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.