I am a pacifist by nature. And I could never possibly condone or suggest animal cruelty. But sometimes, it's just neccessary.
We had a cunning plan.
For anybody that knows me, you know just how bad that is likely to be.
The intrepid quintet left Huangzhou at lunchtime, heading for Huanshan. Only the bare essentials were being carried. A 1 man tent, a welsh flag, and two pairs of speakers plus some "interesting" chili sticks amongst our meagre loads. The rest of the stuff was to remain at base camp, or possibly liberated by enterprising locals. That would be a surprise to await us on our triumphant return to Huangzhou, the city we had used as a half way point, simply due to our inability to get a cheap ticket direct to the mountain.
The supremely amazing cunning plan that we had concocted involved climbing the mountain at night in the pitch black, wandering the peak circuit, putting up the tent and all squeezing in, extremely cozily for a few hours whilst playing cards, listening to music and trying to not die of exposure or hypothermia. Rising to see the alledegly stunning sun-rise over the peak, and then returning down the longer and more craggy face in the daylight. In summary, 5 stupid white people were going to climb an unknown mountain (only 1800 odd mteres, admittedly) without a guide in the pitch black.
It didn't quite workout that way. Admittedly, that could have been partly due to the fact that they lock the mountain at night, so the only people that can stay on it, are those with prebooked accomodation on its hillside.
So a friendly local, Simon, with the most amazing accent (a cross between any English accent you could possibly name, and many you wouldn't) kind of talked us out of it, helped us select accomodation (i'm sure he was rewarded for it, although a bit of bagaining and the fact that it obviously wasn't very busy mean't we were in no way conned) encouraged us to eat at his restaurant (LP recomended, and the mortal enemy of the Lets Go recomended restaurant across the road, and Rough Guide recomended one a couple of hundred metres away) and generally didn't try and climb the mountain at night. So we stayed, ate, set off some fireworks, and prepared ourselves for a god awful 5am start to try and climb up high enough to see sunrise.
Jimmy and Helene setting off rockets for New Year
That would have worked better if the wonderful Simon had actually known what he was talking about, and told us the correct time that the mountain opened in the morning, instead of us standing in a car park with a number of overly keen Chinese walkers and tour groups for about 2hours in the cold dark morning.
Huanshan is a mythical-ish and revered Chinese mountain, which countless Chinese (and there are countless of them) pay pilgrimages to. The mountain, predictably, has not been entirely left to it's natural glory, and sevral hotels, shops and shelters, plus restaurants and even a Bank of China with an ATM, amongst others, have been built on it's slopes.
As have stairs.
Portage of goods to be sold at vastly imflated prices to weary climbers on the mountain
The climb itself was surprisingly pleasant. In most instances, the stairs had natural breaks between flights to break the monotony, the weather was perfect mountain climbing weather, and the sky clear enough to get some great views. Until the first peak (i.e. where all the cheating b*stards who go up in cable car alight for the peak circuit), the path was relatively empty, so climbing at your own pace was perfectly possible. And despite us all being utterly unfit, we were all approximately ok, although Paul was clearly suffering by about step 8.
Paul looking happy to have made it a quarter of the way up
The entire route up the East face is made out of stairs. And up we climbed. Stairs can be painful to climb, and overly repetitive on the muscles, but in general they were easy to listen to some music, watch the scenery, get into a rhythm and just go. On a climb like that, you have to go at your own pace, or it will be supremely painful. With my perverse love of mountains and walking, I put my MP3 player on and set off like a mountain goat. I don't make a particularly good mountain goat though.
At was after about 3 minutes that I realised that my MP3 player had a sense of humour. When you have an MP3 player with about 7000 songs on it, and hit random play all, you expect to get a random selection. Not one with a warped sense of appropriate humour. And so it was that after starting with The Top of the Morning, I proceeded to get Stairway to Heaven (which came up a stunning 3 times on the next 3 hours), Big Mountain, China Girl, Journey, Misty Mountain Top, Chinese Way, Road to Nowhere, China Crisis, Alone, Steps, Jump to the Top and Black Mountain Side amongst many others, each seemingly more apt and perfectly picked that the last. I have no idea how it occured, and in fairness, i'm not even sure that I want to.
Stunningly, Paul didn't collapse and die on the way up.
Although the monkeys almost got him.
Even before we had left Shanghai, James (who's basic idea it was, and who was unanimously nominated to be glorious leader) had been talking about monkey attacks, and was carrying a nifty looking if somewhat daft collapsible kevlar walking stick to be used in just such an event. And after the first 45minutes, we did indeed pass through a large family of not inconsiderably sized monkeys living on the mountain. It was an encounter with a second family another half hour or so up the mountain that things got more interesting. Details remain sketchy. All i know is that Helene and I passed without incident, although some of them were barely 50cm away. A few minutes later, Jimmy ambled past. And then about 20minutes later at one of our customary regroupings, Paul and James appear talking animatedly about monkey attacks, life flashing before eyes and Paul was now carrying a recently purchased wooden monkey stick, and brandishing it with intent.
Only a few more steps to go...
As we rounded the corner to the first main peak, a stunning sight appeared in front of our eyes. Literally thousands of frickin Chinese, all looking extremely fresh and like they had just got off a cable car (which, in fairness, most had), and swarming all over the place. Call me picky, but if i've just expended 3 hours and climbed 10,000 steps (rough guess) climbing a tranquil mountain, the last thing I want to encounter on the top is a huge hoard of people, looking fresh and enjoying themselves in restaurants.
It really is somewhat surreal to be so far up a mountain, and be surrounded by hoardes of people. The next couple of hours we spent circling the summit, along with a good 100,000 Chinese people. Parts of it were hugely steep, most of it was relatively straight forward. There were further hotels and restaurants, and even porters carrying people. It wasn't quite as spiritual as I would have hoped, but the climb in itself had definitely been worth it.
Happily on top of Huanshan
After a while with uncountable Chinese tour groups blocking the way (until a monkey stick was used on occassions), a couple of cross country jaunts by the two most stupid of us to try and speed past the people, and with the weather suddenly coming in very quickly, we knew it was time to vamoose. And so the intrepid quintet, basking in their glorious achievement of climbing the holy mountain, being attacked by monkeys and not hitting too many Chinese with the monkey stick headed down for a well earned meal, beer, and bus back to Huanghzou.