Not every peak in China has earned the right to be called a 'snow mountain'. Permanent glaciers are nearly a requirement, and, barring those, wind-swept pinnacles at the highest reaches must at least be capped year-round in snow and ice. Perhaps this once was the case with Jiaozi Snow Mountain (轿子雪山), a rocky, craggy massif rising to a point 4,247 meters above sea level in central Yunnan's Luquan County (禄劝县).
As it is, the scenic area — whose name translates to Sedan Chair Snow Mountain — is billed as China's 'lowest latitude seasonal snowy summit'. Despite that less-than-inspiring moniker, the mountain and its boardwalk pathways offer lovely opportunities to get some fresh air and exercise while escaping the city. We visited during Mid-Autumn Festival — perhaps not an ideal time for solitary hikes — but an enjoyable experience all the same.
Our trip began by renting a car in Kunming and then pointing it north. Jiaozi Snow Mountain is roughly 150 kilometers due north from Kunming and the drive took us three hours. We left the Spring City in early afternoon, and so, when we arrived in Luquan County, there was precious little time remaining to complete our planned hike. We rented a room at a lodge past Sifangjing (四方景), which sits just inside the scenic area's main gate, and settled in for the evening.
Well rested after a good night's sleep, we set out early, entering the park just as it opened. From the tourist service center, we rode a bus for a few kilometers until arriving at the cable car station. Taking the tram saves a bit of time as well as 350 meters of vertical climb. One-way and return tickets are both available at the station itself.
During the Spring Festival holiday in 2014, this humble structure was the scene of a now-infamous altercation between park staff and intransigent visitors who refused to extinguish their cigarettes. Let's just say the quarrel devolved into a melee involving thrown bricks and masonry. When we visited, all was placid.
We reached the top via tiny, bubble-like compartments that seat a maximum of two people. Upon exiting the cable car, visitors are presented with a choice — veer right and head directly toward the summit, or head left and take a much longer way dotted with overlooks and other stopping points.
The bottom of the mountain had been hazy when we first woke, but as we stood outside the tram building, a heavier drifting fog began to materialize. Not wanting to miss clear views from the top, we decided to take the more direct path. People were fairly scant at this time in the morning anyway, and the majority of those who were out and about chose the scenic path, leaving us all but alone on our hike.
The fog intensified as we walked and the elevated boardwalk became slightly slippery. The footpath headed steadily upwards through woodland and meadows, sometimes offering glimpses of the cliffs above when the intensifying mist permitted. We made our way up and up until coming to Genie Pond (精怪塘) and a marshy field that in springtime is blanketed by wildflowers.
After making our way through rhododendron forests, we reached the steepest part of the hike — a section of near-vertical wooden stairways that marked the final push toward Jiaoding Peak (轿顶). We breathlessly made it to the top and were greeted by a deserted wooden observation point filled with weathered and lonely benches.
What the overlook overlooked, we could not say. We waited and waited for the fog to break but it proved to be far more stubborn than we were. Saying goodbye to the swallows flitting around the deck looking for food seemed the proper course of action. Two hours of steady hiking to the top was not rewarded with any sort of stunning vista, but the fog and damp leant the entire experience a type of spectral charm.
Back down we went. We passed two more slightly lower terraces, not bothering with them or their views because of the ever-intensifying fog. Following the scenic route we had bypassed earlier, we wandered past two more crystal clear alpine ponds and then under the eaves of the oddly translated Forest of Upright Trees (傲骨林).
There, the haze that had once simply obscured the scenery turned into a full-fledged cloud so dense we had no idea if it was raining or not. The crowds became thicker as well, as people had to scale or descend narrow and by now incredibly slick stairways one at a time. From our vantage point, the path led down into a narrow defile with dark, rocky walls looming up from out of the mist on either side.
Nearing the end of our loop, we walked by a series of waterfalls and interconnected ponds. In wintertime, these freeze spectacularly in mid-flow and attract throngs of tourists and photographers. They were quite pretty unfrozen as well. We circled back to our original starting point, this time skipping the cable car.
All told, our soggy walk lasted just over five hours. This included two hours hike to the peak and three hours coming back down — including 30 minutes for an overpriced and truly uninspired lunch. Far from a wasted trip, however, our journey through Jiaozi Snow Mountain Scenic Area was a chance to see the park in one of its many, varied moods — this one a bit sullen.
As mentioned earlier, we rented a car and drove to Jiaozi Snow Mountain from Kunming. The car was 200 yuan per day and round-trip we paid 150 yuan for gas. If driving, take the Jiaozi Mountain Dedicated Tourist Road (轿子山旅游专线) — also known as Road X002 — north out of the city and follow the signs. Parking inside the scenic area costs ten yuan per day.
Getting there by bus is a bit more difficult, as there is apparently no dedicated bus service directly to the park although one is in the offing. There is one daily bus from Kunming's North Bus Station to Zhuanlong (转龙) in Luquan County. It departs at 1:30pm and takes roughly three and half hours to arrive. Tickets cost 35 yuan per person. From there, local buses ferry tourists to and from the scenic area for a small fee. All-inclusive tours can also be booked through Wonders of Yunnan Travel.
Tickets into the park proper are 70 yuan. This fee does not include cable car rides, which run 35 yuan one way. The Jiaozi Snow Mountain Scenic Area is open year-round — barring inclement weather — from 8:30am-5:30pm. Accommodation inside the park can cost as much as 500 yuan for a night, but we stayed in reasonably priced guesthouse that charged 80 yuan per person and included meals.
Images: Philippe Semanaz© Copyright 2005-2021 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.