While in Chengdu, we decided to do a training hike for the Great Wall of China. We should know by now that our training hikes are always far more difficult than the actual hike. But, alas we never learn. Emei Shan or the Golden Summit Ascension of a billion stairs as we now refer to it is a 30 km (18 mi) hike up (or down) steep, concrete stairs. There are many ways to do this hike, but we decided to do what we thought was an easy route (it wasn’t!). But, we don’t think an easy route exists on this mountain.

The mountain is renowned for its sunrises and emerald light refraction off the surrounding mountains . Only the luckiest of souls get to witness these events. As fog obscured most of our views, you can count us in the unlucky group along with scores of other people that make this trek.

Anyway, we set off by bus to just 3.5 km short of the top and walked the remaining three hours to the summit. We planned to spend the night in a monastery at the Golden Summit, but upon reaching the top we learned none of the monasteries offered beds (damn the Lonely Planet!). This was after a rather strenuous slog up nearly 4 km of stairs. Our choices of lodging were fairly limited. We could walk back down to Taizi Pan monastery and pay US$7 for a bed or we could fork over US$25 to stay at a guesthouse at the summit.

By this time thick, cold fog engulfed us with the damp air settling on our bodies and making us frigidly cold. This is the first hike where our rain jackets didn’t accompany us. I regretted the decision not to take them many times. Word of advice, always carry your insulating layers and don’t listen to your husband if he tells you they’re just extra weight!

With my nose running and my limbs frozen, we chose to stay in the guesthouse. It was a bare bones sort of location, but offered heated blankets so eventually we unthawed. It also saved us the walk down and back up in the damp fog to catch the magnificent sunrise (or not in our case).

Morning came far too early. Huddled together looking out from the lobby into a wall of cold fog, we debated whether we should even attempt seeing the sunrise. The chances of actually seeing it given the fog were nil to zero, but we headed out just the same. And, we were not rewarded. The summit remained encased in fog well until 9am when we started our descent down.

All was not lost though, Chris experienced his first paparazzi moment. For some reason, Chinese tourists like to take pictures with foreigners. Plenty of fellow travelers told us about their paparazzi experiences, but thus far after two weeks in China we hadn’t experienced one. Unfortunately, I was off taking pictures in the fog and missed Chris’ whole moment in the limelight. Nevertheless, a man in a blue jumpsuit was super excited to run across Chris and even more excited to have his picture taken with him. I heard all the fuss, but didn’t realize it was over Chris. It would have been a great moment to catch. Chris kindly posed for a few pictures with complete strangers and then we headed down the mountain.

We chose to shave off two hours from our 10 hour hike down by taking the chairlift to our original starting point. This was a very good decision. We completely underestimated the difficulty of walking down stairs for 8 hours. Trust me, by the eighth hour of walking down stairs your knees ache and your legs feel as though they could easily buckle with each extra step

The monotony of the stairs was broken here and there by temples and monasteries set on the beautiful cliffside. The hike is probably best walked in late May/early June when all the rhododendrons and azaleas should be in bloom. It would be a spectacular walk with the surrounding landscape in full bloom.

In addition to the temples, monkeys often distracted us from the pain of the hike. I first learned in Thailand monkeys were no friends of mine. Emei Shan reinforced that learning experience. They are my nemesis. A female with her baby and a large male blocked our path at one point. Chris happily snapped picture after picture, so I thought it might be ok for me to do the same. Um no, it wasn’t. As soon as the female caught a glimpse of me and my camera, she charged me with her baby in tow. I, in turn, shrieked. My shrieking caught the attention of the male, and he followed suit. Chris stood guard over me but that didn’t stop them from flanking to either side. Both were baring their teeth with their eyes glowering directly at me. This all happened in a matter of seconds. Our thumping of sticks did little to ward them off, and my shrieking reached a hysterical pitch. Other monkeys came from elsewhere. There were at least five in total closing in on us. Luckily a woman with a broom came to our rescue. They all scampered at the sight of the broom, and we quickly made our escape.

From this point forward, we ran into several monkeys but none of the groups were as bad as the ones at the bottom of the trail. Through what is deemed the “joking monkey zone,” Chinese tourists feed and tease the monkeys—making them an unruly bunch. We watched as several monkeys bit tourists. One unlucky girl found three biting monkeys attached to her. Chris helped to scare them away as I watched in total fear. A first aid monkey station even exists in this part of the trail. I wanted to take a picture of it because the signage made it unclear if it was for people or the monkeys, but a monkey standing guard warded me off with its stare so I just continued on.

Once out of the monkey zone, we felt we reached the most beautiful part of the hike. Unfortunately, we ran through this section of the trail in order to catch the last bus back to Chengdu. Waterfalls and trickling streams marked this section of the trail along with a grand temple. If we hiked this trail again, we would begin the trail at Qingyin Pavilion and enjoy the walk through this gorgeous area.

Comments are closed.