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Around Town: Biking the trails of Changchong Mountain

By in Travel on

Looking over Kunming just before beginning the descent back to Longquan Lu
Looking over Kunming just before beginning the descent back to Longquan Lu

I've always loved hills. Throughout my childhood weekends and holidays usually involved getting out walking the fells in the north of England and Scotland, ski trips to the Alps, then rock climbing as I got older.

Thus when this time last year a friend moved to Kunming and sent excited emails talking of beautiful countryside and clean fresh air, I was easily convinced. And it's here in the hills around Kunming that I have discovered mountain biking.

If you get high up enough that your view is not blocked by the apartment blocks and office buildings, look north and there is one hill which should tempt any walker or biker. Standing alone, tree covered to half height with a steep rock-strewn west face, Changchong Mountain (长虫山) dominates the northern skyline. One of the most accessible summits around, it is also home to some excellent mountain biking.

The day starts with a tedious drag northward up Longquan Lu, then a steady climb up to the top of Changchong's north ridge. Thankfully, just as time in the saddle begins to take its toll, the steep concrete road turns to dirt and a rest can be had in a cool shady spot surrounded by pretty farmland and distant views of town.

Rest well because the descent from here, if taken in one shot, is 12 minutes of solid concentration and effort and will leave you a shaky legged mess, jibbering with adrenaline and heaving for breath once it's spat you out at the bottom.

The forest trails are super tight in places, especially during the rainy season when the plants go crazy!
The forest trails are super tight in places, especially during the rainy season when the plants go crazy!

The trail is simply beautiful, a long twisting ribbon of dirt scything through open forest that gives way to a series of tight, steep corners with cruelly placed rocks guarding the easy lines through. Make sure you ride well within your limits the first few times you go out here, these trails are not built for mountain biking and a surprise may lurk around any corner.

Cracking a pedal on one of those rocks could lead to a painful fall, so pick your line carefully!
Cracking a pedal on one of those rocks could lead to a painful fall, so pick your line carefully!

The final descent is one of the most exciting trails I have ridden around Kunming. Drop your saddle right out the way, ahead lies a kilometer and a half of steep steps cut in to the hillside while rocks, trees, and huge ruts all conspire to smash your pedals, knock your bars round or swallow your front wheel.

Riding at speed is fantastic fun, but it helps to learn the trail's difficulties first in order to get the most out of it
Riding at speed is fantastic fun, but it helps to learn the trail's difficulties first in order to get the most out of it

It would certainly take the boldest and best to get down this with style on the first attempt, but it is simply a must for those who enjoy riding steep tricky terrain.

The reward is simple, it is the huge grin left plastered on your face and a feeling of satisfaction and calm which will last the rest of the day. It's just great fun.

Thousands of people ride mountain bikes in Kunming, and a growing number are taking their machines out of the city to enjoy the myriad of old trails which criss cross the hills surrounding us. There are rides to suit almost any skill level and don't be disheartened if your fitness holds you back your first time out, it will take a few weeks to get used to it but then a whole new aspect of life in Kunming will be there for you to enjoy. And Kunming is only the tip of a very big iceberg. So come on, get on yer bike!!!

Reasonable mountain bikes can be rented from Xiong Junwu and company at Xiong Brothers Bike Shop on Beimin Jie for 40 yuan a day and should you be spending more time in Kunming and wish to buy a bike, capable machines can be had for around 3,000 yuan.

If you're an experienced rider and want something a little more high spec then Xiong Brothers stocks a good variety of mid- to top-end stuff and will happily help you build the bike of your dreams.

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Hey, where is this trail, it looks like fun! How do you get there? I have biked a lot around Changchong Shan and not seen this one...

Just a random idea... I remember reading a while ago the Kunming government talking about investing some ridiculous sum of money into making Kunming a high altitude international sports location. Was I just dreaming that??

If I aren't dreaming, it would seem like a good option for them would be to section off a piece of Changchong shan and earmark it for a MTB park. I am sure local clubs could provide the manpower and experience to develop the trails, it would just need government sponsorship of the land and tools, which could be dual use with forestry (which tends to be the norm where I am from and works pretty well - the trails get ripped up once every 20 years when the forest is harvested, a good opportunity to make improvements, while the trails provide forestry workers with foot access through the forest). As there are no shortage of both foreign and local riders, it would seem a feasible idea. If it was done to a high enough standard, it could also be advertised as a cheap high altitude training location internationally. Who's with me???

great idea, but it "just" needs government involvement. the Xiong bike shop seems to be having enough trouble getting a one-day race off the ground on roads that aren't even open to cars yet...

Blobbles, get in touch, I'd be happy to show you that trail and chat about future trail building posibilities.

This is a beautiful spot indeed, but be careful if you are a wanderer like me. On the South and possibly West side of Changchong is a military compound, it is unmarked (at least via the single track I was on), it is not on the map, and they don't take too kindly to visitors. I definitely advise taking your passport or other id, and staying away from the road on the south side of the mountain. Lest you be detained for 12 hours at the local PSB.

Hi Omgiri, I aren't in Kunming at the moment, returning in September. Will be keen for a ride up there with you if you are still around! Just have to figure out how to get my bike there from New Zealand...

I knew I wasn't dreaming! www.gokunming.com/[...]

A half decent mtb park would be a pretty cheap way and a good start to creating a world class training facility for MTB'ers. There are so many bikers around KM as well that I imagine the manpower for maintaining the trails wouldn't be hard to find.

Hey Tom...thanks for the great article! I can see that "huge grin" from here!

You won't run into the military on this section of trail but keep a keen out for local farmers as you're navigating your way down!

A trail park would be so cool to have around here. But I can see a problem, of many mountain sides around Kunming being used as graveyards (yes, also Changchong is full of graves and small mausoleums).

I think hedgepig is right, you'll need a lot of guangxi.

Also, please be careful when you ride this trail, as some of it leads through a semi-open section of Changchong and people (whether on bikes or on foot) are not welcome before the 1st (or 31st, really unsure right now) of May due to forest fire hazards. Unfortunately, nobody was able to tell me, when the fire season starts, I will try to ask next time when I am up there.
Really, please keep this in mind when riding up there, that "we're" just tolerated up there and policies can/will change fast in China. Let's not p*** somebody off unnecessarily.

I can further assure you that this part is "military-safe", it leads around the small base. Only in the beginning you could stumble into the area, but therefore you'd have to navigate a 2 meter high concrete wall with warning signs on it (though there is a small path around it).

Can someone give a bit of info as to where the start of this trail is? I never seem to have time to ride with others that have plans to go. My schedule is a mess and rarely have time to hook up with others, but I would love to check out this trail. Thanks for revealing your stash. Cheers!

dbfan,

This trail is pretty much impossible to find without someone to show you. Get in touch, I'll have lots of time in the next few weeks. Alternatively go on one of the Xiong Brothers group rides on Saturday morning (it's bloody slow, but at least you'll learn some trails).

The trail to Changchong mountain is like the classic trail for kunming bike ridding.I've try once, but kinda diffcult for me. as I know if u go north, u'll get The Sanjia village which is also beautiful. there is a bike ridding trip plan for this weekends at Sat. A group of people are going to the town near kunming named Anning(安宁). Qinglong Xia(青龙峡). I just got my new bike couple weeks again. Planning to go with them. would u like to go with us?

Omgiri, you still around and keen for a ride? Would like to see this trail!

Went up this morning and had a poke around on the west side (check out my map: maps.google.com/[...] Was a bit scared to head all the way down the South end of my ride as I didn't know where the military base was and I didn't want to get off the mountain. Anyone been out the road on the Southwest side? Looks like a good way up as well if it isn't gated somewhere.

Regarding trail building, there is definitely potential for a loop around the top and heading north past the road (though they are building the road further north too). There are some good guys in the Specialized bike shop in Beichen who are mates with former China/Asia MTB champions who might be interested in such a project. The owner of that shop appears to be a lihai dude probably with a lot of guangxi who may be able to help with the government side of things. It would be a win-win as we could get a good trail, he could grow his business being the closest good shop to the trail... would be good to include a number of shops/clubs around though and get some organisation together to push this on.

I have been on these trails a few times. It is always fun, and got lost twice on descent in north part behind the plastic factory. There are many alternatives around there.

Nice bit of writing but a bit light on detail. I've ridden here on and off for years thanks to the Xiong Brothers so I should point out there are many routes up and down this mountain, almost all of them only suitable for mountain bikes.

The easiest and best climb is the one mentioned, basically as far north as you can go along the eastern edge of the mountain, past the cigarette factory, through a village and some older factories, and then turn left when you absolutely run out of trail. You wind up snaking up the north-eastern edge of the mountain. Traffic here can be a little heavy at times but there are some good spots to stop for views, and the killer feature is a restaurant at the top. It is a reasonable idea to eat or refill your water here before continuing, particularly if you want to summit or have people with you in less than stellar shape.

Opposite the restaurant is a village. Normally you just go up through this village, continue along the road, and hit another village. The aforementioned "not welcome" occurs at this point during part of the year. You can work around this issue by dragging your bike through fields some distance to the west.

In any event, passing the final village there are a few more fields before the mountain trails begin. There are two main trails in this northern portion, the westerly (more technical to begin with, better connected and the normal choice) and the easterly (less well trodden, less interesting, but offering a different view).

Both converge some distance to the south, as the dominant topography changes from open landscape to planted Australian wattle forests with their distinctive yellow flowers. A spot of denser forest then appears, which can be fun to tear through but has some very difficult little rocky corners... so watch out!

A road now bisects the mountain on the east/west axis. If you're wounded or a bike has given up you can choose to descent via a small road or a small trail, the latter being rather short and taking you down above a minor temple on the eastern slope. Note that proceeding further south along the mountain from that point will enter the military area (ie. don't).

Normally though, you head west a little then turn left (south) down a major fire trail which will be self-evident (if you continue you'll reach a place where you can also emerge if you've taken the eastern trail and stuck with it instead of going through the forest).

From here on, there's a reasonable period of wide road. Left (west) of this area, down through the sparsely-planed wattle forest, is an area of graves, some of which can be ridden. Locals sometimes collect undergrowth here. Normally though, you continue to a junction, where there is an option to drop down the the right (west-nor-west) on a major vehicular access fire trail. That descent isn't very exciting and leaves you essentially miles from anywhere, but does provide an alternate route up if you are lucky enough to live in the north-west of Kunming.

Continuing south instead, after a time you reach a small covered building on the right and a paved road descending left, U-turning and climbing right. Descending here is mainly boring and will take you out fairly close to town, through much roadwork of late. This is the main route by which new car drivers drag their posses up the mountain, which never used to be possible, but is a development that the government is apparently trying to facilitate. Climbing to the right, continue just a little and you will see the bare peak of Changchongshan. To climb it, turn left after descending slightly at the carpark. With a couple of steps near the end excepted, you can ride all the way to the summit, which offers a killer view and some serious high-altitude exercise!

If you instead continue directly straight south at the carpark, you reach a sort of wetland/depression area which seems far too convenient and conspicuous to be natural and might just have an ugly history. A path through there is not really accessible by MTB, but you can see the southern (far) side, where it is possible to connect from the summit to the trail you should probably take instead, to the west (ie. left) from the carpark. This trail is quite overgrown but is one of the best parts of the mountain. If you continue to the wider portion, when you climb the first small hill turn left (east) to reach some steps that allow you to access the summit peak (this is a good alternative for descending from the summit if you are cold, thirsty, hungry or short of time, since you can cut out some of the overgrown trail).

Following the trail south will descend along a fairly rocky and steep section to the westerly gateway of the military area, which is really not a hassle (I have never heard of people having problems here when descending) and lets you out in farmlands relatively close to town, behind the Yangxianpo / Huangtupo / Xuefulu area.

Are there some slightly easier trails than this around Kunming?

quite a few. off-road and road routes. Best way to find them is probably just to go with other people off here or one of the local clubs. failing that, just get out on the bike and meet other cyclists. Chanchong mountain is full of trails, from paved roads to goat herding paths. Explore. also, search the articles on here. Baohua hill is another spot worth checking out.

check out the Mountain Bike Thread, last post has a link to a Google map with 1-day routes around KMG. Feel free to add.

@bluppfisk - I was thinking about that thread but I couldn't find it. Do you have a link? that's one thread that is useful.

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