Trek the Complete Yading Holy Kora

Chonggu Monastery , Ganzi Zangzuzizhizhou, China

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:


  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    46.6 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    10498.7 Feet


Complete the sacred Tibetan kora around three holy peaks, glacial lakes, at least one stunning pass each day, and some of the best remote camping in China. All above 4000m.

Day 1

Start from bus drop off in the park, walk 500m up the road to Chonggu Monastery (冲古寺). Once you reach the monastery keep heading up and start walking on the road where the little carts are taking tourists up to the Luorong Pasture (洛绒牛场). This walk is unpleasant as technically it is only for carts, but after about 500m or so from where they are picking up tourists the path will branch off on the left into the forest. It is important to take the correct one. There is a fairly obvious path that takes off to the left in a dip in the road soon before the real one, the real one is a few minutes down the road from it on the left and is marked by a small Chinese character stone marker saying the path is dangerous. Ahead of you is a small grass clearing on the left side of the road. If you pass this and reach the picnic tables you've gone too far. About 500m up/in the forest the real path will cross a small wooden bridge. This starting elevation is at 4030m and GPS coordinates approximately N 28º25.6855 E 100º21.9074'

From there the path is quite straight forward and follows the forest up through the tree line until it opens up into a wide, rocky basin valley which leads to the first pass. A good place to stop and have lunch is Bayu Pasture, a small pasture with some run down stone huts near the stream crossing with great views on a clear day, elv. 4536m.

From here it's about another 5km up to the pass and the elevation gain is much more gentle. There are camping sites below it in the field near the stream or after it once you cross over and descend. The pass is about 4800m.

Alternatively, you can deviate from the main path near the lunch site, not crossing the stream and keeping to the true right and follow it up to a lake at its source and camp at around 4760m. The next day you can either come down and rejoin the main path or take a 5040m pass to cross over and rejoin the path after a few hours.

If going to the lake, the first day is 8.19km, ~4hrs. 

Day 2

Head over the pass and down the long sweeping valley following the true left of the stream where a clear trail and cairns mark the way. Follow the valley past a congregation of stone yak herding huts and continue on the left side in a downward direction. Depending on where you started that morning, after about 10.5km and after a large drop off and waterfall on the right, the path will cross the stream on a wooden bridge and head right up the next valley.

At this point the correct trail is slightly unclear, but once you take the rise after the wooden bridge walk to the small cairn on top of the hill. There appears to be two paths from here, both heading towards the forested ridge, one higher one lower. Take the slightly lower one and follow it into the forest, where there will appear many horse and yak tracks in the mud and a white flag on top the ridge. The trail then continues for another 6km or so through beautiful mossy pine forest, eventually lowering down to the river valley to the plains at the foot of Mt. Chenadorje where there are plenty of amazing camping spots. This camping spot is at around 4100m, total distance for the day 15.5km.

Day 3

From the river valley head towards the base of Chenadorje and cut left, as the path ascends into the forest. The 1st pass is fairly gentle and rolling after a steep ascent through the forest, topping out at 4426m, 2.3km in. After this, descend from the cairns 100m or so, just past the first hut and brush cattle pen. Here the trail splits, one continuing down the valley and the correct one continuing less obviously sharply to the right, cutting up between a large spur and a high ridge. If you descend past the last hut you've gone too far down.

From here it is a steep ascent to the second pass of the day, at 4535m. After this hang a sharp right clinging to the slope following the trail and cairns slowly downward. The third pass should soon appear in front of you at the end of the valley. From the valley floor it is a steep ascent to the top (4759m) with incredible views and prayer flags.

From the third pass, descend back into the wide valley though large masses of rock, eventually crossing multiple large scree fields. Eventually, before one of the scree fields there will be a large stupa with prayer flags - this marks the traditional middle of the Kora. Keep following the scree until the last ascent, a steep path leading up into a notch between two impassible cliffs (one above, one below). This last pass is 4435m and afterwards it is no more than a 30min descent down into a large "amphitheater" of flat grassy meadow with towering cliffs on all sides above. This makes a spectacular camping spot at 4267m. Total distance for the day 17.6km and about 1050m gained and 1030m lost in total for around a 7 hour day. You have the option of breaking this day up into two by camping near the start of the third pass.

Day 4

From the Amphitheater head up, curving south on the face of the wall, following the path crossing many large scree fields. The ascent and wall ends after 5.5km at a 4776m pass where you make a u-turn around the rock wall and head back north through a barren and stunning valley. The scree feels long.

After about 4km you reach Rock's Rock: the famous site where explorer Joseph Rock once camped and proclaimed the rock a rest stop for travelers. The rock is hard to miss as it is right of the trail in a small green bowl meadow, with a small lake and final pass of the day just above it. The rock's large overhang makes it a good rest/lunch stop and shelter from the weather.

After Rock's Rock it's a few hundred meters gain up the final ascent of the day where you are rewarded with stunning views of Wisdom Lake below, the campsite for the day. We camped on a small knoll near the run off of the lake on the north side above the prayer flags at 4550m. Local headers may ask for money for a camping fee but they are opportunists and we ignored them and they left us alone.

Total distance for the day is 13.5km, 768m elevation gain total, about a 6hr day. In good weather some of the best views on the whole route.

Day 5

Last day, unless you want to make a side trip to see and camp by the popular Milk and Five Color Lakes which are 4km away. From Wisdom Lake follow the path up the other side of the lake and down again into the valley which follows along the backside of Chenresig and back again over the final pass at 4800m down to the Pearl Lake and back down to Chongu Monastery. This is a little over a 20km day.

Other Info:

  • You will need to buy a park entry ticket, around $40 USD, keep it with you at all times during the hike.
  • The best weather is in the fall, Sept. through early Nov.
  • Good area info here.
  • Good satellite maps and alternative route instructions on this blog.
  • Other, easier hikes in the area include the hike to Milk and Five Color Lake and small kora. You can see both of these doing the complete kora, however.
  • Be prepared, look at Google Maps, and know the route on your own before you go. This route can be done from anywhere to 4-7 days depending on fitness level and haste, and even though there is a trail, there is no help or signs out there once you begin. Adjust to the altitude before you start.

Pack List

  • Backpacking gear for potentially harsh weather and high altitude conditions.
  • Food for at least one extra day.
  • Diamox
  • 1-2L water capacity
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen
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Great post Kyle. Brings back fond memories. I have done the trek 4 times now (I think Michael Woodhead has also done it 2 or 3 times). Definitely one of the most spectacular routes in western China. One thing I would say is that trekking the route independently could be quite dangerous. If the weather is bad - which it can be at any time - you could quite easily get into trouble. Keep up the good work.

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

Kyle Obermann Explorer

China Environmental and Adventure Photographer || 探险中国 || Speak Chinese to Protect Nature @kyleobermann

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