Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cheats never prosper!

The whole reason for us coming to this area was to climb the ubiquitous Huangshan Mountain, a top on Adams list of must see attractions! Having previously climbed Emei Shan, a gruelling task of walking up and down stone steps for 10 hours a day for 2 days, I had some reservations... but reading about it the impression was that it would be no where near as hard, phew.

That wasn't accounting for a nightmare beginning to our day... The reason I say cheats never prosper is because when we left our hotel we were harangued by a bus driver at the station which caused us to jump into a taxi to go to the bus station... said taxi driver then asked us where we were going and offered us what seemed like a fairly decent price to go straight to Huangshan... hmm we thought- yes this seems more appealing and faster than getting the bus... ok!

Off on route the lady cab driver (who I had insisted on grabbing in some crazy stand for feminism) spent most of the 70km journey badgering us about where we were going to stay that night. I'll point out we were planning on staying at the top, even though we had heard it was expensive, but she would not stop going on about it! She then picked someone else up, crafty! And went on and on at us the whole way... The next thing she was pulling up outside a hotel and trying to get us to stay there. In hindsight what we should have done was say naff off about this hotel and take us to the base of Huangshan...but of course we just assumed that it must be very nearby and therefore paid her and went off on our merry way...

Pretty irritated by her antics, I became more and more irritated when we had been walking a main road for about 15 minutes and saw signs which suggested we were still at least 3km from the base. Walking along what can only be described as a virtual motorway we plodded along, unsure how long it would take but incensed that we would not get another taxi having already wasted money on one! Of course most people who know me well should right about now be feeling sorry for Adam as the situation obviously worked me up into a fury about which I ranted about the annoyance of Chinese cab drivers, China in general, and Chinese Mountains! All slightly unfair in retrospect, asides from the cab driver of course!

2 hours later(!) we decided to give up and get another taxi which took us to the base of the Eastern steps. Driving in that taxi it literally dawned on us that it would have taken another 2 hours to get there if we hadn't jumped in- what that annoying woman was doing dropping us at that hotel I will never know!! Anyway, rageous McCarthy did gradually subside (fortunately for Adam who at this point would probably have liked to push me off the edge!) and we made the most of the three hour uphill slug. Hard work! Esp after the 2 hour trek beforehand! Still as much as I hate to admit it there is something rewarding about climbing Mountains, even if it is incredibly painful at points!

Huangshan is famous for being coated in mist, and by the time we reached the top it was no exception. There is not a “top” as such, instead it is covered in lots of different peaks- in essence, it's pretty massive. The mist was so thick at the top that sunset was a no no, but apparently it is a lucky rarity to see it at all. We were slightly taken aback at the cost of the hotels, cheapest setting us back about £85- ouch! But it had a hot bath which was heavenly, and an ok restaurant. In fact I was amazed at the fancy hotels at the tops as there aren't any roads... god knows how they build all these things...

The next morning the wake up call was at 4.30am ouch! We set out in the dark to go up to a peak and watch sunset. I have to admit I totally lamed out here... I walked up to the peak and it was still misty, and I was cold and lame and... went home for some more shut eye! Leaving Adam to enjoy sunset virtually alone, apart from one Chinese man who turned to him and told him that the last time he had been there was 30 years ago when he was a student, “it feels like a different life” he said. “I used to think Chinese art was make believe, until I came here and saw it for myself”. How very true.

I did get up about 7 and we set off to climb various peaks around the top, all of which were pretty spectacular. The mist is constantly moving so it changes the scenery all the time, mountains and peaks disappear and appear, it is all quite other worldly. At about 10 we decided to go for our descent down the Western steps. Except the descent isn't really a descent, as we found ourselves going up and down more cliffs. It was really different scenery to the previous day and it was much much busier, the constant blare of a tour groups microphone always somewhere in the background! As hard going as it was at times it was also pretty amazing. About three hours later we reached a point when we had to decide whether we would go straight down or instead go up “Celestial Peak” which the guidebook said was worth saving energy for. Staring up at the path which stretched straight up a mountain ledge we paused for thought, but then thought fck it, we're here once... lets do it!

My god was it a tough climb. Straight up for about an hour, with the use of ropes and things to help stop you slipping off the side. One you got to to the top it was immense, we were so high that if you leaned over the edge you were above the constantly moving mist. It was also quite intense because unlike what you'd get in the health and safety mad UK, there were no real barriers in place so you definitely felt like you had to be pretty careful not to slip and suddenly propel yourself over the edge! We then began our descent over the other side, which was mental. No other word can describe it! At points the path was so narrow you could barely get through, at points through really narrow caves... it was insane! To be fair we noticed pretty quickly that only young people were doing this particular walk so we realised there may have been warnings about the difficulty in chinese at the bottom. I swear, if you were a big fatty you wouldn't make it down as you simply wouldn't fit through. Fortunately, even though we have been stuffing our faces constantly, we made it through.

Following this we had another two hours to the bottom, needless to say by the bottom my legs were shaking and I felt exhausted... We managed to jump on a bus and made it back to the hostel and hot showers and cold beers in Tunxi pretty quickly... It was really hard but as always, I am glad now that I did it. You really do feel like you have accomplished something after climbing a mountain, although every time I am doing it I swear it will be the last time!!! We shall see eh.

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