Zhangjiajie: Day 144, Wednesday April 30 2014

Karen claims I started “the bathroom train” this morning at 5:00am when I got up to relieve my bladder. Nate followed when I returned, and Karen shortly after. She never did get back to sleep.

Breakfast, as promised the night before, came as part of our dinner package deal. It was nothing special, just rice porridge and mantou (Chinese steamed buns). “Just fuel” as John says, to feed the long day of hiking ahead. There were peanuts we could put inside which improved the flavour a little bit.

Waved a bus down along the road by our hostel and road it to the end of the line. Our plan was to start at the farthest away hike first and make our way towards home.

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When we got off the bus we were greeted by a sign that read something like, “If you don’t see this scenery you will regret it.”

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We headed its advice and took a look at the spectacular views of the miles of towering stone pillars from various viewing platforms. Only problem was the photo taking booths that had taken up the platforms, and there were long lines just to take a peek at the view. Funny thing was most of the people being photographed didn’t even look at the scenery themselves, just posed with their backs to it. I wanted to shout “You’re looking the wrong way!’ not that they would have understood me.

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One big bolder that stuck up from the ground had a huge collection of twigs shoved underneath it as if they were trying to hold up the mountain! Made the base of the rock look like an opening to a clam shell!

We had a brief moment of confusion when we got onto the next bus, as the driver veered off course and we worried we were being taken to the wrong place. Fortunately the driver was just stopping for gas, and shifted us over to a new bus at the gas station.

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John was the only one who claimed to be able to see a stone tortoise rock formation. I’m pretty sure he was only saying that to bug Karen, who got quite worked up that he wouldn’t tell her where it was. Pretty sure he was making it up. Saw the rare wild Chinese McDonald’s M. That’s right, in this beautiful natural paradise, way the heck out on top of a mountain is a McDonald’s. Nate bought ice-cream, but Karen wasn’t impressed. Took some pictures of a pagoda we could see sticking above the trees but didn’t walk out to it.

The next hike we tried to go on was a little confusing, the map was off, and showed the hike in a different place then where it actually was. Needless to say was started off walking in the wrong direction, and had to be corrected by an old guy working at a hotel. Soon we found ourselves at “the grand sightseeing platform” located next to a steep set of stairs and a bunch of tents filled with people selling food. The food vendors sent us down the steps, which was not where the map showed our hike starting. Down down down we went until, after perhaps a couple hundred downward steps, Karen and John decided we were going to the wrong place. Up up up we went, passed the food vendors and off down the road only to confirm that the path we had been on was in fact the right one and that the map was wrong. So we passed the food vendors for the third time as we once again headed back down the steep steps.

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Many more gorgeous views to be seen. Came across another natural bridge, though this one you were not supposed to walk on. We hooked onto a group of Chinese tourists for a bit who had young kids and had asked for photos with us. We followed them to a few off the main path sights. Many of the trails involved crossing over bridges made of metal bars, or involved walking out onto small rocks with large drop offs. One of the kids in the group understandably wasn’t so sure about these places.

Bought lunch from the food vendors that we had walked passed so many times. John still says it’s just fuel, though I thought it tasted fine. Caught a bus back to the hostel for a nap before our final hike of the day.

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The last hike was very near our hostel and came highly recommended by the British guys we’d met the day before. It was called “One step to heaven” and started in Woolong town (same place we got dropped off at when we missed our stop at the hostel on our first day). Karen and John wanted to walk, but Nate and I, who were trailing behind, waved down a passing bus.

Hiked down below the cable car. Some old guy kept tapping me on the shoulder trying to sell me tickets to somewhere I didn’t want to go. I kept telling him “bu yao” more and more angrily and he kept talking and tapping. The spectators thought this was quite funny watching a foreigner should bu yao louder and louder and a couple of them took up the call!

The path led up a set of steep narrow stairs through a tiny tunnel. Good thing none of us were big fat guys. The rocks were damp but the water felt good on my hot skin. We came to a fork, left was one step to heaven, right was some mansion. “Where do you want to go first?” John asked.

“Lets go to heaven!” K replied.

“Usually you want to go to heaven last,” I muttered.

Well the path to heaven went down. A long way down by the look of it: a steep ladder dropped off the edge of the cliff. We went back to check out the mansion first incase heaven went all the way back down to the bottom.

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The mansion was spectacular! A series of metal ladders with caged in tops and sides allowed us the span the gap out to one of the stone pillars and climb to its towering peak. Though slick and nerve wracking the ladder pass was better than the old way up, which was a rickety old hanging bridge made of wood!

The path that was supposed to lead to one step to heaven didn’t really lead anywhere, just looped around to the main way up. We were confused as we were told this was one of the best things to see. When we reached the bottom we found signs pointing “One Step to Heaven” in the other direction! We had gone the wrong way!

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Though tired and hungry as we were we decided to test our endurance and complete our hike. The path was much longer than expected, or perhaps it was just the lactic acid in our legs that made it seem slow. Regardless by the time we got there I was too tired to really enjoy the view. It was a cool place in retrospect. It featured a vertical metal ladder covered in rusty well worn rungs. There were two ladders side by side, perhaps an up and down ladder for when things got busy. Karen got “Elvis legs” on the climb (shaky legs).

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The hike back was much faster though Nate mistakenly told some Chinese hikers they had an hour to the top when it couldn’t have been near that much.

Dinner was a celebratory meal after a very long day. We ate in Woolong town feasting on an array of veggie and meat dishes. The boys each enjoyed a beer, but John wasn’t feeling the greatest. For once his response wasn’t “I could eat” to are you hungry.

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Had to shower with dinky hand towels. At least we got clean even if we only sort of got dry!

John Puked in the night, too much hiking or the beginning of something terrible?

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