Hua Shan (hoo ahh shan)
10.23.2011 - 10.24.2011
my best memories of xian are of my trip to this mountain called hua shan. it's one of the 5 sacred taoist peaks in china. zin and i decided to do an overnight hike, which is common for hua shan. we bought some provisions first (read: ponchos, flashlights, ramen noodles, milk tea, and snacks since food on the mountain was going to be overpriced) it was raining the next morning when we wanted to leave, so we kinda sat on the idea of going or not for a bit. but then we decided to just do it. unfortunately, we had to wait at the train station for the hua shan bus for 2 hours for it to fill up i guess? so good thing we were planning on staying overnight cause we didn't arrive until 3 pm. upon arrival, we started walking. up, and up and up we went. first part was a paved or stone-covered incline. then it progressed into stairs. and stairs it stayed the entire 4+ hour hike up to the top, part of it being in the dark too.sometimes the stairs became very steep, uneven and slippery and narrow. our flashlights did come in handy, but also they had some handy lamps lighting the path along the way and strings of lights in white and purple no less along the walls. one of the lights came on just as we entered this creepy dark and steep stairway alley, which was pretty magical. the views on hua shan were quite stunning. the further up we went, the more it started to resemble one of those old chinese calligraphy paintings of a pointy mountain with mist around it and funky trees coming off it.
we took our time getting up, and it progressively got darker and colder. once we got to the first peak, north peak, we had to put our jackets, gloves, and hats on. this was zin's first time being cold as he's from a pretty tropical climate in australia. he was really excited for the cold and to wear gloves for the first time; i wish i could have been excited for the cold, but alas the novelty has worn off a bit ha. we climbed along this ridge between north peak and east peak and finally came to the hotel and our final destination for the night. we were going to book a private room with two beds, thinking the price was 310 yuan total. turns out it was 310 each - no dice! so we ended up in a twenty bed dorm room with dingy white sheets/comforters, one thermos of hot water they provided, no heat whatsoever, several chinsese roommates, a couple american roommates, and a bed full of mysterious bags next to us all for the price of 85 yuan each! (in case you are unfamiliar, a dorm room at a hostel is normally like 30-40 yuan a night, so 85 is rather outrageous considering the stark conditions.) actually, we only had to pay 65 yuan each cause we found two 20 yuan notes on the path on our way up. this really is a magical place!
we ended up sharing a tiny, hard twin bed with all our clothes and 3 comforters for warmth. it was super freezing when we went to bed, but a few hours later i woke up and was hot, so it evened out a bit. we enjoyed a delicious meal of ramen noodles and some other snacks outside on this patio of freezing cold death. we were planning to wake up for the sunrise on east peak, another hour hike away, not to mention we were pretty exhausted from all the stair climbing we'd just done. so we were sufficiently tired at 8:30 pm haha.
we were feeling a bit ambitious and woke up around 4:30 am, downed some milk tea with the remnants of our now semi-hot water, and began hiking again...in the dark and freezing cold. we got to east peak sooner than we anticipated, so had a while to sit around and freeze and shiver in the dark. slowly more and more tourists started showing up. at some point we realized, "oh, i guess this is the sunrise" as the sky became a lighter shade of grey. not too exciting...but still we're such champs for doing it.
we hiked around a bit to another nearby peak, central peak, and to a temple through some nice flat terrain and pretty fauna. but otherwise, our plan was to just hike back down to north peak and hop on the cable car back to the bottom. no more stairs for us! the mountain demands respect. we were happy to submit, and not have to hike all the way back down.
this was by far my best adventure in xian. there are horror stories on the internet written about the dangers of hua shan. but really it's only one path that is dangerous, called soldier's path, which is practically vertical. but you have the alternate option of either taking the cable car up, or hiking up the path that we did which is just full of stairs and which is pretty safe (there are railings to hold onto the whole way). there were lots of wild cats along the path that kinda freaked me out in the dark, but other than that i felt very safe. zin was a very entertaining hiking companion and he really should come with subtitles cause every third word he said he'd have to explain to me since he speaks in tongues, aka aussie speak (afternoon is "avo" and flashlights are torches.) he even picked up trash off the path along the way. such a good boy scout. there is a tradition of people placing gold padlocks with inscriptions on them onto the chains along the mountain path for good luck. zin brought one he placed on. i only had one padlock, with a number lock on it, so i didn't end up using mine. we got home pretty early and were able to just relax and watch a movie at the apartment and had a nice meal out with one of the texan girls at "the local." perfect ending to my stay in xian
i booked a flight to yangshuo the next morning, early. i decided not to stay the rest of the second week to volunteer since the volunteering wasn't quite as i expected. but, i met some wonderful people during my week long stay in xian, and i learned a bit about chinese culture in that span as well. so it was still a great experience