Hiking in Lijiang: Saddle Mountain

By in Travel

Named for its appearance, Lijiang's Saddle Mountain (马鞍山) offers another distinctive profile on the city skyline. Its twin summits, nearly equal in height, rise due west of the city center, and just six kilometers north of Wenbi Mountain (文笔山).

This hike presents similarly wonderful and wide-ranging vistas. Two routes are available, the north ridge and the east face, making a loop hike an attractive option. As a side note, the Lijiang-Shangri-la High-Speed Railway, currently under construction, tunnels underneath Saddle Mountain.

The double summits of Saddle Mountain viewed from north ridge
The double summits of Saddle Mountain viewed from north ridge

Friends from Lijiang (丽江) accompanied me. This was their first mountain ascent ever, but they knew their wild edibles. Low on the mountain we gathered acorn-like nuts off the ground. After cracking away the husks with our teeth, we removed and consumed the inner pulp. I found the taste slightly bitter. The Chinese name for them is xianglizi (橡栗子), which translates to 'oak chestnut'. Near the saddle between the two summits, massive piles of the spherical nut covered the ground, acting like marbles under our feet. We slid and danced that day!

Near the south summit — the higher of the two — we encountered large piles of pine cones. Apparently, local residents extract pine nuts — called songzi (松子) — from the cones, discarding the empty ones, leaving the piles behind. We tried it ourselves, beating cones against a rock and picking up the nuts that fell to the ground. Not very efficient but oh, those wild nuts tasted delicious.

View from the north summit of Saddle Mountain, with Wenbi Mountain in the background
View from the north summit of Saddle Mountain, with Wenbi Mountain in the background

Hiking Saddle Mountain

North ridge route

From a factory (discussed below), a dirt road leads in a westerly direction towards the north ridge of the mountain. Utilizing any of the various paths along the way, stay to the right of a small ravine that cuts through the lower part of the ridge. Above the ravine, work your way left and ascend to the ridge crest.

Follow the ridge to the north summit, encountering many lookouts and vistas along the way. Scrambling and use of the hands may be required depending on the route chosen. Descend to the saddle and make the final ascent to the slightly higher south summit. For the descent, retrace the ridge or hike down the east face.

Hiking from the factory to the north summit takes between two and three hours. Then, from the north summit to the south is another 30 minutes. The elevation gain for this hike is 600 meters, with the summit perched 2,990 meters above sea level.

View from the north ridge with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain at left, the city of Lijiang and Elephant Hill at far rightPine nuts collected on the trailSaddle Mountain (left) and Wenbi Mountain (right) over Lashi LakePine cones at top of a treeA cluster of oak chestnuts cradled in the handCliff on the north ridgeApproaching Saddle MountainA pine cone, source of pine nuts. Photo taken near summit of Saddle Mountain with Lashi Lake and the north summit in the backgroundTraversing the base of Saddle Mountain while returning to the car parkView from summit of Saddle Mountain. Left to right: Lashi Lake, north summit, Wenhai Mountain above north summit, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, city of Lijiang, Wenbi ReservoirView from the north ridge with the double summits of Saddle Mountain visible and Wenbi Reservoir at center leftView from north ridge. City of Lijiang, Elephant Hill on far right, with car park located in white-roofed building complex at lower centerNorth summit of Saddle Mountain viewed from the north ridge

East face route

This route makes possible a loop, up the north ridge and down the east face, or vice versa. The path begins at the saddle between the south and north summits and heads east towards the city. Another path at the saddle heads west toward Lashi Lake (拉市海). You might encounter deposits of oak chestnuts covering the ground. Hiking poles can save you from many a spill!

Descend steeply and admire a much different aspect of Saddle Mountain than is found on the north ridge. Lower down the route turns north, skirting residential buildings and an area of tombs before arriving back at the factory, the starting point of the North Ridge Route. The descent from the south summit to the factory below via the east face route takes 1.5-2 hours.

View from summit of Saddle Mountain, with Lashi Lake visible
View from summit of Saddle Mountain, with Lashi Lake visible

Getting to Saddle Mountain

By car, head west out of Lijiang on Route S308, known locally as Changshui Road (长水路). Cross Shuhe (束河路) and Qinglong (青龙路) roads. The next major intersection crosses Xishanyou Lu (西山游路). The road continues straight ahead a short distance and then curves to the right.

Several hundred meters after the last mentioned intersection there is a gas station on the left. A side road leaves left just before the station, leading in a couple hundred meters to a factory. Ask factory personnel where to park, as large trucks ply the narrow road here. If you'd like to take public transportation, public bus service is available on Changshui Road.

Pieter Crow is authoring a series for GoKunming about hiking in Lijiang. For more,
see his two-part article on circumambulating Haba Snow Mountain, as well as his explanation of where and how to hike Elephant Hill and Wenbi Mountain just outside of Lijiang Old Town
.

Images: Pieter Crow

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Nice and informative. Thanks!

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