Taoist Mountain #5 - Hengshan (south)

Trip Start Jun 28, 2009
Trip End Aug 25, 2009

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Flag of China  , Hunan,
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We were picked up at the Changsha Airport by Luke's brother-in-law and his 12 year old nephew who drove us to his parent's place in the town of Xiangtan. We had anticipated staying the night there but instead we were soon back in the car with his brother-in-law, nephew and his father driving towards the town of Hengyang City from where we would head out early the next morning up our final mountain: hengshan - the southern mountain.

We started out very early. Long before the sun was even up. We had expected to be accompanied by his nephew but Luke was taken aback a bit when his father had decided to join us as well. I was impressed and worried at the same time. Naturally my biggest fear was having my butt kicked up the mountain by a 74 year old. We left the hotel and wandered through the dark and empty streets trying to find the trail up the mountain. There were few people about to ask but the ones we found all steered us in the correct direction and soon we were heading up the correct road.

We made it to the entrance gate as the sun was rising and moved through quickly. Since Luke's father was over 70 there was no entrance fee for him and his nephew was half price. On the other side we encountered a massive queue on the other side of the road. Mini-buses were all ready to take the people up the mountain. We had no intentions of using this service and began falling the road up the mountain.

We walked slower then we normally did (well maybe except on Songshan) with our new companions and alternated between the flatness of the road and steps which acted as a short cut between the lengthy turns. There weren't many people about as it seemed that most took the vehicular transport up. About half way up we arrived at the departure point for the gondola and many people made the transition from bus to aerial car. We continued going up. Eventually Luke and his father strayed from the stairs and took the easier and more level road up while his nephew and I opted to sprint up the stairs. We made a rendez-vous at the top of the first peak. I was amazed by the endurance of Luke's father however that was as far as he was going to go. Still a pretty amazing feat for a 74 year old.

Luke, his nephew and I continued on, now with a lot more crowds since the gondola went no further, until we reached the highest peak. Here we found a large group of people and a Taoist Temple. Incense was burning everywhere and fire crackers were thrown into the burners enveloping the peak with rapid fire bursts of simulated gun shot fire. Finally we had finished our quest which we had begun 10 days previously. We had climbed all 5 of the sacred Taoist mountains, and with 4 of them up to the highest peak. When we were in Beijing and talking to Janet about our quest, she had said that she did not know anyone who had climbed all 5 mountains, let alone to have done it in 10 days.

After a few celebratory photos we began to head down however this time we encountered something we hadn't yet on any of our hikes: a tired and whining kid. As we tried to go faster he slowed down and complained of suffering from an assortment of ailments. He then used another stalling technique: "I'm hungry". And so we had to stop for tofu and noodle breaks all before we had made it back to the first peak to pick up his father. Time was now not on our side. We needed to get back to the hotel and check out before we got charged for another night. When we did hook up with Luke's father we put them both on a bus down and we continued by foot power to go down. We had yet to take any form of transport up or down a mountain (once past the trail head) and were not about to start now. Down we went at a quicker pace watching the time and hoping we could make it back with out garnering a penalty (Now it felt like the Amazing Race). It was close - but we did it.
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