Posts Tagged ‘Hiking’

华山 – Mount Hua, Part 2

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Climbing, Life, Travel
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In certain areas, the staircases are actually quite dangerous. Only wide enough for single file hiking, iron chains stood as railings for the steepest sections. Some of the steps were only 6 inches wide, promising a quick fall to the bottom if someone up above slipped. The steepest sections felt more like climbing a ladder, where the incline increased to 70 degrees, where the previous person’s head would be pushing upwards against your butt. Zero stopping allowed.

The old staircase on the right speaks to a much more difficult climb

This older lady didn't make it all the way to top, but enjoyed the hike anyway

Around 12:30 am, I arrived at 北峰 (North Summit), slightly ahead of schedule. And it was a mad house. The cable car arrives at this summit, and there are two hostels situated in the area as well. As such, it becomes a natural staging area for people to continue towards the 东峰 (East Summit) to watch the sunrise. People eating late-night dinners, people yelling loudly to find friends they lost along the way, people napping on the granite benches everywhere, the scene was one of total chaos. Figuring that I would wait out the crowds slowly making their way up, I sat down on a bench and slept. Feeling cold, I sat up after an hour to put on a sweatshirt. The moment I sat up, someone lay down right beside me, taking my sleeping spot. I glared a thousand daggers at her, but she had already shut her eyes, pretending that I wasn’t there. I did my best to get some rest sitting upright, pretending that it was as comfortable as lying down. By 3 am, most of the crowds had already left to continue upwards, and I finally started my own journey towards the top.

I slept like this guy until someone took my spot

At 5 am, I reached the 金琐关 (Golden Locks), the intersection from which you head off to either the Western, Eastern, or Southern summits. Along the chain railings lining the path, there are thousands of golden-colored brass padlocks attached, each with a long red ribbon. The locks and ribbons are inscribed with blessings; the belief is that if the padlocks and ribbons are left on the top of 华山, the blessings will come true. The fact that you can buy them on the summit doesn’t make a difference. At 20 RMB (3.50 USD) for the smallest padlock up to 100 RMB (17 USD) for the largest, the vendors are obviously doing a roaring business.

金琐关 - Golden Locks

Heading towards the 东峰 (East Summit), the fringes of the crowd gathered there began to come into view. Hundreds of tourists had begun to stumble out of their hotel dorm rooms, or had joined me in the long crawl from the base nearly 3000 feet below. People were jostling for the best position at which to see the sun rise, while trying to avoid being blocked by the sea of black-haired heads. Rather than join the fray, I came to the conclusion that the best way to see the summit at sunrise is actually to stand below the summit. That way, I can take pictures of both the sun rising and the 东峰 as the morning glow hits the granite walls. I meandered back down to the 金琐关, where nearly no one was.

I sat down on the steps, looked out to the east, and stared in awe as the sky changed its colors from a deep pink, glowing orange, fiery red, and finally to a beautiful blue. Latecomers continued to hustle towards the proper summit, oblivious to the show that was happening along the horizon. At that moment, I forgot the hunger in my stomach, the thirst in my throat, and all the troubles that I encountered along the way. The majesty of God’s creation will always leave me breathless. I took as many pictures as I could, trying to cement the memory, though photographs will never do the experience justice.

东峰 - Eastern Summit

Sunrise over the horizon

A glow of color

After a good hour, I began to head back down, anxious to continue avoiding the crowds. I needn’t have worried, nearly all of them lined up to take the cable car down, leaving me to hike down in peace. I later heard that the line stretched back in the hundreds, with many people waiting over an hour to spend 80 RMB (14.50 USD) for the quick ride down.

Somehow hiked that ridge on the left with 500 other people

The hike down was much easier than going up, and was actually quite pleasant. I passed many people sleeping off the trail, collapsed on the ground, too tired to make it up to the summit the previous night. The sounds of the cicada was deafening, and spoke to the life that the mountain held. I enjoyed all the views that weren’t available in the dark, and looked in awe at the sheer staircases that looked so much steeper in the light.

Too tired to continue

Cicada - the most obnoxioius insect ever

华山 is made of the most incredible granite; golden medium-sized crystals had perfect texture, and just begged to be climbed. Some of the boulders that I passed on the hike down rivaled the Cacodemon boulder of Squamish in size, and boasted features unique as those found in Hueco Tanks. The cracks in the mountainside held obvious lines up towards the summit, even though they were quite dirty with vegetation. 杨老师 of the 西安 rock climbing gym said he’s climbed the mountain in a 6-day push before, and that the rock is really stellar. Unfortunately, the Chinese seem to be more interested in developing money-making hotels and selling Red Bull than investing in the natural resources right under their feet. I would love to make a multi-pitch ascent of 华山 some day, but imagining reaching the summit after 6 days only to be greeted by a tourist fresh out of his hotel room left a sour taste in my mouth. As such, next to zero development has been done on the mountain, other than the one multi-pitch route to the top, and a smattering of shorter lines.

Perfect granite

Oh really? I didn't know there was stone here

Dragon dike

On the way down, I passed a few temples and abandoned homes, speaking to the Taoists that used to frequent the mountain in search of enlightenment. I also saw these porters, carrying loads of watermelon, Red Bull, and other foodstuffs and souvenirs up the trail. Speaking to an older gentleman who must have been at least 60 years old, I learned that they each earn 60 RMB a day, working for 8 hours. The accessibility to 华山 stems from the back-breaking work that these men endure every day.

Ancient homes

These men carry goods all day

While this man cleans up garbage

Finally reaching the base of the mountain at 8:30 am, I looked back up at the summit, and marveled at the fact that I had thought it was a good idea to go up and down 3000 feet in just 7 hours of hiking. But the beauty and majesty of 华山demanded it. Even with all its quirks and misgivings, the adultery it suffers at the hands of tourists, and the broken backs of men who made it the way it is today, 华山 stands with pride. When society crumbles, hotels fall into disrepair, and vendors abandon their wares, the mountain will remain the same. I hope some day that 华山 can return to its natural state: wild and free. Only then can it have peace, the same peace that I found on its summit.

Cooling off after the hike

Back at the trailhead

He who climbs 华山 will forever have peace

Note: Once again, all photos and more can be found on my Flickr stream.


华山 – Mount Hua, Part 1

Posted: August 10, 2011 in Climbing, Travel
Tags: , , ,

华山 (Mount Hua) stands as one of the Five Sacred Taoist Mountains. With five main peaks rising over 3000 feet above the plains of inland China, the granite monolith stands as a striking symbol of the beauty that this country’s natural landscapes has to offer. As a peak of Taoist significance, temples stood at the base of the mountain as early as 200 BC, with immortality seekers and Imperial pilgrims making the arduous trek to the summit.

东峰 - East Summit

With the installation of a cable car to the minor summit in the mid 90‘s, 华山 now sees hundreds of visitors every day. The ancient wisdom holds that those who summit 华山 will find internal peace for the rest of their lives, and being that Chinese are obsessed with proving their mettle, there is a constant stream of tourists aspiring to reach the top. Regardless of whether or not you’re looking for personal enlightenment, the beauty of the mountain demands a visit.

Cable Car on the 北峰 (North Peak)

Only 120 kilometers from 西安, a 45 minute train ride for 35 RMB (5.50 USD) gets you out to the tourist town surrounding 华山. With a family of visiting Americans, I headed out there around 1:30 on Monday afternoon. The plan was to take the cable car up to the minor (北峰 – Northern) summit, tag the Western, Southern, and Eastern (西, 南, 和东峰) summits in the late afternoon, then spend a night at the summit-top hostel. That would provide the maximum amount of sightseeing for minimal effort. I was okay with this plan, though in my gut I’m a little opposed to taking a cable car up a mountain. And I’m definitely opposed to staying in a mountaintop hotel, the very existence of which I find immoral.

I then found out that it’s pretty common to climb the mountain through the night. Starting at around 10 pm, many people take around 4 hours to get to the 北峰, then another 3 hours to go to the 西峰 (Western summit) to view the sunrise the next morning. A little apprehensive about solo night-hiking, I was assured that the path was very clear, and that there would be plenty of people on the route to prevent any major mishaps from happening. Being a Boy Scout, I was already prepared with some warmer clothing and a headlamp to hike through the night. I had plenty of water too, and was told that I could buy food at the base of the mountain. 7 hours up, a cable-car ride down; sounds like a fun adventure!

I found a hostel at the base of the mountain for an afternoon nap, resting up for the hike ahead. Originally asking 250 RMB (45 USD) for the 6 hour stay, I talked the guy down to 180 RMB (30 USD) and a free shower when I came off the mountain. Always bargain in China. The bed was a sorry excuse for a bed in terms of hardness and comfort, but the air conditioning and TV were a welcome distraction. Why the room had 18 foot ceilings, I may never know. At 9:30, I woke up, packed up, and checked out. Another 10 minutes of bargaining with the hotel manager (no I don’t want a tour guide, no I don’t want to buy a headlamp, no I don’t need a porter), I finally headed off to the trail head.

Hotel for an afternoon

Throngs of people waiting to get in

This is where things got a little iffy. I knew that there would be a crowd of people joining me on the hike, after being told how popular it was. What I didn’t expect was over a hundred people clamoring at the trail head, all looking to race up the mountain. A massive crowd of people were pushing and shoving, vendors hawking their drinks and food, with a huge video screen in the back telling of the glorious Communist take-over of the mountain from Kuo Min Tang military forces in 1947. Lining up to buy my ticket, I prepared 100 RMB (17 USD).

Video screen lighting up the hillside

Park Gates

This is where things got worse. The lady behind the counter wouldn’t sell me a student ticket, and instead, insisted on charging me the full price of 180 RMB (30 USD). I explained to her that I was an American, then provided my student ID, my passport, and my drivers license as evidence. But in a more than bitchy tone, she repeatedly yelled back through the glass that all Chinese students have state-issued ID, and that I had to have that in order to get in. I spent a full 5 minutes trying to explain that I am a citizen of the USA to no avail. Now, faced with having to give up my hike to seek greater enlightenment, I gave up and paid the 180 RMB. Which left me with 20 RMB for the cab fare back to the train station, and 0 RMB for food. The four small buns and two pears I packed were suddenly all the food I had until my train home at 12:47 the next afternoon.

Finally making it past the gates of the park, I began a steady pace uphill. A gentle incline led to slightly steeper hiking, though it was all pretty manageable for the first 5 kilometers. It was pretty steep in some places, I estimate that we gained about 600 feet of elevation in that first section. The crowd began to thin out as many stopped to take breaks at the many rest stops along the way. Red Bull was available for 10 RMB (1.5 USD), along with instant noodles. The path was actually constructed of flagstones, with street lamps all the way, I didn’t have to turn on my headlamp for the first half of the hike.

Plenty of souvenirs, too

Promptly at the 5 kilometer hike, the smooth pathway stopped, and the stairs began. I could see the faint glow of street lamps lighting up the ridges high above me, but I could possibly imagine that the stairs would take the most direct path up towards them. In just 4 kilometers of stairs, I gained 2600 feet of elevation. At a 60 degree incline. On stairs. Every hundred feet or so, there would be a small flat platform to rest, and people dropped like flies onto them, nursing their tired legs. I kept trucking upwards, the promise of smaller crowds awaiting me.

Single file stairs

Staircases during the day

Note: Most photos were taken during the day on the way down. Once again, all photos (and more) can be seen on my Flickr account.