Yellow Mountain I: up the eastern steps to the North Sea
Introduction to three Articles
In an effort to spice up what would otherwise have been a largely forgettable New Year, I came up with a last minute plan to spend three days at Yellow Mountain. I have divided my journey into three, as follows:
Yellow Mountain I: Climbing the Eastern Route, exploring Beihai (the North Sea area), nightfall
Yellow Mountain II: Sunrise at Brightness Top, exploring the summit area, the North Route via the Taiping cable car, sunset at Lion Peak.
Yellow Mountain III: Sunrise at Lion Peak, descending via the Western Route
I include a substantial section at the end covering climbing times, ticket prices, accommodation, weather and other information travellers might find useful. Messing Around on Buses
It's 5 am, Nov 30 2007, and my alarm is doing its best to remind me that I'm crazy. I don't need reminding. I step out of my woolly warmth into the freezing room. I have a 6 am bus to catch and no ticket as yet.
The trouble with last minute ideas, especially in China, is that the convenient travel options are already sold out. So the quick, comfy 2.5 hour bus from Hangzhou is out, and the minibus to some place I've never heard of, which is close to Yellow Mountain and from where I can get another bus to reach a village even closer to Yellow Mountain, is in.
I make what I believe are cautious time predictions and hope to be at Yellow Mountain around 12noon but it is actually 2:15pm in the afternoon when I reach the foot of the Eastern Route (or eastern steps) and begin my climb.
Disappointment on the Eastern Steps
As usual with climbing mountains in China, there are hundreds of people milling around the entrance to the Eastern Route and I am swept along, unsure of where to begin the climb in the chaos of big tour groups, car parks and cable car ticket booths.
Climbing the mountain, via the steps it seems is the least popular option and on first passing it, I miss the steps leading up to the gate and end up at the cable car entrance. The ticket seller kindly redirects me and I'm happily going against the flow of visitors to the almost empty steps.
There's no queue and I buy my ticket with ease, breezing through the gates with my little backpack and newly purchased "Huangshan" wool hat.
I'm immediately reminded of Taishan Mountain. I think it is the wintry color of the scenery. The sky is hazy with cloud, the steps are that insipid color of grey cement and the earth is bare and brown. Unlike Taishan, there aren't the vigorous carvings of poetry on the rocks at every turn and the lack of flowers or deviation from the monotones of brown and grey make me initially very disappointed.
Despite the lack of snow I'd hoped would transform Yellow Mountain into a white wonderland, it's hard to maintain this down-spirited mood for long, climbing in the brisk fresh air and relative silence. I soon begin to notice the pine trees with their umbrella gaits and delicate green needles, the emergence of pale blue sky and with it the revealing of tough, rocky peaks in every direction.
The Short, Hard ClimbThe Lonely Planet describes the Eastern Route as the "short, hard way" to get up Yellow Mountain. At just 7.5km, it's only half the distance of the Western Route, but it's still not an easy climb.
The steps maintain a steep incline for most of the time and that means there are very few "flat" sections. The cable cars swing overhead in packed, barely audible reminders of the easiest way to get to the summit.
For me, it's not a problem, I find the climb tiring, but not exhausting. There are virtually no stalls on this route selling food or drinks and I can't decide if I'm happy about this or not. The scenery is nice, but not staggering and I'm still beginning to wonder if Yellow Mountain isn't just a tiny bit over-rated.
The afternoon hours pass slowly in the pound of my hiking boot on step after step. Although, just as I round yet another corner to be greeted by hundreds more steps, the scenery cuts in to pack occasional punches of natural beauty into the slog of the climb.