A hike up Huangshan: one of the most beautiful places I’ve been

As promised, here is my post on Huangshan, at long last. Hope you enjoyed the last few posts about disconnecting and using a Kindle abroad.

Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) is far and away one of the most incredible places I have visited in my life. In the span of 10 hours, we saw a spectacular sunset, a million stars in a clear sky, and a magnificent sunrise after a pre-dawn hike.

A 4.5-hour bus ride from Hangzhou, Huangshan is far enough away from the pollution covering every big (and probably small) city in China. After a fake-out “arrival” two hours into the ride which turned out just to be a rest stop (apparently we were the only ones fooled – I blame Sally since Becca and I couldn’t understand the Chinese directions), we made it to the base of Mount Huang (also known as Huangshan).

We ate lunch where we were dropped off and tried to figure out the deal for the next day since we went on this excursion/tour without many details. Sally managed to get a cab to the base of the mountain from where we thought we would hike up. When told that the cable car was how everyone was going up, Becca and I let out a sigh of relief; as much as we wanted to go hiking, the cable car sounded like a better plan. Still we’re unsure if it’s even possible to hike all the way up or down the mountain.

After our ascent up the mountain in the cable car (made in Switzerland, of course!), affording only the beginning of what would be a day and night filled with incredible views, we spent a few hours hiking to and around North Sea (beihai in Chinese) to places like “Monkey overlooking the sea” and others. The vistas (or as Becca says, veeestas) were amazing; we had hiked up to level of the clouds and in many places were above them (blue skies!).

We were told that Purple Cloud Peak near was the best vantage point for the sunset and was at least a 45-minute hike away. We only had about 50 minutes. Thankfully, as we realized, this was a typical Chinese estimate doubled in length, and we were able to make it there with plenty of time. I tried climbing up to a treacherous area but came back down (sneaking through hole in a barbed-wire fence) when Becca and Sally didn’t want to take the risk. We watched the sunset up in the clouds in an almost surreal setting sitting on top of a slippery mountain face.

After sunset, we hiked back down to our hotel for dinner, which was one of the most expensive of the trip at a $20 buffet per person! As everyone else filed to sleep leaving the hotel dead at 9pm, we soldiered on, resolute to view the stars in the clear night sky. After some searching, we found a dark open area from which to gaze, brought out some blankets from our dorm-style rooms against the guards wishes, and sat out until almost 1am. I spotted at least 15 shooting stars. I never expected I would see such a clear sky in China.

We finally went to bed hours after everyone else apparently had; their loss missing out on the stars. We set our alarms for 4am to zoom out and catch the sunrise at Bright Summit at 5:07am. A grueling 2.5-km early morning hike without any water later, we made it just in time for the sun to peak over the clouds as the hundreds surrounding us starting crying out and screaming back and forth in excitement. To their credit, the sunrise was absolutely incredible, and the setting even more fantastic. As usual, everyone there save a few filed out within 10 minutes while we hung around for an hour or more taking in the morning view.

Completing our journey, we went back to the hotel, took a short nap, and then hiked back to Bright Summit to get all the way to the cable car that would bring us down, a 9km+ hike. Along the way we encountered the most terrifyingly steep staircase any of us had ever seen (alas, there was an easier way down) that, to our chagrin, allowed for two-way traffic. When we got back down by cable car, the woman in the restaurant where we had dined the day before had already prepared us lunch so we could eat before boarding our bus back to Hangzhou.

From Hangzhou, we immediately took the train to Shanghai to round out my portion of the trip and soldiered through our fatigue to go out our first night there. As Becca remarked, it was one of the starkest changes in environment in 24 hours that I have ever experienced: from an incredible sunrise surrounded by mountains and nature to a Mexican bar in Shanghai named Zapata’s filled with expats, dancing, and American music.

More about Shanghai, some more cultural observations, and the end to my China tour next time… then I can start posting about my trip to the National Parks out West on which I’m currently embarking.

4 thoughts on “A hike up Huangshan: one of the most beautiful places I’ve been

  1. Shaya

    Hi, Scott – thanks for writing this great post. I’ll be visiting Huangshan in about 4 weeks and am planning a trip similar to yours. I’m expecting it to be colder and rainier in late March, but otherwise similar: sunrises, sunsets and stars.


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