Yellow Mountain I: up the eastern steps to the North Sea
There are mountain streams that seem to have been frozen in mid-fall, transformed into jewel-like icicles. Or the peaks that might have taken art lessons, sculpted into castles with finger-like turrets. Even the pine-trees with their branches reaching out horizontally like great arms, form shapely contrasts against the vertical rock faces.
Yellow Mountain's Amazing Climbing Workers
To say I have the Eastern Route to myself would be a lie, I meet people from time to time, going up and coming down. However, I want to talk about the climbers who are climbing Yellow Mountain not for the fun of it, but because it's their job.
These are an incredible set of men, who carry on their shoulders the "things" required to keep the summit of Yellow Mountain in operation. I never wondered before where all the food comes from, for instance. Did you? I thought maybe it comes up on the cable cars in the quiet hours... but no, it comes on the shoulders of men.
I see men carrying crates of eggs, iron cables, door-sized pieces of wood, carved stone, liters of Coke and Sprite, cabbages, cardboard, wood, pot noodles, and ceramic tiles. You name it and these men are bringing it up the mountain.
The climb with my small backpack is tiring enough, but I find it difficult to believe that these men could physically make the climb with up to 40kgs on their shoulders. Rather than pity them, as I was originally inclined to do, I feel they embody strength, determination and courage.
I am particularly moved by a family of three who are climbing up the mountain. I keep meeting them from time to time and notice that they are stopping and waiting for one of the workers who is carrying two huge sacks of metal cables. It's only when I stop to speak to them that the husband tells me he is carrying in his bag some of the cables. I ask him why and he tells me:"The man has such a heavy load. I just wanted to help him."
With my ever growing grasp of Chinese, I am finally brave enough to speak with one of the workers. Like many of the others he chants as he climbs a mantra perhaps to count away the steps. He is resting his load on his forked stick and breathing heavily:
"Excuse me, can you tell me how long it takes you to climb the mountain?" "About 5 hours... Hard work!" "Very hard work. Can I ask how much you earn?" "50 yuan for going up, and 30 yuan more if I bring something down again." "Do you do it every day?" "As often as I can...."
I thank him and wish him a safe climb. I meet many more workers during my time on Yellow Mountain and always strive to keep the steps clear for them and speak when they speak to me. I wish them all well, always.Reaching the Summit
It's nearly three hours after I start climbing that I reach the summit, the sun is setting somewhere beyond my sight, and the temperature is rapidly dropping. The sky takes on a pink flush and a breeze rises. It's freezing.
I hope to get a bed at the weather station on the peak but an official I ask tells me it's full, he even phones through to check. He advises me to make my way to Beihai and try my luck there. I’m suddenly beginning to worry about getting a bed this night.
Beihai hotel is a good walk from the top of the Eastern Route, and when I arrive there it's fast getting dark. The cheapest room in the hotel is over 500 yuan a night which is way over my budget, and anyway, the hotel is already full.
I wander a little more and am intercepted by a man asking me if I need a tent. He tells me everywhere is full and it's my only chance of staying the night. I reluctantly agree, dimly aware of my dread at the thought of spending a sub-zero night outside in a tent.