Yubeng & The MeiLi Mountains

Nestled between Tibet & Sichuan province, a unique area of Northern Yunnan captured my attention as soon as I read about it.

The MeiLi mountains are part of the Hengduan range, a larger chain of mountains traversing along the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. And they are outrageous. Although it is illegal to summit the mountains in this range, there are some routes to explore on their flanks and down in the Yubeng valley.

In order to get to this area I travelled from Shangri-La, which can be flown directly to, or you can fly into Lijiang and get a car/bus. From Shangri-La it is possible to bus to Deqin and then another bus to Xidang. From Xidang you can walk or get a Jeep over to Yubeng valley.

It’s not easy to get to, day 1 will be completely for travelling to Upper Yubeng, however the route is spectacular…

Stop off en route with MeiLi itself in the background!

In Upper Yubeng there are plenty of guesthouses at low prices, but be warned: they are COLD. With only an electric blanket for warmth in the early February weather, these were some of the coldest nights of sleep I’ve ever had! However, Upper Yubeng is a delightful little spot; make sure you get a room with a window overlooking the valley, there are plenty of little spots for food and plenty of mules wandering the streets to keep it authentic.

Yubeng is just visible in the bottom of the valley!

There are two main routes; Ice Lake and Holy Waterfall. Typically hikers take the route up to the ice lake the first day and then hike down to Lower Yubeng and hike the holy waterfall. We decided to stay in Upper Yubeng and add a few extra kilometers just because Lower Yubeng is a little quieter and out of season (and during covid times!) it was very empty. Most guesthouses and restaurants were closed.

So, day 1 of hiking took us up to the ice lake. It snowed quite heavily this day, so we had some crampons ready just in case, however the guesthouses rentes out cleates that I think would have been easier and more appropriate for most of the hike. There was a fair amount of uphill through wooded areas, before breaking out to a steeper, snowy climb up to the lake itself. This slightly. more challenging section was quite short, the majority of the hike wasn’t too challenging in terms of terrain. The only challenge to be wary of is the elevation, which hits about 4500masl. I met one person who had a really bad time at this altitude, while I personally only found a shortness of breath. The effects seem to range quite a lot even at this altitude.

The ice lake itself was completely frozen at this time of year, which meant that with our crampons, we could venture across it to the remnanets of the glacier.

All in all, the route was about 18km and a lower-medium difficulty route, just be aware that the altitude may slow you down a bit. I had been nervous to hike it solo, but now I’ve been, I’d say anyone with a base level of hiking experience will be fine.

On day two we hike to the Holy waterfall, going through Lower Yubeng first.

Again, personally I felt the hike was not too difficult. This route is definitely shorter and less steep than the previous day. The weather closed in and it ended up very snowy again, however this led to some beautiful contrast up in the snow line with all the prayer flags!

On the final day, you walk another 12km or so out of the valley, along the Yubeng River, out to where it meets the Mekong. Once you hit the village, you can get a taxi back to where you started, or back to Xidang to get a bus. The route gets warmer teh further down you go, the path is easy and becomes quite scenic, as the gorge gets deeper.

Kitlist

  • Waterproof walking boots
  • Layers. Down jacket, mid layers, gloves, hats… the lot. In February, it was COLD.
  • Small backpack
  • Crampon or cleats, personally I would say cleats were better, the crampons had to come on and off, while the cleats could stay on most of the trek
  • Not essential, but I wished I had a down sleeping bag at points!

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