Considered to be one of the most beautiful and alluring attractions in China (ranked as a top travel-site with the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors), Huangshan proved to be more than just a normal mountain hike.
Huangshan, luckily, is a pretty convenient trip from Shanghai. We took a 5-hour bus ride to the city of Huangshan, and, surprisingly enough, the ride wasn't bad at all! There were five of us on this particular trip. Below is a picture of the deserted rest stop on the highway along with a photo of our classic and "extra" comfortable coach bus!
On our arrival, all five of us squeezed into a 3-person hostel bedroom. As you can see, small is an understatement for the size of the beds. I guess you can say we were really on a college student's budget for this trip!
The plan for the day was to get to the mountain early, and by early I mean by 7AM. It takes about an hour to get from the city of Huangshan to the actually mountain, so we woke up at 5:30AM to get started. In order to get to the mountain, the hostel has a bus service that started at 6AM for RMB18.
The bus ride was cheap but a little unreliable. The driver refused to leave for the mountain until every seat on the bus was filled; therefore, we waited in a random parking lot for about a half-hour or so until some random people joined our adventure. While we were waiting, locals were taking turns walking on and off the bus to sell us "essential" items such as: a map of Huangshan, a rain coat, and walking sticks.
None of us bought anything.
Finally, after every seat on the bus was filled (the driver even put folding chairs in the aisle to utilize every inch of space), we were on our way to Huangshan!
The bus ended up dropping us off at another station. We had to take another bus up to the cable car and entrance to the park. Unfortunately for us, the line (if you can even call it that) was TREMENDOUS! There were seriously hundreds of people pushing and shoving to get a ticket and a seat on the second bus ride. By using my crafty maneuvering, I was able to help my friends and I squeeze our way onto the bus in about 45 minutes..
After what seemed like an eternity, we made it to the cable cars. Figuring out a good way to hike Huangshan was a little difficult and mildly confusing. I spent the days before our trip reading numerous blogs and articles on the best trails to hike and methods for completing them; however, there was no clear and simple suggestion.
There are two main trails to hike Huangshan: the East and the West. The East path consists of a ton of stairs, tourist groups, and barely any clear views while the West trail is a little more steep and dangerous with breathtaking views. Being the hiking enthusiast that I am, I was determined to take the Western path; however, we weren't exactly sure how to get to that path. Since the trail (according to multiple bloggers) takes awhile to complete, we decided to save time by taking a cable car up the mountain.
The cost (one way) was RMB80 which is about $12, and, once again, we had to wait in a ridiculously long line. The views were nice though!
Huangshan is an official UNESCO since 1990 and is considered to be "The Number One Mountain Under Heaven". Some of its peaks reach over 1,000 meters and are known for their ability to pierce through low-lying clouds.
The weather on the mountain changes daily; sometimes the mountain sees all four seasons in one day! Unfortunately for us, on the particular day we went for a hike, the weather was uncooperative. There was no blue sky and a chilly rain came and went throughout the day. Nevertheless, we were still awed by the beauty of the mountain.
Throughout the main trails, signs were posted with random written sayings. Here's an example of one below:
Since we couldn't find the West Trail at the beginning, we had to hike around the East Trail with the other tourists. The trails on Huangshan are unlike anything I've ever hiked on before. Whoever designed and built those paths is a genius and extremely crafty. Instead of hiking on a dirt path, travelers walked comfortably on a stone road lined with faux-wooden railings.
Like I said before, the East Trail is all stairs: literally. Even though walking up hundreds of stairs is a big workout for any normal person, it was still very common to see some Chinese people dressed in heels and button-down shirts. I don't think I'll ever know how they are able to walk in those shoes up a mountain; I can't even walk in heels to work!
The dress code on the mountain wasn't the only crazy thing we saw. For those people who cannot or do not want to hike up and down the stairs, they could pay two local mountain-men to carry them on one of these contraptions..
It may be a little difficult to see, but many people also paid to have someone carry their bags around the mountain for them.
There are three main four-star hotels located on the mountain; however, there are no roads leading up to them. In order to get fresh water, food, and other supplies, locals would carry pounds and pounds of commodities up the paths on their backs. It was insane, but truly inspiring!
At another point on the trail, we came across a tiny bridge with hundreds of locks hooked onto the railings. It is a tradition at Huangshan to bring a lock with the names of two lovers engraved on it. The couple is supposed to hang the lock somewhere on the trail and then throw the key into the canyon. This symbolizes an infinite eternity of love and happiness between the couple.
While we were still on the East trail, we decided to do a little photo-op of each other at one of the spots claiming to be "the most beautiful view in all of Huangshan". Throughout our walk we passed by a ton of spots claiming to have the most amazing view!
I can't even begin to describe how crowded the trail was. Not only were there hundreds, possibly thousands, of tourists on the mountains, they all seemed to congregate in one space at a time, and they were all using a tour guide with a megaphone..
Food and water are extremely expensive on the mountain, so I suggest bringing multiple bottles of water and your own food. I brought a bunch of power bars as well as a bowl of ramen noodles for lunch. In the end, I wasn't able to cheat the system. I had to pay RMB10 for a cup of hot water for my ramen!
Before our lunch, I honestly was not having a good time. Huangshan was beautiful, but the mountains weren't breathtaking like everyone claimed they were. I was also extremely overwhelmed by all of the people. For me, it was not a fun trip, but then I randomly found a sign that pointed west. I immediately grew more excited when I saw scenic spots like the Fairy Bridge on the other trail (I also realized there were no people going down that path)!
After a little bit of convincing, my friends and I started the hike down the new path.
Within about ten minutes of walking through the trees, we came to an area that had the most beautiful view of the mountains. It was also wonderfully silent! I was content!
Not only were the scenery and rock formations very impressive, but the drops were exhilarating! It's difficult to tell how steep the drop is in the pictures, but trust me - I almost got vertigo looking down.
The pathways on this trail were also a little different. Can you see the stairs below?
At one point, we found an old wooden contraption. It looked like some sort of pulley system that may have brought food or water up from below. I'm not sure where or how someone would be able to get water and food from so far down, but it was a pretty cool invention. My friends did freak out a little when I tried walking on it. I didn't get to the end because the boards were more than a little shaky.
As you can see from the photos below, there are a bunch of stairs on this path as well, but they are way more steep and narrow. The beauty of taking the Western path (aka: the path less-traveled) is not only to see better scenery, but there are absolutely no tourist groups on it! It is considered too dangerous for older people and younger kids to travel on. I will say this, make sure you are in decent shape! There are plenty of places to rest, but it will be a long hike.
After about an hour of leisurely hiking, we came upon the Fairy Bridge.
The Fairy Walking Bridge is about 6-7m (19.7-23ft) of a concrete bridge built between two cliffs. It's a very relaxing area, but there are signs that say "don't look down" because of the steep drop. Of course I had to look down and hang over the edge!
Get ready for the photo-shoot on the bridge!
Below are some of the last beautiful views I took on our hike. By the time we arrived at the Fairy Bridge it was already 2PM, a little rainy, and somewhat chilly. As a group, we had to make a decision whether to continue on the West path or to go back to the East path and take the cable car back down the mountain.
It was a little bit of a sticky situation because the last bus leaving the mountain for the day heads out at 5PM. We couldn't miss it; however, we could have figured out a taxi situation from the end of the West path. Of course I voted to take a little risk and finish the West path, but majority rules.
It was probably better (definitely the safer) idea to head back to where we started. We ended up catching the cable car (paying another fee of RMB80) and then bus #1 down the mountain and bus #2 back to the city. It was a long day to say the least!
At the end of the day (and a nice hot shower), all of us went out for a cute family-style Chinese dinner.
All in all, I had a good time on the trip. I am determined to go back and hike the entire western path, though! The next time I go, I plan on hiking up the eastern path (with all of the tourists) instead of taking the cable car, spend the night on the mountain in order to wake up and see the sunrise, then spend the next day hiking down the western path.
I can't wait to go back, and hopefully I'll run into better weather!