Far away, at the easternmost edge of the Great Tibetan Plateau, there are four sisters, four maidens. They have been stayed still since unknown times, rising over the valleys and the forests around. The youngest one is the highest, and she is the Queen. And her three elder sisters are lower, all standing in a chain, like holding their hands. These four sisters have formed one of the highest mountains in Asia, called Siguniang Mountain, another wonder of Eastern Tibet. Let’s go on an adventurous journey to Siguniang and enjoy its breathtaking image!
Where is Siguniang Mountain
Let’s open the physical map of China, or better the map of the Great Tibetan Plateau, and let’s focus on the eastern edge of the plateau, where it descends to the Sichuan Plain. Here we can see three mountain chains, stretching from north to south, to the valley of Yangtze River. The easternmost of them is called Qionglai Mountains. And Siguniang, along with other mountains like Emeishan and Erlang, is one of them. It is located about 200 km northwest of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.
About Siguniang Mountain
Siguniang Mountain is a mountain range with a complex shape, cut into many summits and valleys between them. There are many peaks in the range that rise above 5000 m altitude, but four of them are the most spectacular. And the name “Siguniang” comes from them- in Chinese, it means “Four sisters” or “Four maidens”.
The Four Sisters (Maidens)
The highest one is Yaomei- 幺妹峰 (6250 m)- it is an alpine giant with high difficulty of climbing, reached only by few mountaineers in history. The next one is Sanguniang- 三姑娘 (The Third Sister)- 5355 m, and its neighbor Erguniang- 二姑娘 (The Second Sister)- 5276 m. They can be reached more easily, but still require some basic climbing skills. And the lowest one is Daguniang- 大姑娘 (Big Sister)- 5025 m, which is accessible just by normal hiking.
The Sisters’ guards
Besides the Four Sisters (Maidens), there are many other peaks, standing on the summits of the Siguniang Mountain range and its branches, like the “sister’s guards”. More significant among them are Riyue Baojing (Sun and Moon Treasure Mirror- 日月宝镜峰)- 5609 m, Yeren (Wild Man- Yeren (Wild Man- 野人峰)- 5592 m, Yangmantai (Full Sheep Stage- 羊满台)- 5666 m, Yutu (Jade Rabbit- 玉兔峰)- 5580 m, and particularly Dahuangfeng (Big Yellow Peak- 大黄蜂)- 5922 m and its neighbors.
All of these peaks and summits are separated by many valleys, leading to different water basins. Of them, the most popular are Shuangqiaogou (Double Bridge Valley- 双桥沟), Changpinggou (Long Plain Valley-长坪沟), and Haizigou (Sea Valley- 海子沟). These three valleys, along with the Four Sisters (Maidens) and several neighboring peaks are included in Siguniang National Park which covers the most popular part of the Siguniang Mountain Range.
Our journey to Siguniang Mountain
I knew about Siguniang Mountain long before our trip there. And finally, when we built one of our Eastern Tibet itineraries, I found that it was a great opportunity to include the Four Sisters (Maidens) in our journey.
So, we came by rental cars from the west, from Yilhun Lhatso Lake, Garze, Bamei, and Danba. We spent two nights in the Siguniang National Park, in the main town at the entrance of the park- Rilong, now renamed into Siguniang Town. From here, a part of us explored Changpinggou Valley, but I and a friend from our group hiked Haizigou Valley, in an attempt to reach Daguniang Peak. Due to bad weather, we couldn’t reach it, but we still had a great hiking experience in the wild mountain.
We partly explored Siguniang Mountain, but if we had more time, and better weather, we could do much more there. So, let’s take a look at what we experienced, and what more you can experience there.
How to explore Siguniang Mountain
In general, exploring Siguniang Mountain includes the three valleys- Shuangqiaogou, Changpinggou, and Haizigou, as well as the hiking trail to the lower Sisters (Maidens). All of this is within the Siguniang National Park, and there are individual gates with entrance fee for each of the valleys. There are also more hiking trails out of the National Park (without entrance fee), going to the other peaks of the mountain range.
Let’s start with the national park and its valleys.
This is the longest of the three valleys- 34,6 km. The entrance to this valley is located at a 2910 m altitude. It is the most touristy developed valley in the national park, revealing the best of the most beautiful places and views in the whole mountain range. Here you can enjoy a deep glacial canyon, plain meadows, a pristine glacial lake, gorgeous alpine forest, and stunning sharp alpine peaks at both sides of the valley. Among them, you can see Yeren (Wild Man), Yutu (Jade Rabbit), Abi Peak- 5694 m, and several others.
The only problem in this valley is that you can’t see the Four Sisters (Maidens) because they are hidden behind the eastern summit (with Yeren and Yutu peaks). The valley is best arranged for tourists. There is a road for sightseeing buses that go to its bottom and stop in many places.
Places to see in Shuangqiao Valley
The most interesting places to see in Shuangqiao Valley are:
- Yin Yang Valley– a smaller side canyon with steep slopes, a river with crystal clear water, and alpine forest.
- Ten-mile Polar Trees– the lowest forest zone in the valley with deciduous trees.
- Sanguozhuang– a beautiful peak with a strange tripod shape, related to one of the legends about the Four Sisters.
- Sapodila Meadow– a stunning meadow, full of flowers in summer.
- Bonsai Beach– a small lake and two streams, where you can see Bonsai (Sea-buckthorn) trees.
- Five-color Mountain– It is one of the peaks, located at the eastern side of the valley, not far from the entrance. The peak is 5190 m high, and its neighbor Rainbow Mountain is 5420 m. These peaks are composed of various kinds of rocks in different colors, from where the name is derived.
- Fishing Bay– another incredibly beautiful meadow, where you can see yaks, as well as some Tibetan symbols like prayer flags and more.
- Larch Forest– this is the highest-located forest, in the bottom of the valley, surrounded by several 5000-ers.
You can take off the bus and walk between some of these places, enjoying everything that this paradise can offer. Also, you can ride a horse and do an easy hike. Entrance fee: 80 CNY in the high season (summer) and 50 CNY in the low season (winter). Sightseeing bus ticket: additional 70 CNY. Working time: 7:30 to 17:00 in summer, and 8:00 to 17:00 in winter.
This is the middle valley, 29 km long. It is not such touristy as Shuangqiao Valley, with fewer places to see, but of course, it is still very beautiful. And most importantly, from here you can observe directly the Four Sisters (Maidens). The valley is more proper for hiking and horse riding. And it still features alpine forests, fresh meadows and ponds, and small side valleys. Besides, here you can see a Tibetan monastery- this is Lama Monastery (喇嘛寺).
There is a road for sightseeing buses in this valley too, but this road is only to Lama Monastery. From there, you can explore the valley only by hiking or horse riding.
Places to see in Changping Valley
- Lama Monastery– a Tibetan monastery belonging to the Gelug sect, built in the 15th century. It is the last stop of the sightseeing bus and the starting point for hikers and horse riders.
- Withered-Tree Beach– an area with beautiful withered trees, again like a “Chinese traditional Bonsai” type of trees.
- Sea Buckthorn Forest– an area with sea buckthorn trees, located further beyond the Lama Monastery.
- Upper and Lower Dry Seas– two former ponds, now dried by changing the riverbed. Currently, this is a nice alpine area with a wetland.
- Red Stone Beach– a place with reddish stones, with a great view to the Four Sisters (Maidens). According to a legend, these stones were made by the blood tears of the Sisters, when their beloved turned into peaks.
- Muluozi– the endpoint for horse riders, located at 3650 m altitude. It is a large meadow with stunning alpine views. From here, only hikers can proceed further to the end of the valley.
So, you can take the sightseeing bus to Lama Monastery, then start hiking to Muluozi and further, depending on your time and physical abilities. But in general, hiking is easy, relatively plain, and the trail is arranged as a plank walkway. Horses can be hired at Lama Monastery, and prices vary between 100 and 350 CNY per person. Entrance fee: 70 CNY in the high season, or 50 CNY in the low season. Sightseeing bus ticket (for 7 km drive): 20 CNY. Working hours: in summer from 7:00 to 17:00, and in winter- from 7:30 to 17:00.
Now, let’s get to the shortest, but wildest valley in the national park- Haizi Valley
This is the easternmost and the shortest valley- only 19 km long. The Four Sisters are situated on its western side. Its name “Haizigou” (海子沟), which means “Valley of Seas” comes from the series of glacial lakes, located on its upper part.
Haizi Valley is a not-so-touristy place, and it is more proper for adventurous hikers. There are no roads and sightseeing buses, and there are no plank walkways, only wild dirt trails, a bit muddy in some places due to the horse traces. And it reveals more alpine views of the whole mountain range, especially from the shores of the glacial lakes.
Hiking trails in Haizi Valley
There are two trails. When you enter the valley, you can choose which trail you want to hike. The first trail follows the summit between Haizi and Changping valleys, reaching the Sisters. And the second trail follows the river of the valley to the lakes
When you enter the valley, some of the first places that you will reach are Guozhuangping and Chaoshanping, picturesque meadows, mixed with fir and polar trees with one of the best views of the Four Sisters (Maidens). Here is the place where you have to decide whether you will follow the summit or the river.
The river and the lakes
If you follow the river, there are two “sub-trails” that you can walk. But have in mind that these trails also branch and some of the branches just end in nowhere. So, if you walk on the right trail, after 4-5 hours walking you will reach the first and the largest lake- Dahaizi (Big Sea), with clear waters and stunning views to the Sisters and the other peaks around.
Then, the trail proceeds further upward to the next lake- Huahaizi (Flower Sea). Actually, it is not exactly a lake, but a marsh with a maze of small canals, which becomes amazingly colorful in the warm seasons. And if you proceed further, eventually you will reach the last two lakes of the valley- Shuanghaizi (Double Seas)- typical alpine lakes, surrounded only by rocks and glaciers.
There are two entrance points for Haizi Valley- one from the Siguniang Town, and one from the road bend on the way to Chengdu. The entrance fee is 60 CNY in the high season or 40 CNY in the low season, and the working hours are from 7:30 to 16:00 in summer, and from 8:00 to 15:30 in winter.
Now, let’s take a look at the other trail that follows the summit of the Four Sisters.
The Four Sisters (Maidens) summit
To hike in this direction, you have to enter Haizi Valley again, but from Guozhuangping and Chaoshanping you choose the left trail. It gradually starts ascending, from about 3200 m altitude, passing through the alpine bush, then alpine tundra in higher elevation. It reaches a small shelter on 4500 m and steeply ascends to Daguniang Peak- the Big Sister (5025 m).
From here, if you want to proceed on the summit, you need some climbing equipment and skills. Another trail with high difficulty reaches Erguniang from Dahaizi Lake- the Second Sister (5276 m), but again, it requires some basic climbing. There is a trail to the Third Sister (5355 m) too, but it starts from Changping Valley, about a kilometer beyond Lama Monastery.
Finally, Yaomei (6250 m), the highest peak of the whole range, as I mentioned above, is “reserved” only for a few climbers, since it is in the same class as the highest peaks on the Earth. However, you can reach its base camps from Changping Valley. There are two Yaomei base camps- a southern, and a northern, both located between 4600 and 4750 m altitude, under the glaciers of the peak.
In general, this is what you can do within the borders of Siguniang National Park. But this park doesn’t cover the whole mountain range of Siguniang Mountain. There are more summits, more valleys, more lakes, and more forests- inside and outside the national park.
More valleys, peaks, and hiking trails
If you are not just a tourist, but an adventurous explorer who looks at the Siguniang Mountain just like a natural formation, not a tourist destination, you can penetrate even deeper into this mountain range.
For example, you can pay the entrance fee for Changping Valley, and just like a normal tourist, you can go to Lama Monastery, then you can hike to the Changping Wei campsite, to the end of the valley. But then, instead of returning back to the entrance, you can proceed on a much more difficult trail to a Chazi Pass (4668 m), between Joey Shan (5178 m) and Jiangjun (5202 m) peaks, and descend to the neighboring Bifeng Valley. From there, you can reach a dirt road, then a paved road to Zhuangfang Village, at the north end of the mountain range.
The hiking trail connecting Changping, Haizi and Wolong
Another adventurous option, again from Changping Valley, is to turn right earlier, in front of the sided Luercong Valley, to ascend on Changgou (Long Valley) to a mountain pass north of Qijiemei (Seven Sisters) peak (these are other, minor “sisters”) at 4910 m, and to descend to the neighboring Zheng Valley to 2750 m altitude. Then start ascending on another valley to the south (camp on Longyan Terrace campsite at 4540 m altitude), cross another mountain pass (4705 m), then other two summits and valleys, until finally reach Haizi Valley at Shuanghaizi lakes. This route would take you about 4-5 days.
Or, another version of this route is from Longyan Terrace to turn left and proceed 3 days more hiking to Wolong Reserve, where you can see wild pandas (of course, if you are enough lucky).
All these kinds of experiences can bring you unforgettable impressions of the Siguniang Mountain paradise. However, this is about nature. But how about the local people and their culture?
Siguniang Mountain- the culture of the locals
Siguniang Mountain is located in the lands of Tibet, at the edge of the Great Tibetan Plateau. And the local people are Tibetans, but just a local branch of Tibetans, who belong to the Qiangic group. They are called Gyalrong Tibetans, and they live mainly in Ngawa Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province.
A significant part of their life and traditions are the same as the other Kham Tibetans who live in Eastern Tibet, probably just because they live in the same mountainous environment. Just their language is different, some differences can be seen in their house architecture- many houses look like towers with four horns on the roof corners, which can be seen mainly in the nearby Danba area.
The local Tibetans are friendly, hospitable, and ready to assist travelers. But as in most touristic places in the world, there are always people who just think about how to get more money from the travelers, and there is nothing strange about it. They work in the Siguniang National Park and the horses for riding are theirs. Anyway, their local culture contributes to the whole mountainous environment and adds to your unique local experience.
How to reach Siguniang Mountain
The best way to reach Siguniang Mountain is from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. There are buses from Chadianzi (茶店子) Bus Station in Chengdu to Xiaojin (小金), a city located west of Siguniang Town. These buses stop in Siguniang, or they can stop for you at the entrance of Shuangqiao Valley, 7 km from the town. The whole trip is about 3 hours 20 min, and the price is 95 CNY. And there are four buses per day, all of them traveling in the morning and noon.
Or, you can include Siguniang Mountain as a part of your Eastern Tibet itinerary and can reach it from the west- from Bamei, Danba, and Xiaojin. The best way to do it is by private car. But remember, if you are a foreigner, you can’t drive a car in China, unless you have a Chinese driving license (which usually requires that you live in China as an expat).
To the gates of the valleys
Once you reach Siguniang Town, you have to choose which valley you want to explore. If your choice is Shuangqiao Valley, you have to travel 7 km westward, and you can do it by local van (there are no taxis in Siguniang Town, the town is too small). But if you choose Changping Valley, you have to go to the northeastern end of the town, where you can buy your entrance ticket. And for Haizi Valley, you again have to go to the Changping Valley ticket office but have to walk 500 m upward to the smaller Haizi Valley ticket office.
Since Siguniang is a quite touristy place, there are a lot of places to sleep, mainly in the town of Siguniang. You can find many hotels and guesthouses, most of them relatively cheap, for about 150-200 CNY per room. Good places for travelers are the hostels in Changping Village (the part of Siguniang Town that is located at the ticket office and the gate of Changping Valley)- Riyue and Aliben, where you can meet other travelers, share your experience, and spend the night in cheap, but comfortable rooms.
However, Siguniang Town is only your starting point for exploring the mountain. Yes, if you make one-day trips in the valleys, the town can be your “base camp”. But if you want to get deeper and hike the mountain for a longer time, you need a tent. Camping is allowed everywhere in Haizi Valley, but only on the arranged campsites in the other two valleys.
Spending the night in the national park
In theory, if you want to make a 2-days or longer hike, you have to hire a local guide. And it is recommended if you don’t have enough experience. But seems it is not mandatory- we hiked Haizi Valley until dark when the ticket office was closed. Nobody looked for us and if we had a tent, there wouldn’t be any problem just sleep wherever we like.
Aside from that, there are also stations (chalets) or just shelters where you can spend the night too- in Laoniuyuanzi (老牛院子), Jipengzi （鸡棚子)， Dahuangpengzi (大黄棚子), and a shelter under Daguniang Peak, all in Haizi Valley. And in Changping Valley, you can find a place to sleep in Lama Monastery and Muluozi (木落子).
Weather and seasons
As in many other places in the world, Siguniang has a high, and a low season. The high season is in summer, especially May-June, and September-October. This is the time with the most beautiful colors. Also, it is warm and nicely cool, and not freezing cold in the morning.
August is nice, beautiful, warm, and colorful too, but the problem is in the rain. This month is the rainiest time of the year, and you can likely go to Siguniang Mountain, but can’t see the Four Sisters (Maidens), especially the most beautiful one- Yaomei since they would be hidden in clouds and fog.
The rest of the year is low season. Yes, it is mainly dry, with rare snowfalls. But it is very cold- sometimes the temperature can drop to -30°C. The mountain is mostly covered by snow, and you can’t see flowers and other colorful things. The lakes are covered by ice, and hiking is much more difficult, requiring a lot of winter equipment. At least, you can see and enjoy the Four Sisters (Maidens) in their gorgeous beauty.
Leaving Siguniang Mountain
Our journey to Siguniang Mountain was in August, so we almost couldn’t see the Sisters. But at least we enjoyed an exciting hike (although partly in rain). We experienced the best of the forests, meadows, and lakes of Haizi Valley. We spent two nights in Changping Village, hiking the whole day between the nights.
On the next day, we left Siguniang on our way to Chengdu. Again, after visiting such a fantastic place, Siguniang remained an important part of our “big sharing” after the trip. I always want to go to new places that I haven’t been to before. But there are some old places too that impressed me so much that I’d like to back there again. And Siguniang Mountain remained one of these places.
For more impressions, take a look at the video below:
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