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Hiking the Urumqi NanShan in Winter | 乌鲁木齐南山

March 30 | No Comments

I’m a bit ashamed to say that it’s taken me years of living in Xinjiang to actually visit the Urumqi NanShan. It’s part of the TianShan range, which I’ve hiked on a couple different occasions, but never NanShan.

If you’re not aware, the Urumqi NanShan (often translated as “Southern Pastures” or “Southern Mountains”) begins about 30km south of Urumqi city, which is a good 45 minutes away by bus. Don’t confuse this range with the Bogeda mountain to the east of Urumqi which you can see from the city. NanShan can’t be seen until you’re well south of the city.

A yurt at the base of the Urumqi NanShan in winter

The Odyssey’s Xinjiang Guide describes NanShan as

A combination of precipitous peaks, thick forests and meadow-filled valleys with rushing streams and ribbon-like waterfalls.

Goodness, with a description like that who wouldn’t want to hike here!?

As the fool that I often am, I decided that it might be a good idea to visit in the dead of winter with a couple feet of snow and a wind that brought the chill well below the negatives.

I’m alive to tell about it, though, and I have a few good pictures so I guess it might have been worth the effort.

Josh standing in a couple feet of snow in the Urumqi NanShan

Visiting Urumqi’s NanShan

The bus with our hiking group left our meeting point near the International Bazaar at about 8:30am local time (10:30am Beijing time).

We all had numerous layers of clothes, although I was shocked to find that some of the locals didn’t care to bring gloves.

Blazing a trail on the Urumqi NanShan in Xinjiang

Most of my companions were local Uyghur and this was a hike they had done many times before.

We arrived at the base of the mountain less than an hour later where hundreds of others from Urumqi had gathered to ski. There are actually a few ski resorts in and around NanShan. Some of them are nothing more than bunny slopes while others are attempting to provide quality skiing.

It wasn’t long before we had hiked well beyond the ski slopes and the nice, packed trail had turned into a deep, loose snow.

Towering trees laden with snow surrounded every step we took and shielded us from the harsh winter wind. The higher in altitude we got, the more I began to think that this was the exact location that C.S. Lewis must have imagined when writing the Chronicles of Narnia.

At the very least it looks exactly what I remember in the movie. The only things missing were a wardrobe and a some talking animals.

We trudged along for about 2 hours before arriving at the highest peak we would climb for the day. From here I could look north and see the flat valley leading to the Bogeda Mountain far in the distance.

Looking toward the south was a continuous string of rolling hills, a summer pasture home for many of the Kazakh and their herds during the summer.

Beautiful forest and rolling hills of the Xinjiang NanShan

Immediately upon exiting the security of the trees the wind tore my exposed skin to shreds and turned my water bottle completely to ice. We rested (and I froze) at the top for a good hour and then quickly made our way back down the opposite side of the mountain.

We passed a few Han Chinese hikers along the way, but for the most part we felt completely alone in the Urumqi NanShan.

I’ve realized there’s much more to explore all through the NanShan which makes me excited for the summer months when I can bring my wife and son out here. I think some tent camping might be an order eventually.

For most tourists a visit to NanShan would be easy to arrange with a tour group but hard to do solo. You’d probably have to hire a car for the day and have him wait for you at the base of the mountain. Still, it’s not impossible and I can tell you from experience that it offers some beautiful views and a welcome break from the harsh city life!

The beautiful weather made our NanShan hike awesome!

The weather was thankfully gorgeous!

Our grouping taking a quick rest in an open area

Taking a quick rest in a clearing

A view of the Bogeda Mountain across the Urumqi valley

A view of the Bogeda Mountain in the distance

Our guide for the NanShan hike

Our Uyghur guide for this winter trek

Gorgeous NanShan trees covered in snow

Gorgeous trees covered the mountainside

Our hiking group

Our adventurous and fun hiking group!

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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