It is now July 6. The weather has been hot, 90-100 F, though not humid. We have gotten out to the mountains on two of the last three weekends. We went to Hua Shan (Flower mountain) on June 19-20. On July 3-4 we went to Tai Bai Shan (Extremely White Mountain).
Hua Shan is the highest of
We had had discussions about going to Hua
Shan with some graduate students from Computer Science. That didn’t work out due to changes in
schedules on both sides. Also, they were
planning to do the climb at night to be able to reach the peak at sunrise. That did not appeal to us. We wanted to spend a night on the
mountain. Fran’s department arranged a
trip for us, making reservations at the simple hotel on the
There are two approaches to Hua
Shan. [Chinese proverb: “There is one
road and only one road to Hua Shan,” meaning that
sometimes the hard way is the only way.] The west entrance involves 10
kilometers of walking on a road before you start climbing. We went with the east entrance, where the bus
brings you to the base of a cable car that goes up to the 1500 meter
We started the climb in the early afternoon. The path consists of stone steps with rough chain link handrails in the narrowest areas (we wore our bicycling gloves for hand protection). Physically, it is more like climbing the steps of a skyscraper than trails at home. However, the temperature was about 95 degrees and there was not much shade. We brought lots of water, including some bottles that we froze and some Gatorade that we got at the fancy department store in downtown Xian. There are plenty of refreshment stands along the way where you can buy bottled water, the Chinese equivalent of Gatorade, and other drinks or snacks at a premium price.
We reached the
After dinner at the hotel restaurant, we spent some time
talking with our guides. We were a bit
surprised to find that they both think of
We saw a beautiful sunset and watched the sky become
resplendent with thousands of stars, including the Milky Way galaxy. This was the clearest sky that we have seen
Our guides had both been planning to get up at to watch the sunrise. Fran and I made sleep a priority. We did happen to wake up a bit before sunrise (our room faced east) and went outside to watch the sky become rosy. Ironically, our guides missed the sunrise because they had stayed up late watching the European soccer championships on the television in their room.
The plan for the day was to climb the other four peaks, but
we reserved the right to shorten the route.
The first part was a steep climb to
We visited two Taoist temples en route to
We took a route that eventually brought us to the main line
returning down from Middle to
By cable car (the longest in
Our guides told us that we had walked up and down a total of 4000 stairs! We were glad that we did not have this information when we started. For three days after returning home, our sore leg muscles instructed us to take the elevator to our fifth floor apartment rather than climbing the stairs.
We had considered inviting our guides from Hua Shan to join us, but decided that we could get by on our own. The guides had been kind and helpful, but took their responsibility for our safety a bit too zealously and were particularly over-protective of Fran. The constant reminders of “be careful”, “don’t go too fast”, “it is dangerous” got old! Fran told them that she was an experienced hiker on much more difficult trails, but they were not convinced. Hence, our decision to hike at Tai Bai Shan without guides was a good one.
On the morning of July 3, we took a taxi to the Xian train station and looked for buses going to Tai Bai Shan or Bao Ji (the town beyond the park). Tai Bai Shan is a similar distance from Xian as Hua Shan, but in the opposite direction (west rather than east). We wound up just missing the Bao Ji bus. Someone helped us out by leading us back to the area where we had previously found that there were no buses for Tai Bai Shan. Then he took us back to the Bao Ji area where we waited a bit. After a while, he led us a block or two to the bus station and got us on a local bus for Bao Ji. It turned out to be a very local bus and took all back roads.
They eventually let us off in a village, where we took a
taxi a short distance to the village at the entrance to
The scenery from the bus was beautiful, and it took between
90 minutes and two hours for the bus trip up the mountain. We arrived at the top at about and checked into the hotel which was
similar in style to the hotel at Hua Shan. We are at 2800 meters and considered taking
the cable car to 3200 meters this evening, but found out that there is another
4 hours of walking after getting off the cable car. We did an evening walk along a paved trail in
the direction away from the cable car and enjoyed beautiful views of the tree-covered
We had breakfast at the small hotel restaurant, then got an early start on the cable car. Our July 4 hike was really great! It felt like being back in the
We got to the 3500 meter (11,375 feet) level sooner than expected and had just a short walk to the summit. Unfortunately, the last stretch is prohibited to foreigners. Apparently there is some kind of military facility on the top.
We wound up getting back to the day’s starting point sooner
than expected. We decided to try to get
on to Famen Si, which is
about the same distance from Xian, but on the north side of the river. We took a minibus down the mountain; the bus
went so fast through the hairpin turns that it felt like a whip ride at an
amusement park. Fran’s face was a fine
shade of green when we arrived at the village, so she spent some time
So what is this place we were trying so hard to reach? The
We toured the temple, going down into the vault where the relic had been kept and where today’s monks keep a close watch on it. A friendly guide showed us around the temple, encouraging us to pray at the Buddhas and explained the different statues. Unfortunately, this was all in Chinese and we could only understand an occasional word.
We managed to lose our guide at the entrance to the museum. It has the gold and silver nested caskets that held each of the three finger bones. It also has the precious gifts that the emperors presented to the temple. Overall, Famen Si was an interesting place to visit.
We found a tourist bus with some empty seats heading back to Xian and had a fast and comfortable evening return trip.