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.

The coffee shop wouldn’t give us empty cups, so the hot chocolate went into our empty soda bottles

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.

Here comes the sun

Worth the early wake-up call

Morning on the summit

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.

On the way to Bright Top Peak

Morning haze across the mountains

At Bright Top Peak, second-highest peak of Huang Shan

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.

You can see our path down the mountain in the background

Looking west from Turtle Rock

Some steps carved right into mountainside

Climbing up the “One Hundred Ladders”

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.

The beginning of endless steps downward

Look closely and you can see the path we’re taking down the mountain

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 “no-fun” crew informs us “No carp for you!”

Many unique-looking trees up here

Where’s the “Rocks are napping” sign?

We swear, this was not taken against a fake background.

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.

Keeping the mountain clean

This is why everything up here is so expensive

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.)


At Mercy Light Temple – where is the bus!!!

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.

We inhaled this meal after our l-o-n-g hike

1200 ml of beer for $1.60 really hits the spot – Cowboy Matt approves

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.

Another successful navigation of China’s public transportation system

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!

5 Comments on “Day 13: Huang Shan”

  1. Hello Mountain Climbers! Awesome, awesome, awesome!!!!!
    I had goose bumps looking at some of those mountain scenes!
    We love the “cowboy” hat on Matt but it does suit you too, Nick. You two sure plan ahead with all of your snicky snacks. We can’t wait to see ALL of your pictures of the trek up and down the mountain. And you met more wonderful, helpful people! We’re so glad you didn’t plan that trip to Japan. Enjoy your last three days at the Peninusula.
    (See, Dad was right about the Regency Club! So glad you guys enjoyed it.) Love, Mom and Dad

  2. OKkkkk…so who needs a stair-stepper!!! I didn’t think I could be more amazed, but you’ve done it again! Absolutely incredible photos and landscape…very nice picture of the two of you. (Nicole, I love your ‘bedroom attire’) 🙂 After just looking at all the picture of the steps and path down, etc. the pictures of the food looked extra scrumptious. Your experience with this Mr.Hu sounds very unique and wonderful – it is nice to know that you are representing the best of American travelers. Can’t wait to hear more details of your experiences… Have fun as you head to Beijing! Hugs!

  3. And to think you almost would have been in Japan had it not been for an expiring Visa. The pictures and videos coming out of Japan say “be glad you are not here!” The tsunami did the biggest damage killing hundreds of people and stranding hundreds of tourists.

    Nicole you are a fascinating writer. If Matthew doesn’t help you edit your writing, that makes your blog writing even more impressive.

    Awesome photos with calf-aching experience–what more could you ask for?

  4. WOW!! What a trip of a lifetime you two are having. Incredible!!! The views are breathtaking on the blog. I can only imagine how wonderful this was to experience. Can’t wait to see you guys when you come home. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of stories to tell.

    Love to both,


  5. Wow these pictures are amazing! Hard to believe places like that exist. I liked the one picture…it does look like you two went to Six Flags for the day and got suckered into a booth, sat down and chose a mountain landscape. Love it!

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