Huangshan, China. Sunrise, sunset and swearing

Date walked: 23/05/2019

China has an adundance of incredible places to walk, and I've been fortunate enough to see a handful of them. Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), in the eastern province of Anhui, is one of the country's "Big 5" mountains, though "big" in this case refers more to their significance to Buddhism than to height - they vary between about 1,500 and 3,000 metres. Of course, when the Chinese refer to something as a mountain, they mean what we would call a range - for instance, the Black Cuillin would be considered a mountain, and the individual Munros would be considered "feng" - peaks. Huangshan, then, is a range of towering granite peaks that, in typical Chinese style, are covered with beautiful pine trees and, in summer, brilliant rhododendron blooms and other exotic flowers.

We arrived at Huangshan on a hot May morning, and to save time we took the cablecar up to the touristy area near the peaks. I know from experience how difficult walking can be in a Chinese summer. Improbably-precarious rock formations reared up everywhere, and forested hills surrounded us until they vanished into the haze like echoes.

The view on the way up
ImageHuangshan rockitecture #1 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

After alighting, we followed one of the well-built concrete paths around the flanks of cliffs, stopping at designated viewpoints to take in the scenery. I was delighted to encounter a small group of buffy laughingthrushes. Laughingthrushes are one of the most characterful and vocal of Chinese birds, and I hadn't seen this particular species before. They were very unconcerned about our presence.

ImageBad photo of a buffy laughingthrush by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

Problem With Walking In China #1:
The Chinese are big travellers. The places worth walking in are set up to accommodate the hordes that come to them, and it is near impossible to "get off the beaten track" in a place like Huangshan. Rather than exploring at your own leisure, there is little choice but to follow the signposted, fenced concrete pathways between the various designated beauty spots and rock formations. This rather detracts from the feeling of being out in nature. Also, the higher reaches of these mountains usually feature a number of hotels. A common sight is topless, wiry men carrying lazy people up the endless stone steps in sedan chairs. The Chinese are big travellers, but they don't like leaving their comfort zone.

ImageThe easy way up by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

These famous Chinese mountains are usually similar in their outrageous rocky architecture. Boulders perched atop twisted spires and sheer walls festooned with tough pines abound. They are a familiar theme in Chinese painting, but these ink images always seem wildly exaggerated until you see the scenes they depict in the flesh and you realise they are not at all impressionistic.

ImageHuangshan rockitecture #2 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

As we reached our hotel, a pair of red billed blue magpies appeared and flitted between trees. This is a spectacular bird, locally common but so exotic and colourful that you feel privileged to see them. They look like archeopteryx. No photos, sadly.

We lounged around until evening, then walked for half an hour up through the forest to a nearby peak famous for its sunsets.

ImageSunset #1 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

Problem With Walking In China #2
The in-your-face infrastructure of Huangshan and every other famous beauty spot in the country that is supplied with a train link is there to support the vast numbers of people who visit. So when we arrived at the summit, there were dozens, perhaps a hundred, people already there and jostling for the best spot to take selfies. Chinese life is dominated by social media at least as much as it is in the West, and the most important thing for most people is to get a good selfie to post onto WeChat, QQ or Weibo. It is normal behaviour to turn a corner, encounter a spectacular view, pose for a photo, then immediately leave for the next photo op. Hardly anybody seems to be just enjoying the view. The crowds, and their exasperating behaviour, can spoil the experience if you're not used to their culture.

ImageSunset #2 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

ImageSunset #3 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

Gradually the sun dipped below the horizon, and the cliffs and forests were turned lovely shades and tints of nature. One European man became rather annoyed at people who milled around in front of his camera mounted on an expensive-looking tripod, stopping him firing off his shots.

"Why do they do that?" he growled. It was clearly his first time in China.

ImageSunset #4 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

We were up disgustingly early for sunrise, and made the short climb to nearby Lion Peak in the dark to see it. I was surprised to find that we were sharing a small, fenced area atop a large boulder with a dozen or so other people, while twice that many crowded onto another viewing platform a little further up. I managed to find a spot which sacrificed a bit of the view but which nobody else was occupying for that reason.

ImageSunrise #1 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

As soon as the sun was up, everybody just disappeared, leaving us alone to enjoy the first proper daylight, admiring the low-angled sunbeams bursting past rocky outcrops, and the fading sillouhettes of lesser hills in the distance.

ImageSunrise #2 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

ImageAzalea #2 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

ImageLooking East by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

We stole back some sleep in our room, then set off for the walk to the other cable car station, seeing a pair of beautiful red billed leiothrix, also known as the pekin robin. They are common cage birds in eastern China but I'd long yearned to see one in the wild.

Progress was abysmally slow at times, as we were often simply part of a mass of people going the same way. The Chinese are a lovely, hospitable bunch to people they know - but they are totally inconsiderate to strangers. Crawling along three-abreast, blocking the path; barging past without saying sorry. My exasperation turned to annoyance, and I started getting a bit naughty with my elbows and shoulders. The only way to get by in China is to do as the Chinese do.

ImageRockitecture #3 by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

ImagePines by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

I finally lost my rag when, as I was leaning on a wall to look at a view, a man tapped my shoulder and asked me to move so he could take a photo of his wife standing where I was. A combination of frustration at the crowds, at the slow pace we'd been forced to walk, of their ignorance of others, made me snap.

"But I'm just... Are you seriously... Oh whatever, f*** off" and I stamped off like a moody little princess. I didn't stop until I reached the cable car station and joined another heaving queue to board. By then, I was feeling ashamed of myself, and I meekly submitted myself to whatever came my way until I was at the foot of the mountain.

ImageCablecar by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

ImageLooking back by Nathan Fisher, on Flickr

It's not the first time a walk in China has been spoilt by the country's odd disregard for what makes a walk in nature such a worthwhile thing to do. But I've never been so annoyed by it before. I will post reports of other places I've been where I had a far nicer time.

Huangshan then: incredible scenery, but do go off-season. Winter would be good. The paths ice up, but careful walkers should be fine. Spend at least a night up there to see everything (we left parts unseen) and so you can enjoy the sun going up and down. Of the holy mountains, I have also visited Emeishan and Lushan. Huangshan is probably the most spectacular in terms of the architecture of the mountain, but the others have their own merits, and all are worth visiting in their own right. I would love to visit again, but in Winter, when the peaks are lined with snow and rise above the cloud inversions Huangshan is famed for (which we saw nothing of).

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Comments: 3

Opening the backpacking season on the Glyders

Date walked: 06/04/2017
Comments: 1
Views: 752

Talk about birthday gifts... Thanks Assynt

Corbetts: Cul Mor
Date walked: 30/01/2017
Distance: 10.7km
Ascent: 660m
Comments: 2
Views: 1208


Location: North Wales
Activity: Munro compleatist
Mountain: Suilven
Place: Assynt + Cairngorms
Gear: Scarpa Oxygen shoes
Ideal day out: A leisurely, exploratory backpack through the Cairngorms, with high camps and bothy nights.
Ambition: To climb a 6,000m peak

Munros: 17
Corbetts: 12
Grahams: 3
Wainwrights: 70
Hewitts: 94
Sub 2000: 2

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Trips: 1


Trips: 2
Distance: 10.7 km
Ascent: 660m
Corbetts: 1

Joined: Apr 10, 2017
Last visited: Dec 18, 2020
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