Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day #3 in the Yellow Mountains, and Back to Hangzhou

The next morning we awoke again at 5:00 and decided we were too sore and tired to attempt the 500 meter climb to see the sunrise.  We slept a couple more hours and finally got ourselves together for the two hour hike down to the cable car.  It was painful to walk, but we saw some of the best views yet.

From the base of the mountain we took a taxi to the edge of the park, where we transferred to another cab that took us back to Huangshan City.  From there we collected our bags and made our way to the bus station, and then rolled on to Hangzhou.  Two hours later while walking down the steps at the Hangzhou bus station I took a bad step while trying to adjust my luggage and sprained my ankle.  I immediately dropped to the ground and there I sat for a few minutes until I was sure it wasn't broken.  Drew got me into a cab and we went to our hotel, where the bellboy took me across the street to a clinic.  I had done a lot of hiking on treacherous paths on this trip, even before the Huangshan trip, without even a minor injury, and now this.  I've done a lot of traveling over the past twenty years, and only one other time did I need medical attention - and that was when I fell ill in Hangzhou back in 2001.   I love Hangzhou, but clearly she doesn't love me.

We spent the next day struggling around Hangzhou as best our sore muscles and my ankle would allow - visiting the ancient silk market, the garment district, the art street, and of course West Lake, but we didn't enjoy it much.  The following day we flew down to Hainan Island, where things went considerably better.

Day #2 in the Yellow Mountains

The next morning we arose at about 5:00, hoping to catch the sunrise.  We got outside and saw it was too foggy to see squat, so we went back in and slept awhile longer.  We ventured out a couple hours later to find the fog still lying very heavy on the mountain, and a thick coat of frost blanketing the landscape.  We elected to hike to the Western Sea, which should have taken us around five hours.  We didn't start out at our best, as we hadn't eaten enough the night before and had very little for breakfast, and our legs were weary and sore from the previous day's hike.  However, we decided not to bring food with us, figuring it was early enough that we could soldier through our hike in time to catch lunch at the cafeteria.  The first hour or so was a bit scary.  We couldn't see far through the fog, and the path was slick with frost.  The wind gusts were strong enough at times that we had to huddle against large rocks until they passed.  Gradually, however, the fog begin to lift, and as we descended, the frost disappeared and the wind died down.  Soon we could catch glimpses of peaks, and as we begin to appreciate our surroundings and felt more sure-footed, we started to enjoy the hike.  Not the least because we were blessedly free of the ubiquitous Chinese tour groups, with their crowding and spitting and shouting.
The trail as it transverses the Xihai Grand Canyon.  This is one of the few stretches with handrails.

 The Fairy Bridge

A few hours into it, however, it became clear that we'd taken a wrong turn.  We should have been looping back to the hotel, but we were still heading down the mountain.  We decided to keep going rather than turn around, because the map showed a food stand near the bottom.  After about four hours we were at the foot of the mountain, the food stand was nowhere to be found (we eventually came across it - it was marked incorrectly on the map, and was closed anyway), we were hungry and tired, and knowing the only way back up was to walk.   We'd come about seven miles down the steps, and our legs ached and were extremely fatigued.  Not having food was a real problem, because we  felt like we were out of glycogen.  Looking up that mountain and knowing how tough the descent was, it seemed impossible to walk back UP it in our condition.  We also knew that running out of daylight on the trail would be dangerous, between the bitter cold and the drop offs. We poked around a little, hoping for a stroke of luck, and we found it.   A sign pointed to a construction area and warned us not to enter, but we could see a little mud house beyond the sign.  We approached it, Drew called out, and the next thing we knew, the couple who lived there ushered us in and made us noodle soup.  The husband was employed by the park as a carpenter, and he worked on wooden rails in the same room we ate in, as tasty-looking chickens wandered about.  I know it sounds clich├ęd, but that soup tasted as good as anything I'd ever eaten.  We couldn't stay long, so we paid them handsomely for the food - not that they asked for it or expected it, they were just good people. 

That bit of nourishment and rest was enough.  We headed back up by a different route that was longer but less steep and better maintained than the way we came down.  We stopped as little as possible because we were still seeing very few other people and didn't want to be stuck on the trail in the dark.   I got through it by counting 100 steps and then starting over, and over, and over.  We managed to reach our hotel in another four hours or so, about half an hour before sunset.  All in all it was about fifteen miles in eight hours.  Climbing up the stairs to our hotel room was almost more than I could do.   We showered, put our clothes back on for warmth, and lay in bed eating crackers, drinking beer and watching BBC.  That was the most brutal hike I've even done, partly because of our own mistakes, but also the most beautiful.  .

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day #1 in the Yellow Mountains

A few hotels are scattered near the base of the Huangshan mountains, but they are far away from the prime hiking areas.  To get the most out of the hiking, it's necessary to use one of the hotels near the top, which are reachable through a combination of cable car and hiking (or you can hike all the way up, if you're tough enough and have the time.)  We chose a hotel high in the mountains, and thus left most of our luggage back at the hotel in Huangshan City, only bringing enough to get us through the next few days.  We went by taxi from our hotel into the park, where we switched to a different cab (only official park vehicles are allowed inside) to the cable car station.  The two cab rides totaled about an hour.  We then traveled up the mountain via Austrian-made cable car, which was another ten or so harrowing minutes.  The scenery was breath-taking, the swaying of the car nauseating.  I actually had to stop eating my potato chips, something I don't do lightly, for fear I would spew them on Drew.  We disembarked and begin a rigorous two-hour hike to our hotel.  Anyone who has done much hiking in China is familiar with the infernal little steps they cut into hillsides, most of which are made for people with feet smaller than mine.  It makes hiking much more difficult than it is on the trails of home, where I can use my natural stride instead of mincing and crab-walking up and down mountains.  We were both tired and hungry by the item we got to our hotel, where had to walk up an additional four flights of stairs to get to our frigid room.

Hello, hello.  I'm at place called vertigo.

Our hotel was very pleased with itself for providing geothermal heat, whereas most of the hotels in the mountains offer no heat at all.  It was below freezing the entire time we were there, so I was grateful for any heat, but it only came on for a few hours at night, and heated the room perhaps to the low 50s F.  We dropped our bags and went to assess the food situations, which was grim.  There was an over-priced and filthy restaurant in the hotel; and a cafeteria on the grounds with nasty food, somewhat better prices and cleanliness, but very limited hours.  We arrived a the end of lunch time and got a bit of stringy chicken in us.  We had brought some provisions from Huangshan City in expectation of a situation like this, but because we had to pack sparingly we hadn't brought much.  If I did it again, I would have brought more food even if it meant a  more arduous hike in.  The one bright spot was a tiny convenience store run by a couple of women in parkas, which ended up as our main food source for the duration.  We were able to get tea eggs, jerky, and ice-cold beer right off the shelf - no refrigeration needed.

Feeling moderately well fed, we set off on a three hour hike of great rigor and glorious beauty.  We walked through miles of steep granite formations, twisted pine trees, and mist; feeling wonder and pain and vertigo all at once.  The same wind that frightened us in the cable car kept up for most of our stay, adding to a feeling of precariousness.  We're in good physical condition and hike a fair amount, but we found this one to be grueling.  Just leaving our hotel to get to the main paths necessitated a steep five-hundred meter climb, and every day we were there we passed many tourists sitting by the side of the stairs, unable to even get that past that first leg without giving in to exhaustion.  Of course, many of them had dressed wildly inappropriately for hiking, as the Chinese are prone to do.  There is no occasion too rugged to deter some Chinese from wearing dress shoes.  We got back to our cold room just before sunset, tired and hungry, and confronted the reality that there was absolutely nothing to do at the hotel except sit in our plain little room and read.  And eat our little snacks and drink our frosty beer.  In bed, fully clothed, because it was so cold.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Huangshan City

After leaving Hangzhou last fall, we went by bus to the mountain city of Huangshan, the gateway to the park containing the famous mountains so often depicted in Chinese art.  I fell asleep soon after the bus pulled out, with my face on my knees, and awoke a couple hours later in Huangshan City, feeling refreshed and looking rather crumpled.  The crisp, cool air was welcome after the sticky heat of Lishui and Hangzhou, and the city was largely free of the grime and pollution that afflicts much of China.  We dropped our bags at the hotel, and spent a very pleasant evening in Tunxi, the ancient city center, with well-preserved architecture dating from the Song, Ming, and Qing dynasties.  It was filled with shops selling antique art, art supplies, inkwells and other items made from local black granite, ginger candy, and woven cloth.  It was the only stop on this trip where there seemed to be a lot of dogs kept as pets, instead of  for, you know....  It was nice to see the many dogs, mostly resembling chows and pekingeses, lounging around the shops and walking with their owners.

When I return to the area, which I plan to do in the next few years, I'll spend a little more time in Huangshan City and the surrounding villages, which include some that have changed very little for centuries.  This time, however, we were focused on getting into the mountains, located about an hour away from the city.

Well, it wasn't easy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

From Whence I Came III

Recently my mother sent this email to my sisters and me, reminiscing about some of the bucolic joys of farm life.

Besides the cows, horses, and kids, I forgot about Junior, the bane of my existence. Junior was Katy's bull calf from the previous year, possibly the ugliest and most obnoxious animal we ever owned. He was of mixed Jersey, Tarantais, and Shorthorn lineage, with the worst traits of all. Red coat, both brindle-striped and roan, crooked horns, Jersey eye-rings,  sleigh feet and ham-hocked.

 I wound up in the hospital overnight with an intestinal problem and had told Granny, when I dumped you kids on her at 5:00 am, to call Lee to look after the livestock, since he knew the routine.

At the time there was a California doctor who had a herd of registered Hereford cows pastured across the road by Coffey's barn. The next morning I was much recovered and wondering if I could parlay the hospital stay into another day of R&R when Lee came in, glared at me and said "I'm gonna kill that Junior, he was down there bulling in the doctor's cows." Junior had squat-jumped our five foot fence, got in with the registered Herefords, and, well, you can imagine. Lee and Mike Baker had spent a good part of the day getting him out, and they were both sore at me, as well as him. Anyway, I freaked out, jumped out of bed in my hospital gown (to Lee's maidenly distress) got dressed and signed myself out of the hospital. So much for R&R. Junior was safely in the freezer by the time the doctor moved his cows, but I always wondered how his calves turned out.Lots of hybrid vigor, no doubt.

Later, Mom sent an addendum.

Speaking of Mike, he had a real grudge against Junior, so when we had him butchered and the slaughterman asked me if I wanted the testes dressed out ("It's a real delicacy" he said) I said No at first and then Yes indeed, and duly presented them to Mike. He was pleased and said they were excellent.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Well, it seems I have a little catching up to do on my posts.  And here I go.

Back to last fall's trip to China:  from Lishui, we traveled via bus to one of my favorite cities, romantic and lovely Hangzhou.  We couldn't stay long, but we had time to track down two of the city's culinary specialties, Dong Po Pork and You Zha Gui, both favorites of mine. Yes, that's a cube of pork belly you see there.  As for the rest of our stopover in Hangzhou, Drew wrote a nice account of it here, so who am I to reinvent the wheel?

Speaking of the bus, I need to give a quick shout-out to China's emerging mass-transit systems. I found it had improved dramatically since I was last on the mainland, in 2001; at least on the east coast.  We traveled several times by bus on this trip, and they were all clean, comfortable, and free of cigarette smoke.  After a week and a half in Lishui, where men interrupt their smoking only to spit and sleep, the clean air and phlegm-free floor of the bus seemed like heaven.  Better yet, the government is busily laying down some 16,000 miles of high-speed rail, which it aims to complete by 2020.  Newsweek ran an interesting article on it last fall.   In just two years, if all goes as planned, it will take only five hours by train to get from Shanghai to Beijing, faster than flying.