Huangshan started with a bus ride. Sleepy tourists sat in silence, too tired to wipe back the layer of condensation building on the windows and sneak a peak at the waking Yellow Mountain. It felt as if we were wrapped in a steamy cocoon, waiting for rebirth. As the vehicle creaked to a halt and the door slammed open, the crowd was indeed reborn. Tourists rushed from their seats, whooping and exclaiming in wonder at the outside world. The ropeway to Huangshan elevated us to a whole new level of awe. Before us lay the famed sea of clouds, bathed in the most exquisite yellow-golden light. It was the perfect morning. We glided above a valley of deep icy shade. A colourless valley, where the snow had been perfectly preserved and was yet to melt. Streaks of white and black ran down the slopes. It was a mad, abstract riot of shapes and lines.
I was in such a rush to capture the moment on camera that I sprinted off, directionless, in search of a photo composition. Although in a state of franticity, I felt wholly at peace, calmed by the oozing serenity of the mountain. I flew past a porter and her load. I shot past another mountain worker who was sitting and admiring the view. He looked like he'd just stumbled upon enlightenment. I discovered icy steps leading down for what looked like forever and almost bumped headlong into another photographer setting up a tripod. There was so much to explore. The vertical rock formations gave the impression that, like a tree, the mountain was slowly growing upwards.
As I continued to discover I felt a sense of unity and collectiveness between the peaks. They were similar yet wholly different, like two strangers who, at a glance, are clearly brothers, despite their differences. Perhaps this feeling was heightened by the interlinking stone steps. Despite the immense sprawling nature of Huangshan, the steps lay ever underfoot, connecting all in a labyrinth of wonder.
As the day wore on, I became numb to the staggering beauty. It wasn't that I could not appreciate it, more that I had succumbed to a hypnotic trance induced by Huangshan. My feet carried me effortlessly forward like I was riding the crest of a wave. Looking back now I find it difficult to separate the individual viewpoints in my mind. However, the one view viewpoint which stood out the most for me was beginning-to-believe-peak. On the left, a cluster of spires stretched to scrape the sky. To the right, a vertiginous chasm. Other highlights included a peak swimming in cloud, a cave with human-sized icicles and an encounter with wild monkeys.
I'm nowhere near done with this mountain. I intend to one day return and search out each and every one of Huangshan's secrets. Such is the lure of Huangshan: once is never enough.
Words & Photography: Scott Norris (@_scott_norris) // spring 2016
To explore the top of Huangshan entirely, it would take at least 3 days in summer, 2 days in winter. Hotel reservations can be made on the actual mountain to accommodate this. There are many peaks unmarked on the map and many that are closed in the winter months. The entire western 'grand canyon' area is off limits in winter. The pathway from top to bottom is also not advised in the winter months as the ice will likely double the time taken to climb (and can be treacherous without experience/proper equipment). I took the first cable car up and the last cable car down and still didn't have nearly enough time for everything!
It makes sense to go up one ropeway and come down the other, but there is much to explore and so the routes depicted above are merely intended as a guide. Because of the way the paths link it is easy to wander around at your leisure. Just make sure you're down before the last cablecar! Also, the western section of Huangshan is often closed in bad weather/winter conditions.
After the bus and ropeway it's a case of navigating the stone steps using the map. The way is often signposted, but they make little sense in English, so I relied on friendly Chinese tourists at times (of which there will be many) to help point me in the right direction.
Please note: If you find yourself descending for a suspiciously long time, chances are you are actually walking down the mountain. It's a very long trip (1800m of descent) and there are multiple ways off. The best way to maximise your time is to make use of the ropeways and the stone steps built into the peaks as illistrated in the map above.