Ascending Huangshan

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Anhui Sheng,
Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Posted by Chris

Let me preface this post by saying what we experienced during our ascension of Huang Shang cannot possibly by matched by these words or photos.  Later that day, sitting near the summit and watching the sun set into a sea of clouds, we agreed it was one of the most, if not the most, incredible and beautiful places either of us has ever been.

We crawled out of our beds before sunrise, gathered our things, and found our way back out to the main road in Tunxi.  We didn't see any cabs for about 10 minutes, and just as we started to get nervous one flew around the corner and grabbed us.  Off to the bus station.  What we thought was going to be another empty bus ride turned out to be packed.  We got on early and were lucky to grab a couple of window seats before the crowd clambered on, until it was so full there were people sitting on small wooden stools in the aisle

The one hour ride to the base of the mountain was filled with dreamlike mountain scenery, mostly due to some of the most amazing feats of landscaping we had ever witnessed.  Just about every fold in the surrounding hills had been filled with some sort of flowering crop - whether it served any other purpose other than aesthetics I'm not sure, but white and yellow flowers lit up the faces and valleys for miles upon miles.  Every now and then then we would see the workers in the fields planting (or picking) these flowering plants.  It wasn't so much the colors that were incredible, but it was really the way they had been planted.  Instead of stiff rows, they followed the contours of the landscape and flowed seamlessly throughout the valleys.  These rivers of color sometimes flowed together, sometimes separated, but always in an organic fashion that perfectly complimented their surroundings.  It was one of the only times I have seen the human altered landscape actually enhance its beauty.

Ok, enough about the flowers.  So we met two Chinese girls on the bus who knew decent english and were asking us about our hike.  We told them we were staying one night and were going to hike up the eastern trail.  They seemed to know about the mountain so we planned on getting off with them so they could show us the way to the entrance.  The bus pulled up and the girls got off, so Matt and I followed…but before we could gather all our things the bus sped off to the next stop.  I looked back at Matt and he shrugged…I tried to alert the driver to no avail - some other guy started pointing up ahead seemingly trying to say we could get off there.  We were a little apprehensive about this now that we obviously didn't get off where the other hikers were going, and weren't really sure exactly where to go. 

As luck would have it, we got dumped right in front of a restaurant owned by the most fluent english speaking (with an english accent even) Chinese man we'd met so far.  He immediately rushed out of his restaurant and beckoned us in to show us information.  We had read that there were numerous places like this so we felt pretty good about it.  Once inside we put down our things and the man introduced himself as Mr. Cheng.  We sat down with him as he shared with us all the details of the mountain trails, cooked us breakfast, and basically acted as a travel agent as he booked us two nights (we decided to make it two) on the mountain, transportation to the base, and part of the entry fee.  He showed us which routes were closed and which ones had the best views.  Best of all, he locked our big packs in a closet for us to return to after our 3 days of hiking.  With satisfied minds and stomachs, we rode with Mr. Cheng to the entrance of the Eastern Steps, the route Matt and I decided to take up.  We would later descend via the Western Steps. 

And so the 13 km ascension began.  We started with a pretty quick pace, having no idea what lay ahead.  The initial scenery was pretty but nothing fantastic - we followed the trail along a crystal clear stream and several small cascades, always moving up.  We soon were following signs for the Nine Dragon Falls which we heard far before we could see them.  Rounding a corner, we caught our first glimpse of the massive waterfall sliding down over a giant granite bald spot on the mountain.  The water poured down and emptied out into a beautiful emerald green pool which we circled around before climbing again, higher still. 

Our surroundings slowly transformed as the path was now covered with yellow leaves and lined with looming stalks of bamboo.  Soon we were walking through an entire forest of bamboo - something I had always wanted to experience.  The massive stalks creaked in the breeze and small yellow leaves fluttered down in front of us.  It was unreal; a quiet beauty, and I felt privileged to be there.  There was no one else around, and we took our time snapping photos and listening to the wind filtering through the branches and up the mountain.  We were ascending through the seasons - here it was fall and as we moved higher out of the bamboo forest we neared winter.  The entire ground was covered in orange and yellow leaves and strewn with giant boulders.  The trees were bare except for the few pines that were starting to show.  The air was growing colder but as the gradual incline became steeper and the hike became more strenuous, we were actually shedding our flannels and rolling up our sleeves

The path would veer away from any sort of vista for sometime, but when it would swerve back toward an open area, the views only got more and more breathtaking.  The cliffs were starting to take the shape of the more recognizable Huang Shan - bare granite cliffs sprinkled with trees and craggy peaks visible in the high distance, the tallest ones shrouded in the clouds.  The forest was growing thicker and the trail steeper still.  Instead of long flats between climbs it was now almost completely stairs.  The air felt thinner.  It was freezing out but we were sweating.  The physical exertion was incredible and after several hours of climbing our legs were aching and we were panting like dogs - but it couldn't distract from the scenery.  At about the four hour mark, we penetrated the cloud line and could see blue sky peeking out above, and a misty fog filling in the valleys below. 

Now we were circling above some of the huge pillars of stone we had seen from below, with the infamous gnarled pines outstretched, clinging with their roots to the cracks in the bare rock.  We were at the final leg - a long stretch of nothing but stairs winding and climbing until out of sight. 

"We're almost there" Matt looked at me and said between gasps of air.

Meanwhile, workers from the top were buzzing by us carrying huge loads hanging from split bamboo stalks resting on their shoulders. 

"Charge it!"  were our best words of encouragement.  We would slowly make our way up a long stretch of stairs, stop (but not sit!) for a minute, then continue on.  This process continued until finally, after several false hopes of an end, and a total climbing time of just over 5 hours, we were at the summit.  Our legs were trembling, our shirts were soaked and freezing, and we were exhausted; but we couldn't have been happier.  We had made it on our own physical strength and stamina, as opposed to the cable car that many tourists opt for.  We had arrived just in time for sunset and we made our way through the series of connecting trails that make up the summit of Huang Shan looking for a good place to watch.  We found a perch at Bright Top Peak, 1,840 meters above sea level.  There was a small crowd sharing the view but nothing overwhelming.  The valleys had filled with a moving sea of clouds and huge fingers of cracked rock poked out sporadically like islands.  The dim light set the visible peaks aglow, all dotted with bizarre twisted pines reaching out into the air. 

We sat down on a rock facing the sun, and as it slipped down through the sky and disappeared into the clouds, its glow still casting a soft light on our majestic surroundings, I wouldn't have rather been anywhere else.  A perfect reward for our tremendous accomplishment. 

As soon as the sun was gone the cold swept in.  We hurried down a long trail of stairs to the hotel that had been booked for us by Mr. Cheng.  Yes, a hotel on the summit.  There are several small hotels at the top, as well as a TV station and some kind of radio tower, but fortunately they were all easy enough to ignore and were usually hidden from view behind peaks and trees anyways. 

The hotel was bustling with domestic tourists making their way in from the cold darkness and we went to the desk and handed over our receipt from Mr. Cheng, hoping it wasn't some sort of elaborate scam.  The woman seemed confused and began showing the receipt to other employees, then beckoned for us to follow her.  Matt and I exchanged glances of concern and as she led us back outside we were even more confused.  She was showing the paper to more employees who were going over it with a flashlight, and as our nerves tensed she finally turned and led us up some stairs above a restaurant and into a dormitory style branch of the hotel.  We were relieved, but as we opened the door to our room we discovered we were sharing the cramped space with about 9 other Chinese students and teachers apparently there for some kind of class trip

We sat on a bed to organize our things and were immediately approached by one of the students who was clearly excited to practice his English.  We exchanged information, names, where we were from, and began discussion on our travels through China.  We pulled out our book and pointed to places as the guy (we never got his name) tried to teach us correct pronunciations.  His english wasn't terrible, but not great either.  Just enough to have a basic conversation. 

Finally things were winding down and after a couple much needed steaming showers, we dragged ourselves into our bunks, aching with satisfaction and anticipating our adventures for the morning, and drifted to sleep.
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Cheryl on

Oh my Oh my. This is wonderful.

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