Huangshan - A Breath of Fresh Air

Updated on  | By | Permalink

Hiking one of China's most famous and beautiful (and crowded) mountains.

Accompanying pictures available here.

6 hours on a bus, 3 hours in a taxi, 10 hours on a mountain, and 13 hours on a train. All for what? A breath of fresh air and a worthy blog post.

Last Thursday, a combination of boredom, bad air circulation in my office building, and my fortuitous discovery of the Chinese martyr poet Qu Yuan and the holiday weekend that honors him drove me to search the web for something to climb within public transportation distance of Shanghai. Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) was the immediate front runner.

After an epic scamper all over Shanghai by Lena and hijacking of my boss’ secretary’s translation skills by me, we had Saturday morning bus tickets to the nearby city of Tunxi (base camp), 2 nights at a family-run apartment B&B, and a night train back to Shanghai Monday night.

The bus ride to Huangshan revealed to us that foreigners are impractically large to ever be comfortable in conditions designed for the petite Chinese body. Relieved to have use of our limbs again, we wandered through the streets of Tunxi in search of an ATM to fill our empty wallets and, subsequently, our empty stomachs. Unfortunately, a quarter of the population of China also decided to come to Tunxi this weekend and withdraw cash as well. “Mei you qian.” The banks were out of money. Five unsuccessful ATM interactions later, Lena and I began discussing which parts of our environment looked edible. Fortunately, a friendly bank employee halfway across town was able to reprogram the ATM and allow us access to the last bit of yuan left in Tunxi.

After a day of pampering at Steven’s Huangshan City B&B, acquisition of dual walking sticks (5 RMB a piece!) for each of us, and an early night, we set off at 5am Sunday for the base of the mountain. My broken Chinese and our driver’s shattered English left both parties confused on where and when we would be meeting but there was a mountain to be clumb and details would have to wait for later.

It rained the entire way up. We didn’t mind. It made us feel cooler (on both the temperature and epicness scales). We passed produce stands offering fruit and souvenirs and groups of thin, young men offering rides in bamboo chariots every few hundred meters. We marveled at creative Chinese rock formation names such as “Heavenly Dogs Watching the Moon” and “The Peacock Playing the Lotus”. We stopped to rest only once, pressured onward by our new Chinese friend’s frequent and enthusiastic chants of “Be quickly!”

After about three hours, we proudly summited. We paused to nibble on some mysterious fruits that we had acquired at a local market in Tunxi and found that, even after eating them, the fruits remained mysterious. We soon set off in search of the famed Grand Canyon of the West Sea and Walking Fairy Bridge. In China, however, one does not swim against the stream and we helplessly floated among the sea of people flowing across the mountain top, unsure of where we were headed next.

Fortune favors the clueless Americans, however, and we flowed to some incredible photo spots and soon met a group of English-speaking Indian and Chinese business travelers and bonded over conversations on American politics, Chinese culture, and Indian water shortages. Our new friends, however, traded pride for practicality and left us to take the cable car down the mountain. Determined to finish our journey, Lena and I consumed a bag of peanuts and set off on our descent.

The way was unforgivingly downward as we raced down flight after flight, past tempting gates leading up to a more precarious peak closed to the public. Surprisingly the way down was harder on both the legs and mind, seeming longer and more difficult and when we finally reached the bus station at the end, we were relieved to shuttle back to our clairvoyant taxi driver, awaiting us in the parking lot.