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China: Huangshan Mountains

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Huangshan Mountains | China | Asia

[Visited: September 2018]

After arriving at the bus-station, I walk along the main road, up north, do some shopping, and see the range of Huangshan, or Yellow Mountains, rise high above me. Probably named by the famous Yellow Emperor Huang Di, the mountains have long drawn people in search of natural beauty, and inspiration for countless paintings. The only barrier between seeing those famous landscapes is the climb up, and I am quickly working and sweating my way up the Western Steps. The mountains are steep, and over the centuries, some 60,000 stone steps have been carved out of the steep granite cliffs: an incredible feat! After each bend in the stairs, after each turn, resting place, or bridge, I see more steps ahead of me. There is only one way to go: up! As I get higher, the trees around me thin out: the higher I get, the more I can enjoy the views of the spectacular landscape. When I get closer to the Jade Screen Peak, the views all around are unobstructed. I see vertical cliffs, hundreds of metres high, pine trees clinging to the forbidding rocks, clouds swirling around the peaks above. When I reach Ying Ke Pine, or Welcome Pine, I am surrounded by many Chinese, by noise, and have to wait my turn to take a picture of this most famous pine tree in the area. It is considered over 1,500 years old.

Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Sunrise above the sea of clouds, with the granite peaks of Huangshan in the foreground

The pine tree is close to the end of one of the funicular lines: most visitors are too lazy to walk all the steps and take the easy way up. Unfortunately, the trail to the Lotus Peak, at 1864m the highest peak of the Yellow Mountains, is closed, and I take a busy trail leading me up and down, through some narrow sections, to the Aoyu Fish Peak. Clouds are lifting, allowing me to enjoy great views around of the highest section of the Huangshan range, including the Lotus Peak. From here, it is an easy walk to one of the many hotels that dot this part of the mountain range. I climb to a viewpoint for sunset, but clouds now fill the mountains and valleys. All I can hope for is a better sunset, after a night in a dorm with snoring Chinese hikers. Even though I climb in the darkness, there already is a small crowd at the viewpoints. Orange light is turning the hitherto invisible peaks into elegant dark silhouettes, until we hear a shout from above: the sun appears above a sea of clouds. I watch the landscape appear around me: mountain peaks pointing through the thick layer of clouds, trees sticking up in the sky, rock formations receiving the orange glow of early morning sunlight. I decide to take a quick breakfast and hit the trails again. Those clouds will be moving up in the hours to come.

Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Early morning sunlight over the slopes of the Yellow Mountains

After climbing up to Purple Cloud Peak, I descend to the main trail, and then into the West Sea Canyon, always following a steady stream of Chinese tourists. For centuries, people have been coming here to enjoy the spectacular mountain views, artist have used these mythical peaks and the clouds surrounding them as inspiration for classical Chinese ink paintings, and now, visiting them and taking pictures is easier than it has ever been. The trail here is spectacular itself: it clings to the vertical drop-off like a snake, goes through tunnels, gives reason to stop every few steps to enjoy the scenery around, above and below. As I expected, as soon as I leave the Xihai Grand Canyon cable car station behind, the steady stream dries up, and when I turn left to climb out of the canyon again, I am all by myself. I have descended to around 1,000m, and I now need to climb back to the highest part of the Yellow Mountains. This section is easily the most rugged, the wildest, and the most beautiful and the least visited of the trails I have walked. It is hard work, too. Apart from the views of the peaks all around me, I get to see the Fairy Walking Bridge, an improbable bridge between two sheer cliffs, with hundreds of metres of empty space below it. As I am watching it, the clouds close in, and it seems like floating in thin air. There is still some climbing to do, and as the clouds are climbing, too, I now get the quintessential views of steep mountain peaks wrapped in white. At the top of the mountain, near the Heavenly Sea viewpoint, I am back on the main track, and surrounded again by guides talking through their microphones, herding their clients wearing red caps through the mountains, tourists eating their snacks, the occasional visitor sitting in a chair, carried up the stairs, and music blaring from stalls selling food at high prices - all the items are brought up by one of the many porters. It is inevitable to follow the crowd for a while, before I descend over the Eastern Steps, leaving the impressive Yellow Mountains behind.

Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Lotus peak, the highest point of Huangshan, in the late afternoon
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Fairy Walking, or Buxian, Bridge spans between two mighty rock faces
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Ying Ke Pine, or Greeting Peak, is the best known pine tree in the Yellow Mountains
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Celestial Peak with steps, is among the highest points of Huangshan
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Stone Monkey watching the Sea of Clouds in the early morning
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Scenery of Huangshan with granite peaks
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): View of rock formations from the trail leading into the West Sea Canyon
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Clouds swirling around the granite peaks seen from the bottom of the West Sea Canyon
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Rock formation in the West Sea of Huangshan
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Stone steps in the Yellow Mountains
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): People walking a trail under a steep cliff in the Yellow Moutains
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): Rock formation catching the first rays of sunlight above the sea of clouds
Picture of Huangshan Mountains (China): The peaks of Huangshan mountains above the sea of clouds in the morning

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