I was feeling lightheaded and short of breath as I stepped out of the cable car on Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mt.). So this is what it felt like to be 4,600 m (15,000 ft.) high.
This was the mountain you saw on all the postcards in Lijiang’s Old Town. This city has the southernmost glacier in all of China, and now we were literally standing on it near its summit.
Earlier that day we ate our daily breakfast of xiao baozi (meat-filled buns) before walking to a public square with a giant statue of Mao in military uniform. Nearby was a line of blue minivans waiting to take people to the mountain.
As we approached the mountain, the sky darkened into deeper shades of gray. I couldn’t see any mountains today. Our driver asked us if we needed to buy any oxygen bottles. Harry wanted to save his money and decided to opt out. I hoped someone wouldn’t have to save our lives later.
When we reached the mountain park entrance, we paid the entrance fee and arrived at the main ticket building. You could take three different cable cars to three spots on the mountain. We came for the highest one – Glacier Park.
As we waited for the bus to take us to the cable car, I noticed two things. Nearly everyone had purchased red or orange down jackets. And everyone had oxygen bottles except us. The worst cases of altitude sickness could cause fluid to enter the lungs or brain. The first would debilitate you, and the second would kill you. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Soon enough we were in the cable car with six other people. The snow was falling heavily, and we passed through the clouds several times. At the top, we got out and began slowly walking up a wooden stairway to the highest viewing point.
On the way up, there was a guy wearing sunglasses and a hat with feathers sticking out of it. He had an eagle perched on his arm. I guess if the glacier wasn’t thrilling enough, you could pay to have an eagle perched on your arm with a glacial backdrop.
We continued upwards and finally reached a stone pillar that had 4,680 m inscribed in blue on all four sides. The snow continued to fall, and we couldn’t even see any of the peaks. But it was Harry’s first time to see snow. So he was happy.
The glacier was massive, and if you made one wrong step on it, you would certainly fall to your death. In the past, you could walk on part of it, but after several deaths on the mountain, that practice was discontinued. We savored the view before going back down to drink some milk tea at the mountain café.
After taking the cable car again, we took a bus to Blue Moon Valley. The mountain river flowed into the valley and formed several transparent, bluish green pools of water. Oddly enough, we couldn’t find any fish in them. As we walked along the river, we saw several brown cows mingling near some people, looking for handouts. Harry wanted to pet one, but he backed off after the cow tried to head-butt him.
We continued to follow the river until it went underground and left a jumble of snowy rocks. There were no birds, and it was an unearthly, yet peaceful quiet here. We found several caves along the riverbank and left a small tower of rocks in one as a parting memorial.
After heading back, we lined up for the bus only to find the road was too icy and had to be cleared of ice first. The snow got heavier and heavier. I didn’t want to be stranded here overnight. An hour later, the bus resumed service and we found a blue minivan to take us back. I guess we didn’t have to sleep in those caves near the river tonight.
That night we listened to live music at a restaurant while devouring our food. Later we walked around Old Town again. Harry bought some more fried mini octopi topped with seaweed flakes.Bar street was alive with booming basses, flashing lights, and crooning singers. We passed by it on our way to a food court with vendors strongly insisting we buy their food. We chose barbecued lamb on a stick.
On the way back to the hostel, we got lost in a maze of alleyways, and GPS had to guide us back home. The hostel’s dog greeted us as we entered the main room. He must have smelled the lingering scent of grilled lamb.