It was a sleepy and "misty" ride across the dull plains to the east of Xian. It was hard to believe there was a mountain out there and when we got out of the bus we still didn't really know where we were going. But as we headed up through the steamed buns of town the grey ridges emerged through out of the fugg.
Our main source of information in coming here was the infamous Huashan deadly hiking route article. Its a perfect example of the vagaries of the internet age. An American dance studio owner publishes a newsletter to his clients including a second hand report of a crazy Chinese mountain hike and it becomes the leading world resource (for english speakers)! Despite been complete bullshit. I have to confess, maybe we have been travelling too long because we were slightly taken in.
Through the entrance gate and Taoist temple at the foot of the mountain (100yuan) and we were quickly out of the fugg and into a beautiful valley with soaring granite faces high above catching the sunlight. It was quite something.
The path climbs steadily up the valley with plenty of sprite stops available if you are taking it easy. At one point a giant boulder nearly plugs the valley, it must have been there for a while as it has steps carved in it that lead up to a mysterious door. Inventive! After maybe an hour the track curves left and heads straight up the "Thousand Foot Cliff" via a chained stairway. Not vertical, but you wouldn't be stopping if you fell.
The track then winds its way upwards along a forested ledge, where autumn reigned, with great views out over the valley and south towards the towering triangular face of west peak.
From here North Peak and the cable car station is easily obtained (look forward to company) and things get easier. Most parts of the track have a label, "Black Dragon Ridge", "Heavenly Stairs", "Flying Fish Ridge" etc. It is ridiculously sublime. The motivations and stimulus of the Taoist Masters Kou Qianzhi and Chen Tuan who sought revelation here are easily understood (even if there revelations might not be). The three southern peaks are really sibling summits on a high plateau bisected by a dribbling wooded creek. The whole place resonates to song chanting out of state of the art audio systems hidden behind the wooden shutters of several monasterys.
The cliffs are big, amongst the biggest I have ever experienced, and the rock is solid. The Qinling Mountains extends in all directions except north. Vast granite aretes arcing into broken hillsides.
The steps are carved deep into the granite and are safe for all who are careful. Its a peoples mountain, a democracy of the mountains. Young and old, skinny and fat, those with high heels and those without holler their frustration to the winds. It makes me think, are we too elitest with our mountains in New Zealand? How many New Zealanders have felt the pleasure of being up so high above the clouds? We scorn the Swiss, Chinese and others for their cable cars and via ferrata, but do their citizens appreciate the mountains more?. I enjoy been up there with them, the delight is genuine and its a lovely day.
We stroll around the circuit, first the west summit, then the south (the highest). I am impressed at the commitment of the Red Bull seller at the top. And also the photographer with his little wooden cabinet including printer right there beside you as you raise your arms on the summit like Kate Winslet (sorry Celine Dion and "My Heart Will Go On" has just come over the loudspeaker in the airport bringing back all sorts of memories including crying in the movie, karaoke on Pulau Pulau Tello and the giant gouge torn by one of my best mates in my Titanic poster;-)...he didn't think it was manly enough or something).
Disappoint strikes somewhat as we realise the dangerous bits we were looking forward to are tourist attractions requiring an extra fee, notably the "plank walk" and the "playing chess pagoda", which we were eyeing up for our lunch spot. We settled for the strangely quiet East peak with its magnificent NE face dropping below us.
Just down from there is a little chained steep section, which you can play around on and fall off if you want. It seems to have been left there so someone can hurt themselves occasionally and therefore maintain the reputation of the mountain. We had to have a go.
After that we had had enough, we were ready to go home. Even the spectacular cable car hardly got us amping. We were elsewhere. But what a mountain!