A group of European trekkers with guides

Guide or No Guide?

Guide or No Guide?

Trekkers routinely complete the classic trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡) without guides, including the descent to the Jinsha River (金沙江). Some other routes, however, present route-finding difficulties and other concerns like knowledge of camping spots and water sources, that require the services of a guide. These routes include the following:

Haba-Bendiwan Route (哈巴-本地湾路线) passing through Haba Muru Sanctuary (哈巴雪山庇护所)

Jizhi Pass Route (鸡枝垭口路线) on the west side of the Haba massif

Mountaineer’s Route (登山者路线) to the summit

For any Haba trekking route not mentioned above, hiring a guide is the best practice. This is good for the local economy as well as the safety and enjoyment of the visitor. These other treks are more physically demanding and require more navigation skills than the classic path through Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Hikers with solid backcountry experience and navigation skills might consider completing some treks on their own. For example, routes connecting the lower gorge with the villages of Ennu and Haba, as well as the routes from Haba Village to Black Lake. Folks travelling independently need carry auxiliary aids—compass, topographic maps and/or GPS with spare batteries—and know how to use them.

The bald truth: Haba trekking routes are not maintained hiking trails. Local residents know the paths from start to finish. But the absence of trail signs and markers may leave outsiders to flounder. If you lack significant hiking and navigation skills, please hire a guide.

Still thinking about going without a guide? Check out these considerations by veteran trekking guide Adam Meckel. He delves into matters that apply to backcountry travel throughout China.

Guides living on or near the Haba massif speak Chinese and, with very few exceptions, no English . Many Guides born before 1980 speak the local dialect, which can be a bit of a problem. Younger guides invariably speak the standard Mandarin that is taught at school. For a list of local guest houses where you can hire a guide, see the last section below.

It is not absolutely necessary to be able to speak Chinese when you hire a local guide. Many foreigners come to climb Haba Snow Mountain, and the guest houses and guides have accommodated them for years. There are probably no guides living in Haba Village who speak English beyond a few words. But still, many foreigners manage to climb the mountain. The most important word for the foreign client is “Haba”, which means descend to village immediately. Install a translation app on your phone to manage communication. High mountain guides are called gaoshan xiangdao (高山向导).



Guides generally charge 300-500 RMB per day, mostly at the middle to upper end of the range. Negotiating on price is worth a try especially for longer treks. If your trip involves shuttling by car there may be an additional fee. You can hire an English-speaking guide from outside the area but expect to pay two or three times the local rate. A guide from Lijiang, Dali, Kunming, or elsewhere, should contract a local guide who will accompany both of you. This is standard practice to comply with guiding regulations and to maintain good relations with local communities.

If the destination of a trek differs from the origination point (trek from point A to point B), the guide may request compensation to cover the additional time needed to return home. This sometimes includes an overnight stay. The additional fee may vary from a whole day’s wage to a fraction thereof.

Beasts of Burden

Beasts of Burden

For many years, mules cost the same as hiring a guide. Currently the price is 400 rmb per day. For longer trips, the fee may include services of both a mule and mule packer—the person who cares for and leads the mule. A good deal if you can swing it. Mule packers are called mafu (马夫).

Other Charges

Other Charges

Food supplied by a guest house typically costs 100 RMB per day, sleeping bags or tents can be rented for a flat fee of 200 RMB. Take the time to set up your tent before you set off, to check for mismatched or broken poles or other defects. Payment is made in cash or by WeChat. International credit cards are pretty much useless, but an ATM in Haba Village accepts Chinese cards. Sometimes American dollars might be accepted.

Examples of Guiding Fees in Haba Village

Examples of Guiding Fees in Haba Village

Itinerary: Two-day Haba Village to Black Lake trek (2018)

One client riding a mule, spending one night at Base Camp and providing personal trail food.

Guide 2 × 300 = 600
Riding mule 2 × 300 = 600
Pack mule 2 × 300 = 600
Nature reserve entrance fee 200
Base Camp lodging 150
Base Camp food 50

Total 2,200 RMB

Itinerary: Four-day trek from Haba to Qiaotou via Jizhi Pass (2019)

Four clients bringing their own hiking, camping and cooking equipment and food. One guide and two mules. A third mule to carry fodder for the others as grazing is poor in mid-Autumn. Mule packer provided at no extra charge. Four trekking days, with two days for the return of the guides and mules to Haba Village. In this case, the guide suggested half payment in advance, and half upon arrival in Qiaotou. The trekkers paid the full price in advance. They reached Qiaotou on the third day and presumably received a 1,200 RMB refund for the unused fourth day.

Guide 6 × 300 = 1,800
Mules 6 × 3 × 300 = 5,400

Total 7,200 RMB

Itinerary: Transport gear to Black Lake (2021)

Two clients ascending the Lanhua Meadow Route for a week-long stay at Black Lake. Two mules, one for gear, the other for riding. One client walks, the other rides. Mafu (mule handler) spends one night at the lake and descends to Haba Village on the second day.

Mafu 2 × 200 = 400
Mules 2 × 2 × 400 = 1,600

Total 2,000 RMB

After one week at the lake, payment of 400 RMB per mule for the one-day descent to Haba Village.

Guide Services

Guide Services

The following guest houses, individuals, and agencies provide trekking guide service and most can make arrangements for pack animals. I have personally contracted service with each one except Sean’s. The availability of English-speaking guides is noted.

Haba Village (哈巴村)

Haba Snow Mountain Inn (哈巴雪山客栈)
Hamlet: Guluba (古鲁八)
Owner: He Shao Quan (和绍全) and Yang Xiulan (杨秀兰)
Phone: 139-8874-9869 or 139-8876-5396
English: no (guides), yes (Yang Xiulan speaks some English)

On the Clouds Inn of Haba (云上哈巴客栈)
Hamlet: Longwangbian (龙汪边)
Owner: Bao Da Ge (包大哥)
Phone: 139-8871-6224
English: no

Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡)

Halfway Guest House (中途客栈)
Bendiwan Village (本地湾村)
Owner: Feng Defang (冯德芳)
Phone: 133-6884-4698
English: no (guides), yes (Feng Defang)

Luke’s Hostel (栌克旅舍)
Full Name: Ancient Luke Youth Hostel (古道栌克青年旅舍)
Walnut Garden Village (核桃园)
Owner: Zhao Yin (赵银)
Phone: 135-0887-9892
Website (may be offline):
English: no

Sean’s Spring Guest House (山泉客栈)
Walnut Garden Village (核桃园)
Owner: Xia Shan Quan “Sean” (夏山泉)
Phone: 158-9436-7846 or 158-9436-5138
English: yes

Lijiang (丽江)

Xintuo Ecotourism Company (丽江新拓生态旅游公司)
Manager: Lily Zhang (张文琼)
Phone: 139-8882-6672
English: yes

Shangri-La (香格里拉)

Luo Sang Jiang Cuo (洛桑江措)
Phone: 139-8872-0928
WeChat: chen13988720928
Chinese and Tibetan: fluent
English: some