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Emei Shan, Sichuan Province, China

Snow, monkeys and broken ribs on China’s tallest sacred mountain

Elephant-Bathing-Pool-Monastery-emei-shan-china

Elephant Bathing Pool Monastery, Emei Shan

China’s Tallest Buddhist Mountain

With a height of 3099m, Emei Shan in Sichuan Province, Western China, is comfortably the tallest of China’s Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism and is traditionally seen as the place of enlightenment of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra to whom many of the mountain’s temples and monuments are dedicated.

I took the bus from Chengdu and arrived in the town of Baoguo at the foot of the mountain the night before my climb, staying in one of the recommended hostels there. The following morning, after a breakfast that straddled the border between a hearty attempt at sustenance and sheer, ill-conceived gluttony, I set off.

My intention was to reach Golden Summit within the day by walking the shortest of the two routes up, staying on the summit overnight, and making my way down the longer route the next day in order to make it back before dark. In order to do this, rather than starting my Emei Shan hike in Baoguo, I took a bus to the Wannian bus station and began my hike from there. Nine hours later, I was at the summit.

sunrise-at-golden-summit-emei-shan-china

Silhouettes at dusk, Golden Summit, Emei Shan

The most miserable night I’ve ever spent anywhere

The height of Mount Emei makes it tall enough to be subject to a subarctic climate near the summit, with an average daily temperature in December of -6°C. It felt every one of those -6°C by the time I reached the top in the almost-dark, needing swiftly to find a place to stay for the night. But upon checking how much money I had left and finding not much more than Y120, I was left shuffling along in the now pitch black, using my fading mobile phone light to guide me to hotel after hotel, each of which had rooms no less than Y380 on offer.

It was on the way back from another of these no-room-at-the-inn enquiries, that despite support from the stick I’d been using to keep the monkeys at bay during my climb, I slipped on the ice whilst trying to negotiate the steps down to the main path. I managed to keep hold of the rail as I fell, but only ended up swinging round, bouncing off said rail, down the remaining five steps and into a wheezing pile of pain in the snow at the bottom, now with a nicely cracked left rib.

I eventually found a small place a little way down from Golden Summit, back along the way I’d previously come, where, mercifully, I was able to get a room for Y100. The place wasn’t exactly five star, but all I really wanted at that point was a place not to freeze to death where I could quietly cry myself to sleep. The water in the toilet was frozen. The taps were frozen. The water in the buckets that were there to use instead of the frozen taps was frozen. I was pretty sure I was the only guest. It felt like I was in The Shining. But alas, fully clothed in hat, scarf, gloves, coat, and three layers beneath that, together with two duvets and an extra blanket on top, I managed to sleep intermittently – wincing in pain every time I moved from my freshly-broken rib – until just before dawn through the most miserable night I’ve ever spent anywhere.

Golden Summit Temple, Emei ShanGolden-Summit-Emei-Shan1.jpg

How to get to Emei Shan

Mount Emei is located 150km south of Chengdu close to Leshan City in Sichuan Province. Emeishan city, 7km from the mountain itself, is the main access point for the hike. You will need to travel from Emeishan city by bus or by car to the town of Baoguo at the foot of the mountain after you arrive.

You can get to Emeishan from Chengdu by bus or by train. Trains running between Chengdu and Kunming make stops at Emeishan throughout the day. The journey takes between two and three hours and you can then take a minibus or car to Baoguo.

Update: The new Chengdu-Emeishan high speed rail opened in 2015 cutting the journey time from Chengdu to 1h 6min. The new station is about 30 min walk from the park entrance. There is also a bus from the station to the Baoguo Temple.

The journey from Chengdu to Emeishan by bus should also take about two hours. Buses run from Xinnanmen bus station to Emeishan every twenty minutes or so from before 7am. From Emeishan bus station it is then necessary to get another local bus or a taxi for the 20 minute ride to Baoguo. There were cars waiting when I jumped off the bus from Chengdu, and with a bit of bartering, I got a ride to the hostel in Baoguo for Y30.

Buses also regularly make the 28 km trip from Baoguo to Leshan bus station. The Leshan Giant Buddah on the way to or from Mount Emei is an ideal way to break up the journey. The Giant Buddah site can be seen in a few hours and it is possible to carry on to Emei Shan or back to Chengdu on the same day.

How to tackle Emei Shan

Update: There’s more info on Emei Shan tactics in the comments below.

As you can see from my Emei Shan map, there are two routes up and down the mountain. The usual way is to take the path via Wannian Temple on the way up and the path via Magic Peak Monastery and the monkey zone on the way down. The first route is the shorter and less steep of the two, so unless you want to kill yourself before you reach the summit, this is the sensible option.

I came down the long way, and even with a 10am start and some pretty rapid walking (I was almost jogging towards the end in order to catch the last bus back from Wuxiangang to Baoguo), it took until 6pm to make it. The longer route can get very steep in places and sometimes seems never ending. I passed some people going in the opposite direction on my way down, and, to put it lightly, they didn’t look happy with their decision.

If you do choose to take the short route up, it is easily possible to go up and down the mountain in two days, but you will need an early start each day to give yourself time for a not-too-suicidal pace to ensure you make it before dark. I saved myself a few hours by taking the Baoguo to Wannian Temple bus and continuing my hike from there.

Emei Shan Accommodation

If you decide to start your Emei Shan hike from Baoguo, you will more than likely need three days to reach Golden Summit and get back down again. I had initially planned to get to Baoguo early enough to begin hiking the same day and stay on the mountain overnight. However, conditions on the roads meant I arrived much later than anticipated.

If you do end up needing to find yourself accommodation in Baoguo before heading up the mountain early the next morning, I recommend staying at the Teddy Bear hostel. The hostel was great – backpacker friendly, a free map and plenty of advice on hiking Emei Shan from Andy, the owner. You can also get a good breakfast inside you before you start your climb and can leave your rucksack there until you return.

There are also places to stay when you are on the mountain. Some of the accommodation at the summit can be expensive, especially in peak season, though sleeping in one of the monasteries is your best bet for a cheaper and more authentic Emei Shan experience.

Love Locks, Emei Shan

Love locks and frost

Oil candles close-up, Emei Shan

Monastery Candles

Emei Shan Practicalities

It is not unusual to experience a temperature difference of up to 15°C between Golden Summit and the foot of the mountain. Mount Emei is also notorious for its wet and often annoyingly foggy weather. Rainfall or snow is pretty likely whenever you travel so come prepared. I went in December and quickly shed most of the five layers that I was wearing as the sun and my exertions made the whole thing rather pleasantly warm. But after I hit the snow about half way up and continued to climb, they gradually went back on one by one, and by the time I reached the summit in the dark, it was certainly a good few degrees below zero.

Paths can get slippery so good footwear is essential. Going down is especially treacherous in the snow as some steps become little more than miniature ski slopes. After Leidongping bus station where the lazy-arse tour groups pile out for their daring assualt on the summit, the snow gets compacted into ice under foot and I witnessed some quite staggering wipeouts up there. It is possible to buy crampons along the way, but I just about managed to cope with plenty of firm gripping of the hand rails.

Other advice would be to take a torch just in case, and find or buy yourself a bamboo pole on your way up. I encountered my first monkeys around Elephant Bathing Pool Monastery, though my bamboo pole was more useful as a walking stick than a weapon. As always, if you don’t bother the monkeys, they likely won’t be too much interested in you.

Emei Shan monkey with garbage at its feet

With all the tourist handouts, the Emei Shan monkeys are certainly not short of food

7 comments

  1. Hi, I came across your blog when (trying to) research my upcoming trip to Emeishan in the beginning of December. I just wanted to say this is a great post with plenty of information, just what I was looking for. Especially the december/winter part wasn’t easy to find 🙂

  2. Hi ,

    Good day to you.

    I am going to Emei Shan this coming New Year Eve. I am staying in Chengdu.

    I have a few enquiries here and i hope that you may able to assist me :-

    1) Do you think it is a good idea to travel Emei Shan Mount for day trip ? ( One-day trip ). I plan to take the earliest train ( High Speed Bullet Train ) from Chengdu Station ( Depart 7.15am morning ) and reach Emei Shan Station by 9.30am morning.

    I do Not plan to do any heavy hiking as my age is no longer young. My intention is to visit the Golden Summit and visit a few important temple on the mountain.

    However , I do not find much info about the route to the summit on the Internet or Trip advisor or even lonely planet book. I need some info about the transportation from Emei Shan Train Station to the Golden Summit .

    Also , I need some full details about the routes on the mountain. Which route should i go ? I am puzzled here.

    What times is the last bus to bring us from the summit to the foot of the mountain ??

    2) If day trip is Not advisable , should we stay one more night at the foot of the mountain ? and climb up to the mountain on our first day and come down as well as climb up again on the second day before we head back to Chengdu ??

    3) I am able to converse Mandarin. Do you think I need a guide to help me to travel Emei Shan ?

    Your kind assistance is much appreciated.

    Many Thanks here.

    Brandon

    • Hi Brandon,

      It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to Emei Shan, but I’ll try and answer your questions as best I can.

      My advice is that it would be better to take two days rather than trying to do everything in a day if you can afford the time. Though going up and down in a day would be possible. ========>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

      1) Emei Shan in a day is possible if you take the tourist buses between the main sights.

      If your train arrives at 9:30, you could take a taxi into town and probably be there before 10:30 to check out Baoguo Temple at the entrance gate. You could then take one of the tourist buses up to Wannian Temple for a look around before getting another bus up to Leidongping Bus Station near the summit. It is then another 3.5km hike to the top (be careful of the monkeys), but you should be able to spend a couple of hours there in the afternoon before heading back down.

      See the map for more details.

      The tourist bus is limited in terms of which sights you could get to. There is only one road up and down. But it should enable you to get to the summit and back down again, with a couple of stops on the way, within the day.

      When I went, the last bus back down was reportedly at around 5:30 – 6:00. Though it may have changed.

      2) If you are arriving early, there is no need to spend a night in town. If you want to do a bit of hiking, you could take the bus to Wuxiangang bus station and hike to Wannian Temple. You could then get the bus from Wannian the rest of the way up to Leidongping bus station and hike the final 3.5km to the summit from there. The hiking would be much easier near the bottom. Plus, once you set off hiking from Wannian, you are pretty much committed to hiking most of the rest of the way up. And that’s a long way.

      It would then be advisable to spend the night in one of the hotels on the summit. This way, you could watch the sunset, get up early for the sunrise, then make your way down later in the morning without needing to rush.

      The only proper hotels are on the summit. It is possible to sleep in the monasteries, but it will be so cold in December. Be prepared for snow and cold temperatures at the top.

      The distances on Emei Shan are big, both in terms of height climbed and distance walked. As you can see from the map, there are two routes up (left-side and right-side). The left-side is VERY long and there is no bus. You should stick to the right-side as you will always have the option of taking the bus if you are stuck for time.

      You can find more information on tackling Emei Shan here => http://wikitravel.org/en/Emeishan_National_Park

      3) You won’t need a guide. The route is well signposted and there are stone steps all the way. You should also be able to pick up a map at the Emei Shan Tourist Center near Baoguo Temple.

      Hope this helps,
      Paul

      • Dear Paul ,

        Sorry for the late reply.

        Many thanks for the info.

        You have been helped me a lot. I will visit Emei Shan for day trip cause i have booked the hotel in Chengdu City.

        I will take the shortest route to the summit.

        Once again , thanks for the info .

        Regards ,

        Brandon

  3. I had plenty of money when I went up there. It was the monkeys. I’m telling you. Robbed me blind they did!

  4. You better check your pocket before climbing next time…!

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