- Hiring a guide is a must. Especially for the black lake hike. We saw no a signposts in sight and there are infinitely many routes in the area. Talk to them to find the right one for you. Don't overexert or be overly ambitious.
- High risk of altitude sickness. Prior to the hike, I stayed near Lijiang for 3 nights, hiked the Tiger Leaping Gorge, stayed there for 2 nights and stayed at Haba for another night, so I got plenty of time to acclimatize, but still got altitude sickness during this hike. It wasn't severe, but it got worse as I got higher and I eventually had to stop. I have crossed a pass in Nepal Himalaya and experienced no signs of altitude sickness then. The altitude gain at Haba is not to be underestimated.
We hired a local guide for a day hike to the black lake through Haba hostel. The arrangement was made upon our arrival, just the day before the hike, but the owner managed to find a guide in time and helped prepared packed lunch for us as well (if you plan to do this, tell to put only 1 bread for each person. We got two each. It was too much and heavy to carry too). It was probably because we were the only the guests and business seemed slow. Not sure if this would work in high season. We got a feeling that the first guide she found came to greet us (someone came to talk to us during dinner and just disappeared), but was shocked to find that we did not understand Mandarin and probably declined. Our actual guide was the hotel owner's younger brother, who also speaks no English, but we were able to communicate with sign language and some basic Mandarin. He was very very patient, polite and generally sweet.
I was a bit worried when I heard about the 10-hour duration of this black lake day-hike, but decided to give it a go. We walked through a local road passed many local houses and farmlands, through a forest and across a stream to the actual trailhead. There was absolutely no way, we could have navigated that without a guide. Apart from some locals that we passed by at the beginning of the trail, there was absolutely no one else. Less than an hour into the hike, we saw great views of Yulong Snow Mountain, rice terraces and Meili Snow mountain. A bit further up the trail, we were shocked to see so much deforestation in the mountains, stubs everywhere. SAD. Our guide looked shocked and saddened too. We wanted to talk to him about this so much, but due to our very limited Mandarin, we couldn't really say anything. We noticed that deforestation seemed to be around wooden huts that are probably used for tourists during the peak season, but that's just so wrong. If half the forest is gone, what's the point of hiking. I'd rather stay at home and read, if it means people won't cut tree to make a hut for me to stay or have tea when I hike.
3- hours into the hike, we reached a flat field with an amazing panoramic alpine view. After that, the trail became very very steep and narrow. I stated to have altitude sickness a bit after this, so beware. There started to be more snow on the ground as we climbed further until I stopped and did not go further, because of my altitude sickness and the thick snow (I had a traumatic experience in Nepal and cannot walk on a steep trail with thick snow.). My boyfriend continued with the guide to the black lake while I waited in the wood. The lake was not frozen then. Even though, the path leading to it had up to knee-length of snow. Do not expect green grass unless you come during summer. I should have know that, I guess. Being from the tropic makes me an idiot when it comes to seasons.
My boyfriend twisted his ankle and had to hike back at a snail pace, so in the end it took us almost 12 hours. It was both strenuous and challenging, so unless you are very familiar with alpine hiking, don't attempt this. You can stop at the flat plain 3 hours after the trailhead and make it a nice 5-hour day hike without too much altitude gain, very steep trail or thick snow, but even then, it's still a serious hike.
* Many reviews here are about Yulong Snow mountain near Lijiang and not about Haba mountain. There are no cable cars here.
** The view from TLG to Haba was out of this world, so was the one from Haba to Shangri La, so even with no intention to hike, I'd still advise you to take this route from Lijiang to Shangri La.
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