Haba Snow Mountain

Written by Vivian Updated Jun. 11, 2021

Haba Xue Shan ("Haba Snow Mountain"), one of a number of "snow" mountains in Diqing Prefecture, lies about 120 kilometers southeast of Shangri-la in the northwest corner of Yunnan Province. Haba (meaning "golden flower" in the language of the indigenous Naxi people, to whom the mountain is sacred) Snow Mountain faces Yu Long Xue Shan ("Jade Dragon Snow Mountain") across the famous gorge, Hu Tiao Xia ("Tiger Leaping Gorge"). At the bottom of Tiger Leaping Gorge snakes the even more famous Chang Jiang, or Yangtze River, known here in its upper reaches as the Jin Sha Jiang ("Golden Sand River").

Due to its sizeable height, Haba Snow Mountain exhibits a typical, multi-layered alpine climate: a subtropical climate at the mountain's base, a temperate climate farther up, then a transitional temperate-frigid climate, and finally, a frigid climate that is snow-blanketed year-round. The temperature difference between the mountain's base and its summit on any given day is 23 degrees centigrade (41 degrees Fahrenheit), circa. To each of the mountain's climate zones belongs a distinct ecology, from a tree-and-underbrush studded sub-tropical flora and fauna zone at the mountain's base to a treeless tundra zone characterized by low, sparse shrub at the mountain's top. The warmer the mountainside climate, the greater the variety – and numbers – of animals that it can nourish. Due to the high vegetation density of the sub-tropical to temperate zones on Haba Snow Mountain, a great number of animals, many rare, thrive here, including over 25 threatened species.

As to the mountain's flora, of the 13,000 species of plants known to exist in Yunnan Province (known as China's "Kingdom of Plants"), about half of them can be found here. The mountain's primeval forest serves as an invaluable scientific research laboratory, as it were, being the natural habitat of more than 900 varieties of rare medicinal plant species, not to speak of over 50 kinds of azaleas, i.e., shrubs belonging to the blossom-rich rhododendron family.

Haba Snow Mountain's highest – but nameless – peak attains a height of some 5400 meters above sea level and is covered with snow and ice year-round. Surrounding the main peak are four smaller peaks, also nameless (perhaps a mountain's peaks are given names only if they attain very high heights... the peaks of Haba Snow Mountain – though climbing them is no Sunday afternoon stroll in the park – are considered of "teething" height among dedicated mountaineers). The weather on the mountain below the tundra zone changes paradigm with the seasons, but it can change the mood within hours, especially on the higher slopes, suddenly becoming chilly as cloud and mist descend, or becoming warm and bright as cloud and mist are chased away by the sun, while both phenomena are a wonder to behold from a warm vantage point in the valleys below.

At a height of 4700 meters, circa, gigantic icicles begin to form on the underside of overhanging rocks. It is also at this altitude up the slopes of Haba– and Yu Long Snow Mountains that one finds glaciers. The glaciers in this part of China are the country's lowest-latitude glaciers, which perhaps also explains why they are melting so rapidly, given the changing global climate. The many odd landscape features of these two mountains, not to speak of the deep gorge which separates them – are believed to be the footprints of much larger former glaciers that have melted, carrying soil, gravel, trees, and even large boulders in their runoff waters as they eroded away those parts of the surrounding landscape that could thus be dislodged.

The runoff waters from these former glaciers (and to some extent, from the glaciers that remain) formed a number of lakes farther below, at an altitude of 4000 meters, circa. Black Lake, whose name is derived from its almost black-ink appearance, is the most famous such lake. Its unusual appearance notwithstanding, Black Lake exhibits the usual four distinct seasons. Still, it is a mysterious lake, with some strange legends attached to it. For example, it is believed that sustained screaming at the lake's edge can provoke massive downpours. One of the creatures that thrive in waters with low visibility, salamanders, grow to gigantic proportions in Black Lake. When the temperature range is appropriate, giant salamanders amass in the lake's shallower places, adding to the eerieness of this dark lake.

In addition to the many other noteworthy attractions that the mountain offers, Haba Snow Mountian presents the visitor with a variety of waterfall types. Some are mere thread-like trickles that spill over overhanging parts of the mountainside while others are raging troughs of water that crash into pools below with the roar of thunder. Still, others are broadsheets of water that make a sheer drop, then cascade over layer after layer of stone below. For example, Jinshan Cascade is born of a strong current and has a height of some 40 meters. It shoots over the edge of a cliff, producing a curtain of mist that reflects a magnificent rainbow when it catches the sunlight. And Dadiaoshui Cascade, a seasonal waterfall some 200 meters in height, lies just above the snow line at its origin. It is born of the melting snow that recurs each year from April through September, as the summer heat warms up the outer layers of snow and ice on the mountain's peak. The combination of cascades and cloud cover, or mists, that form a ring around the mountain near the origin of these cascades, giving the impression that this nebulous ring is liquifying as it comes in contact with the mountain face, is a priceless sight to behold.

How to Get There?

From Shangri-la, the county seat and the primary regional transportation hub that lies some 120 kilometers away, there is an excellent road that leads to Haba Snow Mountain. The usual form of transportation is a rented vehicle, of which there is a large variety available. With a bit of flexibility, one can easily arrange to share the ride with other tourists enroute to the mountain, thereby lowering the per-passenger price of the round-trip fare.

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