Yellow Mountain II: from sunrise to sunset
Race to Brightness Top
It's before 5:00 am, New Year' Eve 2007 and I shouldn't be awake, but I am. It's been a night of snatched pieces of sleep in between long, cold wakeful hours. My small flask that has doubled as a life-saving hot-water bottle is now beginning to get a film of ice on it. Nothing else for it, I get up.
There's little to do. I'm already almost fully dressed and still freezing. I get my stuff together and head out to the small store where I pick up a couple of tea eggs for breakfast.
Breakfast on the move as it happens as I begin the long walk to Brightness Top. I had already decided this would be where I would watch the last sunrise of 2007. The 1840m high peak is home to Yellow Mountain's meteorological observatory and reputed to offer superb views to the East.
In the dark though, it's hard to imagine this is even morning, and I'm quickly back into the familiar boot on step routine. I make slow progress in the cold, thick gloom barely able to see beyond the sides of the steps, and following the occasional signs lit by my mobile phone.
A Chinese couple, that might be ghosts so little can I see of them, warns me I'll never make it in time.
The Last Sunrise of 2007
I do make it on time. But it's with a growing sense of disappointment that I realize the lateness of the hour is going to mean I still don't get to see the sunrise. The small vantage points are already completely packed with cameras and the backs of dozens of people who got here earlier.
It's 6:50am and there's less than 10 minutes to go. Amazingly it's almost light even though the sun hasn't appeared. I resign myself to seeing a second-hand sunrise, and try to convince myself it doesn't matter if I don't see that very moment where it rises from the clouds.
Perhaps it is another ghost who points the way, but in desperation I follow a figure that seems in a huge hurry. Up the back of the meteorological station, up a rock face that is frighteningly steep (and I only make it because of his hand helping me), over a fence and suddenly I'm on top of the station with the antennae and an unbeatable view.
Far above the lookout points crowded with people, and with a tiny group of officials who don’t notice how I just arrived, I see the last sunrise of the year.
Heading West over the Summit
It's a long and sometimes confusing walk over to the start of the West Grand Canyon route. It's also busy. It may be below zero and not yet 8:00 am, but tour groups and travelers are already on the move.
The summit is much hillier than I expect and any walking involves as many steps up as down. The popular routes in between the main hotels are a little flatter and weave first through pockets of pine trees and then through groves of deciduous trees that are nothing but twiggy jungles. There's the slightest covering of snow on the ground as though someone has wandered past sifting flour.
The path soon takes a more exciting turn as it nears the canyon, emerging from the forests to skirt the cliff edges. The views are correspondingly impressive, out over the rocky ridges of mountains that don’t stop until your eyes meet the horizon.
The West Grand Canyon Route is Closed
The piercing cold clarity of winter brings with it impossibly blue skies, and resting on the shoulders of the mountains are breaths of faint pink cloud.
In the foreground, the tall pyramid-shaped pine trees that almost resemble pagodas are thrown into silhouette by the climbing sun. Waterfalls are frozen over the faces of rocks in smooth sheets of ice, or caught in the sharp points of icicles and their occasional drips.