A Stairway to Heaven Passing through Hell

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Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Monday, July 18, 2011

As you may know from my last post that I have been suffering from a cold recently and wasn't sure about my plans for the last half of my time in Chengdu. Well, I bought a bunch of medicine and the day before yesterday at 7am I left my room in order to climb Mt. Emei. I wasn't sure how well I would do climbing the mountain with what was left of my cold, but I thought that I should at least give it a try while I am out in this side of the country.
Mt. Emei is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains and the peak is over 3000m above sea level. For those of you who don't know the metric system very well that is a little less than 2 miles. As a Buddhist mountain there are plenty of temples and monasteries throughout the park, many of which offer accommodations for cheap prices. The goal of many of the tourists heading to Mt. Emei is the Golden Summit, so named because of the giant statue of Samantabhadra, who supposedly became enlightened on the mountain.
At 7 I took a taxi to Xinnanmen Bus Station in Chengdu, hoping to get the first bus out that morning. Unfortunately the first bus was already sold out, so I took the 7:50 bus instead. After 2 and a half hours of screaming children and car horns we finally arrived in Emei city. Luckily for an extra 5 RMB the bus would take us to Baoguo Temple, the starting point for most people climbing the mountain.
Hoping to get back the next day I decided to start walking and try to make good time. I was able to make it on the mountain by 11. After an hour of climbing I finally reached the gate to the park. That's right, an hour of hiking just to get to the entrance gate. Half an hour later I passed by a small snack shop filled with young Chinese people. As a foreigner I was instantly noticed and heard a flurry of "hello"s. When I replied in Chinese they all grew excited and asked me to have a seat and eat a snack. After a quick break they invited me to join them to hike to their hotel and eat lunch. It turned out that they were a group of recently graduated high school students. Their guide asked me if I wanted to spend the night at their hotel and then ride with them up to the top of the mountain the next morning. I politely refused the offer since I had come to the mountain with the purpose of climbing it. After lunch I exchanged contact info with them and bid them farewell.
After lunch it was already 2:30 and I had made practically no progress, so I sped up my pace and tried to make up for the lost time. My cold-ridden body quickly began giving in to the pressures of walking up near endless flights of stairs when I finally reached the 1000m mark and Wannian Temple. I decided to take a break with two British people I had met at the gate to the temple. We talked about the amount of "hello"s we were getting atop the mountain. Since they were only there for the afternoon they began descending after the break and I continued my journey. After Wannian Temple the path takes a very fast very drastic slope change. I frequently looked up and could not see the top of stairs.
At 6pm I finally reached the next temple along the path, the name of which eludes me (I was too tired to care when I arrived). By that point in my trip my legs were beginning to waver and I was having trouble walking on flat ground let alone stairs. Luckily I came across a group of hikers from Xinjiang, who were also very happy to see a foreigner. The girls quickly ran up to my sides and had their boyfriends take pictures. When I spoke to them in Chinese they responded with the same surprise as the high school students from lunch.
They also invited me to join them, which sounded great to me, since I wouldn't have much willpower to continue if I was alone. After a few more sets of stairs my legs began cramping too much for me to continue. We all stopped and massaged our legs before pushing further up. Somehow we made it up 600m to the monastery they had planned to stay at. We ate dinner just beneath the monastery where the waiter enjoyed making jokes at the foreigner's expense. He seemed to especially like it when I understood his jokes. Though he enjoyed joking with me he was a rather nice guy and gave our group free bottled water before we left.
It was 8 when we got to the restaurant and 10 when we checked in to rooms at the monastery. We woke up at 7 the next morning and started hiking at 8, but we were immediately stopped by a group of monkeys. Mt. Emei is the home of many rather aggressive monkeys. Years of tourists feeding the monkeys and workers beating them has made these monkeys expect food while also expecting a fight. One of the girls was drinking a juice box at the time and the big male instantly headed for her and stole the box out of her hands. When other guys and I got up their we started banging our sticks on the ground to scare the monkeys off. They stood their hissing at us until we started stabbing in their direction. Though they fled they were never too far away.
By 1 we finally reached the summit. I can't describe how happy I was when I finally saw the gold statue poking up over the trees. After 60km in distance and 3km in height we had reached the golden summit. The peak is famous for a phenomenon called the sea of clouds, where everything beneath the summit appears to be a sea with clouds for waves. Unfortunately the time we were there didn't have this famous site. Instead we looked over the railing at what appeared to be an infinite abyss, which is still rather amazing. Unfortunately the top is always filled with tourists, since you can take a bus and cable car up.
As I made the climb up to the top I passed the group of high school students from the day before descending. We had a quick reunion and then continued so as to clear the stairs for the other people walking.
Throughout the hike I constantly asked myself why I was climbing. I couldn't understand why I was putting my body through such hell. When I got to the peak I still didn't understand why I had done it. When I only considered the sights I had seen, then it was not worth the pain I went through to see a big statue and clouds moving through the mountains. It is when I think about the friends I made and the pain we went through together that I consider climbing Emei to have been a good decision.
As for suggestions to those of you who would think about climbing Emei:
Either bring a friend or know enough Chinese to make friends along the way. Climbing alone is extremely miserable.
Buy a map! The map is horrible, but it will at least tell you the name of the next temple you should see and roughly how far away it is.
Buy a stick! They are only 1 RMB near the bottom and are useful for both climbing and monkey fighting.
Take a couple hundred RMB, since you don't know what will happen and hotels on the mountain vary greatly in price. 
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Nina on

Looks fun!!

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