A Trip to Huashan Mountain
Our hands graze against “Love locks,” which have been permanently fastened to railings that flank the immediate route ahead as we ascend the sloping concrete steps of Huashan Mountain. (A sign at the foot of the mountain describes it as “the world’s no 1 precipitous mountain.”) Entwined with streams of undulating red ribbon, these gold coated locks, weathered by time glisten in the afternoon sunshine. They exist as an eternal reminder of love and commitment; after fastening, infatuated lovers toss the key away without hesitation into the abyss below. We’ve been walking for barely twenty minutes when a woman of robust appearance (let’s just call her a warrior and leave it at that) overtakes me as I pause briefly to take in my scenic surroundings whilst carrying on her back what appears to be a newborn baby. She jerks her chin skywards to laugh when I call her “brave” and mimics the word back to me in her Chinese accent. Although in awe, I’m incredulous that a woman who recently gave birth would commit to the arduous task of climbing a mountain whilst carrying her newborn offspring.
Reaching the Mountain Plateau
We eventually reach a plateau on north peak where an amorphous flock of clouds, shaded with a mixture of white and grey have accumulated. A ridge in the shape of a shark’s tooth, lodged between two granite monoliths, emerges proudly in the distance, piercing the floating clouds above. A nearby stall unsuccessfully attempts to sell love locks and other souvenirs to disinterested tourists who are more focused on posing for the perfect photo. Further in the distance, cable cars hang, suspended in the air; In the valley below, specks of white rock contend for space amongst a carpet of green shrubbery. The sun momentarily disappears and then bashfully reemerges from behind the clouds. I can’t remember the last time I was unable to see swathes of concrete and glass in my immediate vicinity; I bask in the feeling of being surrounded by people and beautiful, chaotic nature.
Many ladies climbing Huashan are covered from head to toe in black (black absorbs sunlight; they must be melting) to prevent the sun tanning their skin. This aversion to vitamin D is in pursuit of alabaster skin, the Chinese female beauty ideal. My friend taps me on the shoulder. I feel glad of his company; during our trip, we have spoken at length on all manner of subjects and on occasion disagreed but out of debate and compromise, we have grown to know and understand each other more deeply. He is a knowledgeable, thoughtful and interesting man and I am all the better for being in his company.
Taoist shrines intermittently dot the way as we continue the scramble towards our destination. Ying and yang (chaos and order) pillows lie at entrances for devotees to kneel and pay homage. Behind one shrine, I peer beyond some wooden fencing and glimpse yet more concrete steps spiraling into the distance. Further below, sleek windmills rotate with reliable efficiency. Later, we ramble past yet another shrine where an elderly Chinese man, descending the mountain, struggles under the strain of carrying two heavy plastic containers filled with water attached to a stick firmly lodged between his shoulders and the back of his neck. We make our way past “Rub Earing Cliff” (named so because in years gone by people had to slide past it, pressing their ears to the side of the cliff in the process) and “Crouching Ear Rock” before stopping for a photo. I also use this temporary break as an opportunity to borrow my friend’s external battery to replenish the rapidly diminishing battery in my phone.
We continue our journey, rambling up steps that have evidently been diligently chiseled by hand. I imagine the people who carved them into the mountain as I walk. Along the way, we encounter petrified climbers, clutching to anything they can touch when navigating the steeper, less secure aspects of the mountain. Many of the larger granite formations we encounter can be climbed and walked upon; in the west, many would most likely have been cordoned off on the grounds of being hazardous and unsafe.
Ice Creams at Sunset
We eat watery ice cream at Wuyun Peak as darkness swiftly falls like a curtain, the cold sensation in our mouths striving to emulate the steadily dropping temperature around us. The sun surrenders itself to the day as it plummets below the horizon; lights that previously lay dormant immediately switch on in unison, lighting a spectacular path up the mountain. Orchestras of crickets chirp irregularly as we make haste in the nascent darkness. Stall owners settle down to sleep in their tents while far off, clusters of lights glow like fireflies; The moon hangs like a pendulum in the sky and a deep crimson hue, the colour of chilli powder settles like dust over the city below.
There is not a soul in sight as we walk through Jinsuo Pass. Further on we clamber up skyladder (an almost vertical succession of steps; hooped chain railings are at hand to help), after which we see a signpost directing us to where we plan to watch the sunrise in the early hours of the following day. Dead moths lie stranded in lights that act like illuminated coffins. We eventually reach our cabin around 9.30. After dropping my bags off and deciding on a lower bunk I make a quick visit to the toilet. (The less said about the state of this facility, the better.) On returning, my friend is already talking and making himself familiar with our new roommates. We befriend a congenial law student who tells us she plans to practice in Hunan Province when she completes her studies. She offers us chocolate and reveals that she has accompanied her Mother on this trip but her Father declined to join them this time because he had climbed Huashan before. Before we hit the hay, we make plans to wake up at 4.45 am to watch the sunrise.
Watching the Sunrise
The stars are still glowing in the vast expanse above as we emerge from our cabin wiping the tiredness from our sleep deprived eyes. We walk approximately one hundred metres to our vantage point. I locate a suitable spot, pressing myself against a barrier of red ribbon and rusting locks where I glimpse hues of blue, yellow, orange, red and jade amalgamate into one on the distant horizon. I feel soothed; life washes over me. Fixations and concerns evaporate. The world collectively inhales. Nothing matters. Lights shimmers in the distance as the city below comes to life. Wisps of cloud hang in the sky like remnants of sand stuck in a glass after a sandstorm. The city below comes into clearer focus. The couple to my left touch with easy familiarity. The lady to my right takes photos at regular intervals. A solitary star remains visible in the sky. The colour of the sunset recasts to blood orange. Sunlight begins to reach the clouds, the lower hanging nimbuses streaked with red. The day becomes lighter as people wait with baited breath. I feel the anticipation building around me. A bird skydives in front of us and disappears as quickly as it arrived. More glimmers of light appear on the tip of the horizon. A bird tweets plaintively; a winding river becomes more vivid in the distance; the mountains reveal themselves, vying for attention with the blossoming sunrise. The crowd observes the horizon in a trance like state as the sun keeps us waiting, before triumphantly announcing itself in a blaze of glory, a life sustaining sphere that will hopefully burn fiercely for countless millennia to come.
The crowd sighs and hums its approval.
The world collectively exhales.
All is well.
My 10 favourite Songs This Month/ A Shenzhen Playlist
- Rodrigo y Gabriela: Mettavolution
- J Cole: Tribe
- The Streets: Turn The Page
- M.I.A/GENER8ION: The New International Sound, Pt. 2
- Kendrick Lamar: How Much A Dollar Cost
- Thomas Tallis: Fantasia on A Theme- Master And Commander (Music From The Motion Picture)
- Marlene Shaw: California Soul
- We Lost The Sea: A Gallant Gentleman
- Paint The Sky Red: To Everness
- Kate Bush: Sunset
Shehan is an English and Drama teacher living in Shenzhen, China. He studied Drama at Exeter University, followed by Law at Cardiff University. Follow in Shenhan’s footsteps and view our latest Teaching Jobs in China.