Sichuan province in China has been full of amazing treks that I had otherwise never heard of nor would have ever known existed.
It was all divulged to me when, at a youth hostel in a town between Chengdu and Lugu Lake, an enthusiastic hostel employee sat with me and told me every place she thought I should visit after I spoke a few words of Mandarin to her and she realized she’d be able to communicate with me. Showing me photos of each place on China’s version of Google, she then invited me to join her for the employee dinner, which was delicious and a great introduction to food in Sichuan province.
One of the areas she told me I must see is Siguniang Shan (Four Sisters Mountain), east of Chengdu in Sichuan province’s Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Yet another sacred hiking place a bit like Yubeng, it was poised to be a trek that most foreigners aren’t aware of and haven’t had the opportunity to see.
After blindly following a very wrong set of information online on how to get there, I went to the incorrect bus station (the West Bus Station) where the ticket sales lady gaped at me like I was completely insane, incredibly stupid, or perhaps both. An outside observer told me I needed to get to the Chadianzi station, which was a good 15 minutes away by taxi. I ended up finally making it at the last minute right as the bus was about to make the 8-hour journey. Most of the drive was bumpy and through some of the ugliest, most polluted mining towns I’ve ever seen.
Then, just as we crossed over the mountain, the sky became blue and the vistas so impressive that almost everyone in the bus crowded around the windows as the bus navigated the winding roads, clamoring for a photo opportunity.
After de-bussing (after the driver yelled “kuai yi dian!” (hurry up!) at us to get our bags and let him be on his way), I looked around the tiny town without much clue where to stay. I wandered until finding a particularly outgoing woman who ushered me into her guesthouse. At only $5 per night for my own room, it sounded pretty good to me. Even better, on a daily basis she took it upon herself to find hiking buddies for me so that I wouldn’t be alone, in addition to cooking some of the best lamb I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting.
Between her and the kind Tibetan woman who warmly chatted with me each morning about my day’s plans as I bought water and snacks, I felt right at home.
There are three valleys in the Siguniang Shan area, two of which give the hiker a great view of the peaks of the Four Sisters Mountain. I chose to hike Haizi Gou (海子沟), a valley known for having beautiful lakes and a great view of the mountains. Unfortunately, I never made it to the lakes as my hiking partners liked to take frequent and long breaks, but it was nice to have some company and I enjoyed the 10 or so km we made it in all the same.
The other I chose to hike was Shuangqiao Valley (双桥沟), which requires a minibus or public bus from Rilong Town to cover the 5 or so km to the entrance. This valley is a bit different as a bus runs through it, so it is possible to hop on and off the bus without ever having to walk. There is also the option to walk along the 30km mostly-flat boardwalk from the far end back to the entrance, or a portion of it, which is what I elected to do.
My guesthouse owner, ever the kind and sharp woman, found another guest with a motorbike who was also planning to go that day, so he took me along for free. It was perfect: we ended up walking the entire boardwalk back, and it gave me the opportunity to practice my Mandarin.
Do it Yourself:
- Getting there: First make sure that foreigners are allowed to visit Rilong in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It is not always allowed. Sometimes the way to find out is to show up to buy a bus ticket at which point you will get denied if foreigners are not allowed at the time
- Make your way to the Chadianzi Bus Station (which has a metro stop by the same name right next to it) and get on a bus bound for Xiaojin. At the time of this writing, they departed at 7am and 12-noon. De-bus at Rilong. Ask the attendant to let you know when you arrive (just say “Rilong” to him)
- Sleeping: Most guesthouses in the area are owned by locals who only speak Tibetan and Chinese. Knowing at least numbers or playing the hand signals game may be the best you can do
- When to go: Most guides suggest going in the autumn or late spring months. I visited at the end of March and encountered a lot of snow, but paid less because it was low season. Even snowy, I found it incredibly beautiful. I can imagine any season there has its own special beauty
- Walking: Each valley has its own entrance ticket. Prices vary in the high and low seasons, and females, for whatever reason, pay 10 RMB less for entrance to all three valleys. The most expensive but arguably most impressive of the three, is Shuangqiao Valley which requires a bus ticket as well
- Tickets: Each valley charges separately for tickets. Shuangqiao Gou (双桥沟) costs 80 for the bus (necessary) plus 80 for entrance during high season, 50 during off season. Haizi Gou (海子沟) is 60 during high season, 40 during off season, while Changping Gou (长坪沟) costs 20 to arrive by bus plus 70 for entrance during high season, 50 during low season. Women always pay 10 RMB less at each entrance. There is no student discount ticket. Off season runs Dec. 1 – March 30.
- There are no maps included with the ticket price, which is incredibly frustrating however common in China. Here is a link to one – print this before you go if possible
- The best way to see the entirety of the valleys is to do an overnight in Haizi and Changping Valley, which are 19.2 and 29 km, respectively, or to just hike a portion either on foot or via mule during the day and return to Rilong at night. One can take the bus all the way to the end of Shuangqiao Valley and walk the easy 30km boardwalk back, or catch a bus at one of 4 bus stops along the way