Admittedly I don’t always make good decisions. Yesterday was one of those occasions. Upon arriving at Huang Shan mountain about an hour away from my hostel, I decided that I’d take the lesser-traveled western route up the mountain. Most people take the eastern route because it’s shorter (only three hours instead of seven), or they take the cable car. So, in my infinite wisdom, I decided that seven hours of walking up a mountain couldn’t be that bad, even with a bag of camera equipment on my back. I’d met a young Korean named Yoong on the bus on the way up. He spoke limited English, but was enthusiastic about joining me on my trek up the mountain. He tried to convince me to take the eastern route, but I thought there’d be better photo opportunities on the western route.
About three hours into the trek I realized I had been wrong. My legs and lungs were burning. I was so fed up with beautiful mountain scenery that I thought that the sight of another thrilling vista of craggy peaks, endless skies, and plunging canyons dotted with interestingly-shaped pines would make me puke. I was probably ready to puke anyway.
Yoong was kind enough to share his supply of Korean candy bars and cakes. I was beyond caring about the caveman diet at this point. I figured that if ever there was a time to be consuming sugar, this was it.
Foot after foot we crawled up the mountain. The distances were deceiving, because the paths followed the ridges of peaks, so we’d go up 80 steps, then down 60, then up 100 and down 40, and then up 50 then down 30. You get the idea.
After we reached the level of the cable car stop, there were hoards of tourists. All of the best views were from the top, so I guess they just cut to the chase and skipped all the painful stair-climbing leading up to it.
There was another interesting thing at the top of the mountain. Couples would bring locks with their names engraved on them, and lock them to the chain railings around some of the viewing areas off the path. This was supposed to ensure them togetherness forever. Good luck with that!
We got to the hotel at the top around 5pm, about seven full hours after starting. I抎 reserved a dorm bed, and Yoong managed to scam himself a bed too, even though the hotel was fully booked. His room seemed to be in the employees section though, and was considerably grungier than mine. He paid about half as much as me, but didn’t get a door on his bathroom.
We decided to hit the hotel restaurant for some overpriced and undergood food. That was understandable though, since everything had to be carried up the mountain, balanced on the end of long sticks on the shoulders of porters. Just after ordering, my instincts told me to get out there and find a spot from which to shoot the sunset. I was dead tired, starving, and grouchy, but I had the feeling I’d regret it if I didn’t go out there and look. I had my camera bag with me, and so I took it out onto the path again. I found a spot just as the sun was dropping behind the mountains. The view was unimaginably beautiful. That alone made the trip up the mountain worthwhile. I snapped a few pics, then headed back to have my dinner.
After dinner, I went to my dorm room. It was filling up with tourists. There were six other beds in the room. Someone heard Yoong and I talking in fractured English, and said, “Where are you from?” to me. It turns out this guy was visiting China from Toronto. He was another undercover tourist like myself, having Chinese heritage, but no ability to speak Mandarin. We had an interesting chat about our travels so far. After a half an hour or so, I couldn’t stay awake anymore. I went to sleep around 7:30pm.
It wasn’t the most relaxing sleep ever. Some of the other people in the room insisted on talking–loudly–for several hours before going to sleep. Not only that, but at least three of them were snorers.
Wake up call was 5am. We were to go view the sunrise, which is the main reason people stay on top of the mountain overnight. I followed the crowd up more stairs to another peak, where we had a view to the east. To tell you the truth, it was nothing special. Sure, it was reasonably pretty, but it wasn’t worth getting up at 5 and dealing with more stairs.
I started heading down the mountain immediately after the sunrise viewing. I wanted to have breakfast in the restaurant, but it wasn’t open. Instead, I had an orange and another cake from Yoong. Yoong and I went our separate ways about halfway down, because I decided to give my aching knee a break before I twisted it again. I bought a cable car ticket and rode down to the bottom.
I hired a taxi to take me back to the city. Now I’m back at the bed and breakfast. I rented a room until 8pm tonight, when I’ll get on the overnight train to Shanghai. I’ll see you there!
As promised, here are some of the pics from the last few days. The first batch is from the villages.
Images from the mountain, starting with Yoong and I looking optimistic.