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Adventure Trek on the Mengke Glacier

Listed under Accessible Glaciers in Inner Mongolia, China.

Photo of Adventure Trek on the Mengke Glacier
Photo by Ralph Johnson
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The Mengke Glacier can be found in the Laohu Valley, Subei County. It occupies 21.9 sq km with a length of 10.1 km, surprisingly it is showing virtually no sign of retreating despite global warming. It is best done via a trekking company (we used Dragon Expeditions, Chengdu) since access requires a permit, and being in a very remote region travel is complicated requiring two flights (or rail- about 36 hours from Chengdu) and a journey of about 6 hours by road and dirt track. Plans are afoot to develop the area for tourists, so now is the time to visit this spectacular site.

Base camp, which is on a flattened area of glacial moraine (planned as a car park!) is at 4200m so some thought needs to be given to acclimatisation prior to reaching this point. Our trip was hampered by inadequate planning and a shortage of time due to our original destination being “off limits” to foreigners as a result of expected problems in Western Sichuan- it was the Tibetan New Year.

Our porters failed to show up so we were limited to one high camp at 4600m, a second camp at 4900m would have made life easier - the peak at the upper end of the glacier is 5481m and technically easy, although ropes are advisable on the wet glacier as there is a slight possibility of hazards from crevasses.

The summit is a long and tiring plod from 4600 and soft snow made progress painfully slow. We reached a height of 5330m (150m short of the summit) before turning back due to the late hour. Three of the group made it back to base camp before dark, the remaining five were glad to collapse into sleeping bags at high camp before descending the following day. The only water available here is from melted snow which takes a long time and a considerable amount of fuel- be prepared!

The nearest airport is Dunhang which is very close to a large number of grottos excavated and decorated around 600 AD by Buddhist monks and to some spectacular sand dunes, both are highly recommended.

Written by  Ralph Johnson.

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