Saturday, 7 July 2007

Mt. Huashan

Drizzle, an early start and a 3 hour overcrowded mini-bus ride is what started a day that i will never forget. Mt. Huashan (or different spelling, Huangshan mountain), nearly 2km's high with 5 main peaks is an image most common in traditional Chinese paintings. Most paintings of mountains are most likely those of Mt. Huashan.
Starting at the bottom, i joined a group of 5 Chinese university students. One spoke
very basic English and i can basically try and speak basic Chinese. Later these students fizzled down to 2 as Mt. Huashan is very physically demanding.
Up we went, up and up and up. So many
steps, some really steep and others were wet and slippery as we were climbing inside a cloud most of the morning. There are many temples, massive boulders and countless waterfalls along the 4 hour trek that eventually took us to the lowest peak. This is where you can pay $15AUS and get here by cable car in under 5 minutes. That's cheating and the hike ended up being well worth it.
From having hardly no-one during the first few hours to having hundreds of people, fit and full of energy in-front of us felt a little touristy, but we kept going. Legs fatigued but starting to get into a rhythm, we scrambled past
the bulk to try and reach every peak this mountain has to offer in the 4 hours of daylight we had left. The cable-car peak, North, South, East and West peaks, all having their own dramatic cliffs and flora where they were all breathtaking and unique. Climbing "The Dragon Ridge", 1 metre wide and about 300 metres long with steps, handrails and 2-way traffic in-between two peaks is one of the best views i have ever seen.
Climbing to the North Peak, the furthest and highest one out of the 5 was a momentous effort. Once again there were so many steps. I have never been this high before and seeing clouds below you moving around and the sun beating down on you made me feel on top of the world, and hey, i was!
In-between the West and North Peak, is a path called 'Changkongzhandao' (The cliff side plank path). This path is pretty much the whole reason for me coming to Mt. Huashan. Originally seeing photos of this awesome sight in an email when i was working, i decided i had to come and take a look for myself. The path leads to a small lookout where it is about 70 metres in length. Once you reach the end, you just come back and continue on your way. It is a cliff face. 90 degrees. To get across, they have whacked large nails into the side of the cliff and placed planks of wood over the top for you to cross. The path is about 40cm wide! There is also a chain nailed to the rock for you to hold onto as you make your way across. For $5AUS you can choose to hire a safety harness (you would be absolutely stupid, i mean insane not to have one). Half of the path are planks of wood and the other half are foot holes carved into the rock. As the people i was with were too scared to go, i went alone taking the photos myself trying not to drop the camera with my hands shaking as if i had just drunk 20 cups of coffee.
I took my time and on the way back another brave bloke was coming towards me to do the same walk. I asked him to take a photo of me and he explained to me that the ultimate photo to
take on this path is a pose where you lean back facing the cliff wall (because of your harness), your body 45 degrees, relying 100% on your harness with both arms waving in the air! The ground by the way is 1km down.
The best i could do was lean 45 degrees over the edge but my hands were stuck firmly to the strap connecting my body to the wall. I couldn't let go, my brain was telling me "Go on, do it", but my hands wouldn't budge. Now i see myself as an adventurous person willing to try anything, but this was the first time in my short years where my brain and body disagreed with one another and it felt really strange.
I hit my limit where i had no idea what my limit was up until now. And I'm actually quite glad knowing it's hanging off a cliff relying on a piece of metal and strap, 1km up on a plank of wood, now that can't happen too often, can it? There is a saying 'Feel the fear and do it anyway'. That was actually shuffling across those wooden planks.
The adrenalin rush i got from that and hiking Mt. Huashan lasted all the way back down to the cable car where it was 7:00pm and the perfect time to leave for a 3 hour bus ride back to Xi'an.
Mt Huashan, 5 peaks and 5 blisters on my feet, coincidence? I think not.