Cho Oyu means the ‘Turquoise Goddess’ in Tibetan, owing to the rich blue color that cloaks the mountain at sunset. It’s a magical place to make an expedition to the summit, surrounded by the Nepali and Tibetan Himalayas. From Cho Oyu’s slopes, you can see out to legendary mountains, like Mount Everest, Lhotse (27,940 ft), and Ama Dablam (22,501 ft). Uniquely, you can start the expedition in Lhasa, Tibet, then enter Nepal through Zhangmu to finish in Kathmandu, Nepal (or vice versa). In this way, you can experience two unique cultures and how they blend in the great mountains that separate them. Cho Oyu (26,906 ft) is the sixth highest mountain in the world, but it’s most famous for being the easiest peak to climb over 8,000 meters (26,250 ft). Those striving for Mount Everest (29,029 ft) will often use Cho Oyu as an introduction to high altitude climbing after they’ve acquired extensive mountaineering experience at lower altitudes. Adequate preparation includes summiting a mountain similar to Denali, i.e., requiring glacier travel, crampons, use of rope teams, rappelling skills, strong endurance, etc. All this and more will be tested on Cho Oyu, so it’s important to come with confidence in your mountaineering skills and ability to handle emergencies.
Huangshan, which translates to ‘Yellow Mountain,’ is one of China’s most popular hiking regions, thanks to its beauty and legends of historic events that have taken place there. In particular, the Chinese say that the Yellow Emperor found eternal life there, leading to the mountain’s name. There are two main routes up to the top of the mountain, the eastern and western stairs. While the western stairs are steeper and more difficult, taking almost double the time, the route is less busy. You can also take a cable car to the top, but getting there on foot is half of the adventure. While tall, jagged rocks and a ‘sea of clouds’ make Huangshan memorable whatever time of day you visit, the mountain is best known for its sunrises and sunsets. Most recommend staying at a hostel overnight at the summit. Undoubtedly, it will be of poor quality for the price, but the views will be well worth it. When you come down, you can stay in the nearby town of Tangkou to rest up.
If ever there was a place to get in touch with your inner peace and spirituality, it’s Mount Kailash, a distinctive mountain in western Tibet that’s sacred to Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists alike. Hindus believe the mountain to be the ‘abode of Lord Shiva,’ while Buddhists believe it to be home to the deity Demchok. But that’s just the start of Mount Kailash’s spiritual significance. To visit is to gain a deeper appreciation for the religions followed by billions of people around the world. It would be disrespectful, not to mention illegal, to climb to the summit Mount Kailash. Instead, visitors circumnavigate the mountain, starting from the small town of Darchen, which is reachable via Lhasa. The rocky trail is entirely at high altitude, starting at 15,100 feet and rising as high as 18,500 feet. There’s also strong winds, occasional snowfall, and freezing temperatures to contend with, so it is not a hike for the faint of heart. But the views of turquoise lakes, monasteries, and surrounding Himalayas will keep you going, while colorful prayer flags and prostrating pilgrims will remind you of why you are there.
Zhangjiajie is China’s largest national forest and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located in Hunan province, it features more than 3,000 sandstone pillars topped with dense, green forests, forming a fairytale-like landscape that’s often shrouded in mist. It’s a dream for climbers – that is, if climbing is permitted. At least some climbers have managed to get permission to play in the protected area, but you’ll need to check on current restrictions before making travel plans. As a backup, climbing in Yangshuo is almost equally magical and much more developed. Located in Guangxi province, the climbing area is best known for its serpent-like rock formations and laid-back vibe.
The Taklamakan is a vast desert on the ancient Silk Road trade route in Western China. For a truly unique experience, you can go on a multi-day camel trek there, spending your days crossing giant sand dunes and your nights under the stars.
One of the most epic races in Hong Kong is the HK100, or Hong Kong Ultra Trail 100K, which also has a 56K version. Running through the jungle and up to a peak overlooking the ocean, it’s hard to believe the financial heart of Asia is just a short taxi ride away. You can earn your bragging rights in the race and then go out for drinks in Central to celebrate, energy levels permitting. Did you know that Hong Kong is one of the premier trail running destinations in the world? From October to March, there are races almost every weekend. But you’d better be ready for some hills before you sign up for one! I especially like The Green Race’s challenging series of trail races, including a few ultras, like the TGR Ultra (119K, 75K) in March, TGR Summits in November (50K), Hard as Nayls (50K) in December. Many of their events offer UTMB qualifying points, in case you need a reason to run beyond the stunning course routes.
The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is an annual celebration of winter in Heilongjiang province, which is the largest festival of its kind in the world. The event features ice sculptures of mind-blowing proportions, an ice lantern exhibition, and alpine skiing. Be sure to bring appropriate clothing if you attend, as the event is as cold as it sounds.