Anthony's Interesting Times 2004 travel blog

Up the Eastern Steps - what my garden aspires to be

Summit East Side below Refreshing Terrace - in the fog

Communing with nature - with lots of shoving and shouting

Note scary platform for visitors

Some curious Chinese names - what is wrong with their footwear?

West Cloud Sea Canyon

Western Cloud Sea Huang Shan

Clouds climb the Western Ridge

Cliffside paths in early morning fog

In the cloud descending the Western Steps

Clouds lift on the Western Steps

As I said, the reason I am here is to go to Huang Shan, a 72 peak mountain range in Anhui Province. It has been a top Chinese tourist attraction for 1200 years, and inspired countless pieces of art, etc, and it is truly awesome, and the best place I have been yet in China, even though it has rained constantly for the last two days. The highest (Lotus Flower) Peak is about 7,000 feet and there are about 30 over 5,000, and I think I went up most of them this morning (not on purpose).

Early start yesterday, minibus to the bottom of the Eastern steps. I was sat next to this Canadian guy Peter(and his Korean wife Sook) who are also in my hostel, and saw them a lot over the next two days. Nice to be able to talk English properly. Saying that, today I had my first enjoyable Mandarin conversation. I was going down this path on the mountain, and there was this woman who looked a bit like my mother leaning on a tree singing loudly! She tagged along with me for a bit and we talked about places we had been in Europe and China, the mountain, and our families. Nice to know all that study paid off a bit.

A great drive through fab Chinese countryside. Away from the plains again and back in the mountains, with hardly any flat land, everything in sight got something growing on it. Huge bamboo forests, a la Crouching Tiger, replaced by twisted pines as we go up the mountain.

It was quite a slog, and I was soaked with sweat in no time. But even more than on Tai Shan I was impressed by the porters and all the stuff they were carrying. There were hundreds of them. Bringing laundry down as it was cheaper to pay someone to carry it all the way up and down the mountain, than to pay someone to carry the heating oil up, and every bit of food and drink, presumably as it was cheaper than using the cable car. Bizarre, and it looked like incredibly hard work.

Very different to Tai Shan. No temples anywhere, or rather they had all been converted into shops, and even more tourists thah Tai Shan, but as the summit is huge, it was very easy to lose them, though you could often hear them, shouting to demonstrate echoes, or the amplified speakers of the tour guides. But a lot of it was fabulously tranquil and empty, albeit very steep. The views were a bit obscured by clouds, but I just happily wandered around the forests exploring until I bumped into my friends again, and we went off to find our hostel, as were staying the night.

Turned out to be not much point staying on the mountain on one level, as the weather obscured both the sunrise and sunset, but a huge and dramatic storm yesterday afternnon cleared away a lot of the cloud, just when I was on the West Side of the Summit (meant to be the best), at West Cloud Sea Canyon, and it was awesome, everything I came to China for and more, though my pics can only hint at how mind-blowingly beautiful it was. In good weather I could happily stay up there a week, exploring and taking in the views. It is basically a mass of vertical peaks and ridges, with precipitous drops, little gnarled pine trees and clouds and mist. Tons and tons of it. I couldn't get enough of it and wandered around until dark getting off on it. I should say it was pissing with rain the entire time too, but that did not detract from the beauty one bit (just made me wet).

Pretty average Chinese hostel, in the end just Peter and I in a dorm, as none of the Chinese men would share with us, and they put Sook in with the women. I didn't sleep well at all, itching, feeling a bit sick, and a lot of noise (as usual). Everyone up at 4 for the sunrise, and headed off a couple of miles to the East Side but no joy. Fun wandering around the forest on my own in the dark though.

And then as I was walking even more miles back over to the Western side I had a real trough to balance the peak of the day before - worse I had had since life went tits-up. This lasted a while, though fortunately I didn't see anyone else around.

I had planned to go down this hairy looking path, though had some misgivings that it went several thousand feet down and then up again, the latter really not appealling. It was great though, and really cheered me up, both for the views, and for overcoming my fear of heights, as some it was quite radical, just stairs tacked on to the sides of cliffs dropping into infinity through the clouds. Anyway, a mile or so along it, it gave a choice between a loop back, or this even longer stair plunging downwards for ever. Stuff that I thought, and took the short loop. Good job really, as I walked for several more hours up and down god knows how many mountains, following paths (or so I thought) to where I was trying to go to get down off the mountain. That's trouble with relying on a map with only Chinese characters on it and not all the paths, or to scale. But so many glimpses of what would have been even more awesome but for the fog. And then a long climb down and home.

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