Traveling to Xi’an and Huashan

Xi’an(西安) is an ancient city spanning thousands of years, and was once the capital of China. Emperor Qin Shi Huang had his Terracotta Army built near Xi’an, and dates back to 246 BCE. The warriors were not found until 1974, and excavation and restoration is an ongoing project to continue for decades. Today Xi’an is the capital of the Shaanxi Province and a blend of ancient and modern. Since last December, the high speed rail now operates in Xi’an, thus greatly reducing the travel time from my home from 14+ hours to between 3 and 3.5 hours. I used the national holiday over the Lunar New Year to travel there (as did many thousands of others).

People Mountain People Sea

After living in China for more than a year and a half, I’m used to dealing with crowds of people, but there’s nothing like traveling when a billion people have the same holiday. The best decision was visiting the Terracotta Army on the actual New Years day, since most Chinese people will spend it with family. The crowds were noticeably lighter in the city, at least just for that one day. There’s an expression in Chinese, 人山人海, which when translated literally has become the Chinglish phrase, “People mountain people sea.” Meaning, a huge crowd of people. That sums up a lot of the experience living in China. One of the most crowded areas in Xi’an was the Muslim Quarter, because while most restaurants remained closed during the week of holiday for New Year, they were open for business. But man, was it worth it to eat some amazing food.

Nearby Xi’an, and also connected on the high speed rail, is Huashan (华山) or, Mt. Hua, one of China’s 5 sacred mountains. The panorama of its peaks are stunning, even in a bit of haze. I hiked up the trail from the west gate, a 6km path of many stone steps with a stretch of steep climbing. Because of the crowds and my two companions, we only ascended to the North Peak and then took the cable car back down. But I plan to go back–there are trails around the peaks and a dangerous side-of-the-mountain trail called the plank walk. Stay tuned, hopefully in Spring or early Summer I’ll have another shot to hike around Huashan.

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Hiking Mt. Emei

During the week-long holiday earlier this month (National Holiday and Mid-Autumn Festival), I spent a few days hiking on Mount Emei (峨眉山), one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. It is 3,099 meters high (10,167ft) and features hiking trails and a golden statue at the summit.

I actually met one of the students from my college in the train station. He and his friend also planned to visit the mountain, and though I planned to be alone, I was glad for the company for part of the way.

The first day was drenched in rain. It was cold and wet, and upon reaching a Buddhist monastery,  I was glad for the respite and shelter from the rain. Upon finding out the students had to return to Mianyang the next day, I altered my plans. In the morning we backtracked a bit to a big temple (Wannian), took a bus to get higher and hiked the final 6km to the Golden Summit.

They took a bus back down, and I stayed at a monastery near the top.

With the rain gone and fog cleared the next morning, I had nothing but spectacular views of the blanket of clouds below. Since I had the time, I decided to hike down more than 20km that I missed by not hiking up.

So yes, I didn’t hike the whole way up (which is a goal for some), but I did plenty of hiking and I took my time to enjoy the scenery along the way. The change of plan worked to my advantage as I got more spectacular views delaying a day and hiking down instead of up.

It was an amazing experience and I would most definitely do it again.

Hiking Up the Mountain

Last month I went with a group of students to a nearby mountain. Mianyang is in a basin, but there are many mountains in the Sichuan province. The students arranged for early transportation for the hour and a half ride to Jiuhuang Mountain (九皇山). No one had told me the scale of this mountain before I arrived. I came prepared for a hike, but not quite for this. As is common here, the mountain itself has been made accessible to non-expert climbers with kilometers of stone stairs, much of it leading straight up the mountain. For those who aren’t keen on stair climbing, there are a series of cable cars leading the way, although it is quite expensive.

About halfway up, there is a suspension bridge (called Lovers bridge) spanning across a wide gap as well as stairs that go alongside the sheer rock face. It was cloudy, and even rainy, which made for some tricky climbing. I imagine the panorama would be even more spectacular had it not been so cloudy.

This mountain also features a cave with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites lit up in a rainbow of colors.

All in all, it was an amazing day that left me exhausted.

Wandering in Wales

Sometimes I get itchy feet. The urge to get out and about seizes me, and I am compelled to travel. Somewhere, anywhere. My most recent trip from December and January is evidence of that, but this wasn’t the first time; it started a long time ago, and I have no intention of stopping.

Eight years ago this month my itchy feet led me to the UK to wander. The first stop was in Wales to hike up Mount Snowdon. At 3,560ft, Snowdon’s peak lacks the ruggedness of the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges of my home in the Pacific Northwest. Even so, Snowdon is an excellent hike with fantastic panoramas of the region. Well worth the time.

After some research, I decided to ascend via the Snowdon Ranger Trail, staying the night at the youth hostel near the beginning of that trail. It was there at the hostel that I met another bloke who intended to hike up the Snowdon the next day. We chatted at dinner and he suggested we go up together. Already prepared to go it alone, I was nevertheless welcome to the idea of having company.

As we walked, my companion Vern told me this day was his birthday. Climbing Snowdon was on his bucket list and he was ecstatic to have the opportunity to ascend on his birthday. I, of course, was happy to accompany him for the occasion.

We walked, talked, and generally had a good time. It was Vern’s suggestion that we descend a different path. Our descent through the Ryd-Ddu path was equally amazing and at the end of it we stopped in a small town for dinner. It was a day of the unexpected, and I went to bed that night full from the rich experience.

To my surprise he offered to drive me to catch my train the next day, and given the extra time that saved, we toured a bit more around the area, including a quaint old train called the Ffestiniog Railway. More unexpected.

I’m grateful for his generosity and companionship for those two days. It’s been eight years, but Happy birthday anyway, wherever you are now, mate. Cheers!

Snowdon Ranger Trail
Ascending on the Snowdon Ranger Trail
A shrouded path
The clouds obscure the view of the summit and make staying on the trail difficult. Piles of stones as waymarkers helped guide us to the top.
A Shrouded Path
At the summit looking back the way we came. Clouds still shroud the view.
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Beginning the descent, using the Ryd-Ddu path.
Vern
My walking companion on his birthday.
Ffestiniog Railway
Ffestiniog Railway, an unplanned extra excursion.