With free take-away coffees courtesy of a sweet hotel employee, we settled into the back of our tour guide’s Prius on a chilly, but semi-clear Friday morning and headed out of downtown Hangzhou. I was excited yet slightly nervous to get to our next destination: Huangshan or Yellow Mountain.* I was looking forward to visiting China’s “loveliest mountain,” but nervous because I don’t like heights. Prior to the trip, I had done my research and knew that there were two routes up to the top. There was the intense, “I am one with nature and fear nothing” hike that would take us up Huangshan’s Western side, complete with thousands of steps (some in disrepair). Then there was the hike up the Eastern side, which was more along the lines of “I like to hike, if by hiking you mean mildly strenuous walking.” I am no Cheryl Strayed so, having nothing to prove, I leaned towards the easier option. I made sure our guide knew that, though he still hadn’t confirmed which route we were taking.
I had 3.5 hours in the annoyingly quiet Prius to psych myself up for or out of the hike. I distracted myself by taking in the scenery as we drove. The G56 highway took us through the peaks and valleys of Zhejiang and Anhui provinces. Rivers cut through super flat valleys where crops were planted on every visible inch of land. The sides of mountains were terraced and adorned with impeccable rows of the shrub-like tea plants we first saw in Hangzhou. The landscape of these provinces is different from where we live in Shandong. Even the houses are different. Instead of one-story brown/yellow colored concrete bunkers topped with terracotta tile roofs, the houses here are whitewashed and tall, standing at two, sometimes three stories. Each had dramatic, tiered black tile roofs.
Other than the scenery, the only eventful part of the drive happened when we almost missed our exit for the G3. No matter. With barely a look in the review mirror, our guide threw the car in reverse and backtracked the few hundred feet, something that as unnerving as it is to rule-abiding laowai drivers, is done all the time in China. A short while later we arrived at the base of Huangshan, which is the two lane Tangchuan Road that’s lined with family owned restaurants and guest houses. Our guide parked in front of one of these and the owners went to work, preparing a lunch of river fish, tofu soup, baby bok choy, scrambled eggs with mushrooms, and mĭfàn (rice). I can tell that China is changing me — the curing meats that hung on the restaurant’s inside wall nor the ladies making homemade sausage just outside the restaurant and in my line of sight prevented me from scarfing down the simple, but still delicious food.
Over lunch, our guide made use of the illustrated map of Huangshan that was neatly displayed beneath the glass tabletop to explain how we’d get to the summit and where we’d go from there. I was filled with relief to hear that we’d take a tour bus halfway up the mountain and from there transfer to a cable car that would take us the rest of the way. Once on top, he assured me that I’d have nothing to worry about. He was right. The “trails” that connect the famous lookout points aren’t really trails at all. I was expecting dirt paths that took us dangerously close to the edges of the mountain without sufficient guard rails. I’ve gotten used to the fact that safety in China isn’t a typical or primary concern. But Huangshan is family friendly and safe (at least at the top). The trails are actually paved pathways that are wide and even and there were only a few spots that scared me a little.
If you get a chance, I suggest you check out the spectacular views here. They truly are breathtaking, even in late December. Sure, it’s damn cold, but also, like Hangzhou’s West Lake, kind-of magical. Awe-inspiring, if you will. The day we visited the sun was shining brightly in the blue sky and pure white snow from the week before was still visible, making it feel like a winter wonderland. We pretty much had the place to ourselves — no loud tour groups (those arrived on the following day as we were leaving) or long lines for the bus or cable car to deal with. This was a surprise given that Huangshan is one of China’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. But, of course, that’s the plus of traveling on a weekday and in the off-season. Even the entrance fees and hotel prices were cut in half. Cha-ching! If you need a few more reasons to convince you to venture to Huangshan in the winter, here you go.
A view from the cable car
A view of Huangshan’s famous rock formations and unique trees (notice the sfmog line in the distance)
View of Flying Stone
For more details on where we stayed and what else we did near Huangshan, look me up on TripAdvisor under woshoudebuhao.
*Don’t be confused. This post is not about that other famous mountain in China that sounds a little like and spelled sort-of like Huangshan called Huashan (one of the five great mountains of China). Besides, I don’t think I’ll ever make it to Huashan since, as you already know, I’m not into dangerous hiking trails.