Sunday, September 14, 2008

Huangshan (Yellow Mountain)

After a little break from writing on the blog, I finally have something new and interesting to write about. This past week I went on an overnight trip to Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain, with a two British guys my school here in Hangzhou. Huangshan is one of China's most famous sites and is often the mountain used for traditional Chinese paintings of mountain landscapes. It is very impressive to see in person and looks a lot different than most of the other mountains I have seen in my life. One of my initial observations about Huangshan was just how developed it is for such a rugged mountain. There are stone steps and paths covering all of the trails, with shops intermittently spaced along the trail to buy water, food, etc. What's more, there are trams to carry people up to the top and hotels to stay the night. At first I was daunted by the amount of effort required to make all the paths and build the hotels, until I realized I was in the country that built the Great Wall. For our trip, we planned to travel to Huangshan on the first day, hike up to the top and stay at one of the hotels overnight near the top of the mountain. The next day we would wake up early for the sunrise, which is one of the main drawing points of Huangshan. We started off around midday the first day and took a bus from Hangzhou to Huangshan. On the bus, we were able to experience one of the interesting things about long haul bus travel in China. Since our bus was not initially full, the bus driver and his assistant would stop and pick up random people along the way to fill up the bus and make a few extra bucks. Normally, the people would get dropped off pretty close to the normal route the bus should take, but we definitely did a bit of backtracking and it added some time to our 4 hour bus ride, which was supposed to take 3 hours. Another interesting part of the bus ride, at least to me, was that we got to see some rural farmland along the way. I'm not sure how farmland is across all of China, but the parts that we saw offered some clear distinctions between what I am used to seeing as farmland in the US. A lot of differences were things I already knew about, but just knowing something from reading about it doesn't necessarily allow you to grasp the realities that result from the situation. For example, I know there is still a huge population of rural farmers in China and that the farming is more communal in nature, but I didn't realize the reality of how small each farmer's plot would be, how many people would be working on the farms, and how intermixed small cities would be with the farmland. Also, while knowing Chinese farmers still use traditional farming techniques, I was still surprised to see animals instead of machines being used to plow the land and the farmers doing a lot of the work by hand. Contrast that with farmland in the US, which seems to have been largely consolidated into large tracks of land since most of the farm work is done with machines or is automated in some way. I think the lasting impression for me will be that farms in China seem to be full-fledged communities, whereas the image in my mind of a US farm is solitary farmer riding a tractor with the land stretching as far as the eye can see in the distance. Who knows, this may be a pretty amateur observation, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless. Once we finally arrived near Huangshan mountain, it took us awhile to figure out exactly where we needed to go to start our hike. After talking to a few people, we found that the best route was to hike up the eastern side since it was a bit shorter, then hike down the western side. However, once we decided what we would do, it was already getting a little late. We still wanted to make it up the mountain that night, though, so that we could see the sunrise the next morning. So we bought some flashlights (or torches as the two British guys I was with called them) and figured we'd hike in the dark if we had to.
Village Near Huangshan
Village with Huangshan in the Distance
Huangshan Ticket Office
The hike up was very steep and was long staircase after long staircase. At first we were all taking two steps at a time and making quick progress, but after a half hour of that, we all burned up our initial energy reservoirs and had to do one step at a time with more frequent breaks. We started around 6:00 pm, but after an hour, we were soon hiking in the dark. The flashlights really saved us and it ended up not being too bad hiking in the dark. We made it to the top in around two hours, even though most people said it would take about three hours. We did get lost a little bit at the top trying to find our hotel due to the confusing maps, but we finally made it. We ate a nice meal at our hotel's restaurant, then went to sleep so we could wake up at 5 am the next morning.
Hiking Up Huangshan
When we woke up the next morning, we saw that a thick fog had settled in overnight and that there was some off and on rain. We figured that since we had already woken up at 5, we might as well hike up to the "Bright Peak" where everyone went to watch the sun come up. After waiting around for an hour or so without any noticeable sunlight, we headed back down to our hotel area feeling a little disappointed.
The Sun Coming Up, Oh Wait...
After looking at the map and thinking about our options, we decided to start heading down the mountain and see a few other peaks and sites along the way. We did get lucky a few times on our way down when the fog would clear up and we could see the sheer cliffs of Huangshan.
James, Nathan, and Wes
Trees, Cliffs, and Fog Stone Stairs This Disgustingly Sweaty Individual Apparently Attended Northwestern Huangshan View in Fog
One of the sites we went to was the "Fairy Bridge". It was really cool and we got lucky because the fog cleared up somewhat right as we were getting there. It was about an hour roundtrip or so, but we were all glad we went there as it was one of the better views we had. For those naysayers, the hike was a lot more difficult and manly than the name might suggest.
Wes at Fairy Bridge
View from Fairy Bridge View from Fairy Bridge Close Up of Man Made Stone Structure
As we hiked down a bit further, the fog cleared up enough to be able to get a better view of the mountain. One of the cooler peaks we saw was one called "Celestial Capital Peak". There was a long stairway up, but since we had already gone up and down several peaks that day with poor visibility at the top of the peaks, not to mention that our legs were getting pretty tired at that point, we decided to go around the peak and keep heading down the mountain.
View Near Celestial Capital Peak Wes near Celestial Capital Peak Huangshan Long Stairway Up Celestial Capital Peak (In Middle of Picture) Wes, Nathan, and James
We kept making our way down the mountain and were getting pretty tired towards the end. By our estimation, we hiked at least 20km (13 miles) that day, and probably more due to the roundabout path we took hiking down the mountain. At first I was feeling pretty manly from the hard hiking we had done, that is, until I saw the Chinese workers who were carrying huge loads of food, drinks, and other supplies up the mountain. One of them was even carrying half of a slaughtered pig (without any covering of any kind I should mention), which is no doubt the most sanitary method of bringing raw meat up the mountain. They were carrying the loads not with soft padded backpacks, but with hard bamboo poles cut in half that rested on one shoulder with another bamboo pole over the opposite shoulder to provide a counter balance. One of the workers said his pack was 80kg (~176 pounds). That is unbelievable to me that they were able to carry that much weight up such steep stairs. It looked extremely difficult, but I swear they were only sweating about as much as I was and I was walking downhill.
Huangshan View
Huangshan View
Chinese Worker Carrying Load
Overall, the trip worked out pretty well. Despite the fog we had in the morning, we were still able to see some awesome views. Sometimes the fog might have even added an extra effect to the views that would make it better than normal. The hiking was pretty difficult, though, and after two days of hiking, my legs were really sore and I've been hobbling around like an old man since I got back. Huangshan was a very beautiful mountain and I would like to come back at some point when I knew the weather was going to be better so I could get clear views of the mountains and also see the sunrise. So if anyone is looking to come visit me in China and do some hiking (Dad, I'm looking at you), I think Huangshan would be a great option. Here is the link to the picasa gallery for more pictures:


Phil Dawsey said...

So would you say you like hiking stairs or paths better?

Since you haven't been sick yet, I think you should test your body and start getting questionable things like some of that pig!

Alice said...

great pictures, wes! It's always fun to see what's going on outside of my small studying filled room =p

Anonymous said...

Just came back from Huangshan and what a spectacular place. We tried to find the fairy bridge but couldn't find it so very jealous to see your pics! Besides that, the path got a bit scary for us so we decided to abandon. You weren't worried about the height, even in the fog? There were butterflies in my stomach in alot of places.