Torture on Emei Shan

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April 28th 2006
Published: April 28th 2006
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I have spent the past four days in a town called Emei, which lies at the base of Emei Shan (Mt. Emei), about 150 km. south of Chengdu. My goal was to climb to the summit of Emei Shan, which is at about 3100 meters above sea level, while starting at about 500 meters above sea level. I decided to challenge myself a bit, while I’m passing the time in China, but I may have over-done it a bit.

The Lonely Planet says to allow oneself three days to ascend and descend Emei Shan and since I know I am in lousy shape, I gave myself those three days. However, I managed to climb it in two and a half days, but it was pure torture.

In typical Chinese fashion, the mountain had a path, with thousands upon thousands of stairs leading to the summit and back down again. So, I set out from my hostel in Emei town (the Teddy Bear) at about 8 am on Tuesday. I caught a bus to the Wannian parking area, which is one of the starting points for the climb (about 10 km. up the summit road and where many people start their climb) and also an area with thousands of Chinese tourists who catch buses and cable cars to various points on the mountain, including the summit. All of that is cheating in most westerner’s view, but the Chinese are probably smarter than we are especially given the state of my leg muscles today (Friday).

Anyway, I started out on my hike and made it to Wannian temple in less than an hour, which I thought was good time, but I could have taken a five minute cable car to reach the same point. I kept walking, pretty much ignoring the temple because I could barely reach the entrance for the crowd. A hundred meters up the path, past the temples, all the tourists disappeared and quiet descended on the forest and for the first time in a while I didn’t hear honking horns or vendors yelling “hello, hello, hello.”

About an hour later, some people from the hostel caught up to me. By this time I had been climbing almost constantly for two hours and I was already sucking wind. I thought I had gotten into at least passable shape during the couple of months of my trip, but that was a fallacy. The group that caught up to me had started 30 minutes behind me and only took two hours to catch me, and worst of all, I had problems keeping up with them for even 20 minutes.

I know it wasn’t a race, but traveling with other people, especially up a mountain makes it more interesting. I did manage to stay with them long enough to eat lunch with them and then managed to stay close until about 3 pm, when we reached Xixianchi temple, which is where I planned to stay the first night. The others decided it was too early to stop and I agreed, so we moved on. I lost the group pretty quickly and with in 30 minutes, my body was screaming at me that I had made a mistake, but I kept on slogging up the steps. The map I had been using had been pretty indiscriminant with distances, so I assumed that the next monastery was not too far away.

That assumption had become a fleeting hope by 5:30 when I still hadn’t reached the next monastery. I had long since sweated through my shirt and was still drenched when the clouds and mist began to rise and the temperature began to fall. I reached the next monastery a few minutes later, but it was in shambles from a remodeling and didn’t appear to be accepting any guests. By this time the fog was so thick that I could barely see 10 meters in front of me, which was a shame because a passed nearly a dozen places to stay in the next hour that I didn’t even see.

I finally reached the Jie Yin Monastery at the base of the final ascent and was able to get a room there. By then it was 6:30, and I didn’t even have the energy to eat. I just lay in bed and tried to relax my muscles. I did read a bit, including the Lonely Planet guide, which had a map with distances on it. If the map was correct, I had climbed just about 20 km, most of it steps in 10.5 hours. I guess the best way to understand how I felt that night would be to get on a “Stairmaster” and start at a slow pace and keep it up for four straight hours with a few breaks thrown in…then keep going for another four hours. Of course no one would do that if they were in their right mind, so I was questioning my own sanity.

I was awoken the next morning (Wednesday) by the monks chanting, beating drums and ringing bells at about 6 am and I was on the trail again by 7 am. Now, I could have taken the easy way up, using a cable car to reach the summit, but after the day before, I decided that the least I was going to do was to climb all the way to the top and then I could cheat all I wanted on the way down. So, I climbed for another two hours, 3.5 more km., and finally reached the summit at 9 am. The only problem was that the summit was completely socked in and I had no view whatsoever. Had I taken the cable car, I would have seen the route I had walked over the past two days, but I had chosen the difficult way and saw…nothing.

Well, since I didn’t see anything, I decided to challenge myself some more and walk back down to the monastery I had stayed at the night before. I managed to do that in an hour and was feeling pretty good, so I kept on going. This may have been mistake number two, because this was the last time I could cheat until the end of the hike. At that point, I could have taken a bus back down to Emei town, a warm bed and a hot shower.

My sanity was obviously failing, because I just kept trudging down and down, step after step, stopping only a few times for water breaks and about 40 minutes for lunch at one of the many snack stalls that lined the path every couple of kilometers. There was a crossroad at the spot where I ate lunch both days. I had ascended from Wannian Temple to the left and descended to the right which would bring me right back into Emei Town. It is a much shorter route to Wannian, but I had seen that before, so I chose the other, longer route.

Hour after hour I descended and again I pushed myself too far. I reached Xiangfeng monastery at 3 pm and again I decided it was too early to stop, although my original plan was to stop there. So on I went and two hours later I hobbled and wobbled into Hongchunping monastery. On that day, I had walked another 10 hours and managed to cover 25 kilometers.

I was given a room in the monastery for less than US$5 and even better, they had hot showers, so I spent a long time standing under the hot water. I also had dinner with the monks, other guests, and the workers who were staying at the temple and helping with a remodel. It was all vegetarian…cabbage, green beans, and some other things, but I was so tired that I could hardly eat a thing.

Again, I was asleep by 9 pm and was again awoken by the monks’ drums and chanting. And once more I was out the door by 7 am. The map said that it was 18 more kilometers to town, so I figured that I had at least six hours of walking ahead, but luckily, though my legs wobbled most of the time, I was able to reach the hostel by 11 am. I had breakfast there, washed up a bit, and then caught a bus back to Chengdu and the hostel I had been staying at before. Once I arrived, I moved as little as possible and that mindset is with me today as well. I did get a US$2 massage earlier, where the masseuse worked mainly on my legs and she kept “tsking” me because my calf and thigh muscles were so tight. I think she managed to loosen the muscles a bit, but it’s still painful to walk.

So, in the end, I thought about “cheating” many times, but I did the whole thing without doing so, which makes me feel good, especially since I met the group at the hostel yesterday who had passed me on Tuesday. The did the climb in two days, but took a bus from a lower parking lot which cut about seven kilometers off the hike, while I managed to hobble the whole way back to the hostel. So, if the figures are correct, in 24 hours of walking, I managed to go 63 kilometers…that’s about a marathon and a half.

I just won’t be doing that again…well at least not for a couple of weeks. Next week I’m planning to ride a horse for four straight days and then the following week, I have another three-day trek planned, but that on is on about 45 kilometers and I’ve heard that there are no stairs involved, just trails. You may want to get the straight jacket ready for me.

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Emei Shan Porters 1Emei Shan Porters 1
Emei Shan Porters 1

This is the way supplies get to the monasteries and snack huts. These guys do this nearly every day, with huge loads on their backs. All I was carrying was a day pack and a fanny pack.
Emei Shan Monkeys 9Emei Shan Monkeys 9
Emei Shan Monkeys 9

I forgot to mention the monkeys, like this baby. They are all over the mountain and are very aggressive because tourists, mainly Chinese, feed them. So, when they see you, the larger males and females can be pretty aggressive in trying to get food from you.

28th April 2006

I hope you don't intend to make me hike. You know how I hate walking and how I feel about hiking. If I was on the trip with you now, it would have been cable cars the whole way.

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