Hiking the 1st & 2nd Ring of Xihai Grand Canyon

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
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Trip End Aug 12, 2011


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Where I stayed

Flag of China  , Anhui,
Tuesday, August 9, 2011

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Ming told us this Chinese saying: "There is no need to see other mountains if you have seen WuYue (the magnificent five); and there is no need to see WuYue, if you have been to HuangShan."

He continued, “But I need to warn you that the glorious scenes (e.g. the clouds, the sunrise) that you see in those pictures are not easy to encounter. One needs luck.”

So with an optimistic attitude and an open heart, we are making our way this morning to Huangshan Mountain.  This is in spite of the time and cost to get here.  We may get totally rained out with poor visibility, on the hand the weather may give us dramatic clouds and fog that will make for ethereal hiking and also create great mood photographs.

On the 1 hour 15 minute drive to the cable car from Tunxi, we wind our way through a narrow lush green valley.  On either side of the road are chrysanthemum tea bushes.  At higher elevations special highly valued green and black tea leaves are picked from trees by trained monkeys.  This prized tea is given as gifts by the Chinese Premier who is from this region.  We had not realized that this geographical area is known for its tea.    I was so focused on going to Huangshan that I didn't really study the region, but our China Highlights guide is filling in those knowledge gaps.  Jessica has been guiding in this area and on the mountain for the past seven years.  She has been on Huangshan mountain 41 times each year.  I think we’re in good hands.

It’s a Tuesday so we inadvertently have come on a weekday to Huangshan and this turns out to be a really good thing.  There is virtually no line for the Yungu Cableway and we’re on board the cable car within a few minutes.  Oh my, what views from the cable car!  At one point we pass over a mountain and the bottom feels like it has dropped below us as we look down into a canyon below.  There’s no need for Disney, this is the real thing!

Not far from the top of the cableway are five wild monkeys in the trees right next to the walking path.  We watch as they climb on the tree limbs, play and clean themselves.  One monkey just stares at the people.   I would love to know what that monkey is thinking. I laugh when I think of some possibilities.

We are walking on the main walkway on the Eastern side of Huangshan.  Our plan was to see the views from Beginning-to-Believe Peak (what an inspirational name for a peak), but as we approach the path people are lined up one after another to walk on the narrow steps like in a conga line dance.  So, what is Huangshan like on a weekend when locals from Shanghai visit?  All we know is that the path has no attraction to us and so we continue on. 

In late morning we arrive at the Beihai Hotel where we are staying tonight.  The number of people in the front of the hotel is overwhelming!  Tour group leaders carry a color flag for their group and carry a portable battery operated loudspeaker that they use to communicate with their group. The cacophony of the different tour groups is hard to describe.  So if pictures are worth a thousand words, then a video with the sounds must be worth…well, a better idea of what it was like to stand there and experience this scene.  Watch, listen and learn why if you are considering a trip to Huangshan, you want to come on a weekday.  Would you really want to be here on a weekend with more hubbub, if you can avoid it?

Jessica, our guide, takes care of the registration and has secured a room for us in a quiet section of the hotel - top floor, new wing, at the end of the hall, room 8315.  We’re glad that she is taking care of this as it seems the people at the reception desk have very limited English.  We are surprised how nice our room is as after reading the reviews on TripAdvisor.  Maybe it comes down to expectations.  I think they have to be adjusted for the location.  Everything in this hotel from the building materials and all the furnishings including the televisions and that big piano in the lobby were all carried up the stairs of the mountain by people.  That is not a typographical error, you can see for yourself the photos of men carrying on this day loads of 100 kilos with all the food that is served in the hotel restaurant.  Personally, this amount of manual effort seems inconceivable when surely there must be some technology that can do this more efficiently.  The hotel is rated 4 star, maybe because there is an elevator and restaurant (there is even an ATM outside the hotel!).  But we must consider the level of comfort that is supplied at the top of the mountain is amazing.  We have a king size bed in a fairly large room that has a damp feeling to it and a window that faces out to the mountain in the general area of the basketball court.  The bathroom is clean and is supplied with shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and jackets for the cold.  There’s no need to bring these along in your backpack if you want to save weight.  I am thankful!

After lunch, we head off to the Xiahai Grand Canyon as far as the 2nd ring.  Past that the path is closed for maintenance.  Along the way to the canyon path, we pass a hotel under renovation and many porters carrying supplies up the mountain.  We seem to have left the tour groups behind and the path becomes less traveled.  We are relieved.  Once we enter the section of the Grand Canyon, the views open up to the high drama of craggy peaks, windswept trees clinging to the rocks and open vistas.  We are enthralled.  I don’t even seem to mind the sheer drops off the side of the stairs.  There are miles and miles of stairs!  Up, down, up again.  Whew.  Exhilarating views.   Occasionally we hear people yelling to make an echo (there is no echo, it must be a myth).  On one bridge, for some reason there were so many people trying to get over it that Harvey got a little concerned that he was being pushed too hard against the side edge and he said something in English rather sternly.  I guess people got the idea because the pushing was paused for a moment.    

The TrueHDR app for my iphone turned out to capture the fog and clouds as well as the mountains and I’m feeling good that we might possibly have some decent photos from Huangshan.  From my perspective, the weather is perfect – we have fog that drapes over the mountains and then as the afternoon progresses some drama with the cloud formations.  Life is good.  

We have gotten through the 2nd ring when thunder and a light rain start.  The landscape is majestic.  We slowly make our way back to the hotel for our dinner buffet that is plentiful and adequate.  Jennifer our guide learns that the hotel is full and even the bunk dormitory beds for guides have been booked to tourists.  Tents on the basketball courts are also sold out. Jennifer is waiting for news as to where she can sleep.  Finally she is informed that when the restaurant closes, they will put out mats for sleeping. 

After dinner we take a short walk outside to see the activity and if there are any views.  What is of note is the red neon sign in the front of the hotel announcing the time of sunrise tomorrow and the 55% chance that the weather will be such that we’ll have a good view.  That’s promising.  We’re hopeful.

Around 9 PM we get a phone call from someone speaking English asking us if we want a massage.   We guess from our last name that they figured out that we were not Chinese speaking and tried English!

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