XI’AN: Day 147, Saturday May 03 2014

There are two times you do not want to be touring China: weekends and holidays. This was both. Today we set out for a brutal climb up Hua Shan, one of China’s legendary mountains. The main appeal for Nate and I was a plank walk that you could do at the top. We picked up chicken pesto sandwiches that we’d ordered the day before for our early bus ride. I wasn’t feeling great (liquid poop still) but swallowed my food anyways. We bought tickets on the bus, which got us to the free shuttle to bring us to the walking path. It was a three hour trek to the top of the North peak, one of the four peaks on the mountain.

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The climb started easy enough on sloped hills and no stairs, but once we reached the steps it just got worse and worse. Once the stairs got steep they stayed steep.

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We had the option to choose from more sloped new steps, or steep, narrow, awesome old steps that functioned more like a ladder with chains to hold onto on either side. We went for the old steps. I was impressed at the climbing ability of a small child in front of me. He had to reach his legs up almost to his head in order to make it up each step, yet somehow he was scrambling up almost effortlessly. He used his hands as a second set of feet, and after a while I copied his technique. It was a lot easier!

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I was exhausted by the time we reached the North peak, but glad the Chinese guy we’d met at the bridge who’d said it would be two more hours had overestimated. We took a peek at the view, then found somewhere to collapse and eat our pb&j sandwich lunch. Delicious!

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It was now the middle of the May holiday and the mountain was packed with people. As we continued towards the South peak we found ourselves stuck in a crowd so large that we could barely move. The Chinese tourists liked to stop in the middle of the trail (as apposed to the viewing platforms available) to take photographs of each other. This did not help the flow of traffic. The scenery was stunning, but the photos from the viewing platforms would have been just as gorgeous as the ones from the path.

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Up and up and up we went. We took a less traveled path to avoid the hordes and began to pick up the pace again. On and on. I stopped taking pictures and soon my admiration for the view came only in short exhausted glances off of the cliff. It was at this time that someone in our party, maybe Nate, maybe John, maybe Karen, said “about 45 minutes to go,” that I began to think I wouldn’t make it. The old steps were uneven and treacherous for tired feet so I had to keep reminding myself to focus and keep my feet strong.

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Eventually we made it and I collapsed on a bench to rest, Nate beside me, while Karen and John went on to check the view. “You’d better get in line if you want to do that plank walk,” they warned when they returned, “it’s pretty long.” We had time to either do the plank walk and take the cable cars, or skip the plank walk and hike down the mountain. Karen and John chose the latter while Nate and I got in line.

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Soon I recovered enough to start feeling excited about the walk again. We had seen many pictures of this online, of people perched on the edge of a plank hammered into the steep cliff wall. We made friends in line with three girls who were very excited and nervous, and one guy that was doing the walk alone as his girlfriend was to afraid to do it with him. We agreed to a photo exchange. One francophone passed by us on his way off the walk shaking. When we asked him how it was he said it was pretty terrifying, but did admit to being the most fearful in his group.

Finally we made it to the front of the line, left our bags at the start of the walk, and paid for and secured our harnesses. We had two clips so we could stay attached to the safety cables at all times. We walked towards the steep ladder made of open metal rungs, the path was narrow and had a steep drop off on the left side. We were already clipped in, but those coming up unclipped entirely as they passed us. Guess after the plank the top didn’t seem that treacherous.

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The ladder was probably the worst of it, because it boasted a clear view straight down the 2000 or so km drop. Otherwise the trickiest part was passing people/ being passed by people as it was an out and back walk. This is what took up the most time as well, the walk itself was very short. At the bottom of ladder was a foothold carved into the rock that you needed to utilize in order to get to the plank. It was here that Nate and I got stuck waiting for about thirty people to pass us on their way back.

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The plank looked sketchy: stapled into the rock wall like haphazardly connected pieces of ply wood, but it felt sturdy. I was surprised how comfortable I felt, I guess after all the rock climbing I was starting to feel at home clinging to the side of a cliff.

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After the plank was another small ladder, where it was our turn to pass people, and at the end a small buddhist shrine. Nate and I tied our lucky red ribbons there. I climbed up one side to tie mine to a thin tree, while Nate found foot holes in the stone and went straight up to tie his even higher.

Things were getting backed up at the ladder on our return so we sat on the plank, feet dangling over the edge, and enjoyed the view until things had cleared up a bit.

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The cable car down ended up costing much more then expected, though the view was worth it. When we thought we were coming to the bottom, we discovered we were only half way!

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Had to pay 40rmb for a bus just to take us around the park, and by the time we got dropped off at the other entrance (bus took about 40 min to get there) all the buses back to Xi’an were gone. We had to get a ride to another bus stop where we caught our ride home after a 30 min wait. Two of the girls we had met kept leaving the bus at the most inconvenient times, so it was lucky that their friend spoke such good chinese!

The German guy we’d taken pictures for was staying at the same hostel and joined us for drinks when we got back. The girls also stopped by. Didn’t stay up too late as the terracotta warriors tour started the next morning.

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