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Published: September 9th 2012
I felt like I was Mulan this weekend. Not the Mulan at the very end of the classic Disney movie where she saves all of China, but the Mulan at the beginning of the movie when she is struggling to make her way up a mountain. That was me.
This weekend, a group of seven of us (six from our program plus someone’s friend who is studying abroad in Thailand) decided to go backpacking. Everything about this trip was so out of the ordinary for me. Unlike most trips where I have them all planned out at least a week ahead of time, we tried something new and bought a one way train ticket to Huangshan (translates to "Yellow Mountain") two days in advance. Thea, the girl that planned the hike, took her friend from home and went on a bus ahead of time. The remaining five of us all had finance class on Friday afternoon so we took an overnight train that left Friday night. It was quite the experience, to say the least. First of all, Thea was the one that had picked the mountain, so the five of us on the train got on without really knowing
Our train sleeping arrangements
what stop to get off on. Second of all, we had no idea what to expect once we got off the train.
Because we booked our tickets with such short notice, we were unable to get “rooms” together. We had heard that if you have enough Western looking people and you just stake out a room early on, the locals will be too afraid to come and tell you to move out of their spot. Unfortunately, we staked out a room that was filled with a mother and her kids, so we felt bad and decided to go to our assigned beds. We all had middle beds, aka horrible real estate, but we ended up lucky in that we all had a buddy with us in the other middle bed in the room. Each “room” had two triple bunk beds in it.
Soon after getting on the train, we heard some English nearby. It turns out some other American study abroad students were hiking the same mountain as we were, which was great because they told us where to get off the train. After getting settled, we started playing card games to pass the time. We attracted a
One of the many men that carry supplies up and down the mountain.
lot of attention since I was with four big white guys, yelling English at each other while playing funny card games. The locals started grouping around us. One guy asked if he could play. We started talking to him. He didn’t really know any English, and kept talking to me in rapid Chinese, despite me telling him over and over again that I don’t speak Chinese. One of the guys in our group, Anthony, has taken 3 semesters of Chinese, but he’s white, so the locals would talk at me and then Anthony would respond.
12 hours later, the train pulled into our station. Exhausted from not getting any sleep, we luckily met up with Thea and her friend. As soon as we left the train station, we were mobbed by bus and taxi drivers, each of whom was trying to pick up some tourists. One woman came up to me and started speaking in rapid Chinese. When I looked towards Anthony, our local 3 semester expert, the woman said in English, “sorry! I thought you were a local!” at which point everyone in our group started laughing.
Anyways, we ended up catching a bus that was supposed
When we finally got above the clouds, the rain stopped and this was one of our views.
to take us to the mountain. After about an hour, the bus pulls over in the middle of nowhere and ushers the seven of us out into a random restaurant, where we were told in broken English that this was where we bought return tickets from the mountain. The restaurant was called “Mr. Hu’s”. If you’re reading this and thinking it sounds sketchy, you are correct. We later realized that the bus driver and Mr. Hu probably have a deal where tourists with no bus ticket back get dropped off here. Anyways, this guy in this random restaurant wanted us to pay him 1100 RMB for a ticket home the next day with no ticket or anything. We eventually told him we’d give him 100 RMB as a down payment, and if he really had a bus the next day, we’d give him the rest. After a lot of broken Chinese and even more broken English, we eventually were driven to the next bus station by Mr. Hu, where we paid to get to the bottom of the mountain. Finally, after about 16 hours of travelling, we started our climb.
It only took me about five seconds to realize
Anthony, Thea, and I at the halfway point.
how out of shape I am. We had with us all of the supplies we would need for the weekend, including food and water. I had no idea what to expect of the hike, but I knew it was a seven hour hike. I did a seven hour hike a couple of weeks ago in California, but this was nothing like it. Unlike the hike in California, this was not a real hike. It was seven hours of climbing stairs. I’m not kidding. We were on paved stairs the entire way to the top of the mountain. And it wasn’t like some stairs and then flat ground. This was like being on a Stairmaster for seven straight hours. Oh, and it was dumping rain. Picture the rain scene from The Notebook
, and now multiply that by two, and you have the kind of rain that we were in. I didn’t even know it was possible for it to rain that hard. It felt like the Pacific Ocean was dumping its entire contents on us, minus the whales and sharks.
We finally made it to our hostel at 8 pm, where we learned that we had reserved the wrong date.
We had to each pay 100 RMB as a penalty fee, but at least that’s less than 20 USD so it didn’t hurt my wallet quite as much. After a quick dinner, we all passed out.
This morning, we woke up to cloudy skies. Hoping the rain was done for the weekend, we started the climb at 9 AM. My legs did not want to move, and I had to force them to keep moving forward all day. It would maybe have been okay if it was downhill all day, but a lot of the times we had to go up stairs and then go down and then go up and then down, over and over again. We didn’t stop that often because all of our legs started shaking uncontrollably if we were stopped for too long.
All of my complaining aside, this was by far the best hike I have ever been on. It was also by far the hardest thing I have ever done. But it was all worth it in the end (I guess we’ll see tomorrow, since peak soreness is day two). Huangshan was the most beautiful place I have ever seen (besides Hawaii
We hiked through the clouds--it was incredible.
of course). As far as the eye could see, it was lush green. Plus, because of the rain, there were a million waterfalls falling throughout the mountain range, especially at the top close to us. As we left our hostel at the top of the mountain this morning, we could hear the rain below us hitting the tops of the trees. It was so cool to be able to hear the rain and then walk through the clouds and into the storm. I triple bagged my camera and my passport, but besides that, everything else I had with me got soaked. It looked like I had just jumped into the shower fully clothed and with my backpack on.
We went down the mountain a different way from how we went up. Both were amazing, but I think that going down was even more beautiful, if that is possible. We followed countless creeks and waterfalls going down the mountain. I wish I had been able to snap a couple of pictures, but since it was dumping rain my camera was packed way. At one point, I decided I was going to climb up a rock in the middle of the
Practically had to swim to get to this rock.
stream. I got half way across before I realized my legs were too short to make it to the rock. Not one to give up, I just hopped into the stream—it’s not like I could have gotten any more wet anyways. I did learn, however, that a North Face rain jacket is not waterproof when you start swimming.
Overall, I am so glad we did this trip. We discovered that that is one of the most popular tourist attractions for the Chinese. The only foreigners we saw on the mountain were some Australians who all had Iron Man tattoos. We later learned that all the locals take the gondola up the mountain, which explains why I saw so many women in high heels at the hostel we stayed at. On the mountain, every couple of hundred stairs, there were locals selling water, which gradually got more expensive as you moved your way up the mountain. As we passed them, they yelled “keep going!!!” in Chinese.
I think my biggest surprise of the trip, besides the fact that it was not a hike as much as a real life Stairmaster, was the way that the food and other supplies
One of the smaller waterfalls. I didn't manage to get the bigger ones since it was pouring rain.
got to the top of the mountain. Instead of putting food in the gondola and taking it to the top, people are paid to bring the supplies to the top of the mountain. I almost died carrying just a backpacking backpack, but these men were carrying up chairs, water, food, and everything else that was needed up at the top of the mountain! They were all really thin and had 8 packs. Most of them were not wearing shirts, so when they passed us and we turned around, we could see that their backs were permanently bruised purple from the countless trips they take up the mountain, which was very depressing.
Ok, I think that's enough for now. It's 12:30 AM and I haven't started writing my Chinese essay yet. More to come soon, assuming I don't die from soreness tomorrow. My classroom is on the fourth floor and there are no elevators. I think I might have to crawl up the stairs--I never want to climb another stair in my life.
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