Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Climb Every Mountain! Or at least Yellow Mountain...

Yup, I climbed a mountain. And it was no small feat. In fact, it was around 5,900 ft.

A while back, my fellow teachers and I had white water rafted very close to this mountain, and ever since it has been a "must see" for us. Due to different schedules, however, we've been forced to visit in small groups. Mine was the second to Huangshan (黄山), so we got a lot feedback from the first group on what to expect, what to bring and what to see.

We were told to bring our own food and drink, because even though several stalls made both readily available, it was very expensive in comparison. Also, buy ponchos. Rest and drink water often, basically anything anyone who has ever hiked knew.

In terms of what to see, I was given a map with several attractions circled, but the NUMBER ONE thing we had to see was Ying Ke Song, or the Welcoming-Guest Pine. I'll get to that later

So our trip's beginning was less than stellar. Emily, Michael and I were supposed to leave around 7:40 p.m. by train on Sunday, but due to some unfortunate events, Michael ended up having to catch the next train... but still got to Huangshan City before Emily and I! (We were less than thrilled.) Emily and I, expecting to arrive at ~11:30, actually arrived at 1 a.m. and blearily stumbled to our hostel, luckily close to the train station.

After a very tired discussion, we agreed to skip the hostel's bus to the mountain (which left at 6 a.m.) and instead catch a later bus at the train station. That at least gave us two more hours.

We arrived exhausted and sore and maybe a little cranky with an entire mountain looming over us. Once we got our tickets (160元 with a student card) and got to the mountain with the help of a helpful and bilingual tour guide, we began our ascent.

It took ten minutes until the complaining started.

The amount of stairs was staggering. Even now as I remember them, it's a very different feeling, being at the bottom of the steps. The food went quickly and we lamented on not bringing more fruit.

Although, it was a lot of fun and we offered many of the Chinese visitors some entertainment. Emily, in a fit of frustration, sat down and exclaimed "I have no motivation to climb any more! I hate mountains!". At first everything was silent, and then the Chinese man sitting next to Emily started chuckling, followed by his wife. Michael just burst out laughing and soon everyone was in a fit of giggles. (Lesson: It is never safe to assume you are around non-English speaking natives.)

As we continued the treacherous climb, at one point I resorted to crawling up a particularly long flight of stairs, entertaining natives and tourists alike.

So after what seemed like hours and hours, we finally arrived to Ying Ke Song. The tree that we absolutely HAD to see. Was dead. And held together with cables to keep the picturesque scene you often see if you Google Huangshan. We were so non-pulsed by this tree, that we entertained everyone around who seemed genuinely excited to take pictures with this tree.

We had to take our pictures with this tree, and we had to look like we were having fun, and all of the natives thought our attitude towards the tree was hilarious. At one point, I felt the need to double check if this was the right tree, because I had been expecting something amazing, like an amazingly huge tree or this breathtakingly gorgeous tree. Not to say that it wasn't gorgeous, but the tree just couldn't hold up to our expectations.

So after that, we continued to the very, very top. It was a harrowing climb, and at times dizzying to look down. But we made it, and promptly awarded ourselves with snickers (an essential supply for a long hike), we also got medals with our names and the date engraved to commemorate our accomplishment. All in all, despite being a test of will and endurance, it felt amazing to stand on top of that mountain in the clouds. And for a moment everything was serene.

We found our hostel with relative ease, though once we arrived we were roughed up and exhausted and running pretty low on energy and enthusiasm. The hostel, despite not having keys, was extremely comfortable and we welcomed a nice warm shower.

The plan then was to wake up at an ungodly hour (4:30 a.m.) to see the sunrise, but as the alarms went off and everyone in the hostel peaked outside, we saw black rain. And instead of getting our ponchos and most likely being cold, wet, miserable and tired, we all just curled back up in our warm beds and waited for the sun.

The rain, though making us miss what probably would have been an amazing sunrise, gave way to a gorgeous day. Blue skies, light winds. And I wasn't even sore!

However, due to ill planning, our group made for home. The way back wasn't terrible, in fact, we had to take the cable car down on the east side, which made for a pleasant end.

The way back was a little stressful, as our train would wait a good thirty minutes to an hour at two of the stations we passed through. (Though one stop, we sat by this train with adorable girls who were thrilled to be across from Westerners.)

All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I would greatly recommend it should you ever be in the area. Though it is not a task to be taken lightly and one should prepare for it as best one can.