Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hiking Huangshan or How I Made Myself Sore For 5 Days

When Matthew and I realized that our time left in China was limited, we began scheduling lots of weekend trips. One of those trips was to Yellow Mountain, or Huangshan.


Before heading to Huangshan, I wrongly thought that Yellow Mountain was a single mountain. But in reality, Huangshan refers to an entire mountain range in southern Anhui province.

There are literally hundreds of peaks and thousands of ravines in the Yellow Mountains, 72 of which have been named. Heavenly Capital Peak (1800m), Lotus Flower Peak and Bright Summit (1841m/6040ft) are the three major peaks, all rising more than 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) above sea level. That means that at times, I was standing next to a cliff that dropped down over a mile. For this heights adverse gal, the trip was often harrowing.


We arrived Friday night and spent some time exploring Tangkou, the town situated at the bottom of the mountains. That took about 10 minutes because Tangkou is TINY. With more time than we knew what to do with, we took the suggestion of our hotel and headed to the hot springs to relax for a few hours. Heaven. My only regret is that we visited the hot springs prior to ascending the mountain and not after. But soaking in a pool of hot water scented with wine and coconut milk wasn't a bad way to spend a Friday night.

Early the next morning, we joined the masses in line to take the buses into the park. As Huangshan is a national park, the only way to enter is on foot or via the National Express bus. We arrived at the Yungu Cable Car or Eastern Steps and then rode the cable car to the top. I don't remember much of the 12 minute cable car ride, though Matthew claims it was beautiful. I had my head between my knees and was trying to ignore the Chinese people pointing at the foreign girl who was freaking out. Like I said, I don't do heights.


After nearly meeting my death (I'm sure the cable cars are totally safe, but it FELT like I was going to die at any moment), we spent a few moments getting our bearings and then began the hour long hike to our hotel. Some of the best views on Huangshan are sunrise and set, and staying on the mountain meant that we could enjoy them.


We arrived at our hotel only to find there was a small snafu with our room, as in they didn't have one for us. But we were able to sort things out and received free accommodations in the single sex dorm rooms. Not what we had planned but it just added to the experience. We dropped off our bags and started off on another hike.


We then spent the next five hours going up paths that looked like this:


And down stairs that looked like this:


It was beautiful, thrilling, and at times terrifying. The guard rails were only often knee high and a small stumble could send you tumbling over the side of a mountain. Thankfully, while there were thousands of other tourists with us on the mountains that day, the crowds thinned considerably once we were away from the cable cars. At one point, we hiked for over an hour without seeing another soul.


Our original plan had been to watch the sunset at Fairy Walking Bridge, but once we made our way there, we knew there was no chance we would want to hike back the same way in the dark. We instead headed back up the trail, closer to our hotel and settled in for the show.


We could see the masses of people sitting far away on Bright Top, but enjoyed our empty spot along the trail, even if the sun disappeared behind a mountain before it reached the horizon.


As the darkness began to settle, we headed to our hotel for showers and much needed food. We had managed to skip lunch amid the hotel mixup and were famished after over 6 hours of hiking.


Staying in the hostel section of the hotel meant that we had little choice as to when we awoke the next morning. At exactly 4am, the lights in my room came on and everyone began to prepare for sunrise. We slipped on some thermals (despite wearing shorts during the day) and joined the masses en route to Bright Top. Why isn't there a photo of the sunrise in this post? Because there wasn't much of one. Thick fog and crowds of people meant that we couldn't even get close to seeing the sun come up. Back in our rooms, we showered and prepared for another long day.


We spent the next five hours hiking down the Western Steps of Huangshan. While Saturday had given us blue skies and beautiful views, Sunday proved to be wet and foggy. But it meant the trails were fairly empty and the temperatures were moderate on the way down. Around noon, we arrived at Mercy Light Pavilion and happily jumped on a bus back to Tangkou. As our flight to Shanghai was not until much later that evening, we checked into a hotel for showers and an afternoon nap. After we devoured a bowl of noodles that is.


Afterwards, we realized we had walked over 13 miles/21 km, mostly on stairs, over the two days on the mountains. I consider myself to be in fairly good shape (I teach 2 spin classes and run an average of 15 miles a week, plus I'm about to run my third 1/2 marathon in a year), and I have to tell you, Huangshan was no joke. While I never felt unable to make it, I was sore when we woke up on Sunday. And I was even more sore Monday morning. In fact, I found it hard to go down stairs even on Thursday. But the views? Well, they made everything worth it.


  1. I'm not sure if you've sold me on the idea of going or not! I can't stand on a chair without getting dizzy so that cable car doesn't fill me with confidence. But the views are amazing.....

  2. What a great adventure! Stunning photos. My guess is that now that you have an end date, you will savor all the more the beauty around you. Happy trails!

  3. Afraid of heights? Haven't you gone sky diving?!? :)

  4. I have some serious mountain envy. These pictures are gorgeous!!!

  5. Your pics are amazing! It's terrible how when you live in China, as opposed to just traveling through, how little traveling you get to do. There is just so much to see! I've been here 4 years and I think my "too see" list is longer than when I got here.

  6. Great Pictures And Looking Natural and Beautiful.I like it.Thanks for sharing.


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