Climbing Mount Huangshan
I don't even know where to start with this place! I've decided to split up the story into three parts. In Part One we'll be climbing up and watching the sunset. In Part Two we'll be chasing the stars on top of the mountains. And in Part Three we'll finish off with the epic sunrise from our final morning. Each part of the trip was mind-blowing. I feel like I could write a blog about each individual image and the experience behind it! Huangshan is easily up there as one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain, is named after the famous Yellow Mountains that have become world renowned for their unique scale and beauty. Mount Huangshan itself has been described as 'the loveliest mountain of China' and became a magnet for poets and landscape artists, fascinated by its dramatic landscape of granitic peaks, many over 1000 metres high.
In Part One we kick off our adventure in Huangshan by climbing the Western Steps and making our way to watch the sunset from Bright Top, looking out over West Sea Canyon.
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As soon as you get above the initial tree line, you start to understand what all the fuss is about. It's such a strange place! The cliffs are rounded and smooth. Pine trees grow in every crack and on every edge, all the way up the mountains and on top of the peaks. You feel like you're looking at a green screen!
As we hiked up, the clouds concealed and revealed the sun causing the landscape to constantly transform around us. With sun, the scenery is vibrant and glowing with yellow cliffs and bright green trees contrasting against them. When the sun disappears you have a really moody and dramatic scene where the shadows and details of the mountains seemed to be enhanced.
See the difference between the photo above and below, both taken from the same spot. Light changes everything!
The mountains are known for their stone steps carved out of the side of the cliffs which are said to have been built over 1500 years ago. There are around 60,000 of them and it will feel like you're walking every single one as you make your way up! I've never seen or felt anything like it.
Some parts of the route up aren't for the faint hearted. Below is one of the stairways hanging onto the side of the mountain. I'm actually walking over a bridge, of sorts. It was basically an old tree trunk placed over a huge crevice. There's nothing below it and just a few stone slabs stuck on top to help your footing. It is surprisingly solid and sturdy but I don't recommend looking over the edge!
After reaching the summit we used the Photo Pills app to figure out the best spot to watch the sunset. It's a fantastic app designed to track the movement of the sun (and stars) throughout the day and help plan exactly where and when you need to be in place to take the best photos.
The app led us to Bright Top, looking out over the West Sea Canyon.
The sun was due to set in two hours and we had an hour trek to actually get to Bright Top. As we walked, it was totally cloudy and there seemed to be a high possibility that the sunset would be a bust. But, as with many of our sunset missions around the world, we prayed that somehow the skies would clear and we would see something amazing.
After arriving, we sat around for 30 minutes watching the clouds and enjoying the endless layers of peaks hiding along the horizon.
Slowly people started to leave and head back to their hotels or to the last cable car of the evening, giving up on what looked like a boring sunset.
Then, just as the sun was heading behind the mountains, the clouds began to part and the sun broke through.
It literally left us speechless. I've never seen the sky change so dramatically within an hour. Rays pierced through the clouds as they continued to part. Then as the sun appeared it transformed the atmosphere around us. From grey, to purple, to gold.
By the time the sun had set the sky was almost completely clear and you'd never have known how cloudy it had been just an hour ago. We were one of the few committed people that waited around for it and so had a private viewing of one of the most epic sunsets I've ever witnessed. It's always worth it!
I just want to confirm that this is a real place and this is a real sunset!
This is Huangshan.
One thing I want to mention before I end this story is the negative affect that tourism is starting to have on the area. Mount Huangshan is one of the most popular scenic landscapes in China with over two million visitors every year. While there are a lot of natural factors that threaten the life of the mountain, I was shocked by the amount of litter and negligence people seemed to have. No matter how far you hike and trek around the mountains, if there is a path, there is an abundance of rubbish to accompany it. Endless plastic bottles, food wrappers and cigarettes. It was shocking.
Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.
We all have the responsibility to take care of the world around us. If you visit Huangshan and spend time in the scenic areas, please take rubbish back with you! Pick up any plastic that you see left behind. Let's look after these beautiful places so the next generation can continue to enjoy it.
I hope you enjoyed hiking Huangshan with me! Stay tuned for part two, coming soon!
P.S. I'd love to know which photo was your favourite. Let me know in the comments below...