Wednesday, April 25, 2012

...@ North Peak Hotel, Hua Shan &Cable Car descent...

North Peak Hotel is perched on the hill behind us. 
After climbing all day on Saturday, we searched for lodging on the mountain top.  Lonely Planet indicated there are only a few hotels and hostels and admonished that they are “basic and overpriced”.  The websites we searched did not have any English reviews for North Peak hotel.  Perhaps this post can serve some informative purpose to anyone who is considering an overnight stay on this peak.  This hotel is quite near the cable car terminus.  During the day, as you can see in the background, there are several people milling about.  

As night falls, the peak becomes very quiet and peaceful.  The staff at the hotel was very polite, and the room/bed rates are clearly posted.  Our room was called a double.  Guests pay by the bed, not by the room.  This room was 290 yuan per bed.  So, the “overpriced” description may be applicable, but considering the location, we felt that it was quite fair. As with any excursion here, be sure to bring your passport to book a hotel room. 

There is no running water on the mountain.  The room had an electric tea kettle which would make the water safe to drink.  We weren’t too interested in the flat screen TV, as the view from the window was much more attractive.  There were several electrical outlets and a port for a computer cable.  We charged our cell phone.  The cell signal on the mountain is very clear.  We were grateful for the electric heater to take the chill out of the air.  So, compared to sleeping in a tent, this is a far cry from “basic”.  Compared to a four-star hotel, it is definitely rustic.  Everything is relative. 

After moving in, we had dinner in the hotel restaurant.  The tomato egg drop soup was delicious.  We also had eggplant-vegetable stir fry, a meat dish and rice.  It was about 120 yuan, which certainly more than we’ve paid for much better meals at lower elevations.  However, it was hot, flavorful, and we were glad for some real food.  Along the way, many rest stops offer instant noodles.  We had brought snacks of almonds, jerky, dried fruit and Snickers bars. 

Our room, 303, is the 2nd lowest window you see with a light on.

The restrooms for the hotel are typical Chinese public toilets.  If you’ve never been in one, I won’t spoil the surprise of your first experience. J

These men are looking at the map posted just outside the hotel.  They have rented the heavy green coats for 40 yuan.  Several Chinese people begin their climb at nightfall, hiking all night long with flashlights, and reach the top of the mountain in time to watch the sunrise.  We could hear them in the distance calling out to their echoes. 

Check out for the North Peak hotel is noon.  The four of us decided to take the cable car back to the base of the mountain. The Lonely Planet guide book notes that this is an Austrian built cable car. 

For a one way ticket, it cost 80 yuan.  There are reduced prices based on height.  Kevin didn’t qualify for any discounts. J

At the cable car station, there is another bus (15 yuan) that drives hikers back to the small town and the main bus stop.  We found a small restaurant that served a special kind of noodle from this province.  We had just enough time to eat and then get in line for the 1:00 bus back to Xi’an.

Ben never missed a chance to review his Chinese phrase book!
Mountain climbing is tiring!

Nothing seems to take away Stacey's smile.


Monday, April 23, 2012

...hiking Huashan ...

Last weekend, Kevin, Stacey, Ben and I climbed Hua Shan. Although we are certainly not tired of urban Xi’an, we were intrigued by reports from Lonely Planet, China travel sites, local citizens and foreign travelers who gave positive reviews of this famous peak. Due to the smog, we’d barely glimpsed an outline of the mountains that are on the horizon and we were looking forward to discovering what lay beyond the city limits. 
We learned that we could take a bus from the train station directly to the town at the base of the mountain. The bus fare, 22 yuan, was more than reasonable for the 2 hour trip. (travel tip: if you are at the train station, be aware that some buses are selling actual guided tours to Huashan (much more expensive); keep walking until you find this bus, which is very reliable and you know what you are paying for)

In the little town, there are shops where you can purchase last minute necessities.  Stacey got a flashlight and we stocked up on a few more bottles of water.

After following the other passengers through the small town, we found the entrance to the trail.  It is another 15 minute walk before arriving at the ticket booth where we paid 180 yuan for tickets to access the trails and peaks.  (travel tips: be sure to bring your passport in order to purchase tickets; hold onto your tickets, because at the top of the mountain, there is an inspection table where they want to make sure you have paid)
From a historical perspective, Hua Shan is considered one of the 5 sacred peaks for followers of Taoism.  The mountain used to be the residence of sages and hermits.  Now it is inhabited by tourists.  According to my very unscientific survey, judging from the weekend we were there, Chinese tourists outnumbered foreigners on the mountain 50 to 1.

Our ascent began in a very modest manner. This relatively easy trail last a few kilometers.However, it was a continuous incline, so we were inclined to need a great number of rest stops to catch our breath.

These porters earned our respect quite quickly.  We thought our backpacks were heavy.  Imagine balancing boxes of bottled water, other beverages and supplies on a board across your shoulder bone.  The guide books stated that the food and drinks were overpriced on the mountain.  I certainly hope these porters get some of the premiums that are charged!  Actually, a bottle of water is about 8 yuan.  In the grocery store, the same bottle is 0.8 yuan.  In convenience stores downtown, they are about 2 yuan.  For safe drinking water, it doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Cucumbers chilled in mountain stream water were hot items at the rest stops along the trail.  People consumed them as if they were chocolate bars.

One of the many pleasant aspects of our climb was the people we met along the way.  Hua Shan is considered by some locals as well as travel sites to be a dangerous mountain.  However, there were people bringing small children on the main part of the climb.  This little girl wanted to practice her English.  We met her at several places along the hike.   (note the ever present “V” sign that Chinese feel is essential when being photographed)  Also, the white gloves I’m wearing are not for inspection purposes.  There was an elderly lady selling them for 2 yuan on the bus and I noticed the Chinese people buying them, so I followed suit.  They make holding onto the chain (see photos below) a bit easier.

The English translation offers this phrase:  Alarm bells of forest fires should always be ringing.  Actually, I could do an entire blog on the English translations that are officially graven in granite here.  Maybe next time!


I'm assuming there are no mice in this temple.

This 86 year old lady did not seem out of breath at all!

Please note:  The chains are NOT for decorative purposes only.

In case there's any doubt, let me tell you this was NOT the most relaxing part of our day.

If you ever plan to climb this mountain, be aware that the stairs pictured in this post represent a tiny fraction of the ones we actually encountered.  Do not wear high heels.  Ben and Kevin found that the stairs/steps/indentations in the rocks, were not ergonomically suited to American size feet.

The red ribbons and gold locks likely have many meanings. Some people make special wishes. Others associate the locks with lasting love. Ben did a good job of engraving one of these locks (available for 10 yuan at many places along the way), and after photographing it, decided it would make a nice artifact to take back to his classrooms. He made several short videos while we were on the mountain for a virtual field trip for his Spanish students.

Many professional photographers use scenic spots as their studio. 

Ben described this instrument as the hybrid of a kazoo, violin and a trombone.  Whatever it was, I must say his rendition of "Happy Birthday" was pleasant while I sort of collapsed on the rock (photo below) to catch my breath and regain my bearings.

Yes, this is a staircase on top of a ridge.  And these ridges are NOTHING like the ridges in Estill County, Kentucky!  Incidentally, we had been hiking for 4 hours by this point, and I felt we'd conquered enough mountains for this time.  We decided to stay on the North Peak. 

The spring blooms contrasted with the remaining snow.  This photo is the best only begins to represent the view.

Yes!  The 86 year old lady made the climb up all those stairs you've seen in previous pictures!  Amazing.

In the background are the East, West and South Peaks.  We stayed on the North Peak in a hotel that is directly behind and below the roof of the temple that you see in this photo. 

The following photos give a sense of the sunset and sunrise on the North Peak of Hua Shan.  Suffice it to say, the view was outstanding, the atmosphere peaceful and the experience was certainly challenging, thrilling and well worthwhile.

There are very few birds or other animals on the peak.  We did see squirrels. 

The wind just before sunrise made us glad we had packed several layers.