Getting off the “Sky Road” – Yaxi Expressway, and passing through the downtown of Shimian County (石棉县), we steer our four-wheel drive vehicle north along the provincial road offcially known as “S211”.
Highway S211 leading to Moxi Old Town
It is a mountainous road with two lanes total ( one lane for each direction ), on the side of steep cliffs with frequent sharp turns and curves, and possibly falling stones and rocks. Much experienced Mr. Chen is definiltey the right person to rein and tame his own white horse steadily on the road full of potential risks.
Around 12:00 noon, October 07, we finally get to Moxi Town (磨西镇), safe and sound from the risky, not-easy-to-control provincial road “S211”.
With our vehicle running into the streets of Moxi, we are a bit amazed at the sight of the mixed-style buildings flanking the streets, Tibetan and modern Han, clean though a bit touristy, slightly different from “the old Moxi Town” in our minds. Much delighted the town is the gateway to Hailuogou Glacier. So here we are!
Hailuogou Tourist Service Center
We drive in the direction according to a huge signboard pointing to the “Hailuogou Tourist Service Center” where we are supposed to buy our today’s entrance tickets. With our vehicle parking in front of the service building, we lose no time in grapping a bite to eat and drink bottled water, then stride to the ticketing office.
Inside the service building, bombarded with Hailuogou tourist information, flyers and brochures, soon we find out a half day is far from enough for a highlight trip to Hailuogou Glacier.
Apart from its magical glaciers, Hailuogou Glacier Forest Park is well known for its pristine forests and hot springs. There are four viewing camps to visit in the park and shuttle buses are linked to Camps No.01, No.02 and No.03 while Camp N.04 is accessible by cable car starting from Camp No.03. Camp No.01 and Camp No.02 are mainly designed for viewing primeval forests and bathing in hot springs.
Camp No.04 for distant views of the glaciers
So we decide to go up to Camp No.04 (海螺沟4号营地) this afternoon and forget Camp No.01 and Camp No.02 since our aim is to see and touch glaciers. But we have to leave Camp No.03 (海螺沟3号营地) for tomorrow, which allows people to have the chance to be immersed in the real and magical glaciers, quite different from Camp No.04 where you are only able to have distant views of the glaciers.
Entrance ticket: 92 yuan; shuttle bus: 70 yuan and cable car ( from Camp No.03 to Camp No.04): 150 yuan ( return). Tomorrow we have to purchase again the tickets for entrance and shuttle bus ( No more cable car ). A bit exorbitant, right? Yes, domestic admission fees rise year on year in many places!
Shuttle Bus to Campsite No.03
The shuttle bus ride from the Service Center at Moxi Town to Campsite No.03 ( where we change for cable car up to Campsite No.04) is much longer than we expect, almost one hour driving along the zigzag 30km road ascending from Moxi Town at 1600 meters up to Campsite No.03 at 2980 meters.
Our local shuttle bus driver is very much adept at controlling the bus like a toy in his hands, quick and safe encounter with other buses at turns and curves.
ABC of Hailuogou Glaciers
In the course of the one hour drive, I flip over the flyers and brochures on hand to get aquainted with the basic knowledge of Hailuogou Glaciers (海螺沟冰川). Hailuogou (literally Conch Gully ) is situated in the southeast of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province, on the east slope of Mount Gongga (7556 meters ). Hailuogou Glacier is regarded as a low altitude modern oceanic glacier. Also known as No.1 Glacier, Hailuogou Glacier is 14.7 km long ( the longest among the 71 glaciers on Mount Gongga) with highest height of 6750 meters and lowest 2850 meters.
Hailuogou Glacier ( No.01 Glacier ) has three cascading steps from high to low: 1) The First Step – Neve Basin (粒雪盆), or firn basin, granular snow, the upper part of the glacier, where it has not yet been compressed into ice; 2) The Second Step – Large Ice Fall (大冰瀑布), 500 to 1100 meters wide and 1080 high grand glacier cascade which is the highest and grandest icefall in China; 3) The Third Step: Glacier Tongue (冰川舌), 6 km long and penetrating into the pristine forest, forming a rare natural landscape with the mix of glacier and forest.
Cable up to Campsite No.04
Our bus comes to a stop on the flat and spacious ground at Camp No.03 and a busload of us disperse. After a short break ( using a toilet or stretching a little bit ), some go on hiking on Camp No.03 to look for the real and crystal glacier ice.
Like some of the others, we continue to take cable car up to Camp No.04 for a glimpse of the Grand Ice Cascade and Neve Basin on the top of the 14.7km long Hailuogou Glacier. We choose the latter and leave the search at Camp No.03 for the glacier ice for tomorrow.
Carrying our camera backpacks, we walk to the ropeway station. The 3500-meter long alpine ropeway, one of the longest of this kind in China, spans the core zone of Hailuogou Glacier, crossing the glacier valley and allowing us to see through the transparent alpine cable car and view the endless primeval forests and the surfaces of glaciers covered with dirt, dust, sand and river stones.
A little bit disappointed at the somewhat black surfaces of the glaciers valley, covered with dirt, soil and other materials. The “glacier” comes from the French word “glace” ( glah-say ), meaning “Ice”. A glacier is a huge mass of ice that moves slowly over land. There are two kinds of glaciers: alpine glaciers and ice sheets. Hailuogou belongs to alpine glaciers that move from mountainsides downward through valleys.
Viewing the Firn Baisin, the Great Ice Fall at Camp No.04
Getting onto Camp No.04 shrouded by fog and clouds, we suddenly realize that viewing the Grand Ice Fall or Firn Basin is contingent with weather conditions! In the case of inclement weather ( rain, fog, overcast), the top two steps of the glaciers – Firn Basin and Great Ice Fall are shrouded in fog or clouds, sometime even the whole glacier valley submerged in clouds!
Upon our arrival on the observation deck at sea-level 3600 meters, we find most of the glacier valley and the top firn basin and the great ice fall are partially covered by clouds. What we can do is to wait for clouds to disperse or the sun to appear. Though a slight chance, we don’t give up and try to grasp any moment to have a glimpse into the true faces of the glaciers.
Suddenly the sky turns a bit bluer and brighter, and the clouds over the second step of the glacier are lifted and the Great Ice Fall appears!
I lose no time changing for my long-range zoom camera lens and shoot a clear photo of the Great Ice Fall.
Shortly the top part of the clouds over the Firn basin also thins out and the Firn basin becomes transparent with sunlights passing through the clouds. Good luck follows us and we are able to view the top part of Hailuogou Glacier – the Firn Basin, granular snow, the upper part of the glacier, where it has not yet been compressed into ice.
People make use of the momentary blue sky to snap multiple pictures and do selfie as well. Within less than half hour, clouds come close again and gradually blanket the Firn Basin and the Grand Cascade Icefall. It again looks grey and gloomy.
I see a lot that I cannot see clearly with my own eyes thanks to my long-range zoom camera lens.
Pointing at the glacier valley below, I zoom in the glacier ice for a close-up view, glacier mass ice and ice caves. It is said that Camp No.03 is the ideal place to find clean and crystal glacier ice.
People do selfie with a backdrop of white clouds and blue sky.
We are much luckier having viewed the Firn Baisin, the Great Ice Fall as well as the glacier valley while quite a number of tourists see nothing due to the heavy fog and clouds capping the whole Hailuogou glacier valley. Content with what we have seen, we take the cable car down back to Camp No.03 where we change for shuttle bus again back to Moxi Town.
Just an anecdote about Mr. Chen, my self-drive travel buddy ( a former English teacher at a military academy ) : He looks a bit confused, carrying three cameras.
Drive from Hanzhong to Ya’an
Ya’an Night View
Most Beautiful Sky Road in China
Moxi Old Town ( Tips, Photos & Map)
Camp No.04 at Hailuogou Glacier
Camp No.03 at Hailuogou Glacier
Night View of Kangding
Drive from Kangding to Xinduqiao
Drive from Xinduqiao to Danba
Jiarong Tibetan Blockhouses
Jiarong Tibetan Ancient Watchtowers
Drive from Xinduqiao to Yajiang
Drive from Yajiang to Litang
Drive from Litang to Daocheng
Drive from Litang to Batang
Drive from Batang to Mangkang
Drive from Shangri-la to Daocheng
Drive from Daocheng to Yading
Yading Brings You Inner Peace
Hassle-free Chengdu & Sichuan Guided Tours
If you don’t want to go the do-it-yourself route and prefer the hassle-free escorted tours, here are some options for Chengdu and Sichuan guided tours:
Top 10 Attractions in Chengdu
Best Time to Visit Chengdu
Railway stations in Chengdu
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (Tips, Photos & Map)
How to visit Wuhou Shrine
How to visit Du Fu Thatched Cottage
How to visit Jinsha Site Museum
How to visit the tomb of Wang Jian in Chengdu
How to Visit Wangjiang Pavilion Park in Chengdu
How to visit Qingyang Palace in Chengdu (Tips, Photos & Map)
How to Visit Jinli Street
How to visit Kuan Alley and Zhai Alley
Qintai Road, Qintai Gujing Chengdu (Tips, Photos & Map)
Shaoling Road Bar Street Chengdu (Tips, Photos & Map)
Jiuyanqiao Bar Street in Chengdu (Tips, Photos & Map)
The Old Teahouse in Pengzhen Town, Chengdu
Bipenggou is a fairyland in Autumn
When is the best time to visit Jiuzhaigou?
Best Places to Visit Autumn Leaves in Sichuan
Top 10 Places to Visit in Sichuan
Ruoergai Grassland, my first trip to Ruoergai Grassland
Any questions on Camp No.04 of Hailuogou Glacier, just drop a line.