This note was written by Devin Corrigan, a WildChina tour leader & travel consultant who recently traveled to Haba Snow Mountain on an educational trip.
I stared at the summit of Haba Snow Mountain for the better part of 3 days before I actually reached on top of it, and then for another day afterward as I descended – at 5,396 meters tall, Haba doesn’t hide very easily. In this time, I had come to think of the summit as cresting wave of snow, paused in mid-surge on the western lip of Tiger Leaping Gorge, that dramatic gash in the earth between Haba and Yulong (Jade Dragon) Snow Mountain to the east.
In local lore, however, it turns out Haba has quite a morbid backstory. The frosty rip curl of rock that sits atop the mountain may look like a frozen wave to me, but some locals will tell you it is in fact the decapitated remains of a shamed prince.
Long ago, the King of Heaven had two sons and three daughters; the sons were Haba and Yulong (Jade Dragon), the daughters the Mekong, Yangtze, and Salween rivers. The King desired that his daughters marry suitors from the south; two of them, the Mekong and the Salween, did as they were told, flowing into the South China Sea and the Andaman Sea, respectively.
But the Yangtze had other ideas. She yearned for the east, and her father knew it. He therefore charged his two sons with a critical task: to stand guard and block the path between the rebellious river and the plucky prince that was the East China Sea. And guard they did, while cutting (nearly) the same intimidating figures they do now.
One night, Yulong slumbered while Haba took the night shift. Drowsy, Haba struggled mightily to stay awake, a struggle he ultimately lost. With both her brothers asleep, Princess Yangtze seized her chance and sliced between them – creating the massive Tiger Leaping Gorge – and began her long, winding journey to the east.
When all awoke and discovered what had happened, the King was overcome with fury. In his rage, he struck Haba, sending his “head” tumbling into river below. That giant boulder still lies in the Gorge, and the waters still churn around it as they rush towards what we now call the Yangtze River Delta.
This story doesn’t just explain the shape of Haba as it exists today; it also tells us why Haba doesn’t quite match up to the 5,596 meters of his taller and more famous brother Yulong.