China’s Misty Huangshan Mountains

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By Mariya Gluzman

Sun caught in the crown

Skirted by dense bamboo forests and shrouded in a shawl of clouds and fog looms a masterpiece carved by nature out of granite millennia ago. Huangshan, Yellow Mountain, located in the fertile Anhui province, is probably China’s favorite mountain and one of the most beautiful in the world.

Since ancient times Mount Huang has been irresistible to artists, poets, explorers, and nature lovers. Its bamboo groves, giant peaks, oddly-shaped boulders and pines create stunning, often surreal vistas that steal your breath away. But no artist’s rendering, not even the spectacular footage of Yellow Mountain in the wildly popular film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon can do justice to the sublime beauty.

Ominous clouds and thick fog covered our view of Huangshan when we arrived at its foot. We were told that weather as well as climates change as you go up the mountain’s many tall peaks, some of which are at least 1,800 meters (over one mile high!) Donning rain slickers and rubber “socks” over our already wet shoes, we were driven at a breakneck speed along a winding mountain road to one of the cable cars that would take us about half-way up the mountain. From there, we would proceed on foot.

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Despite the rain, the mountain was teeming with people wearing colorful hooded rain slickers that made us all look like members of some long-lost elven tribe. Chinese, Japanese, English, German, even Russian could be heard through the gusts of wind and the whisper of rain drops on our hoods. We were bubbling over with excitement as we got off the cable cars and followed our guides into the rain clouds that seemed to be caught in the crown of Huangshan.

People or rocks?

Some of us were concerned about climbing this mountain in the rain. Those who visited the Grand Canyon, for example, knew how dangerous a rocky trail can be even in dry weather. But we soon discovered that humans who lived on this mountain for centuries deserved to be marveled at as well.

Over countless decades they had cut winding stairs, bridges, and walkways into several sides of the most glorious peaks. Being made out of granite the mountain provided them with the strongest, most durable material they could ever hope for so they attempted to tame the terrain of Huangshan making it possible for us, hundreds of years later, to enjoy its beauty. To this day their descendants make their way up and down the mountain carrying large loads of provisions and building materials for the resort located at one of the scenic spots at the top and the rest stops along the trails.

It took us hours to climb four famous peaks, stopping along the way to take photos. Even through the fog the weird black pines, the flowering trees covering the slopes, and the strange shapes of large boulders that seemed to have been dropped by some giant along the way made us feel like we entered some fairy world where there is a new sight waiting around every bend of the winding stairways.

Whenever the wind blew really hard we held our breath, cameras ready, waiting for the clouds to part just a bit. As they did golden sunshine poured through the fog lighting up the slopes. It looked as if the sun itself was trapped in the middle of the mountain’s crown of peaks illuminating them from within.

By the time we sloshed our way to the resort for lunch the rain had taken a recess and all that was left was a soupy fog. Looking over one of the ledges surrounding the resort we saw a basketball court appear through the fog like a mirage. Some of our guys couldn’t resist the temptation of the misty hoop and joined a few “locals” in a game.

After a delicious and much needed lunch our group split up. Those who were particularly exhausted and soggy decided to walk to another cable car just twenty minutes away and cable down. Others decided to walk down. For most of us this was the first and probably the only opportunity to explore this magical place so were very pleased that the weather allowed us an opportunity to remain here just a bit longer.

Forty minutes into the walk I figured out that I had fallen seriously behind the group because of all the pictures I was taking. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. Three other people also chose to take their time walking down as this trail offered a completely different view of the mountain than we had seen on our way up. Unlike the other trails, this one wound its way through a forest of black pines and many different kinds of flowering trees and shrubs. The walls of the mountain were speckled red, brown, and black. Much of the rock was covered by patches of velvety green moss. The bald spots were gleaming with trickles of water rushing down the sides of the mountain. Every couple of minutes we stopped to take pictures. Our cameras eventually lost their battle to the humid air and intense fog but we still stopped and marveled.


“How many waterfalls can a mountain have?” I remember myself thinking. Each unique and stunning in its own way there were waterfalls at every turn. After a while we got tired of cleaning our cameras and snapping pictures so we took turns. But mostly we just stood and stared, agape, at every new scene because each was breathtaking.

It was sweltering at the top of the mountain when the sun came out and we were stewing in our rain slickers so we had taken them off. About halfway down the mountain it started to drizzle. Then it poured. But we decided that the cool rain was just one more gift from the mountain on this hot and muggy day so we left our rain slickers off. The rain proved to be very helpful indeed as it seemed to melt away most of the fog. As it did all the colors became brighter and everything around us just came alive. The vibrant green of the moss, the red and black of the granite, the white of the churning waterfalls and streams, were mesmerizing. Looking at each other we realized that we were sad to leave this place. By this time we were about two thirds of the way down and had spent over five hours on the mountain. If we could, we would have stayed here for days exploring every walkway and every slope we could climb. But the rest of the group was no doubt waiting for us at the bottom getting antsy and frustrated so we had to pick up the pace.

White Water

We found a narrow bridge over an especially tumultuous stream far below. We couldn’t resist venturing out on it to get a better glimpse of the churning white water rushing down the mountainside.

Getting back to the trail we ran down the slippery steps. Our legs were beginning to cramp up so we stopped at one of the rest areas that popped up all along the way like oases in the desert. We got some frozen yogurt and asked for directions before resuming our marathon. As fast as we were moving two local bearers passed us hauling giant buckets and pipes. They called out to us, telling us to follow them down quickly. We tried but they were too fast for us, their giant calves as hard as the mountain itself carried them down with amazing speed. When we finally made it down, achy and thoroughly soaked, we found out why they were urging us on.

The mountain was about to close to visitors. Had we stayed there even a few minutes longer we would have been stranded overnight. As inconvenient as that may have been, it was not such an unwelcome prospect for my trail mates and me. We just quietly smiled at each other as the others from our group chastised us for cutting it so close. We knew that even breathing Huangshan’s air for just several more minutes was worth the embarrassment of being publicly scolded, the aching joints, and the soggy clothes for Yellow Mountain conquered us and stole our hearts.

2 comments on “China’s Misty Huangshan Mountains

  1. susan johanes on said:

    WOW!!! Such an amazing story. My uncle went through China last year and said that it was the most incredible place he had ever been.

  2. Jonathan Haeber on said:

    Susan: It’s on my list of places to go, too!


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