The clouds of pollution and drag of city life was getting to us, so we decided to get out. We hopped on the 65 bus that we knew would take us towards the Red Leaf Valley hike we had done previously. Instead of riding the bus all the way to the valley we waited until the tall city buildings had disappeared behind us and simply picked a random stop to hop off. We struck off towards the nearest mountain intent on reaching the tippy top.
There wasn’t even a sign for the bus stop. Nate had me take a picture of the location so that we would be able to find it again.
We headed into the small town that stood between us and the mountain. We were getting hungry and hoped to find a restaurant to stop at before we started our hike. The town was quiet except for some construction workers and a couple of groups of women with toddlers. Fortunately there was a small convenience store.
We circled the entire town looking for a way up the mountain but couldn’t find anything that looked promising. We had just resolved to leave the town and go at it from another angle when one of the groups of women confronted us, speaking Chinese. We understood the word shan (mountain) and cried out “Dui dui!” (right). They pointed down the road we had come from and then pointed to the right.
Despite the fact that we’d been up and down that road already we decided to trust them and started walking in the direction they’d indicated. There were several small side roads to the right and we weren’t sure which one they had meant for us to take.
As we neared the first corner I turned back to our guide and asked “jigga?” (this?). She shook her head and waved me down the road with her hand, “Jigga?” I called at the next ally. She was laughing and kept waving her arms to indicate that we were to go further. I kept looking back at each corner and she kept waving us on. The whole group was laughing and waving by the end, all five women on their feet and looking thoroughly amused.
Finally we reached the end of the road. There was nothing but a building to the right and to the left barked territorial guard dogs. I looked back towards our guides. The women were pointing to the right. We proceeded forwards and there it was: a narrow drainage ditch with make shift stairs hammered into it. I turned back smiling and waving my thanks to the women, now quite far away. I gave them the thumbs up before we turned around the corner.
The base of the mountain was terraced and we found ourselves in an orchard full of fruit trees. They were mostly done their season of production. Their branches were light and in many cases leafless. As we climbed the mountain we began to get a better view of our surroundings. In the distance to the left of the town was a much larger city, “Is that Jinan?” I asked Nate.
“I don’t think so,” Nate said squinting at the buildings.
“Here we think we’ve travelled so far out of the city to this tiny excluded town when really we’re just in the Jinan suburbs!” I joked. When we got higher into the mountains it became clear that what we were seeing was not the main part of Jinan city, but instead a smaller city within the Jinan area. At the top of the orchard we came to a paved path that we at first mistook for a road until Nate realized it was for piping for the plants.
As we left the orchard we entered a thin layer of cedar trees that opened up into plains of long, dried grass. The top didn’t look too far away, but we were terribly mistaken. Just as we thought we were reaching the top, the landscape would change and reveal that we still had more to climb. The grass was pitted with gnarls of brambles and sharp thorns that camouflaged themselves and tore at clothes and skin.
We saw some old foundations, and wondered if this slope had once been a home. There were what appeared to be the remnants of rock walls positioned in rectangular shapes over large flat rocks. “It’s the great wall of Qi!” I joked as we came up to one of these structures, “Qi was a very small place.”
The wall of Qi was supposed to be one of the older sections of the Great Wall of China, and part of it ran through Jinan. We had been meaning to go out and find it, but no one seemed to have much information on how to get there. The great wall of Qi had become a long standing joke between us, and every time we saw a wall during one of our hikes one of us would claim it to be the wall of Qi.
The mountain has fooled us once again. What we thought was the top has turned out to be only a temporary levelling of the ground. We could see the peak ahead. “To the tippy top?” Nate asked me.
My energy levels had still not recovered from my sick days. “Now I know how Katrina feels!” I complained as we stopped to rest and snack.
“You are just starting to scratch the surface of how Katrina feels,” Nate replied, an amused half smile on his face.
Another forest stood in our way. We followed a narrow foot path until it disappeared. Unfortunately the tippy top evaded us. It was too steep to climb safely and was composed of loose rocks. We had to settle for a view at it’s Base where we sat and ate a giant Chinese grapefruit.
Not a bad compromise with such a gorgeous view!