Mt. Gawagapu Explorer

17 Days, August 4-20, 2012


Watch a video shot on a previous expedition to Mt. Gawagapu here

This trek takes you to one of the remotest corners of China, close to the Tibetan and Burmese borders, in a region inhabited by a fascinating collection of peoples: mainly Tibetan, Nu, Lisu and Drung. The influence of French missionaries, who settled in the Nu and Lancang river valleys from the 1860s to 1950, is still strong, with highly unusual Tibetan Catholic communities holding steadfastly to their faith. Our guides and porters are drawn mainly from Tibetan and Nu villages, and will give you a unique opportunity to learn about their lives and cultures as we explore the mountain range between the Nu (Salween) and Dulong rivers.

This route is based on our experience in the Gaoligongshan mountain range in October 2010. That expedition to photograph the sacred peak of Mt. Gawagapu was the toughest we have yet undertaken. Watch a video of that expedition here.

Even locals fear to venture too far into this range, where a number have lost their way and perished owing to the mountain's capricious climate. While some of the trails we would follow are familiar, others are not, and so this would be a genuine first-time adventure. Trail and camping conditions may be difficult, especially if the weather is against us, and so participants must be in good physical condition and mentally prepared for a challenging environment. You will find no mobile reception, internet access or even electricity while we are on the mountain, where we are likely to meet no one but hunters who still use wooden crossbows and bamboo arrows poisoned with aconite.


  • An 11-day,expedition-level trek through a remote border region
  • Learn about the multitude of distinctive local cultures: Tibetan (Buddhist and rare Catholic communities); Nu; Lisu; Drung
  • Pristine mountain scenery, primeval forests and possibility of seeing rare wildlife
  • The unique Nu River, the longest un-dammed river in China.
Duration: 17 Days 

Route Map: Click here for an overview of this journey

For a full trek dossier or for more information, write to


Day 1, August 4: Arrive Kunming

Our group gathers here in the capital of Yunnan Province. You will be picked up at the airport and taken directly to our lodgings, where we will have an orientation meeting followed by a welcome dinner.

Hotel (evening meal only)

Day 2: Kunming - Baoshan - Liuku

We take the early morning flight to Baoshan, from where we drive to Liuku, capital of the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, where we stay overnight in a pleasant hotel by the east bank of the Nu (Salween) River.

Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 3: Liuku - Bingzhongluo

Today's drive takes us 250 kilometers north through the stunning Nu River valley to Bingzhongluo, the last town before the Tibetan border (some 30 km further north). Bingzhongluo is a mixed town, mainly Tibetan and Nu but also with Lisu and even Drung inhabitants. We stay in a small guesthouse run by an interesting gentleman who once fought in a communist rebel army on the China-Burma frontier.

Guesthouse (B, L, D)

Day 4: Bingzhongluo - Xiao Chala

After breakfast we make a short transfer 7 km by vehicle to the base of the Gaoligongshan mountain range, where we join our team of porters/guides and trek approx four hours up to the picturesque Nu village of Xiao Chala, where we will stay overnight. The Nu people are the earliest known inhabitants of this area, with a language related to Tibetan and Burmese. Many of the Xiao Chala villagers are Roman Catholic, having been converted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our lead guide hails from this village.

Homestay (B, L, D)

Day 5-6: Xiao Chala - towards Mt. Zongwang

We ascend the range close to the watershed between the Nu and Dulong rivers. The Dulong valley is arguably the most remote inhabited region in China. It is completely cut off from the outside world for at least six months of the year, and the footpaths and only road are deadly dangerous at other times. Just south of here, the Dulong flows into Burma and the Irawaddy River. Tonight's camp is likely to be well over 10,000 feet/3,000 meters above sea level. From this point we are dependent on weather conditions as to how much progress we make on any given day. The weather is highly changeable and safety is paramount. The schedule below is an "ideal" schedule, but it may be subject to change at any time according to the team leaders' judgment of conditions. Given previous experience and taking local advice, I have added three extra days to the schedule to increase our chances of completing the circuit and enjoying the full potential of the mountain scenery. If we complete the circuit in "ideal" time, we will enjoy additional trekking east of Bingzhongluo on the other side of the Nu River.

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 6-7 Camp below Mt. Zongwang

All being well, we should cross at ridge approx 13,000 feet above sea level and descend to camp on a beautiful pasture below the snow-capped peak of Mt. Zongwang, which rises 15,650 feet above sea level.

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 7-8: Mt. Gawagapu

This morning we trek for an hour up to the next ridge for our first view of the sacred Mt. Gawagapu, the highest peak of the Gaoligongshan range, 16,800 feet above sea level. Gawagapu is sacred to all the peoples who live around it: Buddhist and Catholic Tibetans, Protestant Lisu, Nu, and animist Drung alike. Very few get to see it close up like this. Most do not dare to climb this high, as they fear getting lost and freezing to death. Weather permitting, we will continue along the watershed to camp on the north side of the mountain.

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 9-10: Lake Qiuna

We camp and rest here by this great alpine lake below the north face of Mt. Gawagapu. 

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 10-11: Mt. Zongwang Camp

We return to our camp on the pasture in preparation for descent from the range.

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 12-13: Primeval Forest Camp

We descend a trail well maintained by hunters and foragers. This passes through several levels of primeval forest, where we have previously seen extremely rare wild animals such as red pandas and black snub-nosed monkeys.

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 14: Bingzhongluo

Today the trail ends in the late afternoon back at Bingzhongluo, where we stay overnight in the same guesthouse as before and celebrate with a great feast of local flavours.

Guesthouse (B, L, D)

Day 15: Bingzhongluo - Liuku

We drive back along the Nu River.

Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 16: Liuku - Baoshan

As there is currently no evening flight from Baoshan to Kunming, we plan to stay overnight in this city.

Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 17: Baoshan - Kunming

We take the first flight to Kunming, where our journey ends. Depending on guests' onward travel arrangements, we can arrange lodgings and other services in Kunming as necessary.

Breakfast only