For years, I’d been telling my friends that China was the next Nepal or Patagonia, that as long as they knew how to travel, they could reach pristine wildernesses that rival any other trek in the world.
Finally, in the fall of 2017, I convinced them. My friends, Meg and Noah, agreed to head west and see for themselves. Our destination was Minya Konka.
Minya Konka is the world’s highest peak outside of the Himalayas and the Karakoram. It lies just 150 miles (250 kilometers) west of Chengdu — a metropolis nearly twice the size of New York City — and a seven-hour bus ride away. This year, the expected completion of a new highway will cut that travel time in half. Minya Konka is one of the most reachable holy Tibetan peaks in the world.
Congregating there was a breeze — I flew in from a friend’s wedding in the U.S.; Meg from Hanoi, Vietnam; and Noah from Beijing. Twenty-four hours later, we were camping at over 12,000 feet.
Six days of trekking led us past glaciers and around peaks higher than anything I’d ever traversed. One morning we woke at 3:30 a.m. to scramble to a previously unclimbed pass under a glowing full moon and watch the sunrise from an angle none of us had ever seen before. When we walked through the valleys, we passed nomadic Tibetan families moving to lower elevations for winter. And for our final last two days, we lounged by the shore of a glacial lake, basking in the warm sun, reading, and playing on the pearly white glacier that twisted down to the foot of our tent.
In my mind, China doesn’t get any better than that.
Most people only associate China with its populated eastern half, fighting crowds to see the “Avatar Mountains,” the Forbidden City, or the fairy-hills of Guilin. But under the slopes of Minya Konka, you can revel in the peace and quiet while immersing yourself in one of the most awe-inspiring and pristine environments in the world.
What’s even better? Much of it has yet to be discovered.
From Austin, Texas, Kyle has lived and worked in China doing environmental photography and exploration for four years. He loves spending time with friends outdoors, eating his way across Asia, and documenting unknown places to share with the world. You can follow more of his Asian adventures on Instagram or on his website.