First, an overdue announcement: Pictures from Lauren and Elle’s two week “Sino-journ” are up on Flickr. As incentive for you to look at all my obviously fabulous shots I thought I’d blog (in stages) about some of the interesting stories and highlights from our travels, along with a few of the photos that didn’t make it online.
The pictures here are from Mt. Hua (aka Hua Shan), one of China’s five holy (Taoist) peaks (Mt. Hua represents Metal – later we visited Shaolin Shan in Henan, the central Taoist peak representing Heart. 2 of 5 not bad for a short trip). Climbing Huashan — that is to say, walking up a whole lot of granite steps — ranks among the top “natural” experiences I’ve had in this country. Steps aside, the hike was invigorating, the air clean, the creek crystal clear, and the scenery absolutely incredible, including some of the most unique rock faces I’ve ever seen and actual native COLOR!
Huashan is a two hour train ride east of Xi’an and we decided to make it a one way destination stop en-route home to Shanghai. Gear in tow we set off on the 7am local. Since we bought our tickets the day of departure, a bad but largely unavoidable habit throughout our spontaneous trip, we found ourselves without assigned seats. Why they can’t assign seats on the day, even for an empty train, is curious to me. Naturally, this also led to some quintessential cross-cultural confusion. Frankly, I should know the train systems here better, but having been spoiled by air travel we we walked down the car aisles looking for a conductor to assist our search. Though most seats were empty, strange previous encounters pushed me onward to ensure we wouldn’t be asked to move later. However, in each car we passed the resident warden shook his head at our tickets and pointed us onwards until we’d walked the entire length of the train without successfully finding a place to park. Properly amused with our confusion the last conductor, the youngest and most kindly, decided to “let” us sit in his car. As we read later, when it comes to unassigned seats you’re basically allowed to sit anywhere as long as the seat is free. Why we kept getting passed forward will simply remain one of Shaanxi’s many customer service mysteries.
The trek up Huashan is a 5 hour affair, longer if you’re taking it easy. It is possible to spend the night on the summit in one of several “hostels” but our plan was to be down in time to catch the through train to Luoyang, in the next province. After stashing our big packs in a local restaurant at the base, and laughingly allowing ourselves to be goaded into purchasing a pair of 13-cent cotton gloves (which would later prove invaluable on the exposed “plank-path” lined with heat sucking metal hand-holds) we began our hike. It was a wonderful feeling to leave behind the valley smog and for several hours we trooped up the increasingly steep steps, which eventually looked like this:
Well past the half-way point, but still an hour from the summit, the base trail plateaus at the North Peak cut-off. It is also here that a cable-car from the opposite side of the mountain vomits forth throngs of jabbering local tourists. It would be hypocritical to overly lament the existence of the cable-car since it saved our knees, and time, on the way down, but it is not an exaggeration to say that our gorgeous and solitary walk through the country side was rudely and unexpectedly transformed into a jostling bread-line the rest of the way up the mountain, which follows a narrow trail know as Green Dragon’s Back. Thankfully, the summit is actually several distinct peaks with separate paths diverging once again near the top and our destination, the infamous “plank-path” just under the highest South Peak, was not a major draw. The following picture may help you understand why:
My friend Steve told me about the plank path when I first mentioned we were traveling to Xi’an. After his description > I knew it had to be done. It certainly lived up to it’s description. While the shoulder harnesses offered a modicum of security, the rusted metal spikes and worn chain links did not. The end destination is a small platform, home to a small chizzled-out cave containing a figure of Tao, and an interesting cedar growing horizontally out over the abyss:
All in, it was a hell of a great day trip.