Huangshan mountains

God Damn You Ryan

The Blog of Ryan MacInnes. Web developer and cool dude.

January 18th, 2014

Huangshan (The Yellow Mountain)

Huangshan is about a 5 hour bus ride west of Shanghai. But I took the overnight train, which was a 12 hour journey. The train was going really fast so it must have not been a very direct route.

All the "soft sleepers" were booked so I got a "hard sleeper", which is essentially a very thin mat on the 2nd level of a triple story bunk bed. Surprisingly it was comfortable enough that I got a really solid rest.

I then learned that it's pretty standard practice on Chinese overnight trains for them to wake you up at 6am. I was awoken by a train guy banging on my bed and yelling at me in Mandarin. A young guy passing by translated "move cars", which I still don't fully understand why we did but I moved nonetheless.

It was a total shitshow once you arrive at the Huangshan train station at 9am. Tons of people yelling at you and trying to sell you things, maps and hiking poles and bottles of water and such. You're herded through the throngs to a bunch of busses. I had no idea what I was doing so I just went along with it. I was sitting in a bus seat when a lady got in a huge screaming match with another lady halfway on the bus. I had no idea what was going on. After what seemed like an hour wait the bus was finally on the way.

For those that don't know (I certainly didn't before I got there, Huangshan translates to "yellow mountain". It's famous for being (supposedly) the most beautiful mountain in all of China. It was described to me as "one of the most breath-taking sites and the King of all the mountains in China" so naturally I had to go check it out.

The first bus takes you from the train station to a bus station. It's about an hour. Then you catch another hour long bus ride to the base of the mountain. When you get there you can either hike to the top or take a cable car. I opted to hike because a) I'm cheap and b) I hadn't done any real exercise since I left. If I had known what I was in for I probably would have changed my tune.

Hiking up Huangshan involves stairs. Endless, endless amounts of stairs. It's basically 6km of stairs straight up the side of the mountain. It took me 3 or 4 hours to do, and between the altitude and my pack I was utterly exhausted by the time I got to the top. All I had had that day was some water and crackers that I bought from a store at the base of the mountain. Everyone complains about how expensive water is on the mountain, and it is, relative to everywhere else (10RMB or about $1.70) though still insanely cheap by US standards obviously.

There's 4 or 5 hotels on top of the mountain and when I got there I checked into a dormitory style room in the first one I saw. The room was totally empty and I was psyched. I took a nice long shower and relaxed for a bit and spent the rest of the day wandering around the mountaintop, taking in the beautiful sites.

The only place that serves food that isn't of the convenience store variety is this super corny, but I guess fancy? restaurant in my hotel, I order a single pork and noodles dish which sets me back about $20, which is absolute highway robbery in China, the same dish would cost $3 in shanghai, but I haven't eaten all day and I hiked up a goddamned mountain so it was worth it.

When I get back to my room there's like 10 Chinese 18 year olds yelling, drinking and playing cards. None of them speak English of course, and I just want to go to sleep, though I can't for several hours.

I woke up at 5:30am when the rest of my room did, everyone gets up this early on the mountain to watch the sunrise, which is supposed to be spectacular. On this particular morning it was fairly overcast so I was pretty underwhelmed.

I had heard of a bridge on the mountain called the Fairy Bridge and I was determined to see it, then my plan was to hike down the mountain via the western route (I came up the eastern one). I expected it to be fairly straightforwards. I did those things but literally almost managed to kill myself in the process:

First it was just confusing as fuck how to get to the fairy bridge. There's no signs and all the maps aren't to scale and most trails aren't on the maps at all (not to mention half of them are only in chinese). So by asking every park ranger I see I am finally able I make it to the bridge after about 2 hours (I set off at 8am).

It's epic as fuck:

And also hilariously there is a monkey eating of the trash right next to it:

I had no idea they even had monkeys here so I was completely caught off guard. But I was laughing at the little guy (though he probably weighed 50 lbs).

According to all the maps you can keep going past the bridge and you'll do this big downward loop that's 15k long that'll eventually plop you out at the bottom of the mountain where all the busses are. Since it's entirely downhill I figured 15k was doable in a few hours.

The thing is, no one else is going down that way. Fuckit, I say.

Very quickly I realize why. On the way up the steps were super nice and well maintained. These steps are carved directly into the mountainside and look like they've never been maintained. They're narrow, insanely steep, and slippery. Never have I ever so carefully descended a staircase before.

Once I've been going down very carefully for about 20 minutes I see a monkey on the stairs in front of me. He looks nothing like the one I saw eating trash, he's lean and looks mean. His chest is all puffed out and he's slowly walking towards me and making a growling noise. I hear a noise on either side of the path and I notice there are monkeys there too. I look behind me and yep, another one. Fuck, I'm surrounded. I'm on these narrow as stairs and I'll admit it, I'm scared of this monkey attack that is looming. I've never seen a monkey in the wild in my life and haven't the faintest clue what to do. Not to mention I can very easily fall down these stairs or off the side (no guard rail of course) to my thousand foot doom.

I decide the best course of action is to run down the stairs towards the leader of the monkey pack at full speed. It works, he scurries away. For the next half mile or so I can hear them following me down the cliff side.

Not long after I start to see a little bit of snow on the stairs. Then a lot of snow. Pretty soon they are covered in snow and ice. I was already going down the stairs very carefully, I'm reduced to a crawl. I almost fall so many times it's not even funny. Turns out boat shoes are no good for descending a snowy mountain.

After about 5 miles I make it to this ranger outpost. The ranger pulls out this little translation card asking me to sign my name and phone number. Presumably this is so they can fish my corpse out from a the bottom of a cliff later.

The next few miles follow this river down and it's actually super pleasant. In my head I'm composing the story of this blog post, and it's warm out, I'm almost down and in psyched. I'm starting to get hungry.

I get to what looks like the bottom and instead it's a weird looking construction site. This isn't a trailhead. I flag down a construction worker and show him my map and point at the base of the mountain. He points back up the way I came and jerks his hand to the right, like I missed a turn. There's a road from the construction site and I consider trying to convince him to give me a ride but I figure I'll go look for this trail first.

I walk back up 10 minutes and see another trail on the other side of this abandoned building that was hidden from the way down. I start walking up it.

And quickly realize it's all uphill. Fuck, I thought I was done with that shit. I only brought one bottle of water with me because I thought I was only going downhill, it's half gone. I ate what I believe was a chinese energy bar at 7:30am and I have no more food on me.

Also I should note that every trail I've followed thus far had a sign of some kind letting you know how long it was and what's on the other end. This trail has no such thing.

I walk up it for a while and after not long I'm exhausted, but I keep going because I'm nothing if not stubborn. Eventually this trail gets covered with snow too, only this time I'm going up. I can't emphasize enough how tiring it is walking up snow covered endless ancient stairs. I keep going and going, every 5 minutes I debate turning around but my prospects back that way don't look to promising either. I'm drenched in sweat, starving, freezing, have potential frostbite on my toes and I only have about two swigs left of water.

After about 3 hours of this my toes feel like they are on the verge of getting frost bitten and I'm starting to seriously try to remember any survivalist skills I may have once had. I tell myself 15 more minutes, if I don't see anything promising in 15 minutes I'll turn back and beg the construction workers for some water and worry about what to do next then.

Both of my quads are starting to seize up and the snow covered stairs still ascend endlessly in front of me.

After 15 minutes I look up and it looks like the Great Wall of China is above me. I figure I'm hallucinating from tiredness but I decide to walk up to it anyways.

It turns out it's real! It's a big wall covering the crest of the mountain! I've made it to the top. Of course there is nothing to signify this apart from the wall. I don't take any pictures because I'm still worried about dying.

The path on the other side goes into an identical looking valley. I have a choice, if I continue down it means if I turn around it's going to be uphill and I'm not sure I can handle anymore uphill.

Fuckit, I say again. If I'm on the verge of death I can drink some water from this creek that the onwards path seems to follow.

The path continuing down is much nicer, minimal snow, and it's slightly warmer. I follow it for about an hour and wayyyyy down below me, 2 or 3 miles I can see 2 or 3 tiny buildings. This encourages me. I keep on following it down and another half an hour I've made it to the buildings. But they look like empty offices. And the trail ends in a closed gate. At this point I'm beyond caring. I climb up the 10 foot gate, haul my pack over, and jump down. I'm on some kind of road! And there's a sign for a temple 1km away. I start walking towards it and I make it to some stairs that are going upwards, it says it's 0.1km up the stairs to the temple. Never in my life has it taken me so long to walk 0.1km. I had to stop like 5 times on the stairs I was so tired. There were a bunch of busses at the temple! I try to get on with my return ticket but they claim it was one way (totally bullshit) I don't care at all though, pay the 20rmb and climb aboard. Then I compose the majority of this blog post.

I'm now at the bus station waiting for my bus to Hangzhou to leave. I drank a whole coke, a whole water, a dove bar and a weird tasting chinese meat stick, and I'm alive.