Yellow Mountain

Author: Michael Streicher

I am both excited and disappointed to write this article about our trip to Yellow Mountain (Huangshan to the locals). Excited because it was the best part of our trip; disappointed because neither words nor pictures can capture the majesty of the site.

We woke at the hotel to a breakfast hodgepodge of Western and Chinese breakfast items. My plate included both steam pork buns and a chocolate glazed donut! We were on the road to the Yellow Mountain Park before 8:30 and began our hike around 10 am.

Western and Chinese breakfast! Note the donut and pork bun!

The clouds were so thick as we began our hike that it was a stretch to see 50 meters in front of the path. The mist, low visibility, monotonous stair-climbing, and greenery contributed to a sense of mystery and uncertainty.

Professor He was an able guide as he visited the mountain 35 years earlier; and all of the other tourists were helpful and friendly when we needed a quick reassurance of our path. We chose to take a difficult circular path to the top of the Peak of Celestial Views. The trail was difficult with ladders carved right into the rocks and a bridge that extended unknown into the fog. After about 2 hours we finally reached the cloud covered peak. It was exciting to be sitting on the top, eating lunch above the clouds and occasionally catching a glimpse of an antenna on another peak or another rock formation. Right as we were about to leave, the clouds lifted and shouts of awe were discernible, regardless of the language of the speaker. Vast peaks were revealed, maybe one kilometer away, earlier obscured by the dense clouds. Now the rock formations were beautifully obvious above a sea of clouds.

The hike was nice allegory to our experience in graduate school. The journey is sometimes hard, but the hard work is rewarding. You lean on your fellow students for support and companionship all under the guide of an able mentor. The hard work pays off and you reach the top. And then, with a little luck, you can make some amazing discoveries.

After the fog lifted, we experienced view after spectacular view of rocks, clouds, trees, lakes, and light. Many of famous Chinese works of art and poetry are based on the gorgeous scenes on the Yellow Mountain. After seeing the real views ourselves, the art is even more meaningful.

We climbed to the top of the mountain where our hotel awaited. The climb included a famous narrow steep rock stairway known as “100 Stairs to the Clouds”. Two students even raced up this passage! Once we reached the hotel, we had a quick dinner and retired to our rooms, exhausted from the day.

The sunrises on Yellow Mountain are world-renowned. Some eager (and slightly sleep-deprived) students woke up at 4:30 am to hike to the top of the Purple Cloud Peak to watch the sunrise. The pre-dawn light lit the path to the peak. The red and pinks of the rising sun over the peaks was not something that will soon be forgotten.

After a quick breakfast, we began the descent down the mountain – some opting to hike down the steep terrain and others utilizing the cable cars. The crew which hiked down saw men carrying supplies up to the hotels on their backs. Each man carried at least 100 lbs of water, food, or oil up the mountain with the weight balanced on what resembled an ox yolk. Without roads to take the supplies, the men had to walk the 8 km to the summit each day. Amidst the scenery it reminded me that while China has extremely impressive infrastructure and scientific progress, there are still those who must perform backbreaking physical labor to survive; labor which would not exist in the US. There are also men who will carry tourists to the top of the mountain for a price.

After reaching the bottom, the crew took a very sleepy bus ride followed by a sleepy train ride back to Shanghai for the night.