A Farewell Climb in China

Stairs and stairs and stairs and stairs, and just when you think you reach the stop, you’re staring at another 3 mile long staircase. Once I finished up my school program at Tsinghua University, I eagerly took the earliest train out of Beijing and headed toward west Xi’an.

If you’re interested in visiting Huashan Mountain, I recommend you stay at the Huashan Hotel. I know it sounds unoriginal, but there are several hotels surrounding the mountain, and I simply recommend this place because it was the only place I could find that offered free breakfast every morning. Seems like a silly and simplistic reason, but after backpacking for six weeks, I reassure you that you’ll save a good chunk of change by doing so.

An important factor to know is that nobody – and I mean nobody – speaks English in this area. Before I left my program, I had to ask the students that were in my group to write down sentences that I needed in order to get where I needed to go, and I strongly recommend that to you as well.

Before heading to the mountain, I traveled around the small town of Xi’an for supplies. In a 5-mile radius from the Mountain entrance you will find the Lotus Statue and several restaurants, but they all offer the exact same meal. When I say this though, I mean it literally. Both the menus and pictures of food that are displayed outside these restaurants are exactly the same, even the color of the buildings ditto next to one another.

As for grocery stores, I was only able to find one large store with snacks that I would deem suitable for hiking. Fruit, condensed biscuits and prepacked sandwiches. I also bought two large jugs of water to both refill my metal drink containers and to have back at in my room. The hotel offers two free bottles of water a day, but otherwise you are served hot boiling water which is unfavorable during this scorching summer weather.

I had read that many buses offer you free rides to the mountain entrance, but the bus drivers would never allow me on, so perhaps I had missed out on something and ,since I couldn’t speak Chinese, I ended up walking to the mountain entrance. It’s only about a 20 minute walk and you can’t get lost because of all the signs that point toward it.

Also, it’s easier to get a taxi in China than in New York. While I walked to the entrance, taxis would either honk past me offering a ride or even pull up beside me and follow me for a while. Stay away from the unregistered drivers that offer you rides – “black taxis” – as there have been cases of people being abducted by these drivers. Personally I think they’re just trying to make a few bucks, but I still didn’t take the risk.

Since this mountain contains all of the five main peaks of China, there are several routes that you can travel to the top. In my experience taking either the west or east was both the simplest and easiest because you’re taken by bus to the main base of the mountain – otherwise you’re just walking to the beginning if that makes any sense.

As for cost, it’s 180 Yuan for an adult and 90 Yuan for students, so make sure to bring your student I.D card! You also have to pay an additional fee for the bus up which you absolutely need (40 yuan), unlike the rail cart that lets you skip the initial staircase for 130 yuan.

Important thing to know is that you can buy an absolutely awesome and high quality map of the entire mountain for less than $1 to the left of the admissions desk. If you ever go here buy this map! Not only is it useful while hiking, but it’s a phenomenal souvenir that tells a story in itself. I doodled and took notes on mine. Way cooler than any magnet from a gift shop.

The initial hike up the mountain is absolutely staggering. I decided to skip the rail cart because I truly wanted to hike this mountain, and you can’t say you did that if you skipped a part, right? Well two hours of zigzagging up stairs later, I finally reached … more stairs! It is astonishing how many stairs one mountain can have.

Now these stairs aren’t just your ordinary staits, oh … oh no, then it would be far too easy. These stairs incline at both a brutal and literal 90 degree angle. You’re essentially climbing these stairs as if they were a ladder while holding onto the chains dangling on the side as you do so. The steps themselves are also about 4-5 inches in length, so less than half of my foot could even fit on each step as I ascended.

To answer your question, yes, this was a common trend that you experience almost the entire mountain, so if this sounds unpleasant to you, don’t even bother, ha. You get used to the stairs after a while and after each flight of stairs you will come up to an old temple, a shrine or my favorite, more stairs.

As I scaled the mountain I couldn’t help but notice the devastating barrage of heat and humidity hitting me simultaneously. All throughout the three days that I hiked this mountain it was between 92-96 degrees Fahrenheit with air so dense that it felt like I was breathing through a streaming wet towel.

This leads to an additional unforeseen challenge while venturing across the mountain. After hiking across all five of the major peaks of China I can confirm that unless you brought your own water, you will only have hot, boiling water or warm water bottles for purchase at your disposal. This also goes the same for food as well. The most commonly-sold meal on the mountain is top ramen, so again, unless you want hot soup for lunch while hiking a mountain during high humidity, I’d pack a lunch.

My primary goal of coming to Huashan Mountain was to cross “The Plank Road in The Sky.” It’s essentially the most popular and dangerous part of the mountain located on the far south side. There’s no track record, but it has been reported that many people every year fall to their death, even though it has been reconstructed to be a safer trail to travel across. So what makes this path so dangerous?

Well … it’s exactly as the title implies. You walk across thin 12 by 16 wooden planks that are bolted (sort of) to the side of the mountain, so it’s incredibly high up. The planks are connected together with what seem to be iron rods that were bent over to clasp onto one another. You never truly feel safe while walking along these wood planks even though you’re wearing a safety harness that is connected to metal chains that hug the side of the mountain.

The height never bothered me, however, this route is a two way path, so not only do you have to deal with others walking with you along this these thin strips of wood, but you also have oncoming traffic of people trying to head back from whence they came. This results in lots of climbing over people as you hike this death trap in the sky.

One thing that you’ll see while hiking along the five peaks of China are golden locks with red cloth that are connected to the chains that follow all of the staircases. In some areas there are hardly any, but in most places there are locks, upon locks, upon locks stacked on top of one another. According to the locals it’s meant for good luck, while some locks are meant to seal the love of couples forever and tie their bond to the mountain.

After traveling up and down every single hiking trail that is mountain has to offer I can’t recommend it enough for anyone deciding to take a trip to China. It’s not somewhere you want to go if you want to connect with nature, but if you physically want to challenge yourself, absorb the culture and test your nerves on the steep stairs and cliffs, then Huashan Mountain is the place for you.

I headed back to the Beijing a day early so that I could find a hotel for the night and not feel nervous about missing my flight. The good news is that I didn’t miss my flight, however, the bad news is that I was never able to find a hotel to stay at, so I ended up sleeping at the Beijing International Airport instead.

I had to wait about 16 hours before I could finally board my 15-hour flight back to Los Angeles, and then wait 4 hours for my 3 hour train ride back home. Now I know this may sound crazy, but the time kind of flew by in all honestly. Sleeping on the floor in isn’t difficult, just a little tough on the back, and with inflight movies these days, you barely notice how long the flight is.

I’m actually writing this while I’m on the train ride back home, and it feels kind of good to be back home after traveling the world for 10 weeks straight.

In conclusion, to those of you who have read my blog, I assume that you’re interested in traveling the world. Do it. I don’t know where you want to go, or how long you want to go, but just find a way and make it happen. The idea of me traveling across the world all started with me opening up a savings account seven years ago, titling it “Adventure Time” and depositing $5 into it.

Traveling educates you in ways that a book never can. Not only do you get to discover new languages, people, food and customs, but over time you discover what kind of person you are. Ask yourself, “How well do I know myself?” You will only find the answer to this question by trying new things and exposing yourself to the world. It can be scary, nerve wracking and there’s a good chance that many people will doubt you or think you’re crazy.

I know that’s what happened to me.

Become an adventurer. Become educated. Become a storyteller. But most importantly, become the true you.

Robby Sanders Good is majoring in communication with a minor in international studies. He is travelling to China for a month this summer to teach English.

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