Have you been on several days (and longer) mountain trekking, in a wild and harsh highland? Not in some famous mountains like the Alps, or popular national parks like Yosemite or Banff? Here I mean trekking in a remote, off the beaten area, in a place with almost no tourists. A place, bringing a feeling like you are walking on another planet, or the Earth, but thousands of years ago. This place is Genyen Mountain, deep in the endless wilderness of Tibet. Let’s trek in this fantastic highland and enjoy its unique local world!
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Where is Genyen Mountain
First, let me explain something about Tibet. Many people look at the map of China and see one of the Chinese provinces, called the „Tibetan Autonomous Region”. And they think: „This is Tibet”. But not too many of them know, that this is only a part of Tibet, only its western part, not the whole Tibet. The rest of the Tibetan land, called „Eastern Tibet” can’t be seen on the map. It is shared between the neighboring Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces.
In general, the land of Tibet consists mainly of the Great Tibetan Plateau. But although it is a plateau, it doesn’t mean that it is plain. Its relatively plain part is situated somewhere between 3200 and 5000 m altitude. But it is surrounded by higher mountains, cut into higher mountains and deep valleys on its eastern parts, and it is also crossed and randomly filled by other higher mountains.
One of these mountains is Genyen (or Ge’Nyen) Massif, located in the extreme western part of Sichuan province, Eastern Tibet. It is a part of a long chain of mountains, called Shaluli (Powor Gang), which stretches from north to south between the Yangtze and Yalong rivers. Its highest peak is Genyen (6204 m/20,354 ft), and it is the highest point of the whole Shaluli range. The nearest major town to the mountain is Litang, and the nearest major road named G318 passes north of the massif.
How to explore Genyen
First, take a look at the satellite map (in Google Maps you can find it by using the keyword „Ge’Nyen”, which will take you to Mt. Genyen, the highest peak of the massif). The mountain is covered by snow and ice and cut into a labyrinth of valleys, covered by alpine coniferous forests below 4200 m altitude. You can also see two lower satellite mountain ranges- one on the west, and one on the north of Genyen, and the whole area is your goal to explore.
Now, let’s say clear: when we talk about exploring Genyen, I don’t mean climbing its highest peaks- it is a work of mountaineering expeditions, and it is a very difficult job. Although it is much lower than Mt. Everest, there are very few successful expeditions who climbed these peaks, as some of the peaks are more difficult and dangerous even than the highest peak on our planet.
Explore Genyen by trekking
So, unless you join such an expedition, you have only the following option- to explore the mountain’s lower places- its valleys and its lower summits (below 5200 m altitude). But at the same time, your route can pass enough close to the highest peaks of the mountain, allowing you to enjoy the most stunning views to these giants and the whole massif.
Genyen Mountain is a wild place, away from the tourist streams. There are only several villages, some dirt roads connecting them, as well as some local nomadic tents. No hotels, no resorts, no public transport. Yes, the local Tibetans are friendly and probably they would invite you to their houses or tents, but it is never sure whether you can reach such shelter on time during the day. So, the only way to explore this mountain is by trekking, bringing your own tent.
How to reach Genyen
Although Genyen is a remote off the beaten area, it is still not very difficult to reach. The main starting point to explore the mountain is Litang, located on the famous G318 road between Chengdu and Lhasa. There are regular daily buses from Chengdu to Litang. The bus leaves every day at 6:30 am from Xinnanmen (New Nanmen) Bus Station and arrives in Litang in the evening, around 5:00 pm (in the high season on the G318 road after Kangding, if there is a traffic jam as it often happens, the bus can arrive at 7, 8 or even after 9:00 pm). However, consider the high altitude! I would advise you first to spend one night in Kangding (2500 m altitude), then to proceed to Litang (3900 m altitude) on the next day.
Once you arrive in Litang, you have to hire a driver, who can take you to the starting point of your trekking. It is not too far and the driver can reach it for around 2 hours. But there is something more. Unless you are an experienced adventurer, I would strongly recommend hiring a guide. You are going to spend at least 5-6 days in this wilderness, which is like a maze, and the only people that you will probably meet are the local Tibetans, who almost certainly can’t speak English. So, to organize all of this, contact your hotel (or hostel) in Litang in advance for the help.
After the trekking
Then, the most common ending point of this trekking is Batang, a small Tibetan town at the border between Sichuan and the Tibetan Autonomous Region (Western Tibet). There are buses connecting Batang with Litang, then with Chengdu, and this is usually the way to end your trip. Yes, maybe you wish to proceed further west into TAR (Western Tibet)? Unfortunaly, it is impossible for foreigners now, because the part of TAR bordering Sichuan (Chamdo Prefecture) is currectly closed for non-Chinese citizens (and I am waiting good new for opening too).
Our Genyen trip
In general, this is what we did on our trip to Genyen. We got the bus from Chengdu, passed the traffic jam after Kangding, and arrived in Litang on the same day around 7:00 pm. Then we spent a night at Litang Summer International Hostel (理塘的夏天国际青年旅舍)- a nice place with friendly staff, which is the most popular among foreign travelers in the area. On the next day morning, we traveled around 2 hours to our starting point- New Lama Monastery (新喇嘛寺).
We were 5 people. Only I was a foreigner, others were Chinese- experienced hikers from various cities in China. One of them was our guide, and he has drawn the route on the map in advance. Our trekking was planned for 7 days, passing through the main Genyen massif, and its western satellite Yangmolong (with its highest peak Mt. Yangmolong, 6060 m high), and finishing in Batang.
From the first day
On our first day, the route was relatively easy and short- from New Lama Monastery to Chachongxi village. Then, on the next day, we proceeded on the Rediqu valley to our second camp, at the confluence of Rediqu and Yelegou valleys. The weather was perfect until noon, but then heavy clouds came quickly, bringing icy rain and snow with a thunderstorm- something normal in this high mountain during the summer.
The first serious ascent
Our third day was more difficult, we had to ascend from 4250 to 4970 m altitude, then descend to Gemu village at 3850 m, where we spent the night in a nice local campsite with a small shop- a great place to relax and refill our food. On our way, we hiked on Tibetan tundra areas in the higher altitudes, and alpine coniferous forests in the lower places. And the local Tibetans that we met gave us a nice refresh during our difficult hike.
In Yangmolong subrange
Then we left the main Genyen massif, and the next days we walked on the southern parts of Yangmolong. This time the areas we passed we even wilder. We reached the highest point on our route- 4985 m, crossing a Noname pass without any path. The only human traces that we saw were several Tibetan nomad’s tents near Mengcuo lake.
I am honest, it was the most difficult trekking in my life. Walking 15-20 km per day, with multiple ascends and descends, in this high altitude area is not for everyone. It was difficult even for my Chinese friends, who were more experienced than me. So, when we finally saw a dirt, partly paved road crossing the mountain from Yaregong to Batang, on our sixth day, we decided to cut our route and descend to Batang. There were local Tibetan workers on the road and we easily found transportation to Batang, finishing our epic trekking.
So, undoubtedly this trekking is a big challenge for everyone. But it is still not impossible for everyone who has at least some hiking experience. However, to make it successful and really exciting, you need to consider some important things.
We made our trekking on a certain route that our Chinese guide has designed in advance. This route was used already by other trekkers before us (or at least parts of it), and it is not the only route that Genyen explorers use.
Our guide hasn’t been there before, he just followed his, and other trekkers’ experience. I have the same experience and can draw mountain routes too, but it is not for everyone. You should have some good knowledge of geography, more specifically, on topography- to know more about the summits, watersheds, and valleys and how to „use” them while you draw your route. You should also use maps showing the altitude lines and consider where is too steep to walk and avoid such areas. Finally, you should look at satellite maps to see the terrain clearly and avoid difficult to walk areas.
This is maybe the most important thing you must consider. Most of our route, as well as every other route you would follow passes areas between 4000 and 5000 m altitude. So you need good acclimatization. As I mentioned above, it is not advisable to take the bus straight from Chengdu to Litang and ascend from 450 to 3900 m altitude within one day, spending your next night in 3900 m (yes, we did it, but before that, we already had some acclimatization- I was on a trip to Xinjiang, reaching more than 4000 m altitude on the Karakoram Highway, only 10 days before our Genyen trip).
There is an important principle- during the day try to reach higher altitudes, but spend the night in lower places. Then, every day do the same, increasing the altitude with at least 600 m. This is an ideal situation, which is not always possible, but again, spending at least 1-2 more days in lower places like Kangding or Yajiang, then in Xinduqiao (all these are towns on the road to Litang) would help a lot. For more information on how to deal with the high altitude, see here.
It is closely related to the high altitude. If you have never been to such a high altitude, you probably wonder how the people breathe there, and how is to breathe air in such a place. The answer is you breathe normal (after acclimatization!), just like at the seaside, but only when you relax or walk on a plain or slightly descending road. If you start ascending, you will be surprised how quickly you begin to gasp. It is even more difficult if your backpack is too heavy (and it would be heavy if you prepare to spend at least 6 days on trekking).
You can’t acclimatize for that. The only thing you can do is to train more before the trekking- jogging, climbing, bearing a heavy backpack, etc. But even this can be more effective only if you do it in high altitude areas, at least more than 3000 m.
This fatigue is not dangerous, but can seriously limit your trekking strength and ability. And it was the main reason why we cut our trekking on the sixth day, instead of finishing it according to our initial plan on the eighth day. The solution? I would advise you to plan shorter daily sections of your route- walk no more than 10 km per day (unless you are well-trained in advance). First, you don’t need to be in a hurry, you can ascend slowly without worrying whether you will accomplish your plan. And second- you would have much more time to relax and enjoy the fantastic landscape around you. Believe me, it is worth!
Seasons and weather
The seasons in Genyen are the same as in other areas of Eastern Tibet. Spring is nice, sunny, but still cold. Summer is the warmest part of the year, it is also the most beautiful season, because the grasslands are deeply green, with flowers, in stunning contrast with the glazing white snow-capped giants. But at the same time, you can expect rain.
We made our trekking in August, and most of the time we enjoyed deep blue sunny sky with white rolling clouds. But there were occasional short rains, of which the one on our second day was the most serious.
Then, the autumn is colder, dryer, and rains are much less possible. But the grasslands are yellowish. Finally, winter is cold. Really cold, with temperatures dropping sometimes even to -30°C. Yes, there is not too much snow, because the precipitation in this season is very low. But the freezing cold would make the whole experience to be like a polar expedition.
When you plan week-long trekking in such a high altitude area, you have to bring enough food. But be careful, don’t bring things that you probably enjoy when you are in your hometown or at the seaside! I made this mistake and finally just made my backpack uselessly heavy.
Don’t bring dry snacks, too salty, or too spicy things. You will be thirsty and would need a lot of water. So, bring something more liquid, like fruits and vegetables. Bring also something that you can boil and eat- for example, noodles, mashed potatoes or dumplings. And when mention the water…
It is something really important in trekking like this in Genyen. I will repeat- you will be thirsty! Your throat will be dry. So dry, that it may even hurt. So, you will need a lot of water.
At the same time, you will see water all the time around you- streams, rivers, ponds, small lakes. And be sure that it will be a huge temptation. But don’t drink it directly! Yes, the water is crystal clear, but it may content some bacterias that can be dangerous for your health. It is not necessary, but you don’t know which waters are safe and which not.
So, bring more water. When it finishes, take new water from the streams around you, but boil it first. And this is another reason why is it better to make shorter daily treks- you can have enough time to boil new water during your lunch, not only once in the evening. And if you like cold water- don’t worry, it will be enough cold in the morning the next day.
It is another important topic. You have to balance between bringing all that’s necessary for the conditions and time duration of your trekking, and the weight. Remember, the heavier your backpack is, the easier you will get fatigued.
In general, you have to bring enough proper food. You don’t need to eat a lot, in fact, you would be not so hungry, but much more thirsty than hungry. So, bring water and boiling set for water- a gas bottle (tank) and vessels. Then, bring bottles, or better- a water bladder with a hose.
Other things that you must bring with you (if you go there in summer) include hiking poles, a hat (protect yourself from the strong sun radiation!), a raincoat, good hiking shoes, and your jacket. In summer, the temperature can rise to 20°C during the day, but at night it drops to only 3-4°C, sometimes can even reach 0°C or a little below. So, you need a good tent with a warm sleeping bag. Again- the lighter, the better.
The local Tibetans
The nature of Genyen is magnificent, with fantastic landscapes, breathtaking views, and endless silence, where you can hear only some distant streams. But the whole picture would be not full without the local people- the Tibetans.
They live in several villages, mainly in the outskirts of Genyen. Only in summer, they go inside the mountain, upward in the valleys, with their tents and yaks. Almost certainly you will meet them.
These people are extremely friendly and hospitable. They would enjoy sharing with you their food, water or coca-cola (and believe me, you will really enjoy water and coke too!). When you meet them somewhere in the wilderness, they will tell you „Tashi Delek!”, which means something like „Greetings to you” or „Blessings to you”. Learn this phrase, you will use it every time you see them!
When we arrived at our first campsite near Chachongxi, we met a Tibetan couple, who immediately offered to help us buying water and coke from the village. We gave our money to them, they back 30 mins later and gave us what we needed.
On the second day, we stopped to relax and lunch at noon near two nomad’s tents. They gave us newly boiled water and a bottle of coke too. Then, on the third day, we met a shy Tibetan mother with her children. They relaxed in the middle of nowhere at around 4800 m altitude. We spoke „Tashi Delek” to them, but the woman was too shy and didn’t answer. So, we understood her and soon left them with respect.
But maybe the most exciting event was when we reached the road to Batang, on our sixth day. There was another tent beside the road, and the local Tibetans invited us to eat roasted potatoes with some local vegetables, coke, and beer. The potatoes were a bit spicy and I can say it was one of the most delicious lunch in my life!
Thirst for more adventures
So, all of this made our Genyen trip like a fairy tale. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. At the same time, I got some good experience in high altitude trekking and learned from my mistakes. And just like every time after such a journey, I have the thirst to proceed further, „conquering” more and more remote and wild areas on the Earth, and be sure you would desire it too!
If you are thinking for reaching the highest peaks of Genyen, look at the video below:
Check some travel books about Tibet, hiking and high altitude experience:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.