Hiking Yellow Mountain (Ascending Into the Clouds)

Updated on February 24, 2020
Sal Santiago profile image

Sal Santiago writes about travel, minimalism, philosophy, and living an alternative lifestyle.

In late August 2019, I joined a group trip to Huang Shan—Yellow Mountain—in Anhui Province, about 6 hours west of Shanghai. We were a group of about 30 people from around the world, with “King Kong” as our tour leader. His family name is Kong, so it was an easy choice to add the "King" part to his name.

As I settled in near the back of the bus, King Kong gave a rundown of what we could expect. “There is an 80% chance it will rain tomorrow. We can try to see the sunrise at 4am, but there is only a 20% chance we will see it. Actually, I think it is impossible. Less than a 5% chance.”

Starting Our Ascent of Yellow Mountain
Starting Our Ascent of Yellow Mountain

We would catch a bus to the start of the trail, at the foot of the mountains, spend the night at a hotel, and begin the next morning. It was quiet in Tuanxi, far from the non-stop traffic and the 24-hour construction cranes of Shanghai. The air smelled fresh—mountain air with a hint of pine.

Rain glistened on the paving stones of the walkway. White buildings with brown roofs, angled in the pagoda style. A row of red lanterns on each side adding color to the streets. Tea shops, herbal shops, a wine place, a place selling photographs and magnets for Huang Shan. Places with storefronts wide open to the street, no doors.

Store clerks sat or stood in the doorways, with samples of tea or sweets. It was a very low-key place, with the feel of a historic town preserved well. We walked in the rain.

On the Quiet, Rainy Streets of Tuanxi
On the Quiet, Rainy Streets of Tuanxi

The bus gunned its way up the foothills through a series of switchbacks, winding through horseshoe-shaped turns. The bus driver took them at full speed, nailing the turns and managing to stay in our lane. When a bus approached in the opposite direction, on a tight turn with no space for error, and also going full speed, the passengers held their breath. The two drivers like matadors, neither one backing down from the challenge, passed side by side, with only inches of space to spare. We all let out a sigh of relief. We would live to begin our hike up the mountain.

We had two options—hike for 8 kilometers to the peak or take the cable car for about 5.5 kilometers, then hike the rest of the way. Most of us thought: “an 8 km hike, why not? No big deal at all.” That’s what we came here to do.

After the first few long flights up the stone staircase, already winded and feeling the burn in our thighs, someone asked “is it staircase the whole way?” “Yes,” King Kong answered—a veteran who had done this trip about 20 times and also runs marathons. Only one person out of the group had decided to take the cable car.

Ghostly shapes appear in the mist on Yellow Mountain.
Ghostly shapes appear in the mist on Yellow Mountain.

It was still clear in the foothills, a bright morning, and we would be ascending into the clouds. Already we could see the steep cliff faces, with pine trees clinging off the sides. Deep, lush valleys filled with bamboo, a lighter shade of green, that needed those lower elevations to thrive.

Soon we were blanketed in mist and heavy fog. At intervals, the strange rock formations loomed out of the mist—a ghostly ambiance on the mountainside. We put our ponchos back on as it began to mist and rain more steadily.

We couldn’t see many of the vistas the mountain is famous for. The fog thickened, and visibility seemed only a few yards. Sometimes you could peer down along a sheer cliff-face, and see for a distance into the valley below. If you fell from here, you would be falling mostly through fog as well.

Crowds of people hiked along with us, and crowds descended in the opposite direction, many with a look of surprise and curiosity, smiling at the sight of a foreign face. “Where are you from?” they stammered, out of breath.

The images along the path were like something from an ancient scroll painting.
The images along the path were like something from an ancient scroll painting.

Years earlier, I’d bought scroll paintings somewhere—pieces of Chinese art that depicted a mountain with unusual cliffs reaching high into the clouds, wispy pines clinging to the sides in the mist. Perhaps the lone figure of a monk walking in the valley or ascending the mountain.

Many of them, I believe, were depictions of Yellow Mountain. These adorned walls in my apartments for years. How amazing to be where these ancients had walked, to look out at some of the same views that they surely knew well. Now I could imagine myself as a tiny figure in one of these paintings as well.

Trees loom out of the heavy mist on Huang Shan.
Trees loom out of the heavy mist on Huang Shan.

King Kong let out primal screams at certain points along the trail; ape-like cries, celebrating our ascent along the path, conquering this peak on the mountain. He gave us high fives when we finally reached the peak. From there, it would be another 2-kilometer hike, most of it on level ground, or descending stairs, to the hostel. The rain was heavier at this time of day. My shoes and socks were soaked through. I tried to mostly protect my backpack with the rain poncho.

After dinner of baked chicken, tomato and eggs, dumplings, and Yellow Mountain beer, we went to bed, wiped out from the long, grueling hike.

A bird (still unidentified) lands on a branch and regards us briefly before flying off.
A bird (still unidentified) lands on a branch and regards us briefly before flying off.

A few people from the group woke early, and around 7 am had a clear view into the distance from the peak (for about 5 minutes!). The sun broke through, and puffy clouds ringed the valley. You could see for miles, then in a few minutes, the fog poured in, and the view was gone.

The day before, at points, people who couldn’t continue the hike were carried down by two men, seated on chairs tied to bamboo poles. A scene we would see play out many times.

We took a morning hike of about 2 kilometers. The drizzle started again in the morning, and the mist was thick. We saw tiny squirrels “Song shu”, scampering in the brush, or along branches near the path. We also saw several birds, about the size of a robin, and with a gray-orange color, alighting on branches near us; they seemed to arrive with and keep close to the squirrels. They seemed curious, pausing on branches to have a look at us before flitting away to a higher rook in the trees.

Small Squirrel (or "Song Shu") on Yellow Mountain
Small Squirrel (or "Song Shu") on Yellow Mountain

In the wintertime, monkeys come up the mountainside from the valleys, where they can find food. A few in the group saw several of the monkeys, and took a short video. We saw one that appeared like a small gorilla, moving through the undergrowth, before wandering off.

Many of the trees and cliffs have colorful names, given by the Buddhist Monks who used to live on the mountain. We saw the “Black Tiger Tree.” The story is that one day a monk saw a black tiger in the tree. Another is “Dragon Hand Tree” where the roots of the tree grow in such a way as to resemble a Dragon Hand. The “Welcome Tree” hangs at a precarious angle on a cliffside, greeting and welcoming all visitors.

After our 2-kilometer hike in the rain, a cable car took us down the mountain to our bus. At the low elevation, it was clear and sunny, and very hot. Overhead, clouds obscured the mountain top, where it was still cool and raining. The previous day, wild, cold winds had gusted up out of nowhere, making the pine branches sway in the mists.

Trees cling to the cliffside in the fog.
Trees cling to the cliffside in the fog.
International travelers joined the group with OK Deal Travel in Shanghai.
International travelers joined the group with OK Deal Travel in Shanghai.

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Sal Santiago

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Sal Santiago profile imageAUTHOR

        Sal Santiago 

        6 weeks ago from Minnesota

        Thank you for reading, Linda. Glad you enjoyed, and I appreciate your comments.

      • Sal Santiago profile imageAUTHOR

        Sal Santiago 

        6 weeks ago from Minnesota

        Thank you for your comments, Liz. It was definitely the most difficult trek I've ever taken part in, but worth it. If there is a next time, I might opt for the cable car :)

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        7 weeks ago from UK

        This sounds like an amazing trek, but not for the faint hearted. You have described it very well.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        7 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is an interesting article. I love your descriptions. I felt like I was with you on the trail.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)