Cock-a-doodle-dos sounded in the early hours of Wanjia Yunshan village. Mist thickened the air and water vapour sparked under torchlight. As the morning dawned and I stepped onto the Wu-Yue ancient trail, daylight broke on shafts of bamboo and swaying vines. The rush of the river and its many waterfalls filled my ears.
Once I finally broke through the layer of fog I spotted a lone sakura tree. The delicate pink blossoms were unmistakable. Another soon sprung up on the riverbed. I detoured to get a better look and was stunned by the sudden concentration of sakura trees decorating the mountainside. I followed the contours of the slope, hoping for a better vantage point. The whole valley was lined with hundreds of cherry blossoms.
In the distance, rivers of cloud arched over the mountains of the Wu-Yue Gu Dao, flowing uphill. Islands, the heads of little mountains, poked through the low cloud. The speed at which the cloud was rising was startling considering I felt not even the slightest of breezes. I blinked and the hillside was hidden in a grey veil. I blinked again and all was revealed. In places, the cloud mimicked the shape of the mountain, as if it were a hat upon its head.
When I arrived at Tianchi (Sky Lake) it was fog filled, but patches of scenery were revealed to me as I sat in wait. There were islands which hovered hauntingly in and out of sight. The shadows of the many surrounding peaks shifted in and out of focus. Then for a moment, the wind lifted the fog completely. I could make out a dam on the far side of Tianchi. Circling the lake, I found mist filled pines and more sakura. Chinese style pavilions provided a chance to stop and rest. I was resting in one such pavilion when a dark brooding fog swept over the water. It had a sense of finality about it so I decided to head back downhill.
Upon leaving the Wu-Yue trail and reentering the village at the base of the mountain, a group of villagers I had befriended were eager to see my pictures. At first, they thought it was Huangshan. They couldn't believe the magic was their mountain. Who'd have thought a cloudy day could be so special?
Words & Photography: Scott Norris (@_scott_norris) // spring 2016
Planes/buses/trains run from all over to Ningguo city. Once there navigate to the bus station. From Ningguo bus station take a bus (14元) to the village Yunshancun (吴越古道) near the Wu-Yue trail. It is the last stop. Check the last bus back as times vary (it was 3pm on the day I visited) and you may have to arrange a taxi back. Long distance buses tend to leave Ningguo early morning.
Currently (April 2016) a ticket office is being built. I assume you will have to pay to walk this at some point in the future. As a result, transport links to Tianchi Lake and the Wu-Yue ancient trail will hopefully become more frequent.
Follow the main road uphill until you reach the start of the Wu-Yue ancient trail, which is marked by signs and a map. Take the stone paved trail.
Stick to the main trail, don't divert. When you reach a barn on your left and a pavilion on your right, pass through the pavilion and cross the bridge.
Continue for a while over stepping stone boulders and multiple bridges.
At a fork in the road (the left descends towards another pavilion), take the right fork. The path is clear from here until Tianchi Lake.
At Tianchi Lake, descend to the water's edge and make your way around or follow the path in either direction around the lake. At times the path's bridges here are unsafe, but can be skirted with ease. Rejoin the path to cross the reservoir.
Once you have completed your loop of the lake retrace your steps down the mountain.