The routes around Mt Gongga Shan (7556m), the highest mountain in Sichuan, form arguably the most spectacular trekking area in western Sichuan. There are a number of different trekking routes; most are five to six day circuits and each trekking agency will have their own preferred routes. In all cases though expect a hard, cold trek in a region with highly changeable weather. Most treks start of Kangding with a full day's drive to the chosen trailhead.
Need to know
• You will ascend to heights of around 5000m so must acclimatise well before setting out.
• The trekking season is May to October. The start and end of this period is colder but quieter. July and August sees more people hitting the trails but monsoon clouds can hide the great peak for days on end. Our pick would be late September or early October.
• Bring quality equipment, including a good sleeping bag and warm clothing.
• Never attempt to trek here without an experienced guide. Foreigners have died trying.
Hiking Gongkar Tso
There's a memorable day hike from the Yulonsi Valley to a beautiful mountain lake and some lofty vantage points high above that's worth considering if you don't have time to do a full circuit of Gongga Shan. On still, clear days the mountains are beautifully reflected in the lake water.
The trail starts from the first collection of solid stone houses that you reach in the valley (when coming in from the north over the Yahaya Pass). Cross over the bridge, turn right and walk to the last farmhouse at the end of this side valley. A clear and obvious trail heads uphill to the start of the valley to the right of the farmhouse. Keep to the right-hand side of the stream. After 45 minutes you'll clamber up onto a grassy ridge and be greeted with a breathtaking view over the snowy peaks to the east.
The trail turns sharp left (west) and heads laboriously upwards. Soon all the trees and shrubs fade away to be replaced with heathers and scree slopes. The trail now ambles in a more gentle fashion to a bowl between two mountain peaks and a small lake (4600m). It's a two hour walk from the farmhouse to this lake. If you still have energy left (and some oxygen in your lungs!) then you can follow a trail up beyond the lake to a low crest marked with prayer flags. From here you can head up to the summit of a ridge on your right (north). It's a short, steep and breathless climb to the top but from this lofty 4810m viewpoint you're rewarded with a magnificent vista of rolling grassland peaks and the ice walls of the enormous Gongga massif. Retrace your steps back down to the village. Allow four to five hours for the entire walk.