Please read the explanation of hiking times, distances, altitudes and rating levels here.
|Region: East Peak Group, Tiger Leaping Gorge|
|Itinerary: Haba Village—East Pass—Haba Muru Sanctuary—Miner’s Pass—Bendiwan Village|
|Duration: 3 days one-way|
|Distance: 27 km one-way|
|Altitude in Meters: Start 2,650. Max 4,300. End 2,400|
|Elevation Gain: Gain 2,500 meters. Loss 2,800 meters|
The East Face of Haba Snow Mountain (哈巴雪山) presents the most rugged aspect of the entire massif. It is also the hardest to approach. The best way is a path that runs between the villages of Haba (哈巴村) and Bendiwan (本地湾村), hence the Haba-Bendiwan Route. Few locals know the path and hardly any outsiders have tracked it. This trek takes you through a spectacular alpine valley below the East Face, to which I have given the name Haba Muru Sanctuary (哈巴雪山庇护所).
The notes below describe the three-day Haba-Bendiwan trek. For those with less time, check out details on the day hike to Miner’s Pass (矿工垭口). Finally, you can read a detailed journal, regaling the full Haba Muru trek.
Hiring a guide is a non-negotiable requirement for this trek, in my view. Portions of the route are obscure and confusing. My guide even took a wrong turn at one point. Elevation differences are extreme. They afford outstanding alpine vistas but force the trekker to overcome huge elevation gains and losses.
This is a physically demanding trek. Each daily stage lasts 7-8 hours. Elevation gain on each of the first two days is 1,000 meters. The third day the gain is 600 meters and the loss a foot-, sole- and knee-pounding 1,700 meters.
A guide and mule may be hired at Haba Snow Mountain Inn (哈巴雪山客栈), located in Haba Village. With luck, you can overnight in huts along the way, cooking inside on wood fires. A tent should be carried in case yak herders already occupy a hut.
Water sources are limited. It may be prudent to carry extra water in the event of a dry campsite. Water will normally be available at these spots: Haba Muru River, root gatherers hut, hut 3400, and two huts on the valley floor of Haba Muru Sanctuary. Beyond Pass 3770 and extending all the way down to Bendiwan Village, all water sources are suspect and may be contaminated by mine tailings.
The trek can normally be accomplished in three days. Packing food for an extra day is a wise move in case of bad weather. For the return journey of the guide and the mule to Haba, expect to pay two additional days, for a total of five days. Assuming a daily rate of 300 RMB, the cost of the three-day trek works out to 5 (days) x 2 (guide and mule) x 300 RMB = 3,000 RMB. This rate was current in 2019. At present, the cost of a mule has increased to 400rmb per day.
The Haba-Bendiwan Route starts from Haba Village and initially follows the Haba-Benxi Route (哈巴-本习路线). Crossing over Pusa Mountain (普萨山), the route skirts the eastern base of Haba Snow Mountain. At the Haba Muru River the two routes separate: Haba-Benxi turns left off the path, while Haba-Bendiwan continues along the base of the mountain.
The serious uphill trekking begins 2 kilometers past the Haba Muru River, at the last inhabited hut in the area. During the ascent you will pass several huts, including one with a blue roof. It is used by residents of Ennu Village (恩努村) as a base for gathering herbs and roots. Water is available at a pipe inside the hut. From this point onwards you will likely not meet any people.
The highest hut sits at an elevation of 3,400 meters, an excellent place to spend the first night on the mountain. It is well appointed with a good roof, running water, stockade for livestock, and even cell phone reception.
The trek from the hut to East Pass (东垭口), elevation 4,300 meters, takes around 4 hours, navigating forested islands and evading bands of cliffs. In Autumn, larch trees tinged yellow by frigid air, contrast dramatically with eternal evergreens. You can see Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山) from an angle not commonly seen. The highest summit, always invisible down inside Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡), pokes above lofty spires. In the valley far below you may glimpse Watership Tank Meadow, a landmark along the Luke-Haba Route (栌克-哈巴路线).
Before reaching East Pass, your guide should point out a rocky knob that rises above the forest canopy. A short scramble leads to a perch with a stunning 360-degree view of rugged peaks and profound valleys
The high point of the entire trek comes at East Pass, elevation 4,300 meters. After passing through a stone wall and crossing over the crest you will finally see it—the East face of Haba Snow Mountain.
The East Face resembles a vertical collage of ridges, walls, spires and icy couloirs. Quite unlike the massive rock wall comprising the West Face and far wilder than the northern approach, the easy glacier route to the summit. You might spot a couple of ‘super couloirs’—high-angle snow and ice gullies leading to the summit area. The south ridge is an impressively long serrated skyline, surpassing 4,000 meters for a good 10 kilometers.
From the pass, descend deep into the bowl-shaped valley below. A knowledgeable guide will lead the way safely along the top of cliffs and through deep forests across severely tilted terrain. At the nadir of the valley you will encounter a yak herders hut, a possible overnight option. From there you can see the sun set over Haba Muru Sanctuary, ringed by peaks on three sides and one of Yunnan’s special places.
Arise early, for the trek today is long and exhausting. Descend to another hut, then commence the uphill journey to Pass 3770. Near the pass you will encounter artifacts of civilization—water pipes leading down into Tiger Leaping Gorge to supply several villages there.
The uphill journey continues to Miner’s Pass (矿工垭口), the high point of the day at 3,870 meters. Here you will find superb views of Haba and Jade Dragon, the twin glacial peaks flanking Tiger Leaping Gorge. This is a suitable vantage point from where it is possible to fit the entire Jade Dragon Snow Mountain into one camera frame—all 3,400 vertical meters down to the Jinsha River (金沙江). Such a feat is impossible lower down.
Enjoy one final glance at Haba Snow Mountain. Once you leave the pass you won’t see the summit again. On the way down to Bendiwan Village, pass through an extensive but abandoned mining district. The tungsten mine (钨矿) has recently closed after fifty years in operation, purportedly for good. At a fork part way down, decide how to finish the trek. To the right, mining roads switchback down the mountain to Bendiwan. This is the long way, for the twisting road measures 15 kilometers.
The other way heads straight down. The arduously steep footpath fades in and out. Slide down pastures of vegetation that include stinging nettles. Four hours after leaving Miner’s Pass you will reach the Tiger Leaping Gorge trekking path, a few minutes’ walk northeast of Bendiwan Village. The elevation loss from Miner’s Pass is 1,500 meters and your body will know it!
From Bendiwan Village, you can walk the classic gorge trekking path in two hours to its end at Tina’s Guest House (中峡国际青年旅舍). Finish the trek there and take the daily shuttle to Lijiang (丽江市) or Shangri-La (香格里拉) or hire a minivan if you want to return to Haba Village. If you still have the energy, you can walk to Haba Village via the Luke-Haba Route.
There is one more view of Haba Snow Mountain’s East Face—on the highway between Daju (大具乡) and Lijiang . This is roughly an hour out of Daju, just north of the park entrance (fee required) to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. You will need binoculars for a close look at the face.