This itinerary follows the footsteps of Veteran National Geographic filmmaker Karin Muller, venturing into Ambalay, the Tibetan name for the grassland area near Minya Konka, where Tibetan nomadic yak herders make their summer camp.
Minya Konka (Gonga Shan in Chinese) stands at the Eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau as a loyal sentinel guarding an ancient treasure. At 7,560m it provides shade for over twenty other 6000m peaks seldom heard of, all of which have combined to form the Minya Konka range, a wonderland of beauty and rugged adventure.
The gateway to this alpine wonderland is the town of Kangding. Perched on the Eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, this historic trading town remains a city of commerce and communication between Han Chinese and Tibetan peoples. From Chengdu, it is only a six hour drive to this ancient mountain enclave. Alternatively, a short 30 minute flight will drop you off at one of the highest airports in the world (4,280m), followed by a shuttle down into town. Sitting at 2600m, with plenty of local culture and day hikes, Kangding is the perfect place to acclimatize for the days ahead.
The 6 day trek portion of this trip explores the area surrounding the nomad camp at Ambalay, visits with a nomad family, then returns to Kangding. Extravagant Yak provides pack horses for the duration of the trip. They carry tents, food, and kitchen equipment, which makes it the perfect adventure, especially for those new to high altitude. Clients carry nothing more than personal clothes and a sleeping bag. The horses also provide a means of evacuation in case of emergency.
*A percentage of the proceeds of this trip goes towards giving back to the families in the Ambalay valley
Looking for a through-trek option? Visit our Trekking Minya Konka page.
2023 Dates: Available June - Sept only.
Pricing based on a min. group size of 6.
Contact us for other options.
Kangding, Minya Konka, Ambalay grasslands
Private vehicle with driving distance 1200 KM (Return)
Starts and ends in Chengdu
Today you will be met by your Extravagant Yak guide at the airport. The heart of Western China welcomes you as your driver navigates the throngs of cyclists which mix with the rhythm of a modern city. After settling into the comfort of your hotel, a brief trip orientation will be given over dinner at a nearby restaurant.
This morning your guide will take you on a tour of the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Center. After a morning of walking through bamboo forests, you will spend the afternoon riding a bamboo bike. This half-day bike tour will show you some of the best spots in the city as you hear some of the history and catch the heartbeat of this place. Your appetite will be rewarded with a nice Sichuanese dinner, before returning you to your hotel.
Leaving Chengdu, today you head out of the Sichuan basin and deep into the mountains that guard the approach to the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. You pass through a virtual time warp on your six hour journey. Everything becomes new: landscape, climate, cuisine, language, customs, and of course, the people. It's easy to see how Kangding has been a historical trading town between the Han Chinese and Tibetan Nomads. On the first evening in Kangding (elev. 2600m) you'll visit Ngachu monastery on your way to dinner, followed by a community dance (feel free to join!).
The first thing you notice the next morning is that everywhere you look goes up! Kangding is perched on the edge of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. A half day trek to the top of Kangding grasslands for a scenic view of the city will follow breakfast. A picnic and some further exploration will be enjoyed at the top (3100m). The afternoon activity will involve a cultural visit to Dordrak Monastery for an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and to monastic life.
After a good night's rest it is an early start today to the trailhead at Laoyulin (3200m), located a short 30 min ride from town. Today's hike will follow a gentle 2-3 hr trail through a forested valley, and upward alongside the Riwuqie river to a high elevation grassland (3,500m) to set up camp in the Dacaoba valley. The first night away from civilization will be spent surrounded by the grandeur of Minya Konka's foothills.
Today you will arrive in Ambalay, the site of the Karin Muller’s film shoot, and the location of the nomad encampment of Butrujey and Tsering Mo. Similar to yesterday, today's hike continues at a gentle but steady elevation gain, with a few steeper grades along the way. The relaxed pace will allow for plenty of stops and further acclimatization for the days ahead. Tonight will be spent in Ambalay (3,850m).
Previous nomad tent encampments have recently been upgraded to stone house structures. Nomad families can be found tending their yaks during spring and summer. Enjoy the whole day with Butrujey and Tsering Mo, and the stunning beauty of the Ambalay meadow. Options include riding horses or hiking to the top of the waterfall for some stunning views, or spending the day drinking yak butter tea with Butrujey and Tsering Mo.
Today, take an optional horse trek up to Riwuqie glacial lake. Weather permitting, the route will afford views of surrounding 20,000 ft. peaks. Meadows and high-elevation scrub will replace the previous two days of forest as you venture further up and closer to the mountain (4350m). From here, you can see stunning views of nearby glaciers. Return to Amabalay for the night.
Today, you will say your farewells to Tsering Mo and Butrujey as you begin your return trek to Kangding. Tonight you will return to Dacaoba valley, this time however, your packs will be a little lighter and your hearts a little fuller with the memories of sharing meals, laughter, and a nomadic lifestyle with a dear Tibetan nomad family.
No need to rush today. It’s a short, two-hour hike out to the trailhead. After a lazy morning, a hot breakfast, and the last time to do dishes on the trek, you shake the morning dew off of your tent, pack up, and take one last look at a valley that few have ever had the privilege to call home. You breathe out a quiet thanks, buckle your hip straps for the last time, and feel the mountains waving at you from behind as you hit the trail.
After your best night's sleep in over a week and a hot breakfast, it is time to head back to Chengdu for one last full day in China. Arriving at your hotel in the early afternoon, you will have the evening to visit Wuhou Temple and Jinli Ancient Street for a hot pot meal and a taste of Sichuan Opera.
Today marks your departure as your driver sends you off at Shuangliu International airport.