I had the opportunity to hitch along on a mini road trip with some Chinese friends during Chinese New Year. We headed to Danba, a Buddhist town hidden in a gorge in the mountains north of Chengdu, and hiked a little bit of the Four Sisters mountain– a stretch of a mountain range featuring four peaks, one of which is the glorious ‘older sister’.
The ride to Danba took around 8-10 hours, but the journey was a huge part of the experience. We wove in and on and through mountain peaks and valleys; passed many small Tibetan villages on the way, characterized by stone-stacked walls painted with Buddhist swastikas, conch shells, and the dark red cheeks of sunburnt and chill bitten denizens.
This was my first time out of the city. I drank in blue skies and the lush greenery; the rock formations of cliff sides floating precariously above us; the fresh, dizzying thin air in high altitudes. Much of China’s most stereotypical traits– as a nation, people, and country– stood out to me: the sheer scale of the mountains felt like a looming acceptance of fate, for who was I but a speck on this God-sized rock?; the opportunistic private 1 RMB restrooms for a family to make a buck on anyone’s bladders; dirt roads for miles lead to modern, paved roadways lined with silk flags for a breathtaking postcard picture. I remember driving through a dusty, deserted-looking town only to view on my left an incredible temple built on the side of a mountain/sheer cliff, facing a turquoise blue river.
The Four Sisters mountain is also quite impressive, the tallest of the Qionglai mountain range. The ‘bigger sister’ seems to glow in a permanent spotlight: while the ‘younger sister’ peaks are typical dark juts into the skyline, the largest peak shines on its own, the aggressive jag topped with snow reflecting the sunlight. When we started the hike from Rilong town, we were already at ~3000 meters above sea level. As someone who loves hiking, and regularly hikes when I’m home in Seattle, I didn’t expect it to be so difficult to climb a staircase– but the altitude is a real and formidable challenge. We didn’t hike *up any peak, but the base trail was peaceful, pleasant, and brought us to a beautiful viewpoint near the base of the mountain.
Tips before you visit:
- Don’t be shy and embarrassed by the altitude struggle. Buy canisters of oxygen at any outdoor outpost (there are several in more populous backpacking towns), and drink lots of water.
- Dress in layers, bring a hat. The sun is strong up there, but so is the wind.
- You’ll be stuck in a car for awhile, weaving through gorges, valleys, peaks, and tunnels. Don’t forget to look up: you might see a herd of cows or goats, precariously perched, grazing as you pass on by.
- Bring toilet paper. Also, most privately owned ‘rest stop’ toilets will cost 1 RMB.