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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Huangshan - the Ascent

Finally. After more than a year here in China, I was at last able to climb a mountain. There's a lot to like about living in Shànghăi 上海, but the city is virtually as flat as the proverbial pancake, with the highest "mountain" being a hill barely a hundred meters in height (and dwarfed by the city's skyscrapers). China is a very mountainous country, to say the least, but getting to them from Shanghai can be time-consuming: it took us 5½ hours to drive to Tāngkŏu 汤口, the nondescript town situated at the foot of Húangshān 黄山, one of China's most famous mountains. Arriving on a Saturday evening at the start of the Columbus Day holiday weekend, we quickly found something to eat after checking in at our hotel. The local Huangshan Beer helped somewhat to mask the sewage-smelling fish that we'd ordered for dinner (apparently a local delicacy):

The next morning we took a shuttle bus to Yúngŭ Sì 云谷寺, aka Cloud Valley Temple (890 meters/2920 feet) and the start of the eastern route up the mountain. The eastern steps are by far the easier of the two hiking paths to the top of the mountain, but when my wife was told it would take four hours on foot to reach first the summit, and then the hotel where we would be staying that night, she opted (along with my daughter) to take the cable car up instead. Figuring that they would reach the top long before me, we made plans to meet at the hotel at 1 o'clock. It was just before nine in the morning when I set off by myself up the eastern steps:

It was a grind walking up and I felt woefully out of shape, stopping every few feet to catch my breath. The porters who make this trip each day, carrying food, drinks and construction materials, certainly helped to put things in proper perspective, however, as I trudged along:

The route up was almost entirely shaded by trees, though spectacular views popped through the canopy every now and then:

Food and drinks were available on the way up:

Atmospheric conditions were constantly changing, as clouds made their way in and out:

The leaves were just beginning to show their autumn colors:

The landscape of Huangshan is dotted with lonely pine trees clinging to rocky outcroppings, many of which have been given fanciful names. Fortunately, I can't remember what this particular pine is called:

Finally, I reached the summit area at Bái'é Fēng 白鹅峰,  aka White Goose Ridge, 1770 meters (5807 feet) above sea level. To my surprise, it'd only taken me two hours and ten minutes (and 7.5 kilometers/4.7 miles) to reach the top:

With almost two hours to kill until I was supposed to meet Pamela and Amber at the hotel, and being unable to reach my wife by phone to let her know that I was at the top, I decided to take a look around at the sights on the summit, beginning with the "umbrella pine":

The Refreshing Terrace 清凉台 is noted for its sunrise views (and the noontime scenery was pretty cool, too):

Flower Blooming on a Brush 梦笔生花:

After about 40 minutes walking around, and with the roof of the Xīhăi Hotel 西海饭店 in sight, my wife called to say that she and my daughter had only just at that moment arrived at the summit. Seems they had to wait more than 2½ hours to board one of the cable cars! Never had a hike felt so good as at that moment:

Having another Huangshan Beer in the hotel bar and watching the porters go by while waiting for the girls to show up:

At last, Amber and Pamela arrived. It took a few moments for my laughter to die down. We checked in and then checked out the view from our room's balcony:

Following a pricey lunch (from food to lodging, everything is expensive at the top of Huangshan), we set out to explore more of the summit:

Purple Cloud Peak 丹霞峰:

Young lovers show their undying affection for one another by leaving padlocks to rust in the harsh mountain climate:

The cloud cover added to Huangshan's mysterious aura:

Passing by our hotel again. Our room was on the second floor, the second window from the right in the photo below:

Huangshan's fame and popularity ensures that it attracts a lot of tourists, many of whom travel in large groups, following a megaphone-toting (and using) guide around the various official lookout points and sightseeing spots. Listening to the din, it's hard to believe that these people could truly appreciate why Huangshan has been an inspiration to Chinese artists and poets over the centuries:

A lonely sentinel maintains its vigil in the woods:

Back at Qīngliáng Tái, aka Refreshing Terrace:

Couple Pine, so called because "its two trunks stand(ing) abreast out of one root like a couple leaning close to each other." Note all the padlocks by the bridge:

 The Sea Exploring Pine:

The vista that awed me the most was the one at Beginning to Believe Peak 始信峰, at 1683 meters (5522 feet) above sea level. It made a believer out of me:

As we made our way back to the Xihai Hotel for dinner and to settle in for the evening, the cloud cover quickly fell upon us, making it difficult to see the path:

The thick fog meant it would be pointless to wake up before dawn in order to see the sunrise (though that didn't appear to stop some people from trying early the next morning), but it also ensured we would get enough rest before the daunting descent that lay ahead of us the following day:

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