp elect to wake up around 2 am and start at 3 am. However, a 1 am wake up and 2 am start is recommended to avoid the crowds and to give yourself a chance at having the summit all to yourself.
Head out of the boulder base camp and cross the streambed. You are aiming for a small ramp that connects with the larger slabs. Take this ramp until it becomes too steep to continue on it, and trend left onto the slabs across some sand, rocks, and bushes at the top of the moraine that leads down to the standard route trail.
Once on the slabs, follow the path of least resistance up. It is fairly easy if you “gully womp” and follow the bushy gullies that head up and right on the slabs. The slabs themselves are fairly easy; rarely are hands required to advance, and the friction on the rock (Gneiss) is very good. That being said, it is a hunk of rock a few hundred meters in length and height, so do not trip. The largest of these gullies will deposit you at the top of the slabs where the angle eases back.
From here, you are looking for a series of slate boulder piles (huge hunks of green-gray rock). Pass them (there are 2-3) on their left side heading straight uphill. High on the slabs, you eventually see a faint arête rising from the slabs with a fairly conspicuous boot pack along its spine; you will also see some trash left over from other Chinese summiteers (trash in wilderness areas is becoming a big issue in China). The arête will soon turn into a moraine leading towards another huge slab of rock. At the end of the moraine, the trail suddenly cuts left up this slab and before turning back south towards the huge walls of rock that mark the upper reaches of the mountain.
At this point, you may begin to encounter snow, and the boot pack becomes a little confusing. As you head up this slab, you will see a big boulder off to the left where there is a basic pit toilet, which has also become a trashcan for Chinese climbers. DO NOT pass this boulder, as it trends away from the access point to the glacier. Instead, angle slightly right while this boulder is still a ways in front of you.
Follow a faint boot pack off the slab across a shallow, boulder-strewn gully. This may or may not be marked by two logs (seems that they were moved by folks during the duration I was guiding on the mountain). Follow the boulder pile above these logs, and you will arrive in a fairly flat section that will likely have a significant amount of snow. Up ahead you should see a sign marking the start of the glacier at ~4900m. From here, the boot pack is often fairly apparent as it links a series of narrow, snowy gullies before taking a hard right across a gully to reach the start of the fixed line. If in doubt about finding the fixed line, you can ‘gully womp’ up the path of least resistance. More likely than not, the line of easiest passage will link you up to where you need to be.
The fixed line should eliminate basically all doubts on where to go. The path winds up a little ways before depositing you on a massive, open snowfield at ~5000 meters. The climbing is not terribly steep, but being confident with self-arrest technique on this section is recommended, especially if you are electing to use an independent rope team and not the fixed line.
The snow slope will feel endless, as it rises a few hundred vertical meters at 5000+m. You will definitely start feeling the altitude burn at this point. The route will then climb a blunt snow ridge that can sometimes form cornices, so be aware of staying well off the crest if you believe cornices have formed. From here, you should be able to see the summit pyramid directly ahead of you. The fixed line will terminate, and you will walk along a few thick snow bridges over what appear to be fairly small crevasses. The fixed line will restart for a short distance, trending left to meet the summit.
The summit area is marked by a wooden pole and a few Tibetan prayer flags. The summit is up a short snow slope from the pole and is marked by a cairn.
Take in the panorama of Tiger Leaping Gorge and Jade Dragon Mountain to your south. Haba Second Peak will also loom across a huge snow gap to you W-SW. To the north and northwest you can, on a clear day, catch a glimpse of the giants of the Meili Xueshan (梅里雪山) and the Three Sacred Peaks of Daocheng County （稻城三神山）.
Descend the same route to base camp. It is possible to hit the summit and return to Haba Village in the same day, too.
Accommodations and Area Information
Haba Village has a great hostel I have used during my multiple trips to the area. The hostess, Yang Xiulan （样秀兰）, and her husband run a nice operation in town. She even speaks a small bit of English.
They have rooms at various price levels, including shared hostel rooms for ¥30/night, small rooms for ¥80 a night, and bigger hotel-style rooms for ¥150/night. They also cook meals, including (Chinese-style) banana pancakes for breakfast.
For side trips, you can make a trip to Baishuitai （白水台）, which is a series of white mineral terraces with great views of the mountains, marking the headwaters of the Yangtze.
Lijiang is the main tourist town in the area beneath Jade Dragon Mountain. It’s Old Town area is nice to visit if you are there for the first time and want something a bit more touristy, but otherwise, if you are the kind seeking peace by traveling to the remote Haba area, you might find Lijiang Old Town tiresome and a bit hokey.
¥50 for Dali to Tiger Leaping Gorge via bus ($8.16)
¥150 for van to cross Tiger Leaping Gorge ($16.32)
¥65 for entrance ticket to Tiger Leaping Gorge ($10.60)
¥40-¥50/person for bus from Haba Village to Lijiang: ($6.53-$8.16/person)
¥30/night for a shared hostel room ($4.89/night)
¥80/night for the lower/older hotel rooms ($13.05/night)
¥150/night for the upper hotel rooms ($24.47/night)
Y100/person for gear rental (crampons and ice axe; $16.31/person)
Guides and Pack Animals (very optional if you are a regular peakbagger/mountaineer)
¥300/day for local guide ($48.94/day)
¥250-¥300/day for a pack animal/donkey ($40.79-$48.94/day)
Base Camp Rates (if you elect to stay)
¥200/person for the peak fee ($32.63/person)
¥150/night for a bunk in base camp ($24.47/night)
¥30/night for tent sites in base camp ($4.89/night)