Guide or No Guide?
Trekkers routinely complete the classic trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡) without guides, including the standard descent to the Jinsha River (金沙江). Some other routes, however, present route-finding and other obstacles that require the services of a guide. These routes include the following:
For any Haba trekking route not mentioned above, I generally recommend hiring a guide. 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. The trail descriptions in this guide will help, but sometimes in a general manner without specific details.
Thinking about trekking without a guide? I urge you to read veteran trekking guide Adam Meckel’s thoughts on the matter. He raises considerations that apply to all backcountry travel in China.
How to hire a guide
I have mostly used Chinese-speaking guides. 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 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 in this part of Yunnan generally charge 200-400 RMB per day, with longer trips negotiated down toward the lower end of the scale. If your trip involves shuttling by car there will 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 rates. If you hire an English-speaking guide from Lijiang, Dali, or Kunming, he may contract a local guide who has better knowledge of the area. Both guides will accompany you.
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. This can vary from a whole day’s wage to a fraction thereof. For example, expect to pay 400-600 RMB for the one-day Luke-Ennu trek and 600-800 RMB for the two-day Luke-Haba trek.
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
Itinerary: Two-day Haba Village to Black Lake trek
One client riding a mule, spending one night at Base Camp and bringing his own trail food.
Guide 2 x 300 600
Riding mule 2 x 300 600
Pack mule 2 x 300 600
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
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 x 300 1,800
Mules 6 x 3 x 300 5,400
Total 7,200 RMB
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. He has a good reputation and many years of experience in Tiger Leaping Gorge. 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)
Phone: 139-8874-9869 or 139-8876-5396
On the Clouds Inn of Haba (云上哈巴客栈)
Hamlet: Longwangbian (龙汪边)
Owner: Bao Da Ge (包大哥)
Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡)
Halfway Guest House (中途客栈)
Bendiwan Village (本地湾村)
Owner: Feng De Fang (冯德芳)
English: yes (owner), no (guides)
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)
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
Xintuo Ecotourism Company (丽江新拓生态旅游公司)
Manager: Lily Zhang (张文琼)
Luo Sang Jiang Cuo (洛桑江措)
Chinese and Tibetan: fluent