Day 13: Huang Shan
Note: Back from the internet-less mountains — days 11, 12 and 13 posted…
This morning we woke up before dawn to see the sunrise. We made hot chocolate and ate the breakfast we brought along – fruit, muffins, and granola bars. Our hotel provided red down coats for all the guests – we’d brought our own jackets, but we wore the hotel’s so we fit in with all the other Chinese tourists.
Less than ten minutes from the hotel is one of the best spots on the entire mountain to watch the sunrise. We followed the red-coated crowd up to the Refreshing Terrace, where we staked out our spot and waited. When we heard shouts and gasps from people watching higher up, we knew it was almost time, and suddenly a sliver of orange appeared behind one of the peaks.
After the sunrise, we walked back to the hotel to check out and plan our route down the mountain. There are two sets of steps on Huang Shan – the Eastern Steps, described by Lonely Planet as “long and hard”, and the Western Steps, described as “longer and harder”. Our cable car trip brought us up the eastern side, so we decided to walk across the summit and go down the western side, climbing a couple of the peaks along the way.
This hike was no walk in the park; it was nonstop steps with very few flat paths. Almost every Chinese tourist carried the standard-issue, sold-everywhere, wooden walking stick, but we were too tall for them to be effective. We stopped frequently to catch our breath and check out the amazing views.
We passed by Lotus Flower Peak, the tallest on the mountain (its narrow stairway was lined with tour groups) and kept going toward the challenge of Celestial Capital Peak and its even narrower and steeper stairway. Eventually we reached the top of the western cable car, Jade Screen Peak, Greeting-Guests-Pine, and all the tour groups just arriving on the mountain. We pushed our way through the crowds and continued our descent in near solitude.
When we arrived at Celestial Capital Peak (which, according to Frommer’s, features a narrow, 85-degree snaking staircase called the “Carp’s Backbone”) we found it closed for maintenance. We were disappointed – this peak featured a precariously narrow bridge at the top that we were looking forward to braving, but based on the posted sign, it has been closed since December 2009 so apparently nobody has braved it in quite a while.
The mountain is kept in great condition; we saw many workers sweeping paths, patching steps, etc. Everything on the mountain – food, drinks, supplies – is brought up on foot by porters, who hang the loads from long wooden poles balanced on their shoulders. You can hire porters to carry your luggage up, and if you get really tired, you can hire them to carry YOU up in sedan chairs. We saw some bags being carried up, but no people.
Down, down, down we climbed; once we left the summit area, the path was almost continuously downhill via endless sets of stairs. Another way to think of it: take the elevator to the top of the Sears Tower, walk down, ride up again, walk down again, ride up once more, walk halfway down. Four hours from when we started, we arrived at Mercy Light Temple (the start of the western steps) with shaky legs and aching calves. (OK, by “we” I mean me. OMG.)
We took a bus down to the front gate then walked along Tangkou’s main street back toward Mr. Hu’s place. A block away, Mr. Hu himself greeted us and made sure we turned down the right alley. We were positively starving and had been looking forward to lunch all morning. Over a delicious meal of fried noodles and braised beef with potatoes, carrots, and onions, we talked with Mr. Hu about our trip and left an appreciative message in his notebook.
Our bus back to Hangzhou was scheduled to leave at 4:30, but we’d made good time down the mountain and had Mr. Hu arrange for us to get on the 2:30 bus instead. At 2:30 we were led out to the main street where the bus stopped to let us on; it was completely full save for two seats in the very back. No matter – we were happy to be heading back earlier than expected and arrived in Hangzhou around 6:30.
We caught a cab back to the Hyatt (again, thanks Mom and Dad!) and enjoyed a lovely meal of appetizers and drinks in the Regency Club lounge. Huang Shan was an incredible place to visit and was absolutely worth all the pain I’m currently feeling in my calves. 🙂 Tomorrow we leave for Beijing and the last leg of our trip!