Mount Siguniang ("Four Maidens" mountain) - in fact, a chain of four contiunous mountains (hence the name) - is located about 220 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, near the boundaries to Qinghai and Gansu Provinces. The nearest town is Rilong. Mount Siguniang is a national nature reserve, contains a national geopark (due to its glaciers), and - as part of the Sichuan Giant Panda Habitat - is a World Natural Heritage Site.
Mount Siguniang is renowned throughout China as the place where 'all four seasons can be seen in a single day, and all are fit for traveling', though this applies mainly to the period late spring to early autumn, if not to summer alone. But Mount Siguniang is worth visiting year around, though the wintery season (late fall to early spring) offers fewer all-around activities, since the inclement weather does not permit it. Autumn offers fiery views of deciduous trees changing colors, and for those who enjoy wintery weather, including alpine hiking during the winter, the area is of course a major attraction, being known as the 'Alps of China' (more on the area's mountaineering in the following).
Legend has it that the four mountains which together comprise Mount Siguniang are the embodiment of four maidens. The main peak, at an altitude of 6250 meters, is located on Fourth Maiden Mountain, which is the second-highest mountain in Sichuan Province. Second Maiden Mountain, Third Maiden Mountain and Elder Maiden Mountain lie at an altitude of 5454 meters, 5664 meters and 5355 meters, respectively. All four of the mountains are snow-capped year around. They offer relatively steep peaks which are challenging to climb, but not dishearteningly so, albeit, it is said that the main peak, on Fourth Maiden Mountain, was only scaled in recent times.
There are three main tourist sites at Mount Siguniang, corresponding to three valleys, covering an area of 450 square kilometers in all: Shuangqiao Valley, Changping Valley, and Haizi Valley. A fuller description of each of these valleys follows (a fourth nearby valley, not strictly belonging to the Mount Siguniang scenic area, is nevertheless included below).
Hiking Along Siguniang Mountain
Known as the Alps of the East, Siguniang Mountain (Four Girls Mountain) is located in Rilong Village between Xiaojin County and Wenchuan County in Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province, 235 kilometers from Chengdu. It consists of four continuous mountains with the elevation of 5,672 meters, 6,250 meters, 5,664 meters and 5,700 meters respectively. Its peak is covered with snow and ice throughout the year. The hiking route covers Rilong County, Changping Village, Yakou County, Bipenggou scenic spot and Li County. This hiking route perfectly combines Mt. Siguniang and Bipenggou scenic spot which boast excellent natural beauty. However, only people who have good physical strength and the courage to face snow mountains can manage to finish the hiking route. During the trip, cane, sunglasses and climbing rope are necessary.
Route: Rilong County(日隆镇)-Changping Village(长坪沟口)-Yakou County(垭口)- Bipenggou scenic spot(毕棚沟)-Li County(理县)
Time: 3 days
Best time to visit: May, June, September and October
Entry Fee: 70 yuan from April to November; 50 yuan for other months
Transport: Take No. 4, 75, 82 or 86 bus from Chadianzi stop in Chengdu.
Shuangqiao Valley is the only of the three valleys that is sufficiently developed so as not to require a horse in order to access all of the scenic sites within the valley, including the most remote sites. There are roads leading to all of the tourist sites in Shuangqiao Valley, with buses that serve these routes. Shuangqiao Valley is famous for fantastic views of the snow peaked Siguniang mountains, just as it is famous for its rich farm land, its verdant grasslands, and its deep forests. Shuangqiao Valley is considered to be the most beautiful of the three valleys of Mount Siguniang.
Shuangqiao Valley lies 7 kilometers from the town of Rilong. The length of the valley runs roughly 35 kilometers, spanning an area of circa 215 square kilometers. Though buses serve all of the tourist destinations in the valley, some short walks on foot are required in order to reach the site, as complete vehicle access to the sites would not only be costly, it would also spoil the surrounding natural landscape. The result is that with some of the sites, some walking is required, and in certain areas, the terrain makes walking quite demanding, so only those fit for the rigors of hiking through difficult terrain should attempt to access the most demanding sites. Fortunately, most of the sites at Shuangqiao Valley are not difficult to access on foot. The very best site at Shuangqiao Valley is Nianyuba Path. It combines beauty and grace - and a bit of the spectacular.
Shuangqiao Valley's scenic area is divided into 3 sections, comprising some 20 individual scenic sites. Visitors can see dozens of snowy peaks here with an altitudes of over 4000 meters.
1) The front section includes Yangliu Bridge, Yin-Yang Valley, White Poplar Forest, Baojing Hill, and Colorful Hill.
2) The middle section comprises Nianyuba Path, including Renshengguo Ground, Sea Buckthorn Forest, Jianshan Hill, and Jiujia Sea.
3) The back section is mainly famous for its Niupengzi Grasslands as well as Changhe Beach, but it also includes less notable sites such as Api Peak, Hunter Peak, Blood Wall, and Changhe Dam. The ancient, time-worn cliffs of Api Peak, Hunter Peak and Golden Chicken Peak are natural wonders, as is Eagle's Beak Cave. Colorful Hill, Wangyue Peak and Shexin Caveare worth a visit too. Some of Mount Siguniang's prime mountaineering peaks are best accessed from Shuangqiao Valley.
The admission fee for access to Shuangqiao Valley is 40 Yuan. The price of the round-trip bus ticket to the valley is 60 Yuan per person. An introduction to the various scenic sites of Shuangqiao Valley is shown via closed-circuit TV enroute in the tour bus (it takes about 3 hours to travel to the valley by bus). The tour bus stops at certain fixed scenic sites (see below), so that visitors can view the sites, and of course take pictures. The rest period at each such scenic site is usually between ½ to 1 hour.
Generally, visitors spend a half to a whole day visiting Shuangqiao Valley. Previously, access to Shuangqiao Valley was restricted due to a lack of roads, meaning that visiting times were considerably longer. Unfortunately, the new access roads have come at a price, as they have ruined some of the charm of the valley (every human venture seems to involve a trade-off of sorts!). Shuangqiao Valley is still considered the most picturesque of the three valleys, though those persons who were familiar with the valley before the new access roads were constructed feel that Shuangqiao Valley may no longer be as attractive as either of the other two valleys, where travel is by horse.
Since some visitors simply cannot take advantage of a visit to the area if the only option is transportation by horse, it was deemed justifiable to develop one of the valleys so as to include visitors who may be less mobile.
After visiting Shuangqiao Valley, visitors can proceed to the city of Danba by bus. The distance to Danba is about 100 kilometers, or about a 2-hour drive, since the condition of this new road is comparatively good. Another 20 kilometers beyond Danba lies the Jiajinshan Scenic Area.
Changping Valley stretches for some 30 kilometers, spanning an area of 100 square kilometers or so. Mountain Siguniang lies about 16 kilometers from Changping Valley. Only certain sections of this main road can be driven, meaning that access to a number of the sites within Changping Valley is by horse or by foot (distant sites are of course only accessible by horse). One can reach the foot of Mount Siguniang via Changping Valley.
There is much unspoiled nature here: old paths, lamaseries (Tibetan-Buddhist monasteries), Ganhaizi Pond, waterfalls, and uniquely-shaped stones. In spring, many kinds of wild flowers, as well as rape fields, are in blossom; in fall, the fiery red leaves of birch and maple trees blanket the whole valley. Lush green pine trees abound here as well, old paths crisscross the valley, and the occasional waterfall disturbs the otherwise idyllic tranquility of the valley with its crashing sounds, which increase as one approaches.
Visitors can easily arrive at Kushu Beach. As steps are inlaid in the most difficult stretches, the paths around Kushu Beach are easily navigated, at least to the most common sites. However, if one wishes to proceed beyond the well-established paths, access is by horse only. It costs 50 Yuan to ride a horse at this section. In truth, the most beautiful, most pristine parts of the valley around Kushu Beach lie beyond the "beaten path", so it is recommended that one indeed take the journey by horse. Near the foot of Mount Siguniang there is the option of spending the night with the local inhabitants, where the tradition is to barbecue a goat on an open spit.
Generally, what visitors seem to like most about Changping Valley is the opportunity of experiencing nature close-up that is only afforded by non-motorized travel such as by horse, a mode of travel that offers an immediacy that cannot be compared to sitting in a tour bus. There is no better way to experience the quiet of a primitive forest, or the view of the snow-capped mountain peaks towering above than by horseback. The experience also seems to unite people - even disparate types - in a shared purpose, and the fresh air and the general bombardment of the senses with new sights and sounds makes for incomparably restful sleep.
It generally takes two days of sightseeing travel to traverse Changping Valley; one day if you can match the stamina of General George Armstrong Custer (of the "Battle of the Little Bighorn" fame/ infamy), whose nickname among ordinary Union Army cavalrymen was "Old Hard Ass", a reference to the fact that General Custer could stay in the saddle for inhumanly long hours. There are no dining facilities in Changping Valley, nor any stores, kiosks, etc., where one can pick up some grub. Bring instead a generous supply of bottled water and some salted eggs, cured ham, yak meat, etc., which you can find in the city of Rilong (your hotel will also be willing to prepare a picnic basket for you at a reasonable price).
If you take the horseback trip to the foot of the mountain, you can of course dine on roasted goat and share in whatever libations the locals partake of... in contrast to General Custer's reception at the Little Bighorn River, the locals in Changping Valley are not hostile!
Some famous sites and their respective travel times at Changping Valley are as follows (Note: these are listed in a Tour de France manner, i.e., each represents a "from-to" leg on the journey):
From Rilong To Lamasery: Surprise! Surprise!! You can get there in minutes by bus!!!
From Lamasery To Kushu Beach: 2 hrs by horse (considerably longer by your own legs :) ).
From Kushu Beach To Dragon Cave: ½ hr by horse/ Cumulative: 2½ hrs.*
From Dragon Cave To Sea Buckthorn Forest: ½ hr by horse/ Cumulative: 3 hrs.*
From Sea Buckthorn Forest To Xiagan/Shanggan Haizi Pond: 1½ hrs by horse/ Cumulative: 4½ hrs.*
From Xiagan/Shanggan Haizi Pond To Lianghekou: 1½ hrs by horse/ Cumulative: 6 hrs.*
From Lianghekou To Muluozi: 1½ hrs by horse/ Cumulative: 7½ hrs.*
From Muluozi To Willow Dam: 1½ hrs by horse/ Cumulative: 9 hrs.*
From Willow Dam To Crown Cave: 1½ hrs by horse/ Cumulative: 10½ hrs.*
From Crown Cave To Shibaopeng: 1½ hrs by horse/ Cumulative: 12 hrs.*
From Shibaopeng To Leigu Stone: 1½ hrs by horse/ Cumulative: 13½ hrs.*
From Leigu Stone To Kazi Valley: 1½ hrs by horse/ Cumulative: 15 hrs.*
* Not counting the first-leg bus trip, as that would be cheating... and of course, these are only the travel times - the time spent in sightseeing/ stretching one's legs is extra.
Visitors can buy a ticket to ride a horse at Lamasery ("ride" in the sense of transportation, not in the usual "horseback riding" sense). One gets the horse that is automatically assigned to the ticket number. Generally, visitors may not choose the horse themselves, though an effort is made to accomodate children, the completely inexperienced, and those with special needs (most of the horses are gentle, if not indolent, and know their routine as well as a racehorse at the Kentucky Derby).
Besides the complete tour listed above, there are three shorter tours:
From Lamasery To Erdao Ground - Price: 50 Yuan.
From Lamasery To Xiagan/Shanggan Haizi Pond - Price: 100 Yuan.
From Lamasery To Lianghekou - Price: 150 Yuan.
If visitors want to go farther, they can bargain with the grooms. Generally, visitors pay between 50-100 Yuan to ride farther, depending on how much farther one desires to ride (note that the price includes a guide, namely, the horse's owner acts as a guide).
Haizi Valley is about 20 kilometers in length, and spans an area of some 125 square kilometers. There are over 10 pond in the valley, whose waters are very clear. It is charming to see reflections of the blue skies dotted with white clouds, as well as reflections of the surrounding hills and peaks, in the ponds. There are pre-historic fishes without scales still living in these ponds.
The scenery in Haizi Valley is quite different than that at Shuangqiao Valley or Changping Valley. The front part of the valley consists mainly of a large grasslands. It is the best place from which to view the sights at Mount Siguniang, meaning, of course, that it is also the best vantage point from which to take pictures of the mountain. On every May 5th of the lunar calendar, Tibetan people assemble in Haizi Valley to hold a grand ceremony of pilgrimage to Mount Siguniang.
The front part of Haizi Valley features a number of charming ponds, albeit, some of them lie at an altitude of 4200 meters, meaning that they are rather difficult to reach.
Visitors are consigned to either walk on foot or ride a horse in this valley (longer journeys by foot would be very time-consuming, however, and since eateries, grocery stores, kiosks, etc., are not available, this would be a daunting and thus little-recommended venture). Visitors can best enjoy the true beauty of Haizi Valley if they camp at least one night in the valley (a one-day full trip - there are shorter options listed below - would not be possible, even by horse).
The general admission fee to Haizi Valley is 40 Yuan per person.
As with Changping Valley, it generally takes two days of sightseeing travel to traverse Haizi Valley; one day if you can match the stamina of General George Armstrong Custer :). Neither are there any dining facilities in Haizi Valley, nor any stores, kiosks, etc., where one can pick up some grub. The advice above applies here as well: bring along a generous supply of bottled water and either a picnic basket from your hotel or some cold cuts, salted eggs, etc. from the shops in Rilong.
Some famous sites and their respective travel times at Haizi Valley are as follows (Note: these are listed in the same manner as above, i.e., each represents a "from-to" leg on the journey):
From Haizi Valley To Guozhuang Ground: 40 minutes by horse.
From Guozhuang Ground To Chaoshan Ground: 20 minutes by horse/ Cumulative: 1 hr.
From Chaoshan Ground To Dajianbao: 2 hrs. by horse/ Cumulative: 3 hrs.
From Haizi Valley To Dahaizi Pond: 4 hrs. by horse/ Cumulative: 7 hrs.
From Dahaizi Valley To Huahaizi Pond: 30 minutes by horse/ Cumulative: 7½ hrs.
From Huahaizi Pond To the Glacier (deepest place): 4 hrs. by horse/ Cumulative: 11½ hrs.
From Haizi Valley To Laoniu Courtyard: 4 hrs. by horse/ Cumulative: 15½ hrs.
Note: Laoniu Courtyard is the base camp for mountaineers, mainly Japanese mountaineers (there is a section below for those interested in climbing the mountain).
Visitors can buy the ticket at Haizi Valley. The same caveats apply to horse rental here as in the above. Also as in the above, besides the complete tour, there are three shorter tours (note that the price, as above, includes a guide, namely, the horse's owner acts as a guide):
From Haizi Valley to Guozhuang Ground or to Changshao Ground - Price: 50 Yuan per person.
From Haizi Valley to Laoniu Courtyard - Price: 100 Yuan per person.
From Haizi Valley to Dahaizi Pond, or to Huahaizi Pond - Price: 150 Yuan per person.
Note also that if visitors wish to go farther, the same additional prices as above apply.
Haizi Valley is a thoroughfare for mountaineers wishing to climb Mount Siguniang. Generally, mountaineers first enter Haizi Valley, then walk or ride a horse to Camp No. 1, which is the base camp. They then begin the ascent up the mountain, the first peak being Grand Peak, at 5355 meters. There are four peaks, their successive, prosaic titles being Second Peak, Third Peak, and Fourth Peak (5454 meters, 5664 meters, and 7556 meters, respectively).
Most climbers succeed in scaling Grand Peak - even septuagenarians! Once a handicapped man from Korea managed to scale Grand Peak. Fewer manage to scale the other peaks - increasingly so the higher the peak, of course - with only a very few who even attempt to scale Fourth Peak. The high altitude of Fourth Peak is synonymous with cold temperatures and low oxygen content in the air, which puts severe strains on the body. In addition, the higher the peak, the greater the fluctuation in the weather pattern, if, indeed, one can even speak of a weather pattern on high mountain peaks. Only experienced mountaineers should attempt to scale Fourth Peak.
Climber groups may choose their own sites near the base camp, Camp No. 1. It takes about 3 hours to climb from Camp No. 1 to Camp No. 2, and another 4 hours to reach Grand Peak from Camp No. 2. The climbs up the other peaks are increasingly more daunting, both with respect to time and effort, of course. However, if you have never tried climbing a mountain and would like to test your mettle, Grand Peak is not a bad place to start. You must of course come prepared, and you are advised to come with friends if this is your first venture as a mountaineer.
Bipeng Valley doesn't strictly belong to the Mount Siguniang scenic area, but we include it here nonetheless, since it is close by. The pristine ecological area of Bipeng Valley is located within the larger Suoluo Valley area of Lixian County. The nearest town is Putou, which is about 20 kilometers away. Bipeng Valley extends for about 45 kilometers, its width measures only about 4 kilometers, making it a narrow valley of about 180 square kilometers. The valley's altitude ranges between 2400-4500 meters.
To the south, Bipeng Valley links up with Changping Valley, which is why it is natural to include the valley in the Mount Siguniang scenic area. Bipeng Valley is close to the famous Lingquan Spring at Gu'er Valley, which lies northeast of Bipeng Valley. Visitors to the valley can observe nearby Mount Siguniang, though the other valleys offer a more close-up view. One advantage of Bipeng Valley is that it lends itself to exploration on foot - the terrain is not treacherous - though a horse is necessary to cover greater distances. Bipeng Valley is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to the other three valleys, thanks in no small part to the valley's pristine nature.
It takes 3-4 days to get through the valley even on horseback, since one is naturally interested in spending time at certain particularly beautiful landscapes, which include pristine forests, streams, and waterfalls. On the mountains above are glaceirs. In summer the valley floor is ablaze with blossoming flowers, including azaleas. In autumn, the deciduous forests are transformed into a sea of fiery reds and yellows which, when viewed with the snow-capped mountains rising above the treetops in the distance, is picture-postcard pretty.
Mount Siguniang's Climate Pattern
The area on Mount Siguniang belongs to the interim zone between a typical subtropical monsoon climate and a typical continental plateau climate, with a slight emphasis on the latter, which ensures that the mountain remains relatively cool in summer, even though the temperature in the valleys in the midday heat is considerably higher than on the mountain. The area enjoys the usual four distinct seasons. Since the valleys around Mount Siguniang are at a relatively high altitude, they escape from the intense heat that characterizes lower-altitude valleys, even though precipitation in the valleys is surprisingly low. The rainy season is in May, with only infrequent precipitation thereafter.
The most striking feature of the area is the marked difference in daytime versus nighttime temperatures, which temperature spread can measure 20 degrees. For this reason, it is advisable to bring layered clothing, so that one is prepared for chilly mornings and evenings. A hat is an absolute must in this area; due to the high elevation and the pure, almost particle-free air, the sun's rays at midday are merciless. The area is in fact characterized by abundant sunshine.
Mount Siguniang's Food & Medicine Specialties
The local populace commonly eat dishes made of the fruit of the sea buckthorn plant, as well as yak meat. Yak meat is a specialty of the western Sichuan/ Tibetan area. The flesh of the yak is famous for its high protein content, yet it is one of the most lean, low-fat meats on the planet. Besides preparing yak meat fresh, it is also dried. The bittern, a kind of marsh fowl of the heron family, is also eaten here.
The Chinese caterpillar fungus, as a herb, is consumed for its medicinal effects. As an ancient treasure of traditional Chinese medicine, caterpillar fungus has the effect of strengthening one's immune system, it is believed. Chinese snow lotus is another plant that figures in ancient Chinese medicine and is abundant here. Its beneficial effects are said to consist of helping to expand the veins and arteries, and to help flush out the kidneys.
Mount Siguniang's Local Cuisine
Firstly, due to certain logistical reasons, commercial restaurant activities in the area around Mount Siguniang are restricted to the summer period. Summer is also the period when local produce is in most abundance, and it also corresponds to the period when the bulk of the tourists arrive. In winter, almost all commercial restaurant fare would have to be imported from outside the area, making it very expensive. Since the number of winter visitors is minimal, this also means that prices would be even higher (i.e., there is no economy of scale), therefore no commercial restaurants currently operate in the valleys around Mount Siguniang during the winter. Winter visitors have the option of bringing a lunch prepared at their respective hotels, or of bringing foodstuffs purchased in Rilong, where one can readily find salted eggs, cured ham, yak meat (cooked or air dried), canned food, pre-cooked noodles - and of course bottled water.