Abruptly, Monday, noon after the game, I decided to climb Hua Shan (Mount Hua), one the seven holy mountains of China. I got caught up all day doing work for my next job. Subsequently, I did not leave the hostel till 5:30 pm. The ticket I ended up purchasing cost me more than three times the price I was expecting. Moreover, the train did not depart till 8:20 pm. Apparently, all they had was first first class. My seat was nice and I guess it was meant to be a contrast to the struggle I was about to encounter.
Arriving at Hua Shan, I saw two waigourens ahead of me. In hopes that they had managed to plan this little night expedition out, as I had failed to do so, I approached them and asked if they were heading to the mountain. We joined teams and I facilitated the transport to the mountain thereby engendering myself to my new companions. The taxi driver asked for 100 and I gave him 40. The laoban (boss) of the taxis said in Chinese “40 a person” but I understood and made sure it was clear that it was 40 altogether. Shady ass taxi drivers. My friends would more than repay me for this service over the next couple of hours.
We arrived and started our hike up the mountain at 10 pm. The sun had set when we set out from Xi’an. It was night. We were merry about our approaching climb. I even had the gall to add weight to our travelling packs by purchasing a twelver of shitty Chinese pilsner. My companions had packed light, yet I was caring all of my possessions in my backpack. It probably weighed about 40 lbs. Huge mistake.
The climb was 2,600 meters. It took us 6 hours to reach the east peak for the sunrise. The path wound up and down and around again. When you thought you reached the top, you would round a corner and see that the steps continued into the heart of the stars mixed with little Chinese flashlights twinkling in the ridges above your head.
The east peak was less than comfortable resting spot. Had my companions not been there I would never have reached the summit and probably would have given up somewhere within the first two hours.
The climb was spiritual. Being my first mountain climbing experience, I was at awe at the struggle, the impossible stairs, the forgotten travelers whom had the same mind as me yet no companions to tug them along, and the sheer strength of the human body to keep going once one had thought to have lost all his strength. I joked as we neared the finish that I hadn’t lost my strength to complain.
The sunrise was surreal. The beauty mingled with the hordes of Chinese pilgrims. The first sign that pointed to a viewing area for the sunrise was packed beyond belief. There was nowhere to sit! I had told my friends early on that my goal was to sneak off from the Chinese whenever possible. It had not been frequently possible.
Where the sign had pointed up the stairs to the lookout point, the path had continued on. So we returned to the foot of the stairs and walked a little distance down the adjacent path. We made it seem as if we were merely looking for a place to rest. When all eyes were removed we snuck off into the night. Even our poor sighted friend refrained from using his headlamp. Fifty meters down there was a second stairwell leading up, and this time the viewing area was almost empty. Never underestimate the innate desire in most people (including yourself) to follow rather than explore.
We found an empty slab of rock slanting west but with a perfect view of the east from the apex. We stationed ourselves at the edge. Cameras ready. And then to wait for an hour and a half. The area slowly filled in as the clock ticked toward 5:30 am. We tried to make ourselves big to keep some comfort space. The anticipation kept us from resting. We did not want to fall asleep and miss what we had spent 6 hours of our lives climbing for. When the sun rose it was anticlimactic. It is not that it wasn’t beautiful or awe inspiring, but that serenity of the scene to a degree was interrupted by the crowds. If you come to China and expect to find beautiful places that are not crowded you will be sorely disappointed, especially if you do not speak Chinese. Instead of nature’s musical accompaniment to the sunrise we were barraged by “Xiao Pingguo” and the like.
After we rested as best we could for an hour on the rock. I refilled on my first class rations which consisted of strange Chinese snack foods like slimy beef jerky and congealed fruit cube. We headed to the sky walk which is notorious on the internet. The line waiting to climb down onto the slim wood planks was the most anxious part. The climb itself was surprisingly mundane yet gorgeous (literally). I stood on boards in the middle of the cliff face at least 1,000 m from the valley floor. I had not came all this way to chicken out and the thought of my brother and his bravery in the face of great heights propelled me to accomplish this seemingly fearsome task.
After that we made our way to the lift car stopping at the other peaks along the way with the rational that we had already come all this way. We could do another 500 stairs. We talked some at first in the fifteen min cable car ride but soon succumbed to exhaustion and sleep. The weariness would last for days. However, the next day I had already planned to go to another mountain and climb. I was not looking forward to it. But first, I headed back to the hostel I had stayed in Xi’An for a shower and a nap on a bar couch. I even rented a towel. It was ironic because the staff there had recommended I leave my bag but I told them I did not want to return to the hostel. Another lesson learned. That evening, I took the high speed train to my next stop Mian Shan.